If high gas prices and the sputtering economic recovery have forced you to limit your shopping and visit only one store per trip, you're not alone. There's still a chance that running from store to store will net you the most overall savings, especially if you are buying large quantities of lots of different items. But you're more likely to save by checking shopping blogs, signing up for retailers' tweets, e-mails and Facebook deals and, yes, clipping traditional coupons. Here's a practical guide for one-stop shopping for groceries and other basics.
The blog at www.afullcup.com publicizes deals at pharmacies, restaurants and other retailers, while the site www.mygrocerydeals.com lets you compare ads for some local grocers. And smart phone applications like Coupon Sherpa help you find coupons for various stores, while www.GroceryGadgets.com offers an app that lets you make shopping lists and shows product prices.
"Blogs allow shoppers to share savings information such as which stores are offering exceptional values that week or what types of new savings programs specific to stores have launched and how to take full advantage of them," says Jon Hauptman, a partner at retail consulting firm Willard Bishop LLC.
Some stores offer deals exclusively to e-mail subscribers. So sign up.
"The more loyal you are by being on their e-mail list, the more advance notice you'll get of the best sales," said Bob Phibbs, a consultant, speaker and author who calls himself The Retail Doctor.
With so many online tools to choose from, you may want to circle back to the most traditional information-gathering method of all, word of mouth. Ask friends and family members what works best for them so you can home in on just a few and save time as well as money.
Loyalty pays off
If you hop from one store to the next depending which has the best bargains, consider hitting the same store frequently instead and see if you can save just as much, or even more.
Stores that track your purchases through such things as loyalty clubs will reward your consistency with coupons and special promotions. Regular visits also help in developing relationships with salespeople. "Better salespeople can tell you why something is on sale and what to avoid if you just allow yourself to listen," Phibbs explains.
As you hunt bargains, keep a detailed shopping log, Phibbs suggests. In addition to recording receipts and prices, note how much time you spend on each task, including clipping coupons and surfing the Web for deals, and record your mileage and transit costs. Also record the coupons and rewards points you receive at checkout at the stores where you belong to loyalty programs to determine if you're really saving and whether your trip will bring future benefits. If the numbers don't add up, reassess your strategy right away. It could be that shopping at the closest store will save you the most on the basics, even if its prices aren't rock bottom.
Even if you're already armed with coupons and knowledge, keep seeking deals once you get to the store.
As a rule, store brand products are cheaper. But they aren't always, and you should be aware of the differences among these products, which include mainline and economy private-label items, Hauptman says.
Buying larger sizes can also help; just be sure the bigger box of cereal, package of toilet paper or bag of dog food actually costs less per ounce or count, and don't ever buy more than you can use before a product will go stale.