Checking out at the grocery store last night, I learned that that store's new policy was to only double coupons up to $1.00. Double coupons used to be one of my best weapons in the battle against high grocery prices. Many times if I had a $1.00 coupon for an item, and the store doubled it, the item would be free, or nearly free. Once in a while, some stores would even advertise a day when they would triple coupons up to $1.00. This new policy will make such freebies pretty much a thing of the past.
If double coupons are no longer available to us as a money-saving tool, what techniques can we use to rein in grocery inflation? Coupons up to $1.00 can still be doubled at some stores, so for products we would buy anyway, this is still a good deal. I also look for products marked down because they are close to the sell-by date. They will be marked with a sticker that says something like "Manager's Special". These products can still be close to free with coupons. As long as you use or freeze them by the expiration date, they are still just as good. Don't forget to check the bargain bin at the back of the store, either. By calling toll-free numbers on packaging, or by emailing the manufacturers of products we use regularly, I have often obtained multiple coupons, or even coupons for a free item. Check your Sunday paper for coupons, join a "coupon train"(google it), or print them out from various online sources.
Another valuable tool in our arsenal is the rebate. Walgreens, Riteaid, and Long's all have good rebate programs where you have to purchase the items, and then submit a rebate form once a month. Then they send you a check for what you spent, so the items are free! CVS has a program too, but I find theirs more complicated to use. You can save a ton of money with these programs. I haven't paid for shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors or lightbulbs, since I found out about rebate programs in 1998! There are also many rebates on food products, such as cereal. Check the packages of the food you buy, and look in your Sunday paper's coupon section for rebate forms. Follow the directions exactly, and keep a copy for your records.
Expensive foods, such as cereal, dried fruit and spices, can all be bought from bulk bins much more cheaply. Check stores such as Henry's, Whole Foods or Sprouts. This is also a much more environmentally friendly option, since we can reuse our old containers, rather than wasting more packaging. Spices, which may cost $3-4 for a couple of ounces in the grocery store tins, can cost much less than $1 per ounce in bulk. Costco and Sam's Club can also be good sources of bulk foods, but compare prices. Not everything is a good deal there. Remember, nothing is a good deal if it spoils before you can use it.
Consider making some high-priced foods yourself to save money. I have made my own yogurt and pizza dough with recipes from the Tightwad Gazette (a book I highly recommend), with good results. In the winter I use a bread machine to bake my own bread. My sister also makes her own jam with fruit donated by neighbors, and pesto sauce for pasta with basil I grow.
Which brings me to my final suggestion for saving money on groceries - grow some of your own food! Not everyone has space for fruit trees, but most everyone has at least a small patio where they can grow a few tomatoes or carrots in a pot. I have seen grapes, tomatoes, squash, peas, beans, pumpkins, carrots, peppers and eggplants all grown in pots with good results. Give it a try. Seeds are relatively cheap, and it's a lot of fun. There is even a new (somewhat overpriced) gadget called an Aerogarden for growing vegetables and herbs indoors. It controls the water, nutrients and light, for better results. Most herbs can be grown in a pot on the window sill. Growing your own produce saves money, reduces environmental impact (since food is not shipped great distances using fossil fuels), and if we grow it ourselves we know it is not full of pesticides or salmonella.
I'd love to hear your ideas, suggestions or strategies and how any of mine have worked for you. Please post your comments below.