Secrets of a Coupon Queen: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Alden Wicker

Cut Your Grocery Bill In HalfWe’ve always been intrigued by the idea of couponing.

Extreme Couponers make it look rewarding and fun. We had a mom try it who reported back that it was time-consuming. But we wanted to ask someone who actually knows how to do couponing right.

So we found an expert who spends just a couple hours a week couponing, and saves anywhere from 50 to 70% off her groceries. Oh, and did we mention this expert is only 20 years old?

Brandi LaBarre is a student at University of Maryland, who runs the blog Savvy Student Shopper where she shares her saving insights and coupons with families and other money savers like her. Best of all, she’s not a crazy couponer—just a girl on a tight budget!

According to a nationwide survey by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint®, 41% of women rank groceries among their top three expenditures—only rent and utilities rank higher. That’s why it’s so important to maximize your food dollars, and couponing is a time-honored strategy for doing just that.

RELATED: Grocery Shopping on a Budget: 10 Ways to Keep Rising Food Costs in Check

The way we coupon, though, has been evolving. So we grilled this young savant on the ins and outs of savings, so we could share her expertise with you:

LV: How long have you been couponing?

Brandi: Since I was a little girl I’ve been cutting coupons and sorting them to help my mother. It wasn’t until three years ago, though, that I started getting really serious about it. Now I’m a better couponer than my mom.

Who are you grocery shopping for?

I shop for two households. I live in an off-campus apartment with three boys, one of them my boyfriend. But the couponing happens when I go home almost every weekend to my parents’ house, which is 45 minutes away from school. I’ll do grocery shopping for my family of four, including me, my parents and my younger sister, plus a dog and two cats! I take my portion back to school with me.

You do the grocery shopping now, instead of your mom?

We work together. If Safeway has a deal, I’ll email her and I know she’ll be able to get it that week. But she always comes to me, because I know a little more, especially about internet deals. If I can’t make it home that weekend, I’ll send her everything and she can do the shopping.

RELATED: 5 Coupon Apps to Save You Time and Money

So how much do you spend on groceries?

My family of four spends an average of $75 a week on groceries and household products. This number ranges depending on the sales, who does the shopping (me or my mom), how busy we are that week, how many shopping trips we make and upcoming holidays or parties. We have a flexible grocery budget because sales and coupons always determine our shopping list.

How much do you save?

I always strive to save 50% on the grocery budget. Again, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. When buying a lot of meat and produce, our percentage is lower. We usually spend less than $5 a week on household goods and health and beauty products. They are the easiest to save on—I can get them free or very cheap with coupons (CVS is awesome!). When I have a well-rounded shopping trip (meats, produce, health and beauty, cleaning and pet food all included), saving 60% or more is a really good trip.

  • CJ

    This is great in theory, but here in NYC, most stores ban online printed coupons (Target, Duane Reade, etc don’t take them) and none of the grocery stores allow overages or double coupons.  Add that to the list of reasons NYC is expensive.

    • Sheila

      I live in the Midwest and it’s been years since I’ve seen stores that offer double coupons.  I’d like to know where those stores are.  (Don’t have the problem with banned online printed coupons here, but I have heard that before from people in other parts of the country.)

      • Bobbih


        • Sondra

          What about Arizona? None of the stores I’ve shopped at have banned online coupons (yet), and they also stopped doubling up.

      • Amanda

        I live in Massachusetts, and Stop & Shop and Shaw’s/Star Market will double coupons with an initial value up to $0.99.  So a $0.75 coupon becomes $1.50.

        • Gigi Cake Shoppe

          I live in Stop and Shop and Waldbaum’s because they double. Worth the time and coupon clipping. I learned to coupon when I lost my job three years ago. I am in Queens NY and working part-time while trying to get my custom cake business off the ground. Those coupons save my life at times!

      • thdpr

         King Soopers doubles. Call your favorite store and ask! :)

    • Rebecca Garcia

      I agree, also I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods where standard coupons don’t apply.

      • Camille

        Whole Foods does take coupons, though, and they have their own printable coupons, too! You can get some good deals there – it’s just not as common.

    • Leah

      Target always accepts my coupons, and my grocery stores do too, and Rite Aid is great….not sure where you shop at in the city? I’m right in Manhattan…

  • Kievjaguar

    I took a class on coupons and was very disappointed because the instructor did not care that the food and cosmetics she bought was full of harmful chemicals! I wish organic produce manufacturers had more coupons, but they do not.

    • Bobbih

       sometimes the whole foods by me has manufacturer coupons that they give out with samples

  • amanda

    I dont mean to dismiss the whole coupon idea-. I dont want my purchases to be dictated my manufacturers.  I like the idea of targeted coupons like Target passbook and others. But Im not going to buy stuff I dont need just because its on sale 

    • LeeLee

      Just because you don’t need it now, doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the near future. 

      While I don’t think you should stock up on items that you don’t want just because they’re on sale, there are many cases where you actually make money by purchasing items with a coupon.  If there’s a situation like that for something that I don’t want but could be useful to others, I will donate it to a local charity. 

      • amanda

        I have a tiny 380ft apartment,, stocking up is not an option. This is also why shopping at places like Costo are for people in the burbs 

    • Sheila

      Totally agree! I find that most coupons are for processed foods and I’m trying to drop afew pounds so I don’t need or want those in my house.

      • Laura

        You don’t use laundry or dish detergent? Household cleaners? Shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc?  These items can be free or exceptionally well priced using coupons.

        • Sheila

          I do, but you rarely get those items free. Those are about the only items I’m able to find coupons for.

          • Amanda

            I don’t know what happened to my response.  Putting it again, so sorry if it double posts.  Not true that you rarely get those items free!  I NEVER pay for
            toothbrushes or toothpaste.  I have been getting feminine care products
            and men’s body wash for free lately.  I also get deodorant for free or
            very cheap.  Shampoo and conditioner I just got for $1 each (and these
            are the ones for color-treated hair).  I get Purex laundry detergent for
            $1.99, and hand soap for $0.49.  I’m going to make money on hair spray
            tonight at Rite Aid, and I made money on aspirin on Monday.  I paid $1 for Kleenex today instead of $2.49.  I have gotten a package of Cottonelle toilet paper (12 rolls) for $2.50.  Couponing is fabulous!!

        • Leah

          I agree….I rarely pay for toothpaste, deodorant, lady products, etc- you have to coupon & do the cashback thing and you really score!! :)

  • Heidithen

    I would be interested in an article describing grocery saving tips for parents with 3-4 growing children. I have found grocery shopping at Adli’s and Dollar stores gives me the best bang for my buck. Plus, saving money on meat by eating what we shoot. This is another redundant article written by a single individual who have time to clip coupons.

    • LeeLee

      If your children are old enough to use scissors, why not have them help you clip?

      There are clipping services out there who will send you already clipped coupons.  Since you have to pay a nominal fee for S&H, it’s not as good of a deal as clipping yourself, but it can still save you a ton of money.

    • AldenWicker

      Hi Heidithen,

      While Brandi is single, she does the grocery shopping for her family, which includes her parents, her younger sister, a dog and two cats, and her mother clips coupons as well. So, you still might find the tips she includes helpful for a family. Thanks for your comment!


  • LeeLee

    Great interview!  I agree with Brandi.  With the amount of information on the internet, I don’t understand why more people don’t use coupons.  There are so many blogs who do the matching for you, that it makes it super easy to coupon.

    • Amanda

      I know!  I think people who coupon are more savvy shoppers than people who don’t.  Why pay $5 for something when I can get it for free or even make money on it?!

  • Laura

    I did heavy couponing – primarily at Walgreens – from September to December of 2012.  In a state that charges about 8% tax pre-coupon on merchandise, I spent approximately $200 on $2000 worth of merchandise using in-ad deals and coupons.  That’s $160 in TAXES, and another $40 out of pocket for the actual merchandise purchased (including my many papers).  As a result, I was set on things like shampoo, toothpaste, kleenex, pain killers, toothbrushes, razors and more for over a year AND used side deals to pay for necessities in the food categories.

    • Sheila

      The problem I have with Walgreens and CVS is their prices are so high to begin with. $5 for the same shampoo you can get for $3 at Target. Plus I live alone so the time to make a trip to CVS for the 2 or 3 items I may save a couple dollars on doesn’t justify the special trip. I can still save money at Target and get more of my shopping done and save time rather than driving all over town to different places just to save a couple of dollars.

      • Bobbih

         what about wal-mart price matching?  plus they take coupons too

      • Amanda

        You can price match at Target as well, as long as you have the stores’ weekly ads with you.

      • Leah

        you have to do the sale items+coupons+cash back bonus= SCORE! Never coupon for something that isn’t already on sale.

    • LeeLee

       I am thankful that my state currently taxes post coupon. 

  • Kat

    This works for people who don’t eat fresh food. Frozen chicken and cereal are not high on our family list of healthy food, esp cereal.

    • Julie

      When I tried out couponing last November – I got packages organic carrots for just tax! There are often also coupons for salad mixes, and the stores near me always have sales on fresh produce like avocados, potatoes, onions, and peppers.

  • imtheway

    We understand the value of couponing and it surely works well. A complimentary alternative is to take advantage of promo codes. Like coupons many retailers now offer weekly promo codes for the standard and specialized promotions.

  • Wendy Willis Fletcher

    I have always been a big believer in coupons for the past two years i have not paid for any cleaning products ( toilet tissue tissues naplins papertowels ect) , personal hygiene products ( soap body wash shampoo conditioner styling products deodorant hair dye perfume ect .) Since January 1st at one store i have gotton a lil over $4000. in free products using coupons and i feed a family of 4 on average for $340.00 a month :)

  • Lula Porter

    This month I discovered savings catcher from WalMart. While they do not compare prices on many of their items (groceries and store brands), I saved just over $13 in two trips. When I had that money transferred to a Bluebird card, WalMart doubled the amount. I do my best to find low prices, but this month showed me that I can do better.

    Has anyone tried the smartphone coupon apps?