"Oh, everybody knows that," you might be saying. You probably combine errands in your neighborhood religiously. I'm taking this one step farther.
Kroger and Randall's in Houston both give points good on gasoline purchases. My husband was letting these expire because finding a station which would honor them was difficult. So I created a GOOGLE map with all the participating locations, using the gas pump icon, for the entire Houston SMSA. I printed out the map, and also detailed portions for each sector. I put it in a 1 cent pocket folder -- overall map in left pocket, detailed maps in right -- we bought when school supplies were on sale, and we keep it in the car. Now, no matter where we are, he can find either a Kroger or Randall's gas station. If he is going somewhere new, I use this base map to print directions from our house to that place, so the gas stations/groceries along the route appear..
This also gives me these grocery stores along the routes to doctors and other places of business we frequent. This means that if we are approaching our house from a direction that puts our "regular" Kroger or Randall's store "out of the way," we know where one is, and can stop and pick up whatever is on our list.
With gas as high as it is, we try to minimize our number of trips as much as possible. Being stocked up on things non-perishables and growing some of our produce helps. I also look for clusters of stores. On one corner near my house is a CVS, a Walgreen's, a Family Dollar, Sellers Brothers, a Subway, and a Mexican bakery I'm rather fond of. Another location has a PetSmart, an HEB, Lowe's, COSTCO, Michael's, Marble Slab, Arby's, Panda Express, Academy, Aveda salon, and several other places we often shop or dine. We go armed with the lists for any of the stores which have items we want in that cluster. sometimes I go in one store while my husband goes to another.
KEEPING AND TAKING AN INVENTORY -- KNOW WHAT YOU USE! KNOW WHO SELLS IT and HOW MUCH THEY CHARGE!
This can be mental or formalized in a spreadsheet The basic point is to develop a a system for keeping track of what you have on hand, what's getting low. For example, when I load an ink cartridge into my printer, and there's just one extra remaining one, It's time to start watching the ads for deals on ink cartridges. When I'm down to 10 cans of tuna, I start watching out for a really good buy at or below my baseline price. This is the price above which I try never to pay. Sometimes this will be a range, as I'm willing to pay a few cents more to get it closer to home and omit a trip to a store farther away if the item is one of a few things on that store's list. Different stores sell different items at lower prices regularly. Some stores will match an advertised price elsewhere.
BRAND LOYALTY AND STORE LOYALTY CAN KILL YOUR BUDGET. SO CAN CONVENIENCE
Of course I have products I really love that only one or maybe two brands offer. One example is EMERALD brand dark cocoa coated almonds. BLUE DIAMOND is now offering a similar product. So it sort of depends on which is on sale somewhere AND I have a coupon. Other products I have no loyalty, although if I can get them at the same price, I have a preference. However, since I spread the shopping around, and everybody pretty much gets a chunk of my change, I fell I am keeping my favorite stores in business.
Avoid convenience stores as much as possible, although occasionally they can have specials on things like beverages and ice cream that rival the big stores. Also, stopping in a store and picking up something on your way home can cost you. One example, there's a corner with a Walgreen's, a WalMart Neighborhood store and an HEB near me. Maybe you always stop in at WalMart. "I've got a coupon," you think, "So I'm saving money." The same item might be on sale at one of the other places -- Walgreen's or HEB -- so with your coupon you get an even better price.
WORDS TO LIVE BY!!
MIO 1 container Sweet tea flavor in Kroger's as is/clearance section $2.00
I had a $1.00 off coupon. Took it home for $1.00
Sundown Vitamins $1.07 - $1.00 coupon = $0.07 CLEARANCE SECTION
Today at Foodarama Garland Jack's BBQ Sauce $0.66 ea $1.00 off 2 coupon
$1.32 - $1.00 = $0.32 for 2 bottles.
I had TWO of these coupons :) 6/26/12
SAVINGS ARE NOT JUST FOR GROCERIES and food!
Auto parts, paint, electronics, toys, batteries, tools, shoes, clothing, home decor -- I have saved substantially on all these things and the list keeps growing. Right now I'm looking into medical expenses, especially lab tests. Keep your eyes peeled for a new page covering this topic.
Medical Lab Tests. Shop around! Some do not require a prescription. Some offer coupons. I just priced the 6 blood tests used as an alternative to a liver biopsy. One lab quoted me $378. Another quoted me $341. I found that by dividing the tests between the two labs, I can get it for $311. I still have another lab to price, and it's offering a cholesterol and blood sugar test -- 1 free or both for $5 PLUS 10% off any other lab test. Naturally I will be pricing the tests that are most expensive at the other two labs. :)
Making out Shopping Lists - PLAN AHEAD!
Since I am a nightowl, and the new grocery ads come out on Wednesdays, at midnight Tuesday, I sit down at my computer and pull up my Shopping List Template. This is a document I have created listing all our usual stores with addresses, zip code, phone, hours & other pertinent information, covering the week the grocery ads are good. Then I put in the week's dates and save the file as "Shopping List for (Date) to (Date)." After that, I peruse the ads and add items. Some stores have online shopping lists, which I use. When I have a separate list for say, Kroger's, I make a note under the named location of the store "See separate list for this location."
Since some of our groceries have one day specials (on TH at one), or weekend specials, I list those first marked for the day(s) these prices are good, along with a list of items I want that aren't advertised anywhere as on sale, but sometimes are when you get to the store. This feature comes in handy if there are insufficient items advertised as on sale to meet an additional purchase requirement. My husband can consult his baseline prices list and decide whether to buy the item or not.
SHARING THE SHOPPING
Brother lives closer to Central Market and Whole Foods and SIL regularly shops there.I sometimes pick up stuff I know they will use at ALCO when it's on sale, and they sometimes pick up stuff for me at CM or WF. We meet once a week anyway, and just trade the stuff. I regularly pick up his Caff-free Diet Coke because I can get it on sale at places they don't have on their weekly shopping round. Also, SIL belongs to Costco and I don't, so occasionally she picks up things for me there.
COUPON AND FLYER ORGANIZATION
I started out with the cheapest filing system: envelopes from junkmail and their return envelopes. I marked 12 January, February, March, etc... and then some miscellaneous ones for friends, family, & neighbors that I knew needed coupons. with their names and which coupons they used. I had another envelope for restaurant coupons. A used Large brown envelope from incoming mail held expired coupons. White #10 legal envelopes addressed to the American military families overseas sat in front of that.
As I clipped, I stuck coupons in the month of their expiration, a friend/faily/relative if I knew I'd never use it. Since I had a backlog of unclipped coupons, when I got to expired ones, I tossed those into the brown envelope, and every couple of days, I'd sort the expired ones into the ECOM envelopes and mail them off, putting a fresh, addressed one .at the back of the #10 envelopes for the next go round. If I had a lot of expired coupons, I tried to sort some into each American military family envelope so they wouldn't all go one place.
I made some effort to sort the coupons by product in the monthly envelopes, but it wasn't perfect.
When I went shopping, I grabbed the envelope for the current month, and the next two months.
UPSIDE: Cheap & quick up front
DOWNSIDE: A ticked off husband while I sorted through the coupons.
One solution is to have more envelopes into which to sort. we ALL get plenty of junk mail, so you should have plenty of envelopes.
So I got some inexpensive three ring binders on sale at Office Max when they had one of their Änything that fits in this bag % off sales. These binders were already in the clearance section for $1, so I paid something like $0.70. I found 9 to a page baseball card protectors 10/pack at Dollar Tree for $1. I bought all they had (15 packages I think, or 150, and have not seen any more there at that location. It's possible another location has them. So far the least expensive I have found them online to order is here .This is a package of 100 for $16.99, $15.99 if you buy 3 packs or more.If you plan to get really serious about this, 3 packs is probably the way to go. Wouldn't hurt to "team up" with some other people and buy together to get that discount. I have found that I don't really have enough. One hint, when I have more than one "like"coupon (same terms and expiration date) I file them in one of the 9 pockets. Another hint, when you clip the coupons, trim them well so they will fit. Some are too long and need to be folded -- be sure to let the product and exp date show.
Another note: I bought a slightly more expensive divider (5/$1) to mark the major categories because they have rounded tabs instead of square ones. Makes it easier to locate the major divisions. :)
Now I divide this notebook into general categories: CAT, CLEANING, FOOD-FROZEN, FOOD-REFRIGERATED, FOOD- CANNED AND BOTTLED, SNACKS: CHIPS, COOKIES, CRACKERS, and so forth. These I have arranged alphabetically, because not all the stores are arranged the same, so arranging by aisle for one store will mess me up somewhere else.
Then I subdivide the categories. For example, under CAT I have FOOD-Canned, FOOD-DRY, LITTER,MISCELLANY, and TREATS. In miscellany are things like flea treatments, shampoos, toys, etc. These are also alphabetical.
I use clear sheet protectors for STORE coupon policies, Rebate forms (I can slip the appropriate receipt into the sheet protector on top of the rebate form.)