How I Save Big at the Grocery Store Without Coupons

Store receipt JonFeingerishPhotography
Photo by Jon Feingerish Photography Inc

I am a self-reformed label snob when it comes to groceries.  Back when my husband and I were first married, we went shopping at the store and he reached for a can of vegetables that were off-brand.  I wrinkled up my nose and told him that I didn’t want to eat anything with an ugly label.

Fast forward 8 years and two kids later, I couldn’t be more cheap if I tried! An unexpected job layoff in 2009 caused us to lose over half of our income and I changed my ways FAST. Though at the time it was an emergency change, I still shop the same way with my #1 goal being to stretch our income as far as it will go and still get the most for our money.  It’s also important to me that we eat balanced meals.

I have nothing against couponing, but I rarely seem to find coupons for the products I use.  It seems that I always find coupons for things like toaster pastries or kids juices that I don’t buy.  I cut out all the extras and processed foods way back when and it has become habit.  We have treats every now and again, but on a limited basis.

I have also found that with couponing you sometimes end up with a jam-packed pantry from having to buy large quantities.  There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on things you use, but I get overwhelmed and grouchy if I have too much stuff that doesn’t move.  Less clutter helps me keep track of what I need and stay organized.  And when I’m organized, it saves.

*I do all of these things now as a stay at home mom, and I also did it when I worked full-time with a 45 minute commute each way.*   

Make a List.  The night before I go to the store, or while the kids are eating breakfast, I take the time to go through my pantry and refrigerator to see what I need.  I used to just go to the store on a whim and I would end up buying things I already had at home.  I also used to overestimate how much we would consume in a week, and I ended up with a lot of spoiled produce and lunchmeats. Wasted food is wasted money.

Eat First. I always eat a meal before grocery shopping to curb impulse buys.  I usually go to the store after a mid-morning snack that is filling, or after breakfast or lunch. It helps prevent my “mad-scientist” whirlwind “I’m going to make this, this, and that” recipe idea frenzy that I always seem to come up with in the aisles when I’m hungry.

Keep a Running Total.  I stick to my list closely and write a running total on what I’ve spent as I go so I don’t have any surprises at the checkout line.  I have a target amount of $200 to spend every two weeks for a family of four, and this helps me stay on budget.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but the technique is the same.

It took some time at first to get it done efficiently, but now I can do it quickly with kids in tow.  If an item costs $2.75, I write down $3.00 and move on.  If my budget is $200 for that trip, I spend $190 and leave the rest for tax.

Buy Meats and Sides that easily mix and match together. It keeps meals interesting and gives you variety.  I even keep a small list on the fridge that tells me the meats and sides I have on hand. At the bottom of the list, I jot down meal ideas for the week, and I cross off as I go.  It really only takes about 10 minutes of planning and saves me time if dinner will be a rush.

Try Generics. Almost all of the off-brand products I have tried were just as good if not better than name brand items.  And now more than ever, there are store brand products for specialized diets.  Even if you decide you don’t like the store brands, you can change back.  It’s a great way to figure out where you can save in your grocery list.

Try Different Stores. I visited an Aldi once in another state many years ago and the store wasn’t very clean and the service was bad. I made the mistake of assuming all of them were this way.  The Aldi that we have in my area is great, and I have made amazing scores on generics, fresh meats and fresh produce.  It is my primary shopping outlet for groceries, and I could have missed the great savings here based on one bad experience.

I still get store flyers through snail mail so I check them out. You can also look up all of the different store flyers online. If there is an amazing deal at a store close by, I will go to more than one store, but I have a young baby in tow, so for now I try to keep it to down to one shopping trip.

Buy Discounted Meats.  If you see something marked “Managers Special” it is perfectly fine. I have been able to get great deals on more expensive cuts occasionally by looking for that sticker.  You of course need to use it in a timely manner or freeze it. I have never had a problem with spoiled meat.  Check with your local meat department to ask about the days they mark down their meats.

Shop the Perimeter. The produce, meat and dairy sections are always on the perimeter of the store.  You’ll find a lot of junk food in the center aisles and in big fancy displays at the end of the aisles. A store is set up very specifically to get you to buy more, so be aware. Occasional treats are awesome and I love nacho cheese chips as much as the next person, but I stay out of those traps as much as I can.  I spend a lot of time in the baking and canned goods aisles, but I otherwise try to stay on the perimeter as much as I can to avoid temptations.

I was forced to buy necessities ONLY during the job layoff, and though it was really hard to give up those things back then, it turned out to be a blessing.

Buy the least amount of meat that you can. Meat is one of the most expensive things on your list, so I do everything I can to keep that cost down.  If I can’t find discounted meats, I stretch it at home in my meal preps. In my next post I will go a lot farther into detail about how I do that.  I make at least two meals from each of the following: one pound of ground beef, one chicken, one pot roast, and I am all about reinventing leftovers.  We are all happy, healthy and far from deprived. Stay tuned!

The grocery store used to be such a money pit for me. These are the tips I learned in my trial-by-fire experience of slashing what I spent at the grocery store.  I am still learning, but by and large I have saved tons of money by taking the time to plan ahead.

If you have any other tips or methods to share, please share them in the comments below!

12 thoughts on “How I Save Big at the Grocery Store Without Coupons

  1. Ok, this might sound a little silly, but we saved a lot of money when we purchased a garage fridge. I got it for $80 at a local thrift store and it allows me to stock up for a week and not go to the store more than once. I have three kids and buy several gallons of milk and dozens of eggs on my weekly trip. When I run out, I shop in my garage, not the store where I’d be tempted to spend more.

    I am a couponer though, and save a lot at publix with them, although the trips are very specific.

    • That’s not silly at all! We have a deep freeze and I stock up as I can too, esp with sale items. I will use coupons when I find a really great deal and I have gone to Publix for their bogo deals on occasion, but my main outlet is Aldi. Anything to save is a-ok in my book! And I do scour for coupons on diapers and formula. Every little thing helps, thank you for commenting! 🙂

  2. Audra, What a fantastic read! I am with you girl! Aldi’s has been my primary store for years. I often make out a menu for the week and first try to use the items that I have in the freezer to complete that menu before I go to the store and buy new things. I also keep an inventory of the meals and grocery items that I have on hand. It is attached to my fridge and I cross of the things that I use to prepare the meals. If I am down to a zero on a certain thing, then I add it to my shopping list. I have always been a penny pencher and by doing so, like you I have saved lots and lots of money. We have a big, fancy new Dillons store here in town and I stay away from it like it has the plaque!

    • Thanks Shirley! There are only a few things I need that Aldi doesn’t carry but by and large they are my fave! And I involve my oldest in helping pack up, he loves to pack the cans. It has taken me some time to get efficient, but I am now a well oiled grocery-shopping machine, ha ha. Thanks for reading!

      • Thanks Shirley! There are only a few things I need that Aldi doesn’t carry but by and large they are my fave! And I involve my oldest in helping pack up, he loves to pack the cans. It has taken me some time to get efficient, but I am now a well oiled grocery-shopping machine, ha ha. Thanks for reading!

  3. I am also a huge fan of Aldi! I can save as much as 1/2 on our grocery bill, and there are very few things we’ve tried from there that weren’t our favorite. I also keep a meal list on the fridge – this also comes in handy if I am late and I need Chris to start something – just pick something off the list!I’ll be looking for your next post. I like to try to stretch the meat too. Sometimes I used a whole chicken for 3 different meals. Down with spending money at the grocery store!!

  4. We love Aldi at my house! Basic groceries are a STEAL compared to Wal-Mart. I used to have a stigma against shopping at discount places like aldi, but not any more. It’s awesome.

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