WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Reader shares how she saved $5000 using coupons!

Posted March 13, 2015


Can you imagine saving $5000 using coupons and sales? One Smart Shopper reader went from spending $13,000 per year on groceries and non-food items to spending $8000 last year – all because of coupons, meal planning and sale shopping!

I spent some time chatting with Harriet last week and here is her inspiring couponing and saving story.

Harriet has been reading the Smart Shopper blog for 5 years and has a family of 4 including one child in elementary school and one in preschool.

How long she has been couponing:

A: She always cut coupons and remembers her mom cutting coupons. She gets one copy of the Sunday paper.

Why she started couponing:

A. Her level of couponing increased 5 years ago when she quit her full time job. Now she is working 3/4 time, mostly from home.

Amount of time spent couponing each week:

A. Other than Kroger and Harris Teeter online coupons, she doesn’t do any other online coupons or printing coupons. She gets the newspaper, Kroger and HT digital and Kroger mailed coupons and various magazines. She spends about an hour and a half on Sunday clipping coupons, going through the Kroger and HT deal lists and Just the Basics posts on the Smart Shopper blog, making her grocery list and making her meal plan.

Amount of money spent per week on groceries on average:

A. She spends approximately $150 per week including food, pull-ups, cleaning supplies, paper products and adult beverages. She uses her credit card to pay for everything, pays it off each month and earns rewards.

She mainly shops at Harris Teeter and Kroger and saves about 50% each week. She normally spends about $70 per week at Harris Teeter, $40 per week at Kroger and then her husband picks up a few things at the store during the week as well.

Annual grocery and non-food spending since 2012:

2012: $13,000

2013: $11,000

2014: $8000

Since 2012, she has cut her annual grocery and non-food essentials spending from 13,000 to $8,000! It will be interesting to see if her spending keeps going down like this for the next couple of years!

Most challenging thing about being more frugal with grocery shopping:

She said it can be time consuming. She makes a lot of food from scratch like homemade pizza dough and muffins and they do not use many packaged foods. More effort is involved with this method of saving, like using dried beans instead of canned. She freezes a lot of meals, as well.

Changes she has made with shopping and cooking:

Harriet says that she used to be a Costco and Target shopper. Now she mainly uses Costco for the gas discount. She found that she did not control spending as well and bought giant tubs of produce at Costco that would go bad or the kids got tired of it. She ended up throwing away food and there was too much waste. At Target, she would go in for 1 thing and end up with an $80 total at the register. She stopped going to Target and Costco and exercised much more control.

She buys less fancy cuts of meat - chuck roast instead of steak, for instance. Another way they eat more frugally is by creating new eat-at-home traditions like Sunday brunch at home after church instead of going out. Friday is homemade pizza night. One night a week they have beans or eggs. She is basically much more disciplined.

She pointed out that it is a big motivation that she is not wasting money anymore. She is able to feed her family relatively healthy food including very few store-bought snack foods (no Goldfish and granola bars). Instead, snacks are cheese sticks, air popcorn, apples, homemade applesauce, etc.

Most time consuming thing about couponing:

Getting it all organized for the shopping trip is most time consuming.

Best deals you have scored recently?

* Box of Raisin Bran and bottle of Gulden's spicy brown for 37 cents total!

* Six bags of Community Coffee for $4 total. It worked like this: She had a rain check for BOGO. The sale price was $4.99. So $2.50 each. She had two coupons for $4/2 and two coupons for $1.50/1.

Ways she saves on produce and meat:

Harriet saves on produce and meat by buying on sale, buying from the mark down meat and produce sections, using coupons from Kroger for organic chicken. She says that Kroger has a massive mark down section like beauty products at great deals.

Weekly meal plan:

She makes a meal plan each week based on the sales and what she already has on hand. She looks at the deal lists on the blog and especially looks for proteins on sale. She thinks about what the week holds for after school activities and work commitments and then plans her meals around sales. She doesn’t buy meat if it’s not on sale. If there are not a lot of meat or fish deals she likes for the week, they eat more beans and eggs. When there are good deals on meats, she’ll buy in bulk to use over the next few weeks.

Additional thoughts:

“Think about your goals and stay strong. It's fun to feel like I've gotten a good shop in. I have literally cheered at the register.” She said that she will even say "Jackpot" when she saves a bunch at checkout!

Harriet is a big fan of using rain checks, especially at Harris Teeter. She says, “I got a great deal a couple of weeks ago on four boxes of Finish gel tabs when I had a BOGO rain check and coupons.” And by the way, rain checks at Harris Teeter and Food Lion do not expire!

She shares, “Also, I have a garden in the spring and summer and we grow a lot of herbs, so I save a bit on produce during those seasons. We actually dried our own herbs this year. Our neighbor also has a large garden, which we benefit from occasionally.”

Harriet has a great tip on shopping in your pantry first before heading to the store: “Every couple of months, I try to not buy anything or only the essentials. Because we had a bunch of extra milk and fresh produce on hand from stocking up before the last winter storm, this is a no spend week. I'm looking through the cupboards, freezer and frig for dinner items. We're eating fine - the meal plan looks like this: vegetarian chili, chicken thighs, shrimp from the freezer, quesadillas and sausage and broccoli pasta. The kids are eating PBJ or Nutella sandwiches, pasta with cheese, salads and boiled eggs (along with fruit, nuts) in their lunches. Husband is having leftovers. I'm scrounging. So this week, I spent just $6 for ice cream (HT BOGO deal) for a little family celebration we have this time of year.”

An additional benefit of having plenty of frugal grocery options at home is that they have been able to cut back their restaurant budget. They have gone from $300 per month to $100 per month.

Suggestions for even greater savings:

As far as getting to the next level of saving, I would recommend that Harriet start using some printable coupons and cash back sites (like SavingStar and Checkout51) in addition to the Sunday coupons and digital coupons she is now using. She could cut her restaurant expenses even more each month by getting take-out sometimes instead of eating in the restaurant. Get the main dishes to go and provide drinks and additional sides at home with frugal groceries you already have on hand.

The good news is that when her youngest is out of Pull-Ups, she'll save even more. The bad news is that as they get older, everything else is much more expensive like car insurance, marching band fees and prom dresses! But she has a little while to get ready for that excitement.

My thanks to Harriet for sharing her couponing story and super savings! Keep up the great work, Harriet!


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  • bsjcna1 Mar 14, 2015

    I always enjoy reading other couponer's stories. I get some ideas to add on to my frugal lifestyle every time I read one. I love to read how people are saving money and not eating out of a box every day. Thanks for sharing .

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Mar 13, 2015

    I agree Cindy. It's always nice to see how much others are saving. It's very motivating!

    PCB - I remember those days before I started couponing and meal planning when there were definitely some "panic moments" wondering at 6 pm what we were having for dinner. It's so nice to know I always have something I can make.

    Thanks again for sharing your story Harriet!

  • grafted Mar 13, 2015

    Thanks for a great story, Harriet & Faye! I think we all enjoy the inspiration.

  • pcbdouglas Mar 13, 2015

    Great job Harriet and thanks for sharing your story with us. Saving money like this really is doable. It does take some effort, especially at first, but the rewards and savings are so worth it. It's also wonderful when you get to the point where you can just shop your pantry and freezer for dinner, rather than having to deal with the "we have nothing in the house to eat" panic at 6 pm every night.