How to Use Store Ads to Save Money Grocery Shopping

I shop at multiple grocery stores. Most weeks I try to keep it to two, but some weeks the sales are so good (or so bad!) that I go to all 3 in my area (this does not include drugstore game trips).

So how in the world do I decide WHERE to buy WHAT?


I will walk you through the anatomy of my grocery list here step by step.

1. It starts with store ads. My ads come on Wednesday. Which makes Wednesday a very exciting day for me (no that’s not sarcasm…I love this stuff!). My ads come later in the afternoon unfortunately, but if I have the heads up that a great promotion is coming I might stop off and grab the ads right at the store while I’m out running morning errands with the kids (I REALLY try not to do this. I have to get them both out of their car seats, they INSIST on the car cart, etc…).

2. I lay the ads out in front of me and I grab a black marker. The very first thing I do is look at the front pages of all 3 of my grocery stores (I tend to shop at HEB, Kroger and Randall’s). On the front page is where any big store promotions will be announced and also where their “loss leaders” are advertised (these are items that are marked down so much that the store is actually taking a loss when they sell it to you for that price. The hope is that THAT gets you in the door and you pay full price for everything else on your list. WE are not going to do that ;) )

3. I circle in big black marker anything we need that is on the front page, and if the stores have the same item on sale I compare who is marked cheaper.

4. Next I move into the inside of the ads. Be cautious here. Just because it is advertised doesn’t mean it is a great deal. Go back and forth between all of your ads and compare prices, quantities and if the item is part of a promotion…what you need to do to fulfill the obligations and obtain the sale price (for instance, if it is a buy 10 participating items get $5 back promotion, make sure there are 10 items that you actually need and you won’t just be spending money to “save” money)

5. Now it’s judgment call time. I look at which ads have the most things circled and I try to evaluate whether the ad or ads that don’t have as much circled are really worth the gas and time to make a trip. If it’s just one or two items and the sale isn’t THAT great. I’ll save myself the stress and toss that ad for the week. Some weeks all 3 have an abundance of greatness that I just cannot pass up. Some weeks the sales are so dismal that I have to decide to suck it up and just go to one store and not save much, or just go grab the few deals available at each store. This step is pretty personal and depends on your time constraints for the week, your fund availability, etc. If I have several “need” items that I know I typically have to pay full price for I make sure HEB is included in my weekly trips for the week since that is my “everyday” low price store (for more on why the everyday low price store isn’t always the store you should be shopping at, read my article on How To Save Money Grocery Shopping)

6. Once I have everything that looks good circled, I pull out my coupon binder and my computer. I flip through and see if I have any coupons for any of the products on my ads. Even the ones that aren’t circled by me sometimes have a coupon that make it a circle-able deal. Afterwards I head on over to my computer to see if there are any printable coupons available in my Coupon Database.

7. So now that I have my sale items, and I have my coupons…I make sure I have my “needs” lists (milk, eggs, fruit, etc. The perishables I always have to buy weekly) and I’m ready to go!

For more info on how to save money grocery shopping, how to use coupons and how I organize my coupons, check out these links:

How To Save Money Grocery Shopping

How to Play the Drugstore Game

Coupon Organization

A quick example on why it pays to compare ads:

Wish I had more freezer space!











 

How do you make your grocery lists?

Tell us what you think:

  1. One Red Daisy says

    Thanks for the great reminders. I always think good savers go to all 3 stores, but in reality, I can only hit one, so I usually compare the two big ones here. One is also right next to my son's daycare, so convenience is a plus as well. That big black marker sure does the trick to highlight those items you need. :)

  2. Heather says

    If you can only hit one, that's totally understandable! I struggle hitting two some weeks!

    The thing I like best about using the big black marker is that it really keeps me from being swayed by the glossy marketing in the grocery store. If I sit at home and say "hmmm that's not such a good deal" and I dont' circle it…when i go to the store and see the huge display with the free sample and feel enticed, I can look down at my ad and say "well it's not circled, so I obviously didn't think it was a very good deal at home. I like bright shiny displays so this keeps me in check! LOL
    Thanks for reading!

  3. Janelle says

    So here's a probably dumb question. Where do I get the ads? The only ones I am aware of in my area are Fred Meyer (a kroger company)and Safeway and I don't know how to get either in the mail.

  4. Heather says

    Janelle, they don't get mailed to you automatically? Around here they get mailed to everyone on Wed. But most people think they are junk mail and throw them out without thinking about it.

    If you don't get them by mail you can either go to the store to pick them up or you can check the store ads online. If you have to do it online, I looked at both fred meyer and safeway and it looks like you can make a printable list online from their ads.

  5. Jessie says

    Love the practicality of your site! Often people are not as respectful about their couponing tips as you and I adore and feel the sameway as you :-) I have been couponing for about a year but still look for tips and tricks often. I have a few questions about some things I encounter in my efforts. Basically, we have one grocery store, County Market, a Dollar General, and CVS. The nearest WalMart is about 50 miles away. My struggle is deciding when to stay in my home town and when to go to Wally World. I have made attempts at creating an inventory of prices on my computer but am having trouble maintaining it and keeping on track. I have ordered things from WalMart.com but never saw if we can use coupons online. I know WalMart is often cheaper than the stores here on household goods, snacks, soda, toiletries, and a few other categories but because gas is so high and I can’t seem to stay on track with the inventory list, Im never positive if a trip to WalMart 3x’s or so is worth it. It is hard couponing in this country town! So anyways, those are a few of my concerns that I still battle with. I most certainly appreciate some insight!

    • says

      With gas prices the way they are, I would say unless the prices at the stores near you are VERY high…you should just shop locally when possible. Maybe plan 1 trip out to Walmart a month for things you know you can’t get elsewhere cheaper? Also, take advantage of online shopping when possible. Amazon.com has some great deals if you sign up for Amazon Mom and use their subscribe and save.

      Do you drugstore shop with coupons at CVS? If so, I think you are safe to cut Walmart out altogether and just shop your local stores! The cost of gas + time spent going out of your way to get to walmart just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the savings (if there are any at all!) . Good luck!

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