Once a week, coupons were strewn across our dining room table.
My mom methodically cut the glossy inserts from the Sunday newspaper to save on the grocery bill for our large family. She organized them in white envelopes labeled with categories written across the top.
I followed her example after I started living on my own, even though I was buying far fewer groceries as compared to a family of eight. Those of us who have grown up in working-class homes may share this ethos of refusing to pay more for goods than absolutely necessary. The thrill of catching a sale or saving a few bucks stayed with me even when my economic circumstances changed.
At some point, clipping and keeping track of coupons became more cumbersome with less payoff. And in recent years, being forced to register and download store apps just to get digital coupons hasn't felt like much of a deal. Protections for consumer data and privacy are weak enough as it is; did I really want to give Target even more data just to save a buck on a new toothbrush?
Also, it seems like a hassle to keep track of purchases or discounts on my phone while pushing a grocery cart. My phone battery is almost always on its last legs when I'm running errands.
But with inflation raising food prices a little more than 11% over the last year, and several grocery staples getting even more costly, I've been revamping my shopping habits -- like millions of other consumers.
If I'm buying something online, it's easy enough to use comparison-shopping tools like Google Shopping, or to search for a coupon code on sites like RetailMeNot.com. But we get our weekly groceries the old-fashioned way: in person.
In recent years, we've shifted to getting the majority of our food staples from discount grocer Aldi, which carries mostly generic or in-house brands. Prices there are typically lower for fruit, vegetables, cheese, eggs, milk and bread, so coupons aren't an issue. Another strategy is to buy from local farms or farmers markets, which has the added bonus of being better for the environment. And one of our area's locally owned grocery chains only requires a phone number to earn cash back with its loyalty program. I'll try to go there before its competitors if I need a specific item.
I'm going to try some advice from Hayley Bennett, known as @that_coupon_chick on Instagram. She writes out her weekly grocery list and searches on sites like Coupons.com, BeFrugal or Lozo for discounts and sales.
I also rely on my husband's habit of clipping coupons for allergy medicine, personal hygiene and grooming products, and cleaning supplies. Recently, he handed me a couple of coupons for dishwashing and laundry pods, and I went to pick up the items. While I waited in the checkout line, the woman in front of me pulled up the store app on her phone, got an additional discount from an in-store promotion and handed over a few paper coupons. She saved more than $20 off her total.
When the checker asked me if I used their app, I felt a little irritated at myself that I didn't. I also felt like an underachiever handing over two measly coupons compared to the Coupon Queen ahead of me. The clerk scanned them and informed me that one had expired yesterday.
I texted my husband that only one of his coupons worked. We saved $2.
I've decided to download that store's shady coupon app after all.
When I peruse the Sunday paper, I might even pull out some envelopes.