Learn to Find Deals Outside the Gate, Before Commissary Cuts Arrive

More cuts are coming. The military budget is being sliced and this time, it may take money directly out of your wallet.

Congressional leaders have suggested making a 70 percent slash to the amount of money the government gives to military commissaries to operate. The total cut would subtract $1 billion from the commissary budget. No stores would close but the money would have to be made up somewhere – most likely in raising prices.

Senators have suggested that military families could see their annual grocery bill jump by $3,000 with those kind of budget cuts. And, a few have introduced bills to counter the proposal and maintain the commissary budget.

In the meantime, families are left to wait, and worry. Here’s a better way to fill that time: prepare.

For many spouses, especially young spouses, the commissary is all they know when it comes to grocery shopping. Shopping “on the economy” is not the norm.

It may have to be, and it could save you a lot of money.

Faye Prosser, author of www.smartspendingresources.com, is an expert when it comes to getting your goods on the cheap. Her website guides shoppers through a treasure trove of information that all leads to helping you find the best price, every time.

 Shopping off-base can be intimidating, especially in a location that you are not familiar with or have recently PCS’d to. Here are Faye’s top tips for getting a handle on your grocery budget and shopping smart.

  1. No one store has all the best deals – If they did, they couldn’t stay in business. Faye said the best strategy is to shop at more than one store per week.
  2. Go after the best sale item, the “loss leader” - She does not advocate chasing the best deals at every store, every week but rather going after what the industry calls the “loss leader.” This is the item that the store will advertise at a very low price, maybe even lower than cost to get customers through the doors. If you have coupons for those items it will bring the price even lower. Faye says as you build your meal plan and grocery list, use those loss leader items to help cut costs.
  3. Stock pile – When you find those loss leaders, buy what you need for the week, or the month, not for six months. “I don’t want people to picture the show ‘Extreme Couponers,’ that’s not what I advocate,” she said. “You want to get four or six boxes, not 500.” The point she said is to have enough on hand for your upcoming meals so that you will not have to run out at the last minute and pay full price. Sale prices are cyclical, she said, and generally items will be reduced every four to six weeks.
  4. Build a price book – A price book is literally, a book of prices so you know what the best prices are and what the normal prices are in the local market for an item. Faye has an excellent tutorial on her website, www.smartspendingresources.com, to guide you through the process of creating a book. And it seems like a huge undertaking. Should you literally walk through all the grocery stores and write down prices? Not necessarily. Start with a list of the 20 items you buy the most. Over the course of a month, write down what you paid when they were not on sale. Then watch for the sales and add those amounts. Then, you can check your price book when you see a sale and are not sure if that really is the rock bottom price.
  5. Coupons – Use them, find them, love them. Faye also has an entire section of her website dedicated to the art of couponing. There are different types of coupons, different places to find them and honey, this isn’t your momma’s coupons. There is very little, sitting at the kitchen table, clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper anymore. Coupons have gone high tech. Now, consumers can find them on the Facebook pages of their favorite companies, manufacturers’ websites and several online coupon sites. Faye recommends: smartsource.com; redplum.com; bettycrocker.com; Pillsbury.com; eatbetteramerica.com, mambasprouts.com, savingsstar.com, checkout51.com and ibotta.com

If you check out Faye’s website at www.smartspendingsources.com she includes a tutorial on organizing your coupons. Being organized, she said, is the top priority for couponers and usually the point where new couponers give up. Her site will give you the design and printables to create your own coupon organizer.

  1. Plan your meals – Want to spend a lot of money in a flash? Haphazardly walk through the store and grab whatever looks good. You probably will arrive home without a single item for dinner that night too. Faye said she plans her meals a week at a time, plans those meals around the coupons and sales she has available to her and saves herself stress and money. “I plan on Sunday night and then during the week I know exactly when I have to take things out of the freezer or use the crockpot. There’s no guessing game at six o’clock at night.” And a side benefit, your meals tend to be healthier. Faye also lists meal planning basics and menu templates on her website at www.smartspendingsources.com She highly recommends using the website, allrecipe.com to help you plan meals with the food you have on hand or purchase during the sales that week.

Becoming a savvy shopper is work. And it may seem in the moment that you are saving only a quarter here and fifty cents there. But for shoppers who develop a method and stick with it, those efforts can add up.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years and we’ve paid off both our cars, have no credit card debt and are on track to pay off our house vey early because of couponing,” Faye said. “Look at the big picture and what your financial goals are.”

Faye said that money saved can’t be spent frivolously elsewhere. It has to be put toward debt for families to see a difference.

“Some soldiers are just barely able to make ends meet but by couponing and being able to take $150 grocery bill down to 90 or 100 will allow them to have the extra money to put into paying off their debt,” she said.

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