New Year’s resolutions about nutrition, wellness, and saving are a dime a dozen.
“Living healthier” was the most popular resolution for 2022, according to Statista. Financial goals ranked fifth.
Eating at home can play a role in both goals.
Is that still true these days? In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 13.5 percent hike in prices for food at home for 2022.
The good news is that coupons, apps, and grocery store loyalty programs offer ways to save, notes Matt Johnson, PhD, co-author of “Branding That Means Business,” and founder of the Neuroscience Of blog.
“The bad news is that they can be difficult to navigate and often come with a catch,” Johnson says.
Below, Johnson and two other consumer experts share how to choose and weed through a sea of potential savings.
Good old-fashioned coupons are time-honored tools for savings.
They still come in the mail, but the digital age has also given rise to other ways to access them. This includes email or simply checking off a box to take an additional $5 off before adding something to your Amazon cart.
Common spots to find coupons include:
- snail mail
- receipts from previous purchases
- Amazon coupons
- online aggregators like couponfollow.com
- loyalty programs
“Coupons are a great way to try a new product or brand at a discount or simply to save on ingredients on your shopping list,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings and smart shopping expert.
Woroch says it can be more challenging to find coupons for fresh items.
“The downside of coupons is that they are often limited to boxed and canned or frozen food,” Woroch says. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to save on these foods, but you typically won’t find a coupon for them.”
Getting the most out of coupons
Couponing—whether clipped or digital—is a quintessential way to save. But experts share it’s important to keep a few tips in mind to get the most bang for your buck.
- understanding the scope of service and risks
- reading the fine print
- remembering to bring the physical coupon
- don’t discount mailers
- ask yourself if you really need the item: a discount doesn’t always mean it’s worth it
Services like Rakuten have flooded the coupon marketplace, but you’ll want to understand how to use them and the potential security risks.
“Consumers will want to be cognizant of the scope of the deal you’re signing up for and how the company is utilizing your data,” Johnson says.
For example, Johnson notes that Rakuten uses a Chrome extension to provide discounts and cashback. You can streamline your grocery shopping by linking a credit card to it. But Johnson warns that may up your risk for data breaches.
The deal on the coupon may be in big red letters, but terms and restrictions are in tinier print at the bottom or on the back. Woroch says it’s essential to read them.
Coupons may be restricted based on:
- container or package size
- whether it can be combined with other deals and discounts
- number of consumers who’ve already taken advantage of the deal
Woroch suggests setting a reminder in your phone calendar to use the coupon before the expiration date.
“Some stores may allow you to use an expired coupon within a day or two, so ask,” Woroch says
A common reason for not using physical coupons on time: Forgetting to bring them, which may be why Woroch notices some people give up on circulars altogether.
“Circulars are still a great spot to find paper coupons,” she says. “Wrap it around your credit card.”
While circulars may be a good spot to snag coupons, they can be time-consuming. Another expert shares that the best way to optimize your couponing and ensure you don’t load up on on-sale food items you don’t need is to hone in on ones from loyalty programs.
Grocery store apps put savings in the palm of your hand and don’t require paper or scissors. Some are store-based, while others are third-party.
- Checkout 51
- Fetch Rewards
- Grocery IQ
- Target Circle
- Stop & Shop
“On the plus side, there’s a lot of money to be saved by utilizing discount codes and grocery-saving apps,” Johnson says. “And with many of these services, there is minimal friction—gone are the days of cutting coupons out of the local newspaper and handing them to the cashier.”
Getting the most out of grocery savings apps
Apps offer nearly effortless ways to save, but keep a few pros, cons, and optimization tips in mind.
- be wary of credit cards
- evaluate flash deals
- limit the number of apps you use
“Similar to coupon apps, grocery savings apps will often try and get you to sign up for additional offers which may not align with your interests,” Johnson says. “This can include credit cards which lead to debt and overspending. Some will provide flash discounts and special offers which seem like a good deal, but may actually encourage excess spending, which goes against your long-term consumer goals.”
Ask yourself if you really need the product or credit card. Woroch notes that you may be able to get cashback deals on groceries using a credit card you already have.
Though each app offers deals, Woroch advises against having a mobile device full of them. The most important download is the one for the grocery store you shop at most often.
“Get in the habit of checking the app before you shop to see what type of deals are available,” she says. “This takes the stress out of trying to find deals when you’re checking out, and a long line has formed behind you.”
Johnson suggests downloading a few more third-party ones — they may have deals worth checking out at other nearby stores, including big box retailers with grocery sections like Target and Walmart.
“It’s worth playing around with two to three apps at a time, depending on how many retail locations you shop at,” Johnson says. “No one app will have discounts everywhere, and so it’s good to have a few in order to have your bases covered.”
Many grocery stores and stores that sell groceries have loyalty programs that are typically free to join.
“They’re a no-brainer to sign up for since you get instant savings on a variety of grocery products when you scan your card or enter your phone number at checkout,” Woroch says.
Retailers that use them include:
- Stop & Shop
Others, like Aldi and Waldbaum’s, do not offer rewards cards, saying they already offer the lowest prices.
Getting the most out of loyalty programs
Signing up is free and easy. Experts shared savvy tips to get the most bang for your buck, including.
- be aware of complimentary rewards programs
- avoid key ring and mental overload
- track your use of them
Some grocery stores partner with fuel companies to help you fill your tank for less.
“For example, Kroger’s Fuel Rewards program offers one point for each dollar spent on groceries,” says Woroch. “You can redeem at Kroger gas stations or participating Shell stations.”
Many loyalty cards go on your key ring, and it can get crowded. You may also not have your keys on you when you run into a grocery store. You can probably still snag the deal.
“Many retailers have moved to simply needing a phone number or a consistently used credit card,” Light says. “Otherwise, there are convenient solutions like the Key Ring app that let you easily add all your various loyalty program details onto one screen.”
When you sign up for loyalty programs, you may click that you want to be notified via email or SMS about deals. It can become a lot.
“You can then unsubscribe from emails and uninstall apps you don’t want to keep using,” Light says.
You can streamline your loyalty program usage by evaluating what you are and aren’t using.
“It is really important to keep track of what you use and where the best offers are to maximize the value of your time,” Light says.
Eating at home can save you time and money, but groceries have gotten more expensive lately. Coupons, apps, and loyalty programs can help you save. Each method of saving may sound like a steal, but which is best for you? Perhaps all of them interest you. Light says that before signing up for anything, ask yourself:
- Are you willing to put in any effort to get involved?
- Are you willing to set up some alerts but not willing to regularly do some hunting, too?
- Do you tend to stick to one or two stores, or do you shop at several stores and are unlikely ever to get the rewards of a store-specific loyalty program?
- Are you willing to trade some personal information for more relevant offers?
- Are you willing to install the apps on your phone, and will you remember to use them?
For example, clipping coupons and checking third-party apps may be more time-consuming but worth it for the deals. Meanwhile, a loyalty card probably takes little more than filling out a form and remembering it (or the phone number you used to sign up for it).
Track which you use and the deals you’re taking advantage of and don’t be afraid to nix a method or app that isn’t serving you. Always read the fine print, such as on deal exclusions and expiration dates, and be wary of linking credit cards and personal information to a service.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.