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"I started the plan last month and now I see that it's possible to put money away into a savings account for unforeseen expenses."RedwolfCareOne Customer

The Super Market, on a Super Budget

For most families, the grocery bill is the biggest variable expense in their budget and provides the most opportunity to save money. With a little planning and effort, you can implement strategies that can help significantly trim your grocery bill each month. To maximize savings investigate the best places to shop, plan your shopping trip thoroughly, and utilize strategies to ensure you are paying the lowest possible price.

Where to Shop

In choosing where to shop, don't be lured into the store that offers the most pleasant shopping experience. Some stores will go so far as to install special lighting and pipe in mood music designed to relax you into lingering longer in the aisles in hopes you will purchase more than you intended. If your goal is to save money, you need to:

  • Use circulars - Review the Sunday paper for grocery store circulars to see what's on sale and where the best place is to stock up on items you use regularly. You can also access store's circulars on their websites.
  • Determine which store has the lowest prices - Record the prices of items you buy regularly in a pocketsize notebook to determine who consistently has the lowest prices.
  • Examine coupon policies - Find out which stores double (or triple) the face value of coupons. Most limit the value of coupons they multiply to $.50 or less, but a few will double up to $1.00.
  • Rethink the "Club" stores - Many times by combining coupons with sale prices, you can get better prices on things like paper products at a regular grocery store.
  • Solicit some "help" - There are websites now that can help you identify where the sales are each week. Some are free (www.couponmom.com), and some with more features have a nominal cost which may be offset by your savings (www.grocerygame.com).

Planning your Shopping Trip

You should have a standard grocery list of staple items that you use on a regular basis. You can customize this list based on your store circular research showing what meat, seafood, or produce is on sale any given week.

  • Have a Menu Plan - Plan the next week's menu around bargains featured in the weekly store circular. Make sure you take an inventory of what you already have on hand when planning.
  • Stock up and Save - Stock up when stores have sales on "loss leaders" (items stores advertise and sell for less than their wholesale cost just to get you in the store). Just make sure they are products you use.
  • Look for Coupons - The Sunday paper usually contains savings of $10 to $20 on everyday products, and many stores double the face value of manufacturers' coupons.
  • Rain Checks - Many times there is no limit on the number of items you can buy with a rain check, so this not only gives you an opportunity to stock up later (and give you time to gather together coupons for the product in the meantime.)
  • Stick to Your List - Impulse purchases can quickly derail your savings plan, because you end up paying full price for the same item that may be 2 for 1 a week later.

Paying the Lowest Possible Price

To ensure that you are paying the lowest possible price, you should:

  • Monitor the sales - Many stores run sales for different categories on a 12 or 16 week cycle � paper, meat, frozen foods, etc., so if you understand how the store's cycles work you can stash coupons and use them to stock up on what you need when those items are at the lowest possible price.
  • Try Store Brands - Many store brands are made at the exact same place that the brand name is, just without the fancy label and expensive advertising campaign that drives up the price. Try the store brands, and if you can't tell the difference, why pay more?
  • Utilize coupons - Get a wallet sized coupon organizer that has dividers for different grocery categories. Organize it based on the order of aisles you visit.
  • Take advantage of promotions - sometimes stores will give you cash back at the register if you purchase a certain quantity of a particular item.
  • Look for Discounts - Look for items about to go past their sell by date, for example bananas. Then freeze and save for banana muffins or breads.  Meat is another good example; cook it right away and incorporate into casseroles you can freeze for later use.
  • Calculate "per unit" costs - It used to be that choosing the largest package guaranteed getting the lowest price. It pays to check these days, because retailers bank on consumers still buying into this rule. Especially with items like paper goods, retailers often manipulate prices to make a smaller package actually the better buy.

Where to Find Coupons

Clipping coupons for brand name items you regularly use and combining them with sales, offers one of the greatest ways to cut your grocery bill. In fact, this strategy can usually get you prices lower than the store brand. Other than the Sunday paper, some ways to find coupons are:

  • Call  800 numbers - Look on packages of your favorite products for an 800 number to request coupons. Many manufacturers only send coupons to consumers upon request.
  • Check out samples - Try samples offered in the store and you'll often be offered a coupon to take home a package of the newest and greatest products.
  • Coupon sites - The Internet is full of sites where you can print out coupons, or even sites that will sell you coupons for products you know you will use.
  • Manufacturer's web sites - A product manufacturer's web site may offer coupons for brands you love.
  • Swap with friends - Maybe you have a baby and no dog, and your neighbor has a dog and no baby and you can swap coupons for diapers and dog food.
  • Look for deals online - Websites like ShoppingSmart.com and GroceryGuide.com track grocery store ads and match coupons nationwide.
  • CareOne Member Benefit Services (MBS) program - If you belong to CareOne's MBS program you can access a list of 1,000 different coupons ranging in values up to $2.00. Click here.

Utilize these strategies and you should be able to realize significant savings in your grocery budget. Try to make bargain shopping fun and use it as an opportunity to teach younger children the importance of being a savvy consumer. You can even have your children or grandchildren help clip coupons. It can help them learn math skills, and seeing how much money they helped you save can be very rewarding.

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