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Originally published Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 8:05 PM

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Money tip: Grocery-shopping advice from couponing stars

Some strategies and tactics can save you a lot of money, while others add more hassle to your life than money to your pocket.

Chicago Tribune

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Grocery-shopping savings advice has become ubiquitous in recent years, but all tips aren’t created equal.

Some strategies and tactics can save you a lot of money, while others add more hassle to your life than money to your pocket.

Grocery shopping is a popular topic because it’s an area of huge spending for many, and an area of huge potential savings.

The average four-person household spends more than $9,000 a year on food, about $5,500 of which is food at home, meaning not dining out, according to the most recent federal Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Add to that other supermarket staples, such as housekeeping supplies (about $750 a year), personal-care items ($834), and alcoholic beverages ($467), and you start talking about real money.

Even modest savings could amount to $1,000 to $2,000 a year.

To separate superior supermarket savings advice from the bad and mundane, we sought tips from a few rock stars of couponing who, besides being experts at coupon use, know all the best strategies for saving money at the grocery store.

Stephanie Nelson is founder of CouponMom.com, Jill Cataldo is founder of SuperCouponing.com and Josh Elledge is founder of SavingsAngel.com.

Powerful basics

Stockpiling. One simple-but-powerful tip reigns supreme if you’re serious about saving money at the supermarket — buy multiples when it’s cheap; few or none when it’s full price. Peanut butter or deodorant, for example, can be far less expensive when they’re on sale or you have a coupon — ideally, both.

If you ignore all the other advice and simply adhere to the buy-low, cherry-picking strategy, you’ll save significant money, at least 20 percent.

“Need-based shopping — shopping from a list — is the most expensive way to buy groceries for your family,” Elledge said. “Until you break this cycle, you will always spend far more than today’s savvy shoppers, regardless of whether you use coupons and technology.”

Half price. What’s a good price? “My goal as a coupon shopper is to cut the non-sale price of an item in half or better,” Cataldo said. “That’s an easy benchmark to remember.”

Loyalty cards. Applying for supermarket loyalty cards is often the only way to cash in on store sales. If the cards get unwieldy, you can put their bar codes into your smartphone with a mobile application like CardStar. Cataldo put the physical cards on their own keychain, alphabetized.

Store brands. Some store brands are quite good in quality and can be relatively inexpensive. But they don’t have the same price swings that brand names do and might not be cheaper compared with on-sale brand names, especially if you have a coupon, too.

Advanced tactics

Location matters. Grocery stores might have the same type of product in various locations in the store, but at different prices, Nelson said. For example, a store display might feature sale-priced tortilla chips accompanied by full-priced salsa. “Don’t fall for that,” Nelson said. “Find the salsa aisle and buy the sale-priced brand.”

Organic produce. Generally, organic produce with thick skins — think bananas and pineapples — are not worth the extra money. A primary advantage of buying organic is to avoid potentially harmful pesticides in your food. But thick skins protect the edible part of the fruit from pesticides. More information: can be found on the Environmental Working Group’s website at ewg.org/foodnews.

Internet coupons. Even with increased popularity of electronic coupons, print-at-home coupons are still available. See Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, RedPlum.com and CouponNetwork.com. In most cases, you can print two of each coupon you select.

Use apps. Smartphone applications can help you with creating a grocery list or avoiding paper coupon clipping. Check out SavingStar, Ibotta and your favorite store’s app.

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