When I initially saw that meme I chuckled a little bit. It did however remind me that a few of you (no, seriously!) have asked me to lay out my tips and tricks for how I save so much money. This article certainly has the potential to be my longest post ever because there’s not just one specific thing – it’s a culmination of a lot of little things that add up.
(edit: After starting this post and getting almost to the end of the grocery section, I determined that this would be best laid out as a series of posts, as opposed to one monster long post. As I finish them I’ll link them to each other so that they’re easier to find and this way you can only read the ones that apply to you.)
Part One: Groceries and Coupons
For starters, I shop at my local grocery store, Aldi and Costco. They all have weekly (or in Costco’s case, monthly) ads, which is always where I begin. We also meal plan every Sunday for the following week and try to use what we have on hand as well as what’s on sale in the weekly ad.
I honestly forgot how great Aldi is – their food is high quality and much less expensive than a traditional grocery store. I usually end up getting veggies and wine here. Their Winking Owl wine is a steal at $2.95/bottle. I’m not even joking, I’ve paid substantially more for worse wine in the past so unless I’m trying to support local, Aldi is my go to place for wine. You probably know about Aldi from all their gluten free options, but they’re starting to add more vegan items to their shelves! Which is great for me – especially in February. We just tried these vegan buffalo “chicken” patties and it was about $2.60 for a box of 4. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
Hy-Vee is where I do the rest of my grocery shopping. And it’s imperative that you always go in with a list of what you need to buy. Otherwise, especially if you’re hungry, you’ll end up buying all sorts of things that you don’t need, which doesn’t help your budget. So I check the ad to see what’s on sale and what I actually need. I grocery shop for the entire week in one go so again, it’s important I have a list and I know what the meal plans are for the upcoming week.
I also check to see if there’s a fuel saver that week. For example, if you get 25 cents off per gallon of gas if you shop Friday or Saturday, I try to go one of those days to compound my savings. Also, I coupon (more on this below). I don’t get the newspaper, but coupons.com allows me to print off any coupons that would be available in the flyer. More times than not, I also buy off brand because it’s a little less expensive. (There are definitely some exceptions to this, but I save where I can.) Another thing I’ve learned – on Wednesday everything in the Health Market is 10% off, and Tuesday’s are double punch days at the deli counter – meaning you only have to buy 5 pounds of ham to get a pound free, versus 10. It all adds up.
Costco is the exception to this list because it requires a membership to shop there. There are two common options – the basic membership at $60/year and the Executive membership at $120/year. We have the Executive Membership and with it we earn 2% back on everything we buy at Costco.
A little side story, last year we only earned $48 dollars back so we were going to downgrade to the basic membership. I explained this to the guy at the Customer Service counter and he explained how the executive membership was essentially risk free because we could always refund it. Wait, what? And that’s exactly what happened – he took our $48 rebate and credited us the other $12 and we only had to pay $60 for the executive membership for another year. Obviously if you earn back more than $60 you wouldn’t be able to go this route but it’s good to know in case you come in a little (or a lot) shy.
I also have a Costco credit card – which earns me 4% back on gas, 3% back on dining and travel, 2% back at Costco and 1% on everything else. My other credit card only gets me 1.5% back on everything so in 2019 I switched to using my Costco card for anything that would get me more than 1.5%. I did the math the other night and this switch earned me an extra $98 in cash back in 2019. That’s literally free money just to put dinner on a different card.
We go to Costco about once every month or two and stock up on toilet paper, Kleenex and anything else that isn’t going to go bad right away. I almost never buy fruit or veggies at Costco because we just can’t eat them that fast. But freezer items or coffee or garbage bags – yes please! Again, I have a list, because otherwise there are way too many fun things at Costco and I will definitely get sidetracked and buy way more than I need.
Another important thing to note is that we bought a vacuum sealer. No one wants to buy in bulk and then have their meat freezer-burn, so we bought one on Amazon for about $55. It’s also perfect for when meat goes on sale at the meat counter and we want to take advantage of the price. You can vacuum seal a lot of other food too – like fruits and veggies but we mainly use it when we buy meat.
I’m sure you’re thinking, duh, Star, of course coupons allow you to save money. Kinda a weird heading, but hear me out. I almost always shop with coupons. At first I felt bad using coupons, especially if they held up the line, but once I got over that anxiety, it’s been a game-changer. I will use as many coupons that I can. Before I get in to that though, we need to get something clear: you are not saving money if you buy something you don’t need. Places will email you coupons like 20% off everything one day only! to get you to buy stuff you don’t actually need. It works or they wouldn’t keep doing it.
So here’s suggestion #1 for you: Use a different email address for email marketing or use something like unroll.me. One of my close friends uses a “rewards” email address for all her promotions so I created one as well. More often than not I forget to use it so I rely primarily on unroll.me. I filter all my promotional emails in to this one daily email. The benefit of this is – I don’t see all the offers in each email in my inbox, but I still get all the emails. This means if I’m shopping somewhere and I know I get their emails, I can pull up a specific folder and use my 20% off coupon. The difference: I was going to shop there to begin with and now get a discount vs only shopping somewhere because I have a coupon. It took a little bit to adjust to, but once I did then it made a huge difference.
Suggestion #2 – use cash back apps like Ibotta and Rakuten. I use Ibotta at the grocery store to get cash back on purchases. Every once and awhile they have a small amount back for any item – which is always nice because then you don’t have to buy a specific brand. You can even work as a team to win larger amounts of cash back. If you don’t have the app, join my team! Rakuten (formerly ebates) is amazing. I was skeptical at first, but they definitely send you real checks! I don’t have the app – only the browser extension – and each time I visit a site with cash back then I activate it. It’s usually a small percentage at a time and they send you a check every three months. Especially now living in a COVID world and shopping online, each little bit back helps. I actually started tracking the cash back that I get for each online purchase I’ve made in 2020 so I’ll let you in on that stat at the end of the year.
However, in coupons alone from February through beginning of September 2020, I have already saved $2128.56. That value includes at the grocery store, online shopping, at restaurants or coffee houses and other local establishments. Keep in mind though, like I said earlier, you are not saving money if you are spending it on things you don’t need. Some of those savings definitely include splurges.
Ok, I think I gave you enough to chew on for one day! Download those apps, check your flyers and most importantly, start keeping track! Keeping a budget is another way to see how much you’re saving (and spending) and where you can make adjustments or improvements!
Until next time.