Tales from a Not-So-Extreme Couponer

by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator

Grocery AisleFeeling the pinch at the register lately?  It’s not your imagination – prices *are* going up.  The Consumer Price Index (which essentially measures the change over time in the cost of a basket full of goods) for food went up 2.9% over the last year.  Some items, such as meats, eggs and seafood went up a lot more than that – turkey went up 9.2%, eggs were up 9.5% and canned/shelf stable seafood went up a whopping 11.3%.  Since you can’t just stop buying groceries, the trick is to shop smarter and be more discriminating.

Here’s how I save when I shop for groceries.  I won’t be featured on any of the extreme couponing shows, but I do manage to keep our food bill within our budget.


Clip coupons.  Like I said, I’m not going to be on one of those reality coupon-clipping shows any time soon.  All the same, I *do* clip coupons, and on a recent shopping trip I saved almost $25 by using them.  Periodically, the local newspaper runs specials where you can get a Sunday-only subscription for about 50 cents per issue.  So I subscribed and I clip the Sunday circular coupons and I go online and print off coupons as well.  The key is not to clip coupons for items that you don’t want or need.  Even if the final price is a steal, I really don’t want to buy a box of Sugary Chocolate-Coated Froot Curlz.  You can save more with coupons if you are not brand loyal.  On the other hand, if there is a brand you particularly like, it never hurts to email or call their customer service line and let them know how much you love their product.  They just might send you some coupons.

Get organized.  When I used to keep my coupons stuffed into a small envelope-type organizer, I would constantly find that I would return from the store having bought an item but not having used the coupon for it.  I’m a very visually oriented person, so what worked for me was to purchase a three ring binder and some baseball card plastic protector sheets.  I put my coupons in the plastic sheets, and I have them arranged by type.  Now I can easily see which coupons I have for say, frozen foods.  I can also see when a coupon is going to expire.   And I shop with a list based on what ingredients I will need for two weeks’ worth of meals.

Keep track.  How do you know if an item on an end cap is a good deal if you don’t know the typical price for that item?  I am not organized enough to maintain a comprehensive “price book” where I track the prices of all the items I typically buy (although I know some people who do just that!).  But I do keep a mental note of what things cost.  So I know when I see something that is supposedly on sale whether I should stock up or not.

Shop the commissary – mostly. Yes, although prices have been going up there as well, the commissary is still a good place to get your groceries.  Why?  Because they are required by law to set the price for an item just high enough to recover the cost, with no profit or overhead factored in.  Sometimes you will see a less expensive price for a particular item in a civilian store.  Typically, that’s because the item is what is known as a “loss leader” – the grocery store is pricing an item so low that they are actually taking a loss on that item in the hopes that you will come in to the store and buy other (overpriced) items as well.  Beat them at their game by stopping in just for the items that are on sale.  But only do multiple stop shopping if you can work it in to your “regular” errands.  Otherwise, you might be wasting time and gas by driving around to save a couple of cents on hamburger buns.

Pay attention to sales. The commissary lets you see prices of sale items on their website.  And even if you don’t get the newspaper, you can typically go to grocery store websites to view their weekly ads.  Many stores will price match, and that might save you a trip down the street to pick up another store’s loss leader items.  Some thrifty shoppers say to stick to your shopping list without deviation, but I say that if you see an item that you need that is on a super sale or clearance, go ahead and stock up.

With these tips, hopefully you can make your next trip to the store a little less painful in the wallet!

Other Resources:
Commissary – Your Pet Promotion - going on this summer
Commissary – coupon List
Commissary Shopper – free commissary coupons by mail


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