At a Bashas' store in south Chandler, Laurie Meyers is walking away with $50 worth of groceries for $13.57.
This mother of three teenagers knows how to shop for a deal. She's saved nearly $40 this trip, picking up lunchmeat for 49 cents, a jar of garlic seasoning for 12 cents, and six boxes of Tic Tac mints free. She didn't pay full price for a single item in her cart.
Meyers did it by purchasing sale items, using coupons and shopping while the store was offering to redeem coupons at triple their value. It's a strategy any shopper can employ to slash their grocery bill.
"People don't realize how to use coupons the right way. They don't realize how much money they could be saving," says Meyers, who launched her own business, Coupon$ense, in 1998.
The subscription-based service cross-references weekly sales at eight local grocery chains with about six months' worth of coupons, alerting members when, where and how to save the most money. Subscribers comparison shop sale ads, picking out items they have coupons for and buying up multiples while the item is discounted. The strategy allows them to stockpile enough pantry and freezer goods that they're rarely caught having to pay full price for anything but fresh meat and produce.
Meyers often picks up groceries at deep discounts this way. Mustard and oatmeal are almost always free, she says, because she waits until they're on sale for $1, then uses a 55-cents-off coupon at a store that doubles coupons up to $1.
The company's Internet-based tracking system makes shopping this way quick and easy, but it's a strategy anyone serious about saving money can implement, provided they allocate enough time to mapping out a game plan.
"Your grocery budget doesn't have to be fixed. There are a lot of things - your car payment, your mortgage - that you don't have room to move on, but you can cut down what you spend on food," says Meyers.
Her tips for saving on your next trip to the store:
To start, ask friends, family and co-workers to save their newspaper coupon inserts for you. Within a month, you'll build a coupon bank.
With ample coupons on hand, scour grocery ads, matching sale items with coupons you already have. This dictates what you'll buy, with the exception of meat and produce since there are rarely coupons for those. Buy multiples of each item so that you begin to build a surplus of pantry goods.
Next, scan ads for affordable meat and produce. "The first couple weeks, you'll be planning your menus off of what's on sale," Meyers concedes, "until you build up a little bit of an inventory. If hamburger's on sale, you might have to get creative and think of three different ways to cook hamburger." As you stock up on pantry and freezer basics, she says, your meal options won't be limited.
Instead of one big shopping trip, pop into a different store each time you're out. It's the only way to get the lowest price on, say, milk in a given week.
Once lists are made and coupons clipped, separate them into envelopes labeled with each store's name. Keep them in your car, and you can hit a different store every time you're on an errand.
Devote a few hours to strategy. "It's going to take you a while to plan it all out at first, because you've never done it before," says Meyers.