April 13, 2011

shopping- how do you roll?

I had a tutorial planned for today but last night was struck with the overwhelming urge to talk about grocery shopping. I know, not very exciting, but just for shits and giggles, go with me on this, because I have a question. A couple of questions actually.

Last night I went out, past my bedtime (granted, that's pretty early these days) to fetch our weekly groceries. Our trip to New York threw off my shopping schedule and while I had hoped to make it through to today to do a big shop, I realized last night (after I had put on pjs a slippers, dang it!) that we were totally out of milk and bread, among other things. The other could have waited but milk and bread were a must for the morning. And since the little shop that we run to for forgotten items was already closed and we needed a bunch of stuff anyway, I got dressed again and headed out.

I rarely go to the grocery store at night, but when I do I'm always amazed at how calm and quiet it is. Everyone should go to the store in the middle of the night. Except not, because then it wouldn't be calm I suppose. Last night I arrived at the same time as two women who were doing their shopping together. You know how when you start shopping at the same time as someone else and you are both going at about the same pace you keep crossing paths? I hate that. For some reason I feel as though they think I'm following them, which of course I'm not, it's in my head. Which explains why I love grocery delivery I suppose. Well, last night I kept crossing paths with these two women. Normally I'd shoot off to the other end of the store to break the cycle but after two aisles with these two I realized that they were tandem coupon shopping, and I couldn't help but hang around and watch.

Coupon shopping fascinates me. I know that there are people out there who revel in it, who buy loads and loads of groceries for pennies through the coupon game, but somehow I've never been able to be much of a coupon shopper. Sure I bring the odd coupon, but for the most part I just search for deals on the shelves and pay my bill accordingly.

These two were super organized with a big binder perched at the front of one cart filled with photo pocket sheets to keep the coupons organized. At first I thought they might be kind of brilliant. Working in a team like that seems more doable. For one thing, you can split the amount you buy, so instead of coming home with ten of something, you only have to store five. Plus I imagine it's more fun to work together, both in gathering the coupons and in doing the actual shopping.

But as we went along I started to notice the actual contents of the cart. No fruit. No veggies, not a lot of meat or cheese. It was mostly snack food and canned goods. Lots and lots of chips. Now don't get me wrong, I love a bag of Doritos as much as anyone, but I very rarely buy them. We've always been on a pretty tight grocery budget, I suppose most people who operate on once income are, and I try my best to be health conscious for my family and minimize the premade, processed type foods. So most of the things in my cart each week are ingredients, rather than ready to eat foods. And the snack foods that I do buy are things like graham crackers or string cheese, both of which I can buy as a store brand.

So here is my question, or at least the first question. Does coupon shopping really save any money? I mean, if you are on a tight budget and you cook most of your foods from scratch, is it worth it, or can you save more by shopping store brands and skipping the snacky items that are most often on sale?

My other question is how people do it? Where do you go for all those coupons? I usually look though any fliers that we get but since we don't subscribe to the paper (sorry dad!) we really don't get many coupon circulars. I'm curious about the amount of time and commitment it takes to really make a difference on your grocery bill.

And also, where do you keep all that food that was such a good deal? We've never been bulk buyers, mostly because my husband and son will eat whatever is on hand within a week, so if there are three boxes of crackers that are supposed to last a month, they'll still polish them off in five days flat, which means the whole club buying thing ends up costing us more in the long run. But even if they didn't, say, devour everything in sight immediately (and still be long and lean, lucky genes!) I never know where to put all that extra stuff.

This has been on my mind lately as we get ready for our move. Since we'll be living in 'wholly cow it costs what for a gallon of milk?' New York, and will be on a student budget with all that implies, I've been flipping through cookbooks and my stock of recipes to look for my most budget minded meals for the coming year. Which makes me wonder if it would be worth my time to start playing the coupon game.

Advice, please. What is your experience? Are coupons really just a way to get you to buy what you don't need or do they help?