How to get groceries for (almost) free

Coupon clipping is time-consuming, but the savings deliver ‘an exhilarating high’

How to get groceries for (almost) free

Getty Images; Istock; Photo Illustration By Bradley Reinhardt

Yes, it is possible to cut your grocery bill to pennies, according to a stay-at-home mom from Boston. In Kathy Spencer’s step-by-step guide, How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something For Nothing, she outlines how to whittle a $384 grocery bill down to $5, using a combination of manufacturers’ coupons and in-store promotions.

“I strongly suggest getting over any lingering coupon phobias,” Spencer advises bargain hunters. “I want you to think of those little squares of paper with the bar codes on them as cash. Personally, I can’t look at them any other way because using them has saved me, on average, over $60,000 a year.”

On the downside, shopping for free takes time. “I set aside several hours a week to collect online coupons, scan circulars and hit the stores. To me, this is time well spent considering, on average, I spend $20 a month on groceries. That’s right – twenty bucks. I bet that’s less than you paid for your last manicure.”

The weekend edition of your local newspaper is a good place to start looking for coupons. “They’re in that bundle of glossy inserts jammed in the middle of the paper. That’s your cash allowance for the week, so don’t throw it away.” In addition, Spencer tells readers to start visiting gas stations and convenience stores late on Sunday night or early Monday morning. “Most stores will let you remove the coupon insert from any unsold Sunday newspapers before they’re picked up on Monday morning and returned to the distributor.” Coupons can also be printed from websites such as

Once you’re grocery shopping, look for “peelies”—coupons attached to items. “Don’t be fooled,” she writes. “You don’t need to buy the product to get the peelie.” Also, “look for tear pads, pads of manufacturer coupons within the stores.”

One time, Spencer used PetSmart coupons to score 40 bags of dog food for nothing. “Shoppers, that’s a $500 value. Since getting Harry, our yellow Labrador retriever, nearly four years ago, I’ve only bought dog food once—and he eats the good stuff.”

The key to these kinds of savings is to use store coupons along with manufacturers’ coupons. “Combining coupons, or stacking, can be an exhilarating high, and once you get the hang of it, you’re likely to feel like you’re on a winning streak at the blackjack table.”

Although many people believe coupons are mainly for processed junk food, Spencer says this is a myth. “I can’t tell you how often I’ve been greeted in public with something like, ‘You’re Kathy? I thought you’d be heavier and more grandmotherly.’ Translation: fat and nearly dead,” she writes. “News flash: not all deals apply to junk food or crap. I regularly have rows and rows of Healthy Choice soup cans lining my shelves and countless organic food items in my refrigerator.”
To get coupons for organic products, it’s best to go directly to your favourite brand or product website, she writes. Also, Whole Foods puts out a monthly newsletter with “high-value printable coupons.”

For beginner savers, start slow, she advises.  Head to the store with a notepad and pen, “scan the aisle for things priced under one or two bucks and write down these things.” Next, “go home and try to find coupons for these items from your coupon stash that will make those items free.”

Once you’ve mastered saving 20 per cent off your total grocery bill, Spencer writes, “aim lower. If you saved 20 per cent in January, challenge yourself to save 30 per cent in February. My personal grocery goal is [to spend] four bucks a week, $16 a month.”

Spencer, who has four kids, explains, “We live in a 2,800-sq.-foot colonial-style home on nearly three acres of land. We drive vehicles we paid for in cash. Our oldest is in college, and we have no credit-card debt. My husband works for the city making $45,000 a year. And yet to take a walk through our house, and sit down at our dinner table, you’d never know that, on paper, we’re considered low income. We live a life of abundance because I’ve discovered the secret to shopping for free.”

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