Taste Those Savings

Ken Cutler

I GET A THRILL FROM saving money on groceries. We have customer loyalty cards for the two local grocery stores where we do most of our shopping. The sales receipts list total savings for that shopping trip. I love to see big numbers on that line.

I’m a prodigious cereal eater, and my favorite is Cheerios. The regular price for the smallest box is $4.99. Of course, I never pay that. Fairly frequently, one of the local stores runs specials on General Mills brands, and the price for small boxes of Cheerios is often two for $6. Occasionally, they’re two for $5 or even two for $4. I have on rare occasions even purchased two for $3. At $1.50 a box, that’s a savings of 70% over the regular price.

If a cereal I eat regularly is discounted significantly, I’m likely to buy it even if we have some in stock already. I’ve also sampled the various store brands of cereal, which are priced much more favorably. I’ve found that I like some as much as the name brands, while others I’d never buy again. None of the generic substitutes for Cheerios tastes good to me. On the other hand, I can’t tell the difference between generic and name-brand frosted mini-wheats.

What about other grocery store items? I generally don’t buy things like pouches of tuna, pasta sauce, certain frozen dinners and name-brand orange juice unless they’re discounted. Similarly, I usually won’t try out a new product unless it’s offered on sale.

I have an online account for one of our local stores where I can redeem points accrued on past purchases to get a discount on a future bill. Each month, I typically get a $3 or $4 reward for my efforts. Hey, every little bit helps.

I’m not a coupon clipper, but I recently downloaded a grocery store’s app to my phone, and I’ve used it a few times to get some good deals. This is a potential growth area for me. With the help of digital coupons on a recent trip, I saved $14.38 on a $50.57 bill. That’s a savings of more than 28%.

On one of my many spreadsheets, I keep track of our spending on groceries and related items. I track total spending by store, not by individual purchase. For example, everything we spend at Costco goes into the tally, even though we occasionally purchase non-food items there. Despite all the concern about food inflation, my spreadsheet indicates these expenses have remained steady over the past few years.

My efforts as the family’s secondary grocery shopper result in admittedly small overall savings, but it gives me some sense of control in the face of spiraling price increases. I have to give my wife Lisa credit for becoming an increasingly discriminating shopper. Funny thing is, she’s managed to do this without even bothering with spreadsheets. Go figure.

Now that I’m semi-retired, I can accompany Lisa to Costco more frequently. The last time I went, we purchased two extra-large boxes of Cheerios for $3.99. That’s the equivalent of less than 87 cents for a small box, a discount of more than 80% over the regular price. That’s far better than the best price I’ve ever gotten at a grocery store. I may need to update my strategy.

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