Grocery shopping on a budget is hard work. Did I ever tell you about the time I tried extreme couponing? I failed. Miserably.
I listened to podcasts, watched TV shows, read books and followed blogs to learn the best tips and tricks to save money. I would buy three copies of the weekly paper, come home and pour through the fliers for the best sales. Then I would drive from store to store and get the absolute best deals on canned soup and toilet paper.
Needless to say, this did not last long.
While this madness did help me save money ($100-200/month!), I found that my weekends were overrun with the logistics. I would spend hours – HOURS I TELL YOU – buying the paper, scouring the coupon inserts, clipping and organizing the coupons. This is not to mention the time spent driving to multiple stores and finding the best deals on every item. I loved the savings, but despised the effort.
I was giving up a full day of my weekend to get the best deals while the quality of our diet was diminishing. We were eating more prepackaged and processed foods than ever before.
For me, the savings I got from couponing was not worth the time investment or the headache. At all.
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What I Do Now
Now, I look for ways to not have to buy the same things repeatedly. I look for reusable or homemade solutions. I focus on buying less rather than finding the best deals.
When I was clipping coupons, the cheapest pack of paper towels I bought cost $3.50 for 12 rolls. When I found this deal I was so excited, I felt like I had struck gold.
I didn’t know at the time, but I was overspending, by a lot. Paper towels aren’t a necessity. In my short-lived couponing days I was thrilled to have a paper towel budget of $84/year, now it’s close to $0.
Save with Ibotta
Aside from hating the huge time-suck, I was way too disorganized to be a good coupon clipper. I’d always forget my coupon stash at home at home or lose them in my purse. I first found out about Ibotta while still in my extreme couponing phase, and I immediately fell in love with its simplicity.
Ibotta is an absolutely genius coupon app, with over 300 participating stores and rebates on everything from makeup to toys to groceries. It even offers rebates for whole foods and off-brand groceries, which is what I use it for most.
To use it, simply sign up here. Use my referral code (IVGQQNR) to sign up to receive a $10 cash bonus once your account is open. Your rewards can go right to PayPal, which is easily transferred to your bank account. You really are getting straight cash $$ back for purchases.
Try to Spend Less, Not Save More
It is important to remember when grocery shopping that your goal is to spend less, not necessarily to save more.
That was confusing. Let me clarify.
If you’re looking to maximize how much money you save, you’re looking to find the best deals – the most amount of dollars off a product. So, let’s say there’s a cereal that costs $5. Your grocery store is running a great deal: buy one, get one free (save $5). You see that Ibotta also offers a rebate of $2 when you buy two boxes of said cereal. You have the potential to save $7, or 70% on two boxes of cereal. What a deal!
Total savings: $7
Total spending: $3
However, when you’re looking to spend the least amount, you look at the cereal and take note of what a great deal it is. But you also ask yourself: do I need this cereal? Will I eat and enjoy this cereal? If the answer is no, you push your cart right on by.
Total savings: $0
Total spending: $0
As you can see, you saved more in the first scenario, but you spent less in the second scenario. For those of us on a budget, it is easy to get caught up in potential savings. Remember, though, you save the most money by not spending any in the first place.
How to Grocery Shop on a Budget
This is the best method I’ve found to spend the least at the grocery store:
Have a Snack and Make a List
Never shop for groceries without a list! Use a meal plan (we have a monthly plan on repeat). For each item on your list, know what meal, snack, or recipe you’ll need it for. Each purchase needs a purpose. Cutting down on impulse buying at the grocery store saves money and reduces food waste, so always stick to the list.
Have a snack. I always eat a little something before heading out to grocery shop, otherwise I’d ravenously buy all the food.
Open Ibotta and Search for “Any”
Before leaving the house, open up Ibotta and do a quick search for “any”. This will pull up all available rebates for “any brand” items. These rebates can be used toward produce and generic brand items (fruits, veggies, milk, bread, etc.).
Since fresh fruits and veggies are a staple of any healthy diet, make a note of the available rebates on produce. These rebates change weekly.
Don’t look through any other rebates yet. I repeat, do not look through other rebates yet.
I speak from experience: Once you start browsing those other rebates, your grocery list grows and grows. Before you know it, you’re savings total is $30 more but you’re spending an extra $50 on things you don’t really need.
You’ll stick to your budget and save the most money by creating a list of only the items you truly need each week. Wait until you get home to search for any other rebates.
Head to the Store
Go to one store per week. Just one. Food gathering should be quick and simple, thankyouverymuch.
Buy only the items on your list. Nothing “just because it looks good.” Let the list be your guide.
Note: If you buy a lot of packaged goods, chances are you have a preferred brand for each item. Buy this brand. Please buy fewer brand-specific products in the future – this will save you way more money than any rebates or coupons. If you don’t have a brand preference, buy the cheapest brand (usually generic).
Scan and Unload Groceries
The first thing to do once you get back home is to take your receipt out and put it in a safe place. This is important.
Then, find your smartphone (or borrow your partner’s) and open the Ibotta app. I always put my fresh produce away first, followed by generic items. Scan any generic items with available rebates into the app.
Once that’s done and you’ve unloaded your produce and generic brand groceries, go through your brand-specific purchases. Enter each item into the search bar in the Ibotta app to check for rebates. If you only stock a few brand name groceries in your house (a great way to spend less), it won’t take long to do this step.
When a rebate pops up for a brand-specific item you’ve already purchased, add it and do a little happy dance. You just got free money!
After everything is put away, take a quick picture of your receipt in the app and submit it. You’re a few dollars richer.
Some weeks the savings don’t look like much, especially if you’re used to shopping to maximize your savings. I promise, though, it adds up quickly. You can withdraw your savings into PayPal or onto a gift card once you cross the $20 threshold. If you signed up with my referral code (IVGQQNR), you’re already halfway there. It only took me two trips to the grocery to cross the $20 withdrawal threshold.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget Just Got So Much Simpler
Back in my couponing days, I loved to see the summary of how much I’d saved through coupons at the bottom of my grocery receipt. It was a rush to see that I’d saved $40-50 per trip. Every time I went shopping, I would try to top my “personal best” amount of savings, until I eventually got burnt out.
I don’t get that rush of adrenaline as much with my current method of grocery shopping. My focus has shifted from maximizing my savings to minimizing my spending. No, the savings are tallied up on the bottom of my receipt, but by sticking to a list, buying whole foods and generic brands, and using Ibotta, my grocery spending is lower than it was through the hassle of couponing.