I love hearing the accounts of “extreme couponers” who have scored groceries and toiletries for less than 15% of the total purchase price.  To me, this is a fairy tale, however, as I have one grocer within 20 minutes of my home, and it is a tiny store with limited inventory.  While others ooze over their accomplishments of pairing triple coupons with super sales, the 20% of North Americans who live outside urban areas are lucky to find apples in stock in any given week.  Here is a list of savings strategies I use to work around the lack of inventory, higher prices, and less-than-generous promotions.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: daftgirly

Go Early, Go Often, Go Late

This has been the most effective way to get goods on sale in my small town.  Sales start on Wednesday morning, meaning that by 6pm that same day, much of the inventory is depleted.  Since I work from home, I can go in around 10am and get much of what I need on sale, without fear of the after-work rush taking over.  If you know what day your store gets its deliveries, you can plan on going again on that day, as well.  (Many items that were originally out-of-stock will be back again.)  If a sale is really good, you may want to go again on the last day of the sale.  If the store had been holding back any items to stagger throughout the sale, they will have it out on the shelves at this time.

Know Your Local Policies

I shopped at my hometown store for over 15 years before I found out that they had a double-coupon policy.  I couldn’t believe that it had escaped my attention.  It had never been advertised on their flyers or in the store, however, and I had never seen anyone in my town even use a coupon.  If you have one or two stores in your small town, call and ask the manager what their official policies are.  (In my case, they will double coupons, but not on sale items.  Bummer.)

Ask About Special Orders

One item that we really stock up on are the microwave steam bags of veggies.  Priced at 80 – 99 cents on a good sale, they are the first things to be out of stock in a sale week.  Since my family of seven can easily eat 25 bags or more in a given week, we didn’t want to completely clean them out, but we did need to stock up.  It turns out that talking to the stock manager gave us an option to have them order an extra case just for us to be held in the back freezer.  We got the awesome prices, and they moved some inventory.  It was a win-win for everyone!

Be Aware (and Wary) of Rain Checks

I used to think that rain checks were a gift from above.  If an item was out of stock, you get a little coupon to buy the product when it’s available again, at the same price as when it was on sale.  Unfortunately, I had collected a drawer full of these over the years, as they were often for special purchases that were never offered in my store again.  If you are lucky enough to manage a rain check for an item that will return, have the store manager or cashier write the number of items you are allowed to purchase at the special price.  I have had to argue my way past a “limit of 1” too many times to count when the item comes back (something that could have been avoided if I had just asked.)

I admit that it’s often worth the journey out of town to a bigger grocer with more competitive pricing.  I have been able to stay within my town for most items, however, and I believe that it is good for my local economy and my gasoline bill.  If you are determined to shop in town or don’t have the means to go anywhere else, use a system of planning and diligence to avoid being “taken” by your local store.  Just because everyone else in your community unquestionably pays higher prices, doesn’t mean you have to.