Food is the third largest expenditure for most families, following housing and transportation. It’s also one of the most flexible spending categories, since there are so many ways to save money at the grocery store.
You can start trimming your grocery bill the old-school way, by checking the circulars you get weekly in the mail or with your newspaper. The front page of these circulars often advertise the loss leaders—the stuff the stores offer below cost, to get you in the door.
After that, though, there are plenty of higher-tech ways to expand your savings. Such as:
Grocery comparison sites. Most of these sites revolve around using the glossy coupons found in the Sunday newspaper, but you don’t have to be a coupon clipper to get value from them. Sites like CouponMom.com, The Grocery Game and The Krazy Coupon Lady alert you to big sales so you can stock up. Some of the sales don’t involve coupons, and others offer deep discounts even without them.
Shortcuts.com. This site allows you to add electronic coupons to your store loyalty cards so you automatically get cents off when you buy the product—no clipping required. Not all chains participate, though; you can check here to see if any of your local stores are on the list.
Social media. Following your favorite stores on Twitter and “liking” their pages on Facebook can be a way to get clued in to special deals. It’s not just the big chains, either; many of your favorite local businesses use social media too (including my favorite local bakery, curse them). And speaking of local deals, chances are good there’s a blogger in your area posting and tweeting about them. In Orange County, California, it’s OC Deals blogger and my friend Marla Fisher (Twitter handle @DealsDiva) and in south Florida it’s Miami On The Cheap blogger Teresa Mears (@miamicheap). There isn’t a central directory of these folks, as far as I know, but if you search on “grocery deals” plus the name of your city, you may turn up some…or just ask your friends on Facebook or Twitter.
Deal-a-day sites. Probably the best-known of these sites is Groupon, which typically offers deeply discounted vouchers good at local or national businesses. Groupon is “social” in that a certain number of users have to choose to buy the vouchers for the deal to be “on.”
Smart phone apps. A smart shopper always uses a list, and several apps (including GroceryIQ for iPhones and Android) can help you keep grocery lists on your smartphone. Another app I like: CardStar, which allows you to store your loyalty cards on the phone (no more fumbling for little plastic cards at the checkout counter). CardStar is available for iPhones, Android, BlackBerries and Windows Phones; a similar app, Key Ring, is available for iPhones and Android. Also essential: bar code readers, which allow you to scan the bar code on a product and see what it’s selling for elsewhere. I use RedLaser (available for iPhones and Android) and Price Check by Amazon (iPhones only). And speaking of Amazon:
Check Amazon.com. Amazon has become to the go-to online retailer for far more than just books. The deals vary, but Amazon has a large selection of groceries shipped to your door, plus its “Subscribe & Save” service gives you an additional 15% discount and free shipping on items sent to you at a regular interval of your choice (typically every month, two months, three months or six months). Amazon sometimes offers deep initial discounts to get you to subscribe (DealNews is one of the sites that tracks these offers); you can take advantage of the deal and cancel anytime, or keep the subscription for the convenience.
InvisibleHand.com. Price comparison sites like PriceGrabber and Yahoo! Shopping allow you to search for the best deals by visiting their sites. InvisibleHand, by contrast, is an add-on to your Web browser that notifies you if the item you’re shopping for online is available elsewhere at a lower price—without leaving the page you’re on. Not every retailer and product is covered, but many of the big boys are here, including Target, WalMart and yes, Amazon.com.