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Friday, May 31, 2013

How To Still Save Money When You Don't Have Coupons

Looking to shave some dollars off your grocery bill -- but can't seem to stay organized enough to use coupons?  OR you do use coupons -- but you can never find them for a couple of basics your family can't live without?
Coupons aren't always for everyone, but that doesn't mean you should resign yourself to paying full price for your food.  

Here are six money-saving tips for your next trip to the grocery store -- no clipping or stashing required.

These tips have been especially useful to me recently, as I've just started a diet -- and it's true that it's definitely harder to track down coupons for produce and other diet-friendly foods!
1. Be brand promiscuous.  Brand loyalty benefits the food manufacturers far more than it benefits you -- frequently, customers who shop by brand have only a general idea of what their items cost, and no idea that prices fluctuate on their favorite items.  (Be honest -- can you rattle the price of your favorite peanut butter off the top of your head?) 
So consider this your chance to play the field -- step out with a new brand on sale, or even experiment with a generic or private-label brand.  
Most grocery stores have fairly generous return policies, so if you absolutely hate something, you can always bring it back.  Although I have to say, I can rarely taste the difference on most generic items I've purchased -- especially the Target Market Pantry or Archer Farms brands.
2. Buy meat in bulk at its rock-bottom price point.  Typically, meat is one of the most expensive items on a shopper's list -- so setting some shopping guidelines here can save your family big money.  
Meat rotates through sale cycles, just like everything else, and most grocery stores feature one type of meat as a loss-leader promotion each week.  
Stock up and store in your freezer anytime you see the following prices:
  • skinless chicken breasts at $1.99 a pound or less, 
  • whole chickens for 88 cents per pound or less,
  • boneless pork chops for under $2.49 a pound, 
  • ham for under $2 per pound,
  • sliced lunch meat for $2 per pound or less,
  • bone-in pork for $1 a pound or less, or 
  • ground beef or turkey for $1.49 or less.  
You may even be able to score chicken leg quarters for as low as 69 cents a pound! 

Once you spot the right sale, buy several packs -- meat keeps for months if it's properly packaged.  After you've hit a couple of the rock-bottom sales, you can conceivably go for weeks without having to pay for meat -- which will slice big chunks of cash off your grocery bill.
3. Don't buy bread at the grocery store.  Bread is a high-profit item for most grocery chains, even on sale.  Take the time to find a bakery outlet in your area -- most bakery outlets sell fresh bread, not day-old or expired products.  Since they cut out the middleman, you reap the savings. 
4. Learn three new soup recipes.  Homemade soup is one of the easiest things in the world to cook, and ingredients like lentils, legumes, and fresh veggies are super-cheap.  Soup also is a good way to use leftover bits of chicken or beef you have hanging around.  
Why three recipes?  Once you get comfortable with your new routine, you can make a big pot of soup once or twice a week, and portion out most of it for brown-bag lunches.  Multiple recipes ensure you won't get tired of eating the same thing over and over again, and revert to expensive canned soup.
Try this easy and budget-friendly lentil soup recipe to start.  You can usually score a pound of lentils for well under a dollar at most grocery stores.  I also have a ton of soup ideas over on my Thrifty Recipes Pinterest board.
5. Serve fresh produce BEFORE each sit-down meal.  Buy the loss leader fruits and veggies each week from the grocery store, then put them out about 30 minutes before you're ready to serve lunch or dinner.  
Your family will nibble on the cheap stuff, and won't be as interested in filling up on expensive processed snacks, or seconds on your main entree -- which saves you cash.
The trick here is to ensure the produce is as finger-friendly as possible -- take the two extra minutes and cut a couple of apples or bananas into slices before lunch, for example.  
To serve before dinner, think baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, a quick salad, or celery.  Don't buy the pre-cut bags at the grocery store, though -- you'll pay hefty surcharges for those, and they often come loaded with preservatives to keep the cut produce looking fresh.
6. Wrap up leftovers before beginning dinner.  If you're cooking chicken for dinner, and you know you want to make soup later on in the week, portion it out and stash it away before calling the family to the table.  
This tip saves you time in meal prep later on, plus it helps maintain portion control during the meal.  Since I'm on a diet right now, this tip has been especially useful for me -- even on snack items (sadly, for example, I should only be eating three cups of popcorn at a time, not half a bag!)
What are your tips on saving money when you don't have the right mix of coupons?  Share your ideas in the comments section below!

Find more money-saving tips for new couponers here.