I’ve been a strategic shopper for over 20 years and have been teaching others how to save money on groceries and household items for over 15 years. Over the years, the savings strategies have changed, but the final result hasn’t: You can still get free stuff every week when you know how to play the strategic shopping game. In fact, it’s easier than ever today because so many of the savings offers are available with just a couple of clicks on your computer or smartphone at no cost.
Every week the Coupon Mom team figures out the best deals at 60 retailers. We actually buy the items to get the freebies and to make sure the deals are accurate. As a result, we accumulate dozens of free items over the course of a week and need to give products away to charity, friends and family in order to have enough shelf space in our offices. When I look at the stocked shelves full of name-brand products, I can’t believe that so many people are actually paying big money for these products.
Judging from our shelves, the most common items to get for free — or practically free — seem to be hair-care products, laundry detergent, diapers, cosmetics, over-the-counter medications, household cleaners, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, cereal, snacks, pet food and more. In other words, many items you use every day.
So, now it’s time to stop paying for stuff and start getting things for free with strategic shopping — beginning with these easy steps.
Related: 10 Sites for the Best Online Coupons
1. Start by focusing on two stores.
Pick one drugstore and one grocery store to start shopping — and saving — at. You have to buy food, so you’ll need to go to a grocery store, but drugstores tend to have the most savings programs and free deals each week. Getting drugstore items for free allows you to spend more money on the food you need.
2. Learn how your store works — inside and out.
Watch how-to videos to understand how each store’s savings program works. You can find them at CouponMom.com and you can Google to find more. Visit the store’s website and sign up for its loyalty card, email newsletter and any other savings program or club available. Download the store app to get coupons and other rewards. Visit the store and pick up any in-store coupon books or flyers with store coupons. Ask the manager or cashier questions. Test purchases to see how a coupon and/or promotion works and have the transaction voided if it doesn’t.
3. Follow a grocery deals site.
Match-up sites for your store’s coupons, such as CouponMom.com, list all the stores’ sale items and match them with any available coupons, store promotions and cash-back offers to achieve the lowest-possible price per item. The lists will tell you where to find the coupons and offers, saving you hours of research. You can also Google your store name and the word “deals” to find many local savings blogs for your grocery stores with match-up lists.
4. Download cash-back apps to save more.
Apps like 51, Ibotta, Mobisave and Savingstar each have many cash-back offers for popular brands. After you do your shopping, you just scan your receipt and submit it to the app to get cash in an account for the qualifying items purchased. See each app for its specific procedures. If you are a Target shopper, download their Cartwheel app to get additional discounts. If you are a Walmart shopper, download their app and use the Savings Catcher feature which will search other stores’ prices to see if they are lower once you’ve scanned the barcode on your receipt. If the app finds lower prices, you will get a cash refund in your Savings Catcher account.
5. Get coupons.
If you don’t get the Sunday newspaper, look into getting a discounted subscription for new subscribers. Having the paper delivered is the easiest way to avoid missing a week of coupons. You can also print hundreds of coupons from many different sites. The grocery deals sites will have links to printable coupons for deals when they are available.
6. Get organized.
Before you go shopping, be sure to have your list ready and your coupons cut out to make the process easy at the register. Double-check your list and coupons again before you check out. Getting flustered at the register is an easy way to miss out on savings.