I learned this lesson a long time ago when shopping with my mom. We went to the grocery store with fistfuls of coupons and dutifully hunted down every item we had a coupon for. We loaded up the cart with spaghetti sauce, snack foods and soups, each of which might "save" us another 25 cents. When we checked out, the bill was DOUBLE our normal weekly expenditure. Why? Wasn't each item supposed to save us money? We had in fact purchased things we didn't need, maybe didn't even want, just so we could use the coupon. We bought unhealthy packaged foods that could have been prepared more nutritiously-and economically-from home. The coupons cost us far more than they saved.
Coupons are not free money; they are advertisements. They are created to suck you in, to trick you into buying something that wasn't on your list. I have some simpler, easier and healthier ways to save money on groceries. Read on.
Even the simplest food is more nutritious and cost-effective when prepared at home. Consider this. A sandwich at a local restaurant is about $8.79 + tax (and gas to get you there and back). A similar sandwich prepared at home with bread, meat, cheese, lettuce and veggies is less than $9.00 for the total cost of ingredients, but it serves four to six rather than one! So the cost per serving for a homemade sandwich is $2.25.
Cook from scratch
Avoid the center of the grocery store. Produce and bakery items are usually on the sides of the store, with meat, eggs and dairy at the back. In the center is where all the packaged, processed and pricey items hang out. Avoid them. Pick up the produce, do a little chopping and save both money and calories. If you're especially handy, bake your own french bread from scratch like my sister regularly does. It is amazingly delicious and costs just pennies a loaf.
Every night after dinner if there's a little something leftover I package it up and pop it in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. Average cost of lunch out? $5.00. Cost of my leftovers? FREE.
Dried beans and lentils have fabulous nutrients and copious amounts of fiber. The most inexpensive way to add these to your meals is to purchase them dry (rather than canned) and soak them overnight. Most also offer a rapid-soak method, which requires only a rapid boil and a one-hour simmer instead of an overnight soak.
Use in-store coupons
Okay, so there is one exception: in-store coupons. If I stumble across a coupon when I'm reaching for the item at the grocer's, I absolutely use it. It's not tricking me into something I don't need because I already intended to purchase it when I saw the coupon. Pluck and use these. Most recently I have done this with whole grain pasta (Target) and with shredded cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream (our neighborhood grocer). These are completely harmless.
Throw away the coupons
This may hurt a little at first. But you'll get used to it. And you'll love the extra space in your drawers and your wallet where the coupons used to hang out-places you could stash some cash instead. I have even experimented with coupon clubs fairly recently, and while there is a brief thrill that comes from seeing a large "amount saved" at the bottom of the receipt, most of those items end up sitting unused on the pantry shelf. (I recently discarded something that had been there for six years!)
Once in a while there's a great one, but the sad truth is coupons are advertisements. And when you use one, you've fallen prey to their tactics. There are usually no coupons for the items you and your body truly need. How often do you see a coupon that reads, "Tomatoes-25 cents off per pound"? Never. "Celery-buy one get one free"? Nope.
Order home-delivered groceries
This final suggestion probably sounds completely radical. When I order my groceries online and have them delivered to our home weekly, there is a nominal delivery fee, but compared to what we might end up spending on impulse purchases by multiple grocery-store runs, I'm convinced we still come out ahead on this one. It gives me greater control over our weekly expenditures. It's the exact opposite of coupon-shopping. And everyone loves our dairy-fresh milk!