According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) food prices rose 4% in 2007 and 5.5% in 2008. This year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), prices are predicted to rise as high as 3.5%. This means that shoppers will continue to look for ways to cut corners while still feeding their families and purchasing household goods. Our family has saved an average of $8,000 per year for the last twenty years (according to the USDA cost of food at home chart) or a total of $160,000!
Here’s how we did it as seen on ABC NEWS NOW – Good Money Show.
Q. So you’re saying that saving money on the food budget can make a significant impact on a family’s financial situation. Where does “food” generally rank in terms of expenses in a family’s budget?
Ellie: The greatest expense for most families is the mortgage and insurance, then there’s transportation and food ranks third. So if you can save money on the third largest bill you have in your family, then it can make a significant difference in your overall financial health. In fact, I fed our family of seven for only $200 per month during that first decade. According to the USDA’s “Cost of Food at Home” chart, I saved an average of $8000 per year. Since I’ve been doing this for 20 years, that’s a twenty year savings of $160,000. So it really adds up!
Q. That’s a lot of money you’ve saved, Ellie. We’re ready to hear about how your plan works. You say that “layering the savings” is the way to save 50% or more on grocery items. What are some of the savings layers?
Ellie: A lot of people think they are saving money by buying store brands or shopping the sales. While they may save a little here and there, I’ve found that the biggest savings are found when you combine or layer the savings factors. Here are some of the layers:
1. Shop the Sales
2. Use manufacturer’s coupons on brand name items
3. Shop at a double coupon store
4. Use a store coupon
5. Look for Value items – Items that donate to worthy causes such as Dawn’s Everyday Wildlife Champions
6. Get rebates
7. Get Cash off Your Next Shopping Order
Q. OK, let’s get a little more information on these different layers. I understand shopping the sales and using manufacturer’s coupons. But you lost me at combining a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon. How can you use two coupons on one item?
Ellie: In today’s example, I found a store coupon that made this $2.59 bottle of Dawn cost only .99. That is a store coupon. Then I used a manufacturer’s coupon for .25 off the same bottle. So this bottle of soap only cost me .74. And because it’s a higher end brand name, it lasts longer than a store brand (which has mostly water). Which makes it a “value” layer in our savings factors.
If you follow the funding source, then you’ll know which coupons can be combined. A “true” store coupon is one that is funded by the store’s advertising or marketing department. It is usually evident by the store name on the coupon and/or the store’s mailing address. If it has a manufacturer’s address on it, then it’s not a true store coupon. A manufacturer’s coupon is reimbursed by the manufacturer, not the store, so it can be combined with a store coupon.
Q. The other layer that can be a bit confusing is the “Cash Off Your Next Shopping Order” how do you earn that coupon, can you give me an example?
Ellie: In my example, I went to Albertson’s last week and found Post cereals, that were usually $2.89 on sale for only $1.69. I had a coupon for $1.00 off each box of cereal, which made them cost only .69 each. Post was running a promotional with Albertson’s and offered a $4.00 off your next shopping trip coupon for the purchase of 5 or more boxes of cereal. So, with sales and coupons, I paid $3.45 for five boxes of cereal and received the $4 off coupon for a net gain of five free boxes of cereal and .55.
Q. What about double coupons and even triple coupons, how does this work and what are some of the limitations that consumers should be aware of when double couponing?
Ellie: If you go to my website, and click onto the “resources” at the bottom of the home page, you’ll find a link to a list of double coupon stores across America. These are stores that will take the face value of a coupon and double (or even triple) it for the customer. So if you buy that Dawn soap, we talking about earlier, the .25 manufacturer’s coupon would now be worth .50. You need to check with the customer service desk because some of the limitations that might be included are: up to a limited amount, you might only be able to get one item doubled on any one particular product. So the first Dawn coupon would be doubled to .50 but the second one would be worth only the face value of .25. Another limitation might be on a “Buy one/Get one free” even though you are getting two products, they may only accept double coupons on the first product. If, however, the product will ring in at half price, then you could use two coupons.
Q. Are there any websites that can help me organize all these savings layers and let me know what deals are available in my area?
Ellie: Couponing can not only be time consuming and confusing, but you might not understand each store’s “rules” either. Thankfully, there are some outstanding websites that can help as they do a lot of the legwork for you. All you have to do is enter your zip code and they’ll let you know what is on sale in your area, what kind of manufacturer’s coupons should be out there on the product, what stores offer double coupons and even which stores might offer a store coupon in addition to the other sales. You can go to www.couponmom.com (free membership) or www.thegrocerygame.com (paid membership).
Q. What about saving money on food outside of the grocery store? Volunteer food programs have sprung up across the country, how do some of these work and are they cost effective for the consumer?
Ellie: There are a few different programs out there such as S.H.A.R.E that have been out there for quite a few years. SHARE is an acronym for Self-Help and Resource Exchange – is a program where people get a break on their grocery bills by exchanging volunteer time for the opportunity to buy affordable food. For each package of food purchased, we simply ask for two (2) hours of “good deed” time, whether at SHARE, other institutions in your community, or your own neighborhood. Food packages (worth up to $45) offer meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and grocery items. The price you pay is based on what you select from the menu but you can generally save about 50%. SHARE purchases the food from growers, brokers and packaging plants and is never donated, government surplus, or salvage.
For those who may not have access to a SHARE program in their area, there are other non-profits that have sprung up in response to the economic needs of families and they also offer boxes of food at bargain prices. Angel Food ministries offers $70 worth of food for $30 if you order it ahead of time and go pick it up at a central location. You can order online and it’s also a great organization to volunteer with as they have locations all across America. There are no income requirements and anyone can participate.
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)