I recently did a grocery-shopping trip with a local television reporter to demonstrate coupon savings strategies. The reporter asked me an interesting question: "What are the top five mistakes shoppers make that causes them to spend too much money?"
I gave quite a bit of thought to her question, and explained what I thought the top five mistakes were, and how shoppers could save if they knew how to avoid making these mistakes. I'll share them with you to help you save money, too.
Top Five Mistakes Grocery Shoppers Make:
1. Not having a plan.
Although life can make it difficult to be organized every time you shop, it is a proven fact that shoppers who plan and stick to their shopping lists spend less money than shoppers who go to the store with only a vague idea of what they need to buy. The shopper without a plan is much more likely to buy items on impulse, to pay higher prices than necessary because they aren't aware of current sale bargains, and to come back to the store sooner because they didn't remember everything they needed during their unplanned trip.
Conversely, the shopper with a plan would have their meals planned around what the best sale bargains were that week, they would have thought through everything they needed to last at least a full week to avoid frequent (and expensive) trips, and they may even have coupons to match sale items. The shopper with a plan would most likely spend 50% less overall than the shopper without a plan. The 30 minutes required to make a good plan pays off.
Even if you find yourself in the store parking lot without a plan, you can stop and jot down your best attempt at a shopping list, and grab the store sales flyer as you go in the store. Quickly scan the front and back pages of the ad to make sure you get any super-bargains. And shop quickly to avoid spending more time and money than necessary.
2. Throwing away the coupon circulars. Over the years I have heard countless reasons why people choose not to use coupons (too busy, coupon food is unhealthy, etc). I also know plenty of busy shoppers with healthy eating habits who save hundreds of dollars a year with coupons. Use the "no-clip" system at www.couponmom.com and you can save easily on items you like, even if the only "coupon items" you find that you use are deodorant and toothpaste. Check your store's best deals list and your newspaper's Virtual Coupon Organizer on the site and you may be surprised what coupons can save for you. Be sure to save the entire circular and put the date on the front so you can find coupons when you need them. You may miss free deals listed on the site if you selectively cut out a few coupons and throw the rest of the circular away.
3. Being too brand loyal.
Most shoppers buy the same products repeatedly, whether they actually prefer the brand or are simply buying the product out of habit. When you begin watching sales and using coupons, you will find that other brands may be free with a coupon. At that point, it's worth it to try a new brand. If you must have the same brand for a particular item based on a true preference, then watch for sales and stock up when it hits its lowest price.
4. Not knowing your store's coupon policies.
Many stores double or triple grocery coupons, which means it could be possible to get many items free with coupons. Most stores that double coupons do it every day of the week, although a common misperception is that stores only double coupons on selected days. If you don't know your stores' policies, you could be missing big savings. Ask your stores' customer service personnel if they double grocery coupons, up to what amount, and how often they double coupons.
5. Using coupons too soon.
Most coupon shoppers cut out a few coupons from the circulars and use them that week. However, your best strategy is to wait until your coupon items go on sale to use your coupon. If you track prices for your most common items you will discover their prices have fairly predictable cycles. Therefore, if you know your favorite salad dressing or cereal is a common "buy one, get one free" item at your store, wait until it hits that low price before using your coupon, which your store may even double. The average coupon expires two and a half months after it is issued, so you can wait a few weeks before using it, if necessary, to pay the lowest price possible for your favorite items.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABCNews.com. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at www.couponmom.com.