Am I a Loser in the Grocery Game?

by Katy on March 1, 2009 · 16 comments


Shop Smart Save More

Food prices are skyrocketing.

There’s no doubt about it.  At a time when most people are tightening their belts, keeping within a food budget is proving harder than ever.

I went to the grocery store the other day and felt pretty good about the deals that I had scored. But when I got home I looked over the receipt and saw that I had paid $1 for a single head of garlic.

What the . . . ?

I scrutinize food prices up, down and sideways, but apart from trying to find the biggest garlic, I guess that I don’t check the price. What am I supposed to do, buy a competing brand of garlic?!

Things are getting out of control.

I had written previously about why I don’t use coupons, due to the fact that I rarely buy prepackaged food. I’ve tried to make coupons work for me, really I have. But we simply don’t eat canned soup or frozen pizzas. I don’t even buy commercial cleansers. 

I subscribe to the Mary Hunt’s Everyday Cheapskate e-mails, which I have found to contain some good ideas. (Make shredded chicken by using a hand-mixer over cooked chicken? Fun!)

Hunt is a huge fan of Teri Gault’s The Grocery Game, which is a fee-based website that matches up your grocery store sales with current coupons. Gault’s idea to stock up on cheap groceries to last until they’re on sale again is just plain smart. I saw that Gault had published a new book titled, Shop Smart, Save More. Hmm . . . I like to shop smart and save money, maybe this is a book I should read. (Plus it’s co-written by Sheryl Berk, who also co-wrote Carmen Electra’s “How to be Sexy.” I find this to be a hilarious literary juxtaposition, as there is nothing as un-sexy as clipping coupons! )

A few quick clicks on my library website and I’m in line for shopping smarter and saving more.

The book comes in at the library, and I’m pleased to see that it’s a nice compact size. (It means I’m much more likely to actually get it read before it’s due.) 

Gault, an appealing writer claims that the average family of four saves $512 per month adhering to The Grocery Game. Since the latest government statistics show a family of four spending $511 dollars per month, that bears some further scrutiny. (Perhaps she’s using different numbers, as the latest government numbers came out in November 2008, but were for 2007.)

Shop Smart, Save More is a quick and easy read, with much of the book dedicated to recipes that can be concocted from your stockpile of groceries. Many recipes call for “A can of cream of mushroom soup,” which is not my style of cooking. And much of the book focuses on having a large stash of convenience foods in your pantry and freezer, also not my style of cooking. 

But I’m not a complete health food nut. We buy cereal and a few other food items that have coupons.

The letters of testimonial at the end of the book are quite moving, and inspire me to give the ol’ college try.

A four-week trial membership costs $1, so I sign myself up. I enter my zip code, and Safeway, Albertson’s, Walgreens and Rite-Aid pop up. I have no idea where there’s an Albertson’s near me, so I click on Safeway. Once the trial membership ends, I’ll have to pay $10 per eight weeks for the first store, and $5 for each additional store. Since it’s all included in my $1 trial membership, I choose everything except Albertson’s.

I pull out the Sunday newspaper coupons that I had clipped, which is unfortunately just for rice, butter, cereal and hair dye. (I decided last summer that I’d had enough of my uber-drab dishwater blond/light brown hair.) 

Nothing matches up, although there are printable coupons on the site. I don’t print anything out, but I did spend some time browsing through the FAQ’s and the member forums, which are helpful.

I will give The Grocery Game my best effort, but I highly doubt that I will be able to save enough money to switch over my grocery shopping methodology. (Which is to shop to keep the pantry full of general ingredients from which I can make multiple meals.)

But I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong. Because when it comes to games, I really like to win.

Have you tried The Grocery Game? Do you clip coupons or have food shopping tips to share? Please let us in on your secrets in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben March 2, 2009 at 4:23 am

For a time we did the grocery game. It seemed great at first, but then my wife found that she could do just as well by watching the ads and clipping the coupons we would use. Much of the grocery game is for items that we will never use such as very processed convenience foods, or overpriced name brand food. We quickly realized we weren’t saving as much as we were spending, and we quit. Now we hardly do coupons at all anymore.


Divine Bird Jenny March 2, 2009 at 6:19 am

My friend Kristin at Klinging To Your Cash just reviewed this book today as well. With us, it was a huge oversight that the website didn’t include two major grocery chains or the local chain, but only had one–the one with the worst deals! The link I posted takes you right to her review. MY issue is that I am leery of any program that makes you pay money in order to save money. Hmmmm.


Jocelyn March 2, 2009 at 6:33 am

I just cut coupons and eye the sales. It is true that many of the coupons are for processed food, but in my circular I’ll often see coupons for sour cream, oatmeal, yogurt, coffee, cleaning supplies, tuna fish, etc. And if I can piggy back on a club card discount things do get pretty cheap.


Anne March 2, 2009 at 7:06 am

I use (free) and click on “grocery deals by state” There are no grocery deals by state for Oregon but there are for Washington State-Safeway which may apply to Oregon. She lists the sales for the week and where a coupon was found. She also lists the percentage off and I enjoy sorting by this to have all of the free and high percentage off items at the top. She suggests when an item could be purchased and donated to charity.

Food purchasing is not as evolved in Kentucky as it is in Portland, Ore. We still aren’t where Portland was when I co-oped there in the mid-eighties.

Some of the pretty decent food that I use coupons for regularly are frozen vegetables (green giant and birds eye are often free), Cage free eggs, and sour cream. I have been lucky enough to get coupons for Laura’s Lean Beef which is a local product that is going national.

Much better to buy locally and make from scratch…but I don’t do either as much as I should.

a full cup and hot coupon world are helpful esp. when I am going on vacation and need to buy a lot of food in an unknown area.

Oddly, Riteaid offers a lot of free after rebates on homeopathic medicines. I have tons of saline rinse, etc. that I just paid sales tax for…

Coup0ning is one of my hobbies and I give away a lot of stuff that I don’t use.

I also buy coupons on I have found that some papers have better coupons than others and I can just purchase what I want from them.


Mandy March 2, 2009 at 7:29 am

Have you thought about CSAs for your vegetables? I live in Birmingham, AL – and we have year round CSAs. I haven’t done any price checking on it, but I am seriously thinking about it. I’ve been keeping my grocery receipts and plan to add them up and see how much I spend on what the CSA’s offer and compare. If it even comes a little above even I think I might be tempted to buy into one.

I to don’t use coupons. I shop at Aldi’s and then at a local chain for quick trips. The local chain is more expensive, but I like supporting them as I feel they pay their employees fairly. My room mate works at Wal Malrt – she gets a discount on everything besides dairy, produce, and meat. Go figure.

I also find it hard to make myself stock up on things for the future. My mother stocked up on things and my aunt has enough food that for a while I just went grocery shopping at her house. I know that I could keep my stock at a reasonable place, but I just keep imagining my mother’s and aunt’s kitchens with overflowing supply of food.


Kristen@The Frugal Girl March 2, 2009 at 7:54 am

I haven’t tried it, but I am extremely skeptical of it. For one thing, I’ve been price comparing for so long in my area, I already know what a good price is and I know where to find it. And secondly, like you said, a lot of coupons are no good to me. I’d rather buy a $2 cannister of oatmeal than use coupons on individual packets.

I’ve thought about signing up for the $1 trial, just so I can review the service on my blog, though.


Tam March 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

I have tried the Grocery Game. My husband and I are mostly vegetarian and I was wary of whether TGG would work – and basically, it didn’t. I didn’t want to buy things just because they were on sale, (Pillsbury refrigerated dough? Yuck). And the instances of free items in my stores were nonexistent (stores in my area don’t offer double coupons). I found that I could save more by buying in bulk at Whole Foods and buying the rest at my grocery store or my local farmer’s market. One week, I realized that I had bought nothing with a name brand on it — only bags of bulk beans, grains, fruits and vegetables. There are no coupons for those items, ever.

I did find a troubling amount of air fresheners on TGG list — things that I would never allow in my home. The proponents of TGG also claim that there are great deals to be had on toiletries, cleaning products and paper products, but since we try not to use paper products and try to use natural cleaning/personal care concoctions, it was useless.

I will say a few positive things about the service, however: I did the trial period during the holiday season, and it did alert me to good sales on baking items, including two-for-one brownie mixes that I made for last-minute office parties.

I also look for coupons now on line for the occasional treat (Kashi frozen pizza). The service aldo does seem good if you are buying extra canned goods for food pantry donations.


Angela March 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I think it is really funny that you say that clipping coupons is the opposite of sexy. I have always had an aversion to it, and maybe that’s part of the reason. Also, the few times I have tried, I waste so much time going through the tons of stuff we never eat- as you say, prepackaged foods, sodas, that kind of thing. Also, in Los Angeles, a lot of the game is just going to the right store. Some of them are insanely expensive and some are very reasonably priced. I’m always surprised by friends who don’t watch prices at all. I always double up on staples when they’re on sale and things like that and I manage to buy groceries for my husband and myself for under $100 a week. Another problem with these services is I think they’re geared for people who have never paid attention to how much they spend on groceries. That’s the only way they could claim to save a family over $500 a month. If you’ve already been paying attention for years, you’re probably already down to the bare bones.


Di Hickman March 2, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Nope never even considered it for all the reasons Tam mentioned above. We are vegetarians for 18 years now, we don’t eat much processed foods, have a veggie garden and cook from scratch when possible. I’m conscious to buy the “green” option where possible, and do “no-poo” so toiletries aren’t an option either. I just don’t see how it would benefit me. Honestly I used to clip coupons about 8 years ago before I got on my “path” now the idea seems to against everything I believe in. I cut my grocery bill by 60% the last two months but reducing the amount of food we eat (lost 10lbs too! whoohooo), and being careful of leftovers, oh and menu planning.


Rebecca March 2, 2009 at 6:31 pm

…Average-sized families can spend more than $500 per month on groceries? Two years ago, my mother fed herself, my dad, my younger brother, and three or four dinners a week to my brother’s friends (who, taken together, were the entire offensive and defensive lines for their high school football team) for roughly half that. Perhaps the average family is hosting the entire team?

The coupons I used most were for sanitary napkins, but then I bought a reusable menstrual cup. It’s paid for itself in six months, and now, I rarely find coupons that I can actually use. Perhaps if I kept a cleaner house, had a baby, or wore trendy makeup, I would find coupons useful for saving on cleaning supplies, disposable diapers, and cosmetics, but I don’t.

Even if I do find a coupon for food I want to eat, stores in my area forbid double coupons or piggybacking coupons on to existing sales, so it’s usually cheaper to either buy generic or buy whatever brand happens to be on sale.

I’m always interested in ways to save more money, though–please keep us posted!


The Frugalista FIles March 2, 2009 at 6:56 pm

I love your views on coupons. Sometimes coupons don’t work for me because I don’t consume much. I don’t need to buy in bulk because I don’t feed a family. I hate wasting food.


Klara Le Vine March 2, 2009 at 10:39 pm

To Di and Tam and any other vegetarians (or macrobiotic eaters, which is what I have been for the last 14 years),

There are sources on web for ordering foods at costs probably less than Whole Foods – I buy at cybermacro – can find foods I can’t even find at Whole Foods and can buy in larger quantities to save more (and shipping free for over $300 if you want to have in your own pantry for a while). Many items can last, such as condiments and bottled items (sweeteners, vinegars, etc). I don’t live in the States so I take advantage of buying in larger quantities.

When I did live in the States, I used to shop at a warehouse, also many things in larger quantities, but such a huge selection there, I did use what we bought.

Also used to go regularly to the local farmer’s market for all my vegetables – fresh, local, and even there found some great bargains.

Besides what many said here, that the items were not what one uses, also “consumes” alot of time, that counts too, no??

I remember there were coupon exchanges, or places where coupons would be used by organizations – that’s a nice way of sharing.


Kristin @ March 3, 2009 at 5:40 am

I wasn’t impressed with the Grocery Game, either. As Jenny mentioned, I just did a review on my blog after reading Teri’s book and finishing my one month trial. There are five grocery stores in my town and only one of them had a list. The sales at that store are the worst of the five so I never shop there. I do well matching the coupons to the sales (usually 40-60% savings) on my own. I have a very good memory so going through the flier, doing my menu planning and matching everything up with coupons only takes me about an hour a week.


tammy March 3, 2009 at 8:05 am

The Kroger I shop at sends Free coupons via mail to me specifially for the items I buy. Coffee, cereal, salad mixes, etc. The free coupons and Kroger’s double coupon policy keep me shopping that store. They also mark down produce Wed mornings and that is amazingly helpful when tackling the ole food budget.


Nicki March 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

I’ve tried TGG after seeing Teri on Oprah (I think it was Oprah?). I thought any way to save $$ I’d try. Boy, was I disappointed! I, too, cook mostly from scratch and purchase about 80-90% organic. This past week I found my FIRST coupon for an organic item in our Sunday newspaper. I rarely buy convenience food, and as for the toiletries…well, lets just say I rarely had the coupon with me when I was actually at the store. To me, knowing the best price for an item and then waiting until then to purchase it–and purchase a lot of it at that price–is the best way. I think the game could benefit the vast majority of Americans…those too busy to cook from scratch and rely on pre-packaged, convenience foods…but it’s probably those SAME people who wouldn’t want to spend the time (or effort) to save coupon circulars from weeks of papers and then log in to the game weekly, matching up the coupons.


Meg from FruWiki March 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

I actually just responded to a post about coupons over at ( Here’s my coupon philosophy that I posted there:


I don’t have anything against coupons, but I rarely use them. Here’s why:

1. Coupons only help you when you’re buying stuff and I don’t buy a lot of stuff. I don’t use moisturizer/lotion, or fabric softener, or need a lot of office or cleaning supplies. Cleaning supplies for me are mostly old socks or microfiber clothes, baking soda, and vinegar.

2. Most items I do buy don’t come with coupons: fresh produce from local farms, generic items, and items from bulk bins.

3. I’m rather picky about a lot of things I use, even if I’m not picky about the brand per se. For example, I could get all the toothpaste and deodorant I wanted for free or near to it, but I really like using tooth powder and crystal deodorant. Those things might have coupons every now and then, but I’m not too worried since they last so long (the crystal deodorant might last me years by the looks of it — so I’m not stockpiling it!).

4. The stores I go to don’t double coupons and rarely have sales. I may drop by Sam’s for some fresh berries and POM cheap-as-we-can-stand toilet paper, but for the most part I stay away from big chain stores like Target, Walmart, etc. and most of my shopping is at a locally-owned grocery store. On the plus side, they have great quality food at great prices.

5. I don’t get a lot of coupons. I don’t get the paper because I think it’s a waste of paper and my money when I can get the news online (though I understand how some people enjoy reading the paper in print). The stores I go to don’t really have store coupons or circulars. Plus, I’ve also been trying very hard to get less junk mail, including coupons from companies like ValPak.

6. I don’t need the extra temptation to shop (and let’s remember why companies distribute coupons in the first place!). So, I’m not going out of my way to look for coupons for things that I’m not going to buy.

Of course, if a coupon for something I do buy lands in my lap, I’ll use it. And I am a big fan of sites like for online purchases.


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