I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
February 2, 2016
In this post, I’m saving you the time and trouble of learning how to save money at Kroger by putting all my tips and tricks in one handy post. You won’t believe how easy it is to cut your grocery bill in half!
I used to love that show ‘Extreme Couponing’ on TLC– Sure, those couponers saved a ton of money on groceries, but they also looked batsh*t crazy in the process. I mean, four hours in the supermarket? BINDERS full of coupons? Entire ROOMS devoted to their stockpiles of toilet tissue, cereal and deodorant hauls?
No. Thank. You.
Last spring, though, it was determined by my household’s CFO (code name: Dennis) that we had overspent and needed to cut back. We came up with a grocery budget of $200 per week. That might be more than some of you spend on groceries (I believe the government’s ‘norm’ for a family of 4 is $750 per month, so it’s probably not far off), but I had never actually had a grocery budget before, so it wasn’t easy to pay close attention to what I was spending. Staying within that $200 often meant knocking more expensive foods I enjoyed off the list– and while I always tried to cut coupons from the newspaper each week when I had the time, they didn’t come to much at the register- maybe $4-$6 in savings on a good day.
This went on until one fateful day, when I happened to come across an online blog post with tips on saving money. In it, the woman claimed that by shopping sales and using coupons, she never spent money on toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, or toilet paper. What’s more, this woman actually seemed pretty… normal.
Cutting toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo and shower gel out of my budget would free up a good-sized chunk of money for other things. If she could get it for free, I thought to myself, why couldn’t I?
I got online to investigate and I’m SO glad I did, because what I’ve learned really has cut my entire grocery budget AT LEAST in half. Often, I now spend as little as $80 per week- and most of that money is going to things we all love– fresh meat and vegetables, organic food, and specialty items.
Sure it takes some extra work, but I’ve made it more fun by giving myself an incentive– Every two weeks, I put $400 (for two weeks of groceries) into a special household account. I keep track of how much I spend on groceries each week– What’s left over is household money, managed at my sole discretion.
At first, my husband was iffy about this arrangement– but a year in, he’s wholeheartedly on board. For one thing, our household spending is at an all-time low and we’re actually SAVING money again. Since I set aside all the money I save on groceries, I’m able to use it on all those little ‘extras’ that seem to pile up every pay period, like music lesson fees and school supplies and field trip money and new clothes/shoes for the kids. This keeps plenty of money in our main account, which means that we have what we need when unexpected major expenses come up, like appliance or car repairs.
And don’t think I’m skimping on products- It’s actually the opposite. If you do it right, couponing actually makes the nicer brands of food and toiletries more affordable than the store/discount brands, and it also frees up money so that I can buy nicer cuts of meat, organic vegetables, and specialty health foods without thinking twice about it. Our toiletries are, indeed, often free or close to it. And I NEVER pay for toothpaste or toothbrushes. Ever.
The new arrangement is also better for our relationship– I hate when I’ve bought something with our joint account and my husband second guesses it– “Did Bruiser really need that?” “Couldn’t we have gotten a better price somewhere else?” etc. When I use “leftover” money on household purchases, it’s totally MY business if I chose the SUPER DELUXE school picture package or the SUPER SPECIAL school picture package. We are most definitely a happier couple when negotiating stupid stuff like school picture packages is off the table.
It’s the little things, y’all.
Okay, so now it’s time to share all my secrets– starting with KROGER, my local supermarket of choice. The beauty of this post is that any element you take from it will save you some amount of money– You can spend five minutes a week and save a little, or you can spend five hours a week and save a LOT. I typically spend an hour or two per week now, but it took a summer of making it a side hobby in order to get to this point. Hopefully, I’ll save you some legwork.
In order to maximize your savings, you’ll need four things:
Got it? Let’s begin.
You’ll want to start your planning each week by checking your favorite Kroger savings websites. There are a number of them to choose from, but I have two faves: Southern Savers and Kroger Krazy. These sites are essential to streamlining the money-saving process, because they list every single item that’s on sale at Kroger each week, link to and list any coupons that are available for those items, and even calculate your final price for you.
Southern Savers is a great site in particular if you only have a few minutes to spare each week. Simply go to the Kroger tab and you’ll find weekly posts with Kroger’s advertised AND unadvertised deals, as well as everything at Kroger that’s a dollar or less on sale. Southern Savings similarly lists savings from other supermarkets and drugstores, so it’s just a great resource in general.
Kroger Krazy is a great site to check every day or two if you go to Kroger often, like I do. This site also lists this week’s advertised and unadvertised deals, but Katie really is ‘krazy’ when it comes to Kroger (and so are her loyal readers)– With the help of a team of people, she updates her site several times a day with every great deal she either finds at the store or learns about from a fan. Katie also lists every coupon that will be in each Sunday’s newspaper– This is especially helpful for those of you who don’t have a newspaper subscription, because you can tell if buying a copy on that particular week will be worth your while.
Now let’s talk about those coupons. As many of you know, extreme couponers generally cut out every single coupon and put them in big binders, but I don’t have time for that, so I do something far simpler– I save the entire coupon insert each week in a folder and write the date at the top of it– Coupons on savings sites are referenced by the date and the name of the insert. I do go ahead and clip coupons that I’m likely to use no matter what, but I’ve learned the hard way to save even the coupons I don’t think I’ll need- You never know when a sale will come up that makes an item FREE– and suddenly you’re willing to try a new brand of peanut butter after all.
More and more coupons are now printable— Both sites include links to the coupon if it’s a printable one. You will generally be able to print out any printable coupon twice on any one computer. Many extreme couponers have several different computers and printers so that they can game the system and print out a coupon lots of times, but I like to keep things honest– and seriously. How many boxes of Reese’s Puffs does your family really NEED?
Whether or not you cut coupons, you have got to have a Kroger Plus card- and I also recommend that you get the (free) Kroger app for your phone. If you don’t have a Kroger Plus card, you’re already spending WAY more money on groceries than you should be. You can also load digital coupons onto your card using the app or the Kroger website. Kroger has really stepped up its digital coupon game over the last few years and now offers most of the same coupons that you’d find in the paper or online. In addition, Kroger has digital coupons on many of its store brand items, like Simple Truth, Private Selection, and Pssst. I find the app to be much handier when it comes to finding and loading coupons than the website– You can search for specific coupons using the search function on the app, which is very helpful when you’re at the store and want to quickly check and see if there’s a coupon available for what you want to buy. Kroger also offers a digital coupon for a free product each Friday that you’ll definitely want to load to your card- Even if you can’t make it into the store on that day, the coupon is usually good for a few weeks, so you have plenty of time to pick it up- AND PAY NOTHING.
One thing to keep in mind about Kroger digital coupons- You can’t use a paper coupon AND a digital coupon on the same product– If you have both, the register will only accept your digital coupon, even if your paper coupon is higher in value. This means it’s wise to quickly go through the digital coupons you’ve loaded to your card before you shop, and remove any that are lower in value than your paper coupons. If you’re buying two of the same product and have a digital coupon AND a paper coupon, both will work. Also, even if your Kroger doubles coupons $.50 and under (I believe this is only done in Middle Tennessee now– ANOTHER REASON TO MOVE TO NASHVILLE), digital coupons never double.
Another helpful hint for digital coupons- I always do a coupon search for ‘FREE’ on my Kroger app every week or so. Kroger will randomly put up digital coupons for free items, or buy 1 get 1 free items, and by typing in ‘free,’ you can easily find the best coupons on the app.
You’re going need something to keep your coupons organized in at the grocery. I recommend an inexpensive, discreet coupon wallet like this one. It’s not as embarrassing as a gigantic binder, but it still allows you to categorize your favorite coupons so that you’ve got them handy when you need them.
Now, about that stockpile… If you really want to save money, you’re going to need to shop a little differently from the way you used to– When something your family loves or uses often goes on deep discount, you’re going to want to buy as many as you have coupons for, because chances are that item won’t be that price again for months. You don’t need a separate room for your stockpile– I find if I’m out of room in my pantry, I need to stop stockpiling for a few weeks– but it is a good idea to clear out some space if you can. We cleared several shelves in our garage for toilet paper and paper towels and devoted other garage shelves to bottled water, sodas, and Gatorade. We also have our old refrigerator in the garage, which is very helpful for stockpiling dairy products and frozen foods.
When it comes to stockpiling, it’s not a bad idea to start slow and ramp up as you learn what your family will and will not consume over time. We can never get enough shredded cheese, butter, or crescent roll dough, for example, so I’ve learned that there’s no going overboard when it comes to buying these products on sale. Other items, you’ll find, are harder to use up by their sell-by date– That’s where your local food bank comes in handy.
Now that you have the basics, here are some specific tips I’ve learned over the last year to help you save even more at Kroger:
The best time to save at Kroger is during those Buy x items, save $x (there are different variations) ‘Mega Events’ Kroger has every few months. You can save a TON of money during these sales and it’s a great time to stock up– and to go all out on your coupon researching if you don’t have much time to spend on it in general. These sales let you mix and match products that are part of the discount offer– You just HAVE to have multiples of 4 (or 3 or 6, depending on the sale) or you won’t get the money off, and when you’re buying a cart full of groceries, it’s easy to lose count. One of the best solutions I’ve heard is to bring a bunch of reusable bags and put the correct number of items in each bag in order to keep track of them. Brilliant!
Your Kroger receipt will generally contain a link to fill out a survey- The survey takes just a minute or two and completing it will add 50 Kroger fuel points to your card. You can complete a survey every seven days. Saving on gas is always a good thing!
Kroger’s meat departments generally discount meat that’s expiring soon on the same day each week— This is the meat you find in the ‘Manager’s Specials’ section of the meat department. It’s worth asking someone in that department which day they discount their meats because you will often find some very nice cuts of meat to freeze and use later if you hit it on the right day.
Always check the discount shelves in the bakery as well– They’re another great place to save. My family loves grilled sandwiches on bakery bread, and I can almost always find a loaf on the discount shelves (as well as dinner rolls, croissants, cookies, and cakes) for half the price of a loaf of factory sandwich bread.
Never overlook the discount bins at your Kroger— I’ve found some of the best deals ever there. Once, I found 48-packs of Green Mountain K-cups for $6 each and I often find specialty/gourmet items like preserved whole garlic cloves that didn’t sell well and end up priced at $.50 in the bargain bin. It’s worth poking around a bit to see what’s in there.
Kroger’s sale cycle starts each Wednesday in most places (your weekly Kroger ad will give you the start date), and diehard couponers are there bright and early each Wednesday morning to buy up all the best deals before they’re gone. (ANNOYING.) I don’t have time for this, and at first I was often disappointed when I’d shop on a Thursday or Friday and all of the great deals were out of stock. These days, I do things differently. I often shop at the END of the sale– on Tuesday. By that time, the couponers have come and gone and Kroger has generally had a chance to restock the item, which is still on deep discount. YASSSSS.
Be careful not to eat MORE of something just because you’ve got a stockpile of it in your pantry now. For example, Keebler cookies were on deep discount for several weeks recently (products often go on sale in cycles) and I ended up with about eight packages before it was all said and done- I generally put one or two cookies in my kids’ lunches a few times a week, as a treat. It would be tempting to start putting cookies in their lunches every single day since we have so many packages right now, but the fact is that those cookies won’t go on sale again for a long time, and the point of buying eight packages was so that we will have them in stock for months. For this reason, you may need to hide certain stockpiled foods where no one but you sees or thinks about them.
Keep a list on your phone/computer of what you’ve got on hand. I try to keep at least a rough list in my Evernote account of what’s available in my pantry and freezer — and I’ve started writing the expiration dates of my refrigerated meat on our kitchen calendar. This helps with meal planning and ensures that we actually EAT what we’ve bought. If you’ve bought something that expires within a month or two, make a note of it on the list so that it gets used before items with later expiration dates.
Also keep an open mind. Bargain grocery shopping gives you a great opportunity to try new foods and brands. The more open you are to trying new things, the more money you’ll be able to save. And if you love to cook, this gives you a great opportunity to try new recipes in order to use what you have in your stockpile, as opposed to buying more ingredients from the store. Sites like Allrecipes.com let you enter an ingredient into the search box to find recipes that use that ingredient. I’ve discovered some really wonderful new dishes this way- all because I had a plethora of taco seasoning, for example, and wanted to find a new and interesting way to use it up.
Remember, the point is to spend LESS, not MORE. Grocery shopping is a lot more fun when you’re saving up to 70% on your bill (That’s my record so far!)– It starts to feel like a game and if you’re not careful, you’ll buy things you really don’t need simply because the deal is so great. Keep an accounting of how much you’re spending each week on groceries and how much you’re actually SAVING, so that you don’t actually start spending more money– and ending up with too much food.
This isn’t the only way I save money on groceries- I also make a quick trip to Publix each week, where I save even more money than I do at Kroger (although I only buy a few things- Kroger, I think, has the best prices overall)… and I’ve saved even more money using coupon apps. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about coupon apps and saving at Publix in upcoming posts.
Do you have questions or more tips on how to save at Kroger? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Header image via Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr Creative Commons