Unless you’ve dreamed of building a stockpile in your basement for a never-ending supply of laundry detergent and canned goods, the thought of spending hours cutting coupons and creating a grocery shopping strategy probably doesn’t appeal to you. But while reality TV has shed an entirely new light on the extreme coupon phenomenon, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. In fact, there are plenty of ways to save a substantial amount without losing your free time in the process.
1. Shop through cash-back websites
If you’re the type of person who would rather open a browser window than venture to the nearest shopping center, cash-back websites should be your new best friend.
Access the stores you want to shop at through these cash-back sites, and you’ll receive a specific percentage back on your purchase, usually deposited into your PayPal account every few months. While the cash-back percentage varies by store, those small amounts can add up quickly — especially if you’re a frequent online shopper.
Many sites now also offer coupon codes to apply to your purchase upon checkout in addition to cash back. Four to start with: Ebates, ShopAtHome, FatWallet, and UPromise. Each site has different offerings, so make sure to do a little research before deciding which one is right for you.
2. Use your smartphone
Who needs a bunch of free-floating coupons you’re likely to lose before reaching the cashier when you can simply access them through your phone instead? New coupon apps are cropping up all the time, and many are worth taking for a test-drive.
If you’re a loyal shopper of a specific store, check out their app first. Target shoppers, for instance, can download the Cartwheel app, which allows you to browse dozens of deals. Just ask your cashier to scan the coupon bar code during checkout.
Other apps such as SnipSnap serve as a virtual coupon binder for a variety of stores. Search their database for coupons, upload your own, or take a look at the coupons your friends and family have clipped. The app will also alert you to the coupons you have saved once you enter a store.
3. Save upfront with discounted gift cards
While unwanted gift cards used to die a slow death at the back of wallets everywhere, they now have a place to go — websites that will resell them at a discount to those who will actually use them.
These sites are beneficial to those who want to recoup some of the original value of a gift card in the form of cash, but they are also hugely beneficial to those who want to save on planned purchases. Simply browse these sites for a specific store (the deals depend on the inventory of that specific store card), purchase the card in the amount you need, and voilà! You now have a gift card to use that you didn’t pay the full amount for.
4. Be a smart shopper without coupons
Cash-back websites, apps, and discounted gift cards can all help keep cash in your bank account, but sometimes the best way to save is simply by being an educated shopper.
Buy generic. Yes, you might notice the difference when you buy brand-name peanut butter, but when it comes to things such as over-the-counter medication, think twice before opting for the name brand. After all, studies find most doctors go generic.
Learn the sale cycles. Grocery store sales are anything but random. In fact, most are on a set sale cycle that repeats itself every year. When you know what will be on sale for that month, you can plan ahead and reap big savings in the process.
Take advantage of sales when you see them. If you frequently purchase the same item — and it’s not something that will quickly spoil — stock up when you see that item on sale. We’re not talking filling an entire grocery cart, just buying enough to float you for a few weeks or months.
So what’s the bottom line?
You can save plenty on purchases you are already making without cutting coupons. Employing a few of these strategies will leave you with more money for the things that matter, all while protecting your most precious asset — time.