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  • SoCal Grocery Shopping Alternatives

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    I’ll be discussing whether to continue shopping at Ralphs after the changes to their coupon policy and Ralphs Rewards go into effect next month later, but for now, I wanted to discuss shopping alternatives and options. As I mentioned this morning, there are other stores in Southern California that double coupons now, but the only other store that doubles near where I live is Vons/Pavilions. So I’ve been thinking about other stores and other ways to save money:

    Farmers Markets – Prices at Farmers Market may not be the lowest available, but I find that although they don’t have the “organic” label, the produce is generally grown without chemicals, and the prices are lower than “organic” foods. It’s a “happy medium” for me, and the produce is generally so fresh that it lasts much longer than produce bought at a store.

    Target (and/or Walmart if you live near one) – All of the Target stores near me have expanded grocery sections now, which include fresh produce, fresh meat, multiple freezers, and more food on the shelves. It’s been my experience that Target’s sale prices are nowhere near as low as the sale prices at Ralphs and Vons, but I’m not sure that will continue without doubles. In fact, I’m thinking that Target might have some bargains after sale, manufacturer coupon, and Target coupon. Plus, Target price matches, so that might help get the best price.

    Sprouts – I’ve never set foot in a Sprouts, but I believe they accept manufacturer’s coupons, and often have sale prices comparable to those of Ralphs and Vons.

    Jons – Jons has an official coupon policy (yay!), and they accept all manu coupons except printables for free products. They have great produce sales, although I do find that their sale prices on many general grocery items are not rock bottom (though the level that constitutes rock bottom has been rising so that may not be true anymore).

    Ethnic markets – There are ethnic markets all over LA, and although I haven’t frequented many, I’ve heard over and over again that they have great prices on their specialty items.

    Shop at multiple stores – It’s always been the case that you’ll save the most money by buying the best deals at multiple stores each week, but it may be even more the case now that Ralphs won’t be doubling coupons. We shall see!

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    Tips for Shopping with Kids

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    A week ago, when it was still winter vacation from school, I took my oldest son shopping with me and he was so good about it. We picked up a lot of bargains at multiple stores, including cheap cereal at Vons and $0.49 packs of batteries at Ralphs.* In retrospect, I realized I had done quite a few things to induce his cooperation and good behavior – things that I ought to keep in mind for future shopping trips:

    1. Mental preparation – I told my son the day before that we would be going shopping the next day, and that the plan was to drop his brother off at preschool and then head to some stores. That mentally prepared him for the next morning, so that things got off to a smooth start.
    2. Pick a “good” day and be flexible – My son woke up in a good mood (he usually does), but if he had been cranky, I probably wouldn’t have started our marathon shopping session right after dropping his brother off. Maybe we would have stopped for breakfast first, or some other activity he enjoys, to get him in a better mood. If he had been in a particularly bad mood, I would have aborted my shopping plans entirely for the sake of my own sanity.
    3. Plan a fun stop – I didn’t actually plan this ahead of time, but when I saw Starbucks near Whole Foods, I realized it was time for a snack. My son gets very moody when his blood sugar drops, so we popped into Starbucks, where he enjoyed a cake pop (his drink was water that was in the car). Next time, when I’m (hopefully) better prepared, I will try to plan for a stop at a park so he can run around too.
    4. Explain what you’re doing – I always explain to my kids that I shop the way I do to save money so that we have money for other things, like their toys, or to put into savings for the future. My first-grader is beginning to grasp the value of a dollar, and even my younger son understands that money is not an unlimited commodity.
    5. Offer lots of praise and thanks – I told my son repeatedly while we were out that he was behaving well, and I really appreciated his cooperation. If I recall correctly, we went to seven different stores in about three hours, and he was a real trooper.

    *Side note: I’ve been able to get free AA and AAA batteries at the drugstores, Staples, and Target. But I take advantage of sales like the current one at Ralphs to get other sizes, which I’ve never been able to find for free.

    Couponing for Good

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    Last month, I discovered that some friends were part of a giving circle and that they were buying holiday presents for a needy family. They graciously allowed us to join them in the giving, so we gave a gift for each family member, and I also put together a large collection of toiletries and beauty products. Most of the toiletries were free or super cheap thanks to The Drugstore Game, but I realized I had far fewer items to give than I could have because I hadn’t shopped that much in the fall.

    Prices have definitely gone up in the last couple of years, and I feel like I have to work harder to get the deals. Consequently, my stockpile is about two-thirds of the size it used to be.

    So one of the things I want to do in 2012 is build my stockpile back up, so that I can give more. I’ve been going to one drugstore a week, usually CVS – so maybe I will start going to two drugstores a week to get more items.

    Do you “Coupon for Good”?

    When to use or save a great coupon

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    Unless you’re one of those rare coupon users that can get their hands on as many coupons as they want, there will come a time when you wonder if a deal is one you should use your coupons on, or if it you should pass it up in case an even better deal comes along.

    When this happens, there are a few questions to ask yourself:

    Are there preview ads? You can often see the ads for upcoming sales online. The forums for specific stores at A Full Cup are a great place to start. Check the ads to see if there’s a better sale around the corner.

    Will the coupon make the item free or a moneymaker? My general rule of thumb is to go ahead and use the coupon if it makes an item free or a moneymaker. Maybe a bigger moneymaker deal is around the corner, but unless I know that for sure, I’d rather grab the sure thing while it’s available.

    What’s my target price? I recommend everyone have some kind of price book, which is a record of the lowest prices you’ve paid. A price book makes it easy to determine whether a sale price is a “stock up” price that you should take advantage of. If the answer is yes, then consider:

    How long until the coupon expires? If it expires soon, say within a couple of weeks, then you might want to go ahead and use the coupon now. On the other hand, if the coupon doesn’t expire for a long time, you might want to wait.

    What is the sales cycle for this type of item? Some stores have predictable sales cycles. For example, there are grocery stores that have a great sale on pasta every six or eight weeks. Knowing the sales cycle can help you predict whether there’s a big sale coming up. Seasons and holidays also make for predictable sales. For example, if the coupon is for hot dogs and it’s May, you’ll know there will be upcoming sales for Memorial Day and Fourth of July barbeques.

    How badly do I want/need the item? Most of the time, this is the deciding factor for me, especially if I will be going to the store primarily for the deal in question. Many times, even if the deal is a good one, I’ll decide that it isn’t worth the effort and time to go to the store. On the other hand, if the deal is for something I’m running low on, I’ll sometimes make a special trip to use my coupons.


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    Couponing Strategies for Busy People

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    These days, everyone is busy, especially parents. And while couponing can save you money, it can take up a lot of time. So here are some strategies for using coupons even if you’re busy:

    1. Commit to letting some deals pass you by. This is the most important adjustment you will have to make. If time is an issue, you simply cannot get every single deal you want. You must prioritize.

    2. Shop at 1 to 3 stores per week, depending on how many you can comfortably manage. You can have as many stores in your rotation as you want, but don’t try to get to all of them in one week.

    3. Follow blogs that list match ups at your favorite stores. Every Wednesday here at Chief Family Officer, I post the new Ralphs deals. You should be able to find similar match ups for almost every chain on other blogs, but the thoroughness and quality can vary widely so do take the time to find match ups that you like (just do a simple search, like “Ralphs deals”). I recommend following more than one blog for each store, since no one can highlight every single deal. You can bookmark a site in your browser, subscribe to a daily email, or subscribe via RSS and get all of the deals from all of the blogs in one place like Google Reader.

    4. Decide which store(s) you’ll go to each week based on the sales and/or your needs. For example, suppose you need toilet paper this week. Walgreens is having a great sale on Cottonelle, so while you’re there, you can plan on picking up other sale items like Halls cough drops and Colgate toothpaste. For groceries, especially perishables, you can pick your store based on sales or, if you don’t see anything hot in the ads, go to a store like Trader Joe’s which has low every day prices.

    5. Consider Walmart. Or Target, if your local Target has a fresh foods section. Both stores have fairly low every day prices, and you can get almost everything you need in one stop. Both stores also allow price matching, though it’s my understanding that Walmart’s policy is much more consumer friendly. (Experiences vary widely, but I personally hate using coupons at Target and go about once a month at this point, usually for something that doesn’t have a coupon. I wish there was a Walmart near me so I could test out the price matching for myself. Of course, some people hate using coupons at Walmart as much as I hate using coupons at Target.)

    6. Stockpile. When you find a low price on an item you buy regularly, buy enough to last for a while. That way, you won’t have to make an unscheduled trip to the store for things like toilet paper, tissue and toothpaste.

    7. Plan a weekly menu, including side dishes. Try to plan your menu before you go shopping, and make sure you have everything you need for the week. This helps to cut down on the number of times you need to go shopping. If you find yourself having to stop for breakfast and lunch items, include those in your menu plan. You will eat healthier, save money, and have more time.

    More Important than Coupons: Know Your Shopping Style

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    I don’t know anyone “in real life” who coupons the way I do, hunting for the best deals and stockpiling the same way. My friends who know how I shop haven’t really expressed any interest in learning to coupon, and I think that’s totally cool. While I love helping others save money, it’s more important to be true to yourself.

    So if clipping coupons, shopping at multiple stores, and hunting down deals is too stressful for you, don’t do it.

    I don’t mean you should pay full price for everything, but I do mean you should find a store like Trader Joe’s or Target, which have low-ish every prices, and shop there. Clip coupons for those things you normally buy and when you see them on sale, use your coupons to get a great deal. Shop from a list and avoid impulse purchases.

    The key to saving big on shopping is to buy when prices are low, and to not buy more than you need.

    You don’t need to buy at the lowest price – you might spend more than a hardcore couponer would, but you’ll still spend less than you would without any strategic planning at all.