Ah, the grocery store exit. You come trudging out, arms stretched around heavy reusable bags, but somehow feeling lighter ... in your bank account.
We get it: Eating isn't cheap, especially when you're trying to be healthy. Sometimes it feels like the money comes flying out of your pocket as fast as the groceries come off the shelves.
But there's good news. Coupons can slash 50 percent or more off your monthly grocery bill, and you don't have to be one of those extreme couponers to save, either.
"More and more manufacturers, especially those who cater to healthier and organic options, are offering promotions and coupons," says consumer savings expert Jeanette Pavini, who works with coupons.com. "It's not just cereal and yogurt anymore. You can find savings for all types of food, because these places are having to jump on the bandwagon."
Consider these coupon-savvy strategies and other tricks to save at the supermarket:
Scour the ads. "Check store circulars constantly, and build your menu off what's on sale," Pavini says. "If you can find coupons to match what's on special, it's like double the bang." Coupons.com is just one of an array of sites that offer money-saving deals; others include couponmom.com, smartsource.com and retailmenot.com. In addition to food, manufacturers frequently offer coupons for vitamins, supplements and health and beauty products, which can otherwise be pricey.
Get social. Click "like" on your favorite brand and grocery store Facebook pages, and start printing off those coupons. The social network is a go-to destination for deals these days, as manufacturers attempt to build loyalty by offering bargains to those who follow them online. If you don't have a Facebook account, it may be worthwhile to create a basic profile simply to take advantage of the coupons.
Don't forget your loyalty card. If you don't have one for each grocery store you frequent, "you're missing the biggest boat there is to saving money," Pavini says. These cards are typically the key to in-store discounts; without them, you'll pay retail price for an item that's on sale. Plus, stores use these cards to track your purchases, and they'll likely start sending you coupons for the types of products you favor. Some grocery stores also let you download online coupons to your loyalty card.
Skip the pre-cut options. Those sliced apples in little packages are cute and convenient, sure. But are they worth the extra money? You'll pay more for them than for uncut versions. Do the slicing yourself, and you'll save.
Purchase whole spices. The average shelf life of ground spice is only about six months, Pavini says. After that, they start to lose their potency. "It's cheaper to just purchase the whole spice, and then grind it up as you need it," she says. Indeed, whole spices keep for at least a year and are packed with extra oils and flavors. Drop raw or toasted spices into a coffee grinder until you have a powder, either course or fine--your preference.
Find a nearby wholesale produce market. This is where restaurants in your town get their fruits and veggies. Typically, folks in the food industry start shopping at 4 a.m., and the markets open to the public closer to 9 or 10 a.m. Run a quick Google search to find one close to you, "or if you have a friend who owns or works at a restaurant, ask them where they get their produce," Pavini says.
Don't be fooled by "two for $5" deals. You don't necessarily need to buy two of the item. Read the fine print: Most of the time, if you only want one, you can still get it for the lower price.
Load up on eggs. They're a great source of protein, and they're relatively cheap, too. Grade AA eggs typically cost more than grade A, but it's a worthwhile investment because they're higher quality and have longer shelf lives, Pavini says. To test whether an egg is fresh, drop it in a cup of water. If it sinks, it's still good; if it floats, it's old and not ideal for eating
Buy larger cuts of meat. These tend to be cheaper than meat that's been sliced, cut into tenderloins or made into patties. Buy simple cuts and do the trim work yourself, or ask your butcher to cut it.
Take advantage of markdowns. Meat and bakery items are typically marked down right before their sell-by date. Ask a store employee what time they tend to slap discount stickers onto perishables; it's typically late afternoon. Stop by to pick up dinner or a treat.
Ask for rain checks. If something is out of stock, and it's a good deal, request a rain check. "I've saved so much money that way," Pavini says. "You have the right to ask for one, and the store will honor it." Her favorite health drink, which normally goes for $1.98 a bottle, was recently marked down to 89 cents--but sold out. She mentioned it to the store, and they gave her a rain check for a case that she picked up when the drinks were restocked.