Sep 19, 2009

My best grocery shopping trip ever: How I got $130 worth of groceries for FREE & how you can do the same

As you might have seen over on Twitter yesterday, I got $130 worth of groceries for FREE at Ralphs. It's the perfect transaction to help illustrate in practical terms what I explained more abstractly in my post on how to start using coupons, so I'm going to break it down in detail. (Sorry there aren't any pictures - I'd put everything away before I realized I should have taken a photo!)

I did my transaction at Ralphs, which has some great deals this week. For non-local readers, Ralphs is the Kroger chain out here in Southern California. Based on what I've read in the coupon forums, we get the same promotions as other Kroger stores, but at higher prices.

If I'd paid full price for everything, my total would have been $129.11. However, almost everything I bought was on sale, and I had a lot of coupons and discounts so in the end, I didn't pay a penny out of pocket. Here's how you can do the same:

1. The very first thing you'll need to do is sign up for a Ralphs Rewards card if you haven't already. Pretty much every major grocery store chain has a store club card that gets you lower prices when it's scanned. They do track your purchases, so if you're particularly protective of your privacy, this method of saving is not for you. However, you don't have to disclose that much information when you get your card - you don't even have to give an address, although that will limit your savings.

In addition to getting sale prices, your Ralphs Rewards card earns points on each purchase - 1 point per dollar spent. Each quarter, you'll get a check based on your points ($1 per 100 points). You have to have a minimum of 500 points to receive a check, and they'll carry over to the next quarter if you don't reach the threshold, but each cycle runs the calendar year (i.e., any points you have left on 12/31 vanish).

2. Make a list. When you're new to couponing, this is the part that takes a lot of time. It's just a skill that you'll develop with practice, and if you're committed to spending less and saving money, then you're just going to have to be patient with yourself. I took the list of deals that I wrote up earlier this week, the weekly ad circular, and my coupons, and made my shopping list based on all of that information.

This week, Ralphs is having their Mega Savings Event, where you get $5 off when you buy any 10 qualifying items. You can do multiples of 10 in a single transaction, i.e., I bought 20 qualifying items and got $10 off. (See below for my MSE transactions.)

I get the majority of my coupons from the newspaper (specifically, the LA Times). My mother-in-law is not a big couponer, so I usually have two copies of every newspaper coupon. Newspaper coupon inserts include Smart Source (SS), Red Plum (RP) and P&G Saver (P&G). Depending on how you organize your coupons, the date can be important. (See my previous post on getting started with coupons.)

Another great source for coupons is All You magazine.Right now it's $19.95 for 12 issues at Amazon. We've seen better prices, but this really is one magazine that pays for itself with the coupons you'll find inside.

And of course, you can print coupons. A great source is You'll also see links to hot printable coupons on blogs like Chief Family Officer and Common Sense with Money, among many others.

3. Take advantage of any store discounts that might be available to you. Ralphs sends me both paper coupons and electronic coupons. An electronic coupon is a discount that's attached to your store rewards card. It's automatically applied when you scan your rewards card at checkout if you've bought the appropriate items. Ralphs sends me emails with offers that I activate by clicking through from the email. If you're comfortable using and possibly stacking electronic coupons (an issue we've discussed here and here), go to,, P&G eSaver, and and load them up.

Ralphs Pharmacy takes competitor coupons, so before I went to the store, I loaded bonus rewards points onto my card for purchasing a frozen pizza and a half gallon of ice cream (50 bonus points each). I also transferred a prescription to their pharmacy because I had a coupon for it.

4. Know the store's coupon policy. Ralphs is pretty good about taking any coupon that scans. My biggest gripe is that they only double one like coupon per transaction, and only up to $1. You can find Ralphs' official coupon policy in teeny tiny print at the bottom of the last page of the weekly circular.

5. Go shopping with a calculator and bring your own bags. My first stop in the store was at the pharmacy, where I used a coupon for a $25 gift card with a transferred prescription that I got from last week's Rite Aid circular. Instead of giving me a gift card, the pharmacist loaded a $25 credit to my Ralphs Rewards card.

Then I went to pick up all of the items on my list. I had a $5 off $75 purchase coupon that I found in a local mailer called Clipper Magazine. It comes quarterly (I think) and always has this coupon in it. I only use it about twice a year, because I rarely reach the $75 minimum, which is after sale prices but before coupons. The prices at Ralphs, even after sales and coupons, are usually higher than what I'd pay elsewhere. But the lesson here is to always keep your eye out for coupons. You never know where you'll find them.

The 20 qualifying items on my list totaled $33.49 after the Mega Savings Event discounts. There were non-qualifying items that were good deals, and they added another $15.02 to my total. I also picked up some items that I prefer to get at Ralphs, i.e., Boar's Head cold cuts - they're our preferred brand because of taste and quality, and Ralphs is the most convenient place to get them. Those "necessities" added $14.89 to my total.

All of the above items totaled $63.38, so to get to the $75 minimum so I could use the $5 off $75 purchase coupon, I used some free item coupons I had for refrigerated cookie dough, cereal, and ice cream. (Two of the three coupons were sent to me by giveaway sponsors. I received the third coupon as compensation for a product that had defective packaging.) After sale prices and store discounts, my total was $77.85. You can see why I recommend bringing a calculator (I use the calculator function on my cell phone) - there's no way I would have been able to keep track of my total as I shopped without a calculator.

I used $37.28 in paper coupons and $1 in electronic coupons. That brought my total down to $39.57. I paid the remainder using the $25 pharmacy credit and a gift card that I'd gotten from Kroger and MyBlogSpark for promoting last month's Mega Savings Event (which turned out to be not nearly as good as this one). The end result was $130 worth of free groceries. Plus, I got 214 bonus points, which is an extra $2 on my quarterly Ralphs Rewards coupon. 25 of those bonus points were for bringing my own bags. Ralphs give you 5 points per bag, which is the number of points you get if you spend $5. It works out to a 5 cent credit toward your quarterly rewards check.

Here's a list of the deals I got, with the coupons I used, and the end total price that I paid:
Mega Savings Event items (price reflects MSE savings of 50 cents per item):
2 24-packs of Nestle bottled water - $3.50 + $1.20 CRV each; used 2 50-cents off coupons from 8/16 RP, one doubled; paid $3.45 each, which is a great price for a case of water considering $1.20 of that was CRV
4 Kraft Easy Mac bowls - $1 each; paid $2 total after MSE (these are not my favorite things to serve but I have to confess I send them with the boys to preschool for lunch about once a month when I need something incredibly easy)
2 boxes Jello - $1.49 each; used 50 cents/2 coupon from 7/26 SS, doubled; paid 98 cents for 2
2 boxes Ritz crackers - $2.69 each; paid $4.38 (see below for coupon deal)
1 Capri Sun - $1.49; paid 99 cents after MSE
2 Philadelphia cream cheese - $2 each; used $1/2 coupon, not sure where it came from; paid $2 for 2
2 boxes Nabisco Wheat Thins - $1.99 each; used 2 $1 printable coupons; paid 98 cents for 2
3 Lean Cuisine entrees - $2 each; used $2/3 coupon from September All You; paid $2.50 for 3
1 DiGiorno Pizza - $4.47; used $1 coupon (there are some in the 6/14, 8/16, or 8/23 SS); paid $2.97 & got 50 bonus reward points
1 Breyers Half Gallon ice cream - $2.79; paid $2.29 after MSE & got 50 bonus reward points

Other Coupon Deals:
2 loaves Sara Lee bread - $4.19, Buy 1 Get 1 Free; used 2 55-cents coupons from 9/13 RP, one doubled; paid $2.64 for 2
2 boxes Ritz Crackerfuls - $3.50 each; used 2 Buy Ritz Crackers, get Crackerfuls free coupons from 8/23 SS (the max value for the coupon is $3.49, so I paid 1 cent each for these)

For more coupon match ups and non-coupon deals at Ralphs this week, go here.

Are you still confused? Not to worry - I'll be posting a "how to save on groceries" series that starts with the very basics this coming week.

Previously: Contacting customer service for free coupons


A C said...

I deleted the previous comment by again

I wonder if you do the weekly deal and match up the coupon on Ralphs?

And have you ever came across that when you return the item that you bought with coupon, they credit you back that item deduct the coupon you used? They did to me twice at two different locations.


Chief Family Officer said...

@AC - Yes, if the deals are good, I post weekly matchups. I can't remember ever returning anything at Ralphs so I can't help you there, although I know that practice isn't unusual and has been a matter of much debate in the coupon forums. Thanks for stopping by!

A C said...

Thank you!