Coupon Shopping at the Grocery Store

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Good grocery shopping habits, however, like the price book, the Pantry Principle, shopping and cooking only from sales, sticking to a list, staying out of the grocery store other than once a week or less, and knowing exactly how your stores sales policies work will always save you money. You don’t have to buy specific brands for these policies to work. You just have to be paying attention.

So let’s open up the Giant Foods circular that appears in the Sunday Patriot-News and see how we can cut our grocery bill using coupon shopping.
snapple grocery coupon

We see that Snapple Iced Tea 12 Pack is on sale, BOGOF (that’s “Buy One Get One Free” if you read last week’s post). Personally, I would never buy this. The day I can’t make iced tea from scratch for pennies is the day my children put me in the nursing home. This product can be made at home for far less money. It’s like buying bothered water in bottles. Unless your tap water is contaminated, it will always cost you far less money to use tap water and put it into your own reusable bottle than buying it. And, this is far better for the environment as manufacturing bottles, filling bottles, shipping bottles, and throwing away bottles all have their costs.

But if you love Snapple, you’ll want to take advantage of this sale. When something is BOGOF, that means you get the second item free. It does not mean that you pay 50% off on the first item and 50% off on the second. People seem to believe that BOGOF is equivalent to a 50% off sale. It isn’t. A 50% off sale means you only have to take ONE item home. BOGOF only gives you the discount when you throw the second item into the cart.

Do people routinely only get one half of a BOGOF sale? Sadly, according to the cashiers I ask, they do. My favorite cashier, Evelyn, has told me that she tells customers to go back and get another whatever as it is free and the customer shrugs and says, “eh, too much trouble.” Are these people made out of money or are they bone lazy and stupid? Either way, they subsidize my shopping.

Here’s another trick: Coupons can be used with BOGOF purchases. The mechanics of this vary from store to store so you have to find out what your store’s policies are. Some stores let you redeem only one coupon per pair; other stores let you attach one coupon per item. If you buy the Snapple BOGOF at, say, $6 for the set and you redeem two dollar-off coupons, one for each 12-pack, you pay $4 for two 12-packs, or 17 cents a bottle. It is still cheaper to make ice tea and put it into a bottle of your own, but if you lovvvvvve Snapple, it means you can buy more.

grocery-coupon-bacon

On the same page, we see that Giant brand bacon is on sale at 3 for $10. Since it does not say we must buy three packages, the true price is $3.33 per package. This is the price that will ring up per package regardless of whether we buy one, two, three or ten packages of store-brand bacon.

Let me repeat this, as I have had this exact conversation many times in the aisles of the store. Ten for ten dollars does not, unless stated otherwise, mean you have to buy ten items to get the sale price. It means a dollar each. Grocery stores use this kind of pricing information to get you to buy more than you might otherwise. 10 items for 10 dollars is a good chance to use coupons that ask you to buy four, five, or six of one thing to get an additional dollar off. Match the sale to the coupon and only buy what you need to to redeem the coupon, unless you are stocking up because, coupon or not, the sale is great, you use the product all the time, and you’d buy as many as you could anyway. Coupon usage will improve the Pantry Principle’s cost per item a little, but only if you routinely buy and use the product.

Now, the bacon at $3.33 turned out to be an even better deal. I have a loyalty card with Giant, and they sometimes send me coupons for products in the mail. Lo and behold, just in time for the sale, the mailer included an additional dollar-off coupon for store-brand bacon. So my final price for a one-pound package of store brand bacon was $2.33. The regular price is $4.99 a package, so I was happy with my deal.

When you study the sales flier, look carefully at the tiny print alongside each picture and its description. Sometimes, but not always, the store will tell you how much you saved. There was one with the bacon ad. See it? Let me blow it up for you.

These prices are so bright, you gotta wear bifocals.

Prices so bright, you gotta wear bifocals.

For the bacon, Giant tells me that I will save $4.97 on three packages or $1.66 per package. Not a bad savings, about one-third off the original price.

grocery-coupon-soda

But other times, the savings are miniscule. On page five, we see Giant-brand soda in a 12-pack for $2.77. In tiny print, we see that the savings are 22 cents. That isn’t very much, less than 10% off the original price. Soda can and does regularly get better sales than this, so if you must buy overpriced sugar water, then get a better deal. This is where your price book and recognizing a good sale pay off. When this soda is 40% off, you buy lots, enough to wait it out until the next 40%-off sale.

The only reason for buying soda in cans is so you can put a much cheaper can in you child’s lunch and keep them from hitting the $1.50 vending machine soda. The Giant-brand soda at $2.77 for twelve works out to 23 cents a can. If you have to have soda, buy it at the grocery store and not from a vending machine. Remember: if you consume it, wherever you are, it counts as part of your food budget. Food-like substances from vending machines still count.

Looking further into the flier we see an advertised item that isn’t on sale at all.

grocery-coupon-finish

On page five is Finish Dishwasher Tabs, $5.99 for a 20- to 32-count package. It appears to be a sale. It is not. I thought it was, but I checked the item at the store and the regular price is $5.99. The item is not on sale and is being used in the ad to fill out space. I should have realized this because if I look closely at the ad, there is not a BonusBuy arrow next to it, and no “Save xx cents” in tiny type. Sometimes, Giant gives you a slogan next to a sales item rather than an exact amount. Then the ad will read “Save with BonusCard.” I don’t know why they do this; I suppose because it is easier than calculating the savings weeks in advance. But in any case, the Finish Dishwasher Tabs are not on sale at all, despite what the ad implies.

Lately Giant has been doing another kind of promotion, one that rewards you for buying a mix-and-match minimum of food items from the same manufacturer. A good example is on the back page.

grocery-coupon-group-purchases

If you spend ten dollars (or more) buying from an assortment of products you will receive, in addition to the sale price, another $3 off of your total price. The way to maximize this opportunity is to buy as close to $10 as you can without going under. Sometimes, but not always, any manufacturer’s coupons will be subtracted from the minimum spend so read the fine print in the ad to account for this. In this case, coupons weren’t counted.

So if you choose Hamburger Helper at 10 for $10, and you buy ten boxes, Giant will take another $3 off at the register, bringing your final price for 10 boxes to $7, or 70 cents a box. The tiny print tells us that we save $4.90 if we buy ten boxes or 49 cents a box. If you make Hamburger Helper once a week, ten boxes will last ten weeks and cost you 70 cents a week plus the cost of whatever else you add. If you pay full price of 1.49 per box and you buy one box a week as you use it, you will spend a final price of $14.90 for the ten boxes. $7 bucks is less than half of $14.90 and your savings can be put to use elsewhere, like the hamburger. So you save $7.90 by buying in advance, and storing the Hamburger Helper in your cupboard as opposed to storing it at Giant on their shelf. If you don’t want ten boxes of Hamburger Helper, there are other items to choose from that you may use regularly. Redeem a coupon or two and you will pay even less upfront.

It is always worth carefully studying this type of ad, to see if the items are ones you use. You don’t want to go too far over the minimum spend as spending twice as much (i.e., $20 instead of $10) will not get you another three dollars off for each increment of ten. You only ever get the first 3 bucks. The best shopping strategy here is meeting their requirements exactly. Should you buy more stuff from this particular deal? Only if your price book says the prices are terrific deals without the additional $3 off.

Whenever you have a question about what, exactly, is on sale or trouble interpreting the ad, ask at the service desk. The staff can be quite helpful and they’d rather explain how an ad works in advance rather than void a purchase at the cash register after you bought something because you misinterpreted the sale.

The service desk is also where you get rain checks. Often, a store will run a great sale and then they will run out of merchandise. This does not mean that you can’t still take advantage of the sale. You go to the desk and ask for a rain check so when the merchandise comes in, two weeks later, you still get the sale price. Staple the ad with the sale item to the rain check so you have a picture of the ad, if any questions arise. Get as many items as you want or that the ad allows. Rain checks are usually good for 60 days, so you should have plenty of time to redeem it. I keep my rain checks in the front of my coupon box, where I won’t forget them. You can use manufacturer’s coupons with rain checks just like you do with any other sale item. You do want to tell the cashier that you have a rain check when she starts ringing up your groceries. That makes it easier for him and thus easier for you.

Next week: More ways grocery stores get you to spend more, and how to take advantage of those deals.