Friday, July 14, 2006

Just a quick note

Don't pay any attention to the dates on the posts. All new posts will be put at the end of the page so that the basic information remains at the top, so the dates that it appears to have been posted are not accurate.

I'll put a "new" notation next to the newest posts on this page so that they will be easier to locate using the index in the right hand column.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What the heck is the Grocery Game?

What is the Grocery Game?
Grocery stores have sales all the time. How do you know when is the “best” sale so that you can stock up? The Grocery Game is a list that tells you which products that are on sale for their rock bottom sale price (both advertised and not) at specific stores each week. It also tells you the original prices of those items and lets you know if there's been a manufacturer's or store coupon available for it over the last few months. It also provides the original and sale price of an item, and the potential percentage of savings. Maximum savings come when you combine coupons with the deals from grocery sale ads inserted in the newspaper.

Translated? It means that you subscribe to the website ($10 for 8 weeks for one store, $15 for 8 weeks for two stores, $20 for 8 weeks for three stores, etc.), and each week, you log in, print out the list that they have compiled just for you (okay, it’s not really “just” for you but it’s just for the stores in your area that you have selected), match coupons if necessary from your stash, and march off to the store with the list and coupons in hand.

How much can you save?
It varies from person to person, but my savings average around 50-60%, often more with every trip.

Is it just packaged food and toiletries?
Nope – the list will tell you when the rock bottom price for fruit, fresh meat, vegetables, etc. occur also as well as cleaning products, hair care, and toiletries. Many products don’t even require coupons, although you are definitely going to maximize your savings if you use coupons.

But it takes so much time to use coupons . . .
Not really. Once you get a system in place, you just need to clip the coupons each week, file them in whatever organized manner you use (more on that later) and print out your list. Match your coupons with your list and head off to the store at your convenience. I can usually make it through three stores within an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how much I am getting that week. The list really eliminates wandering up and down each aisle.

But how does it REALLY work? It seems like I’m coming home with lots of weird stuff.
The list will be color coded in three separate colors – black items that are to be purchased only if you need them, blue items that are at their rock bottom price that week and that you should buy to stock up on, and green items that are completely free. You stock up on the items when they are at their lowest price, and you only buy what you need of items when they aren't on sale. Of course, you may need to add weekly “need” items, like milk, bread, etc., but those often show up on the list too.

Is it available in my area?
Visit and type in your zip code to see if it's available in your area. If it is, why not give it a try? If it's not available in your area, don't worry - new locations are being added all the time. The site also offers a Field Guide which is a downloadable book that teaches you how to compile your own list when a list store isn't available in your area.

Sign up for your four week trial for only $1.00 ( And tell them that referred you!

More to come!
If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please email me and I'll do my best to answer them or make them a topic for this page. Check back soon for updates and new entries. Some more topics that I plan to cover include storage and stockpile management, coupon trains and other ways to increase your stash, and Deal of the Week.

Important: Be sure to scroll to the bottom or check the index at the side bar for new posts since I will be altering the dates of future posts so that this basic explanation always remains at the top of the page.

Help - I've got coupons everywhere!

The most important tool, after your list, is the system which you will use to manage your coupon stash. There are lots of different systems, so simply pick one that meets your needs and style and go from there. Each system has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

Some of the more popular systems include:

  • Binder system, where coupons are clipped and filed in a binder in a specific order (by category, arranged by the layout of the store, alphabetically by manufacturer, or alphabetically by product name). The advantage of this system is that it’s easy to carry, organized, and portable. The disadvantage is that until you get a system in place, it can be time consuming to file and purge.
  • Box system, similar to the binder system in that coupons are clipped and filed systematically, but filed in a box with index dividers rather than in a binder. This has the same advantages and disadvantages as the binder system, although I personally find a box more bulky to handle and easier to spill.
  • Filing by entire insert. The beauty of the list is that it tells you exactly which insert any given coupon was printed in, including the date. Many people just file complete inserts without clipping the coupons. The advantage is obviously that it saves an enormous amount of time because you only need to flip to the appropriate insert, clip the coupons, and ignore the rest. The disadvantage is that it won’t be easy to find a coupon for those unadvertised specials that you run across or any need shopping that is not on the list.

Since most people want to see a binder system in person before they start theirs, here are some examples of my binder system.

I file alphabetically by product name in 4x6 photo sleeves. I like this size because most coupons fit into it without folding, although some people prefer baseball card dividers (I find those too small). I used to keep my binder arranged by the layout of the store, but since I shop at three different stores, it’s not the most convenient system. Also, I always pull my coupons before I go to the store, so the layout doesn’t really matter.

I like a zippered binder – again, less chance of spilling. I have a zippered pouch in the back for things like pens, calculator, and my lists.

The front of my binder has an alphabetical list of all of my categories in a page protector.

I also use alphabetical tabs for each section to make it easy to flip to that section of my binder. Behind each tab, are the coupons for that letter of the alphabet. I use a 4x6 index card in each section of the photo sleeve so that it makes it neater and I see only the page that is on top rather than all pages.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Whoa - now where do I put it all?

First, a disclaimer. You may have more storage space than me. You may have less. But the following ideas and pictures hopefully will give you some ideas for organized storage of your new found stockpile.

Basements and garages are great areas to carve out some extra storage space. Some people with limited storage space even utilize underbed storage.

I'm lucky enough to have a new pantry with an extra refrigerator. We're hoping to get a freezer soon and I'm not sure where we'll put that. Probably in the garage since we don't have a full basememt. The pantry is, of course, the best place to store your consumables.

I love my pantry because it has narrow shelves (nothing gets lost in the back), is well lit, has an extra refrigerator, and has storage over the fridge for large paper products.

For my non-food items, such as cleaning supplies, pet supplies, soda, bottled water, and toiletries, we are utilizing some cabinets in the garage and a workbench with metal shelving for heavier items. I also use the far left hand side as a mailing center and it holds mailing boxes, packaging materials, and a postage scale.

Just a peek inside a couple of the cabinets.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What a deal!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Don't be a hoarder.

So what exactly is a stockpile? Where do you draw the line between hoarding and stockpiling?

The Grocery Game is based on the fact that grocery stores have a 12 week cycle for sales. And most coupons will come around again during that time frame too. So the recommendation is to only buy as much of that product as you will use in 12 weeks.

Since we follow Dave Ramsey’s plan for financial planning, and his recommendation is to have an emergency fund for 3-6 months of expenses, I prefer to follow that rule for my stockpile also. If I can build up a stockpile of 3-6 months of a nonperishable item within our budget and storage limitations, then I try to do that.

It’s important, of course, to know how long you can store things safely, package freezer items so they aren’t damaged, and rotate stock.

That said, however, there are just some deals that are too good to pass up. I mean, who can possibly pass up those free items? Toothbrushes don’t have an expiration date, right??!!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Get on the coupon train

So how do you build up your coupon stash?

There are several different ways, and most people use one or more of the following:

Sunday inserts
The best way to know what newspaper your Grocery Game listmaker uses is to contact Customer Service at the Grocery Game. It’s most likely the newspaper with the largest circulation in your geographical area.

It’s very surprising the difference between our local paper and the Chicago Tribune, which is the paper that is used for my lists. The inserts look the same on the outside, but they are vastly different on the inside. Seems all the good coupons go to the larger papers. And subscribing to just the Sunday edition is the cheapest way to go if you are going to get an outside paper. I get two copies of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.

Family, friends, and coworkers:
Ask your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers for their unused coupon inserts.

Clipping services
I’ve used a clipping service a couple of times. I use them for specific items that I’m very brand picky on and want to stock up on a lot. A couple of reputable (endorsed by Grocery Game) clipping services are

I’ve used both and found them to be very fast and very accurate. There are other clipping services as well as clippers on Ebay. (It’s illegal to sell coupons so you are essentially paying for their time to clip the coupon). Prices vary by the value and popularity of the coupon. There is usually a $5 minimum.

Several magazines have coupons inside, but one that I’ve found to have a LOT of coupons is called “All You.” It’s published by Walmart, although the only way you would know that is that Walmart is the only place you can buy it (I believe K-Mart has their own version of this type of magazine). You can also subscribe. It’s actually a pretty good women’s magazine, and there are usually about $40 worth of manufacturer’s coupons inside, which can be used at any store – not just Walmart. Pick one up and see if it meets your needs. Keep in mind, however, that those coupons will not be on the Grocery Game list. It’s just a good way to get coupons for additional items that you may need or want.

Coupon trains
A coupon train is simply a list of people who exchange coupons. Each week, each “rider” sets aside the coupons that they won’t use and then sends them on to the “rider” after them. Each week as it moves along the list of people, that envelope picks up extra packages of coupons from each person on the train. When a rider receives it, they remove the coupons they don’t want, put their coupons into the package, and send it on to the next rider. Each week, every rider gets a new package of coupons with increasingly more coupons inside.

Some trains are nationwide, which gives you a very wide selection of coupons that might not have been published in your area. Some are regional, which usually has a faster turn around. Some trains are dedicated to food items only or to coupons over a certain value. The “conductor” (the person that starts the train) can set whatever rules they wish. It’s a good way to pass on coupons that you won’t use and get some that you might.

You can look for a train to join at the message boards at the Grocery Game.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Why haven't I seen this on my list?

Most food and household items go on sale during a 12 weeks cycle. The Grocery Game tells you the best time to stockpile those items and recommends that you try to purchase enough to last for 12 weeks, during which time it should come up on the list again.

That said, there are certain items that are considered more seasonal and may only show up on the list from time to time and not on a regular 12 week rotation. If you have the storage space and the money in your budget, you may want to stock up on those nonperishable items for more than a 12 weeks stockpile.

Here's a schedule of typical sale cyles for many popular items:

JANUARY - Historically, cereal has hot deals at this time of year. We see soda/chips go on sale mid-January (again, rebates abound for these). Other items of note this time of year are chili, side dishes, anything for hearty/warm meals. • Post-Holiday Sales • White Sales • Sports and Weight Loss Equipment • Computers • Winter Apparel and Accessories · Organizers, Rubbermaid totes, shelf organizers, planners, filing cabinets

FEBRUARY – many of the same food items as January • Electronics • Floor Coverings • Housewares • Furniture • Candy and Chocolates

MARCH - Frozen food month. You'll find many stores are offering free freezers or fill-a-bag deals. Between March and April, look for spring cleaning deals, so many cleaner items will be on sale. With Easter, looks for eggs, ham, Kraft products to cycle into good sales. Paper products like towels, napkins, plates are starting to come on strong. Beverage items. • Spring Apparel and Accessories • Winter Sports Equipment • Gardening Supplies • Luggage

APRIL – • Spring Apparel and Accessories • Coats and Hats • Paint • Wallpaper • Jewish Foods and Eggs

MAY - get ready for summer! Here come loads of deals on BBQ sauce, frozen veggies, baked beans, and condiments of all kinds, summer-time meats (ribs, hotdogs, and ground beef). Also with all the holidays, look for tons of paper goods that match the holiday and pick them up after clearance. These deals generally continue through September!• White Sale - Linens and Towels • Spring Cleaning Supplies • Auto Maintenance • Home Maintenance • Sodas & Bottled Water, Hotdogs, Hamburger Meat, Condiments, Paper & Plastic plates & cups, Raid/Off bug repellents and sunscreens

JUNE – • Summer Apparel and Accessories • Pianos • Television Sets • Building Materials and Hardware • Dairy Products

JULY – • Air Conditioners • Summer Sports Equipment • Sportswear • Craft Supplies • Sodas, Hotdogs, Hamburger Meat, Condiments

AUGUST – • White Sale - Linen and Towels • BBQ and Patio Equipment • Back to School Supplies • Bathing Suits • Fresh Fish and Vegetables • Breakfast foods (Cold cereal-Juice-Waffles-etc)• Cold lunch items for in lunch boxes

SEPTEMBER - back to school; time to fill up on snacks! Pudding cups, boxed drinks, fruit snacks, cereal sales start up hard again, peanut butter/jelly. Also, like clockwork, there will be spaghetti sauce coupons in August, and plan on getting lots and using them in a hurry before they expire in September when the spaghetti sauce goes on sale. Sauce wars between two major brands this month. Soups will go on as well and there will be coupons in the end of August for these as well. Fridge boxed lunches are on sale this time of year, too. • Back to School Supplies and Apparel • Gardening Supplies • Housewares • Bicycles • Canned Goods

OCTOBER - Stock up on holiday foods – stuffing, turkey, instant mashed potatoes, broth, cranberries, marshmallow, ice cream, pie shells, whipped cream, pudding. Look for great Kraft deals again this time of year. The real kicker is the after Christmas food deals! Save your coupons because pie fixings, fried onion, broth and canned green beans will be on deep discount. These generally continue through December. • Cars • Houses • Fishing Equipment • Crystal, Silver, and Glassware • Candy · Baking/candy-making items (choc chips, sprinkles, vanilla, corn syrup, nuts, etc)

NOVEMBER - • Winter Apparel and Accessories • Quilts and Blankets • Heating Devices • Turkey, Sweet Potatoes • Canned goods (soup, chicken broth, condensed milk, veggies etc)• Baking goods

DECEMBER – • Toys • Gift Items • Party ware • Post-Holiday Sales • Party Foods, Baking Goods, and Various Meat• Canned goods (broth, soups, etc) Year-round after a holiday, you can always pick up cheap cookie dough and any food related to a holiday.

Continual sales are candy, popcorn, chips, anything snacky, cereal (heavier in the fall/winter, but still around in the spring).

Frozen food sales seem to centralize on a brand and the switch brands the next month. I think the manufacturers buy slot time for sales.

Frozen pizzas go on sale in the fall and then again the spring; not often in the summer because people don't want to turn their ovens on in the summer.

Friday, June 30, 2006

And How's that Working for You?

And How’s that Working for You? (said in my best Dr. Phil impression)

By now, a lot of people reading this blog have a few weeks of the Grocery Game under their belts. So – how’s it working for you?

Or maybe you are reading this because you’ve tried the Grocery Game before, and you just couldn’t make it work.

Believe me – I understand. I think I signed up for the Grocery Game for close to a year and just let week after week go by without actually playing the game.

Why? What’s the difference this time? How have I made it work this time around?

Here's what I KNOW the difference is - I approached it as part of my job of running our home.

Before, each week, I would pull up the lists, and search them for the "free" (green) items, see that there were only one or two, and then move on. After a while, I didn’t even bother to pull up the lists.

What I didn't realize - or failed to really consider - is that "Free" is not the way that the list is supposed to work. It's about stockpiling for the best price. It's not about how much you can get for free. Once I realized that I'd have to spend money to save money, I was good to go. Once I started trusting the list (printing out the list, marking the items that we personally used and crossing off the rest) and shopping ONLY those things (adding only a few need items, like milk, fresh produce, etc.), then it all started to flow.

The first few weeks, it felt really weird. I kept apologizing to my husband - "I know it looks strange what I'm putting in my cart, but I promise it will work out in the end." I had to break my habit of shopping the aisles. I simply print the list, sort through it, pull the necessary coupons, and then go into the store and get only those items plus any immediate need items that I have.

Sure - there are things that might never show up on the list - very specialty items, contact solution, etc. Those are things I would buy anyway, and I won't NOT buy them just because they aren't on the list. But now I have more money to buy those things. Don't throw it out as "not working" just because some specialty dressing you use isn't on the list.

Same goes that I won't buy something just because it IS on the list. I only buy what we use. I might try a new product from time to time and sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don't. But I won't stock up with 12 weeks worth of it. I know if I like it, it will come around again and I can stock up then.

I don't begrudge the time that I spend clipping coupons, filing them, and going through the list. For one thing - like I said - I now consider it part of my "job." I've also seen how much it has reduced the actual time I spend in the store. A little bit more time spent at home planning yields a lot less time in the store.

So basically - treat it seriously, trust the list, play it the way it's supposed to be played, and don't feel like it's going to solve ALL your problems - just some of them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NEW! - A little self indulgence

I created this blog to help people get started with the Grocery Game and to give some ideas to others that were already using it.

However, since it is my blog, please allow me a few moments of self-indulgence.

Open Letter to my fellow Jewel shopper

Dear Mrs. Hubbard,

This is the second time I have run into you on a Thursday at 5 p.m. at my local Jewel store. I suspect you are here every week at the same time since the only two times I have been here, so have you. I don’t usually shop at this time as it doesn’t usually fit my schedule, and I also find it easier to play the Grocery Game when the store isn’t crowded. Certainly not as crowded as it always is right after most people are getting off work and stopping by the grocery store for a quick something or other for their evening dinner.

Let me first say that I think it’s great that you are obviously using the Grocery Game or some similar shopping plan to get some awesome deals. It’s evident from your TWO overflowing carts each time I’ve seen you.


Do you really think that 5 p.m. on the busiest day of the week is the best time to try to navigate two overflowing carts around the store? By yourself? Did I mention that they are overflowing? Seriously – you dropped about 6 gallons of ice cream a couple of aisles back and you might have noticed if the store hadn’t been so busy. If the Olympics makes cart steering a winter event, you will surely make the finals, but you are going to lose serious points for the droppage.

However, I do understand that people need to shop at all different times of the day and night, so perhaps this is the only time you have someone to watch your shoe and the 18 children you must have that live in your shoe. But that’s just judging by the amount that you purchase. Hey – I love stockpiling too, but really – it’s called stockpiling. Not hoarding.

I imagine you must have a houseful of cats too. Of course, I could be wrong, but there has to be a reason that you bought 10 CASES of air freshener. That’s a lot of stink going on in your house.

What I don’t understand, however, is why you think you can get into the express lane. At rush hour. On Thursday. With two overflowing carts. Last time I counted, 15 items fit pretty well into one cart. Today I did give you credit that you didn’t get in the express lane. I did notice though that you asked them to shut down the lane light so that no one would get behind you. Not sure what’s up with that. I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind would get behind you because it’s obvious you are buying for at least a couple of infantry squadrons.

But you know what really gets me? The fact that you never have your coupons organized. Really. I imagine that every time you come into the store, another cashier quits. It’s just not cool to take out a stack of coupons that is at least 6” high and dig through them while the cashier waits on you.

It goes far deeper than that though. I’m actually worried for you. I think there are some shoppers planning an intervention in the parking lot. Something about the front end of their car connecting with your two overflowing carts. There were actually squeels of glee when the possibility was brought up that there would be bonus points for anyone that could send your coupons flying at least five feet into the air.

Just a few suggestions. Take them or leave them.

But be warned - next time I’m taking my camera, and I’m putting up your picture on a Most Wanted poster. There’s a whole group of people at the Jewel store that want to lynch you.