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Besides couponing, there are so many different ways to save money on your grocery bill — if only you knew the ins and outs of your favorite store’s policies and promotions. And how do you find that out?

“Just ask your store manager, who will happily tell you how to save the most at their store,” says Annette Economides, who co-authored ”Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family.”

One out of three Americans (34%) said he or she isn’t likely to settle for paying retail prices, according to RetailMeNot.com’s third annual coupon behavior survey. These survey respondents said they’ll go to a different store or wait for markdowns rather than pay full price.

“Nobody’s advocating that you drive all over town to take advantage of every coupon, ad or reward program,” says Ellie Kay, family financial expert. “The trick is finding the ones that are right for your shopping and spending style.”

Grocery store managers, who preferred to be anonymous, offered tips and tricks on how to score the best values in their stores.

Know Your Store’s Coupon Policies

Successful couponers know to look on a store’s website for the printable coupon policy to help them get the best deals. For example, Kroger, Giant, Safeway and Acme Markets stores double or triple coupon face values in some states, usually on specific days and to specific limits. On a double coupon day, a $ 1 off coupon will be worth $ 2 off.

Kroger will waive the expiration date of coupons for military families living on bases. Publix allows coupon stacking (using a store coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon); Walmart does not. But Walmart will apply any coupon overage (when savings are more than the final product cost) to your total grocery bill, while most other stores won’t. Costco accepts no manufacturer coupons whatsoever while Publix will even honor competitors’ coupons. Target will honor competing stores’ coupons, but only if they are within 16 miles of its store.

Ask your store manager:

-Is there a grace period on coupon expiration dates?

-Do you double or triple coupon face values?

-Can I stack coupons at your store?

-Do you have mobile coupons for my cell phone?

-How do you apply coupon overages?

-Do you match or accept other stores’ coupons?

Use the Store’s Loyalty Programs

Now more than ever, stores are trying to attract you with special rewards for shopping at their stores, but not all stores have these programs. At CVS, you can earn Extra Bucks (cash built up on your Extra Care rewards card) for qualifying purchases for use as cash off your next purchase. There’s even a coupon machine in front of every store where Extra Care cardholders can scan their cards and get special unadvertised coupons (up to four at a time).

At Costco, an executive membership earns 2% cash-back rewards (up to $ 500 per year) on Costco purchases. At Winn-Dixie, if you don’t scan your rewards card, all prices ring up at full price. It pays to know the ins and outs of each system, so you can take advantage of it, says Economides.

Ask your store manager:

-Do you have a loyalty program?

-Do you give cash-back rewards?

-Does it provide additional savings on future purchases?

-How do I use it?

-Can these savings be combined with other manufacturer or store coupons?

Stock Up at Dollar Stores, Outlets, Closeouts

These stores have a lot to offer, says Economides, especially when they sell a brand-name item you eat or use regularly. For example, Big Lots closeout stores provide an outlet for Pepperidge Farm, so if you love that brand, it pays to find out what day the truck arrives to take advantage of its products. If these stores offer a deal on items you regularly use, you should snatch up as many as you can afford and stockpile them, says Economides. “Watch out though, because some manufacturers will provide these outlets with a smaller size to sell for cheaper, so know your regular sizes and prices before buying.” She also says these stores typically do not accept coupons of any type — another reason to know your prices.

Ask your store manager:

-When does the (brand) truck come each week?

-Do you always carry (name brand)?

-Do you accept any coupons?

-Do you have a loyalty program?

Find the Final Markdowns and Clearance

You can score some really great bargains if you know where to look for final markdown items in your favorite stores, says Economides. For example, Publix provides a free-standing shelving rack with red-stickered grocery merchandise (never meat, produce or dairy) in a specific location in each store, while CVS usually provides final clearance merchandise either at the end of an aisle in the back of the store or sometimes on the bottom shelf where the product is usually displayed.

In contrast, Walmart denotes clearance merchandise with orange or blue stickers and marks down produce and bakery items in addition to clearance grocery items in different locations of each store. Kroger repackages broken egg cartons to include eggs of all sizes, clearly marked to clear out.

Ask your store manager:

-How often do you mark down items at final clearance prices?

-How can I identify these clearance items?

-Where can I find these clearance items in the store?

-When during the day do you mark down or repackage perishable items (such as bakery, produce, eggs or dairy)?

Understand Multiples and BOGOs

At some stores, a sign will say “Two for $ 5,” but if you buy one, it costs $ 3. Other times, says Economides, 10 for $ 10 really means that no matter how many you buy, you still get the deal price at $ 1 each.

“Watch out for multiples,” says Kay, because this is how they get you to spend more than you planned and they are not always the best deal, especially if you have to buy the quantity to get the deal price.”

Buy-one-get-one deals, or BOGOs, can also get tricky. For example, at one store you might get two bags of BOGO chips for $ 3.99, but individually they cost $ 3.99. In such cases, of course, it doesn’t pay to just get one. But at another store, the same chips might be $ 3.29 regularly or $ 2 each when on sale.

Ask your store manager:

  • Do I have to buy as many as the deal says to get the deal price per item?
  • How often do you switch or run BOGO or multiple promotions?

Do the Math

“Don’t shy away from doing the math to determine the best deal. That’s what cell phone calculators are for,” says Kay.

Economides adds that many stores have shelf tags that show you the per-unit price so you can compare deals without doing any math.

But let’s do the math and work out three competing Publix deals:

  • 10 for $ 10 — 32 oz. Powerade bottles (10 x 32 oz. = 320 oz., $ 10.00 ÷ 320 = $ .031 per oz.)
  • 3 for $ 5 — 64 oz. Gatorade bottles (3 x 64 oz. = 192 oz., $ 5.00 ÷ 192 = $ .026 per oz.)
  • 2 for $ 5 — 128 oz. Gatorade jugs (2 x 128 oz. = 256 oz., $ 5.00 ÷ 256 = $ .019 per oz.)

With the largest two-jug deal you are clearly getting more fluids for less money, but you lose the convenience of smaller bottles. “Being able to quickly compare the deal, product size and unit price makes selecting the right one for you easier,” says Economides.

‘Where’s the Beef’ Savings?

“Meat can be a large portion of any family’s grocery bill, but there are many ways to save depending on the store,” says Economides.

Her best deli tip: Look for “chubs.” That’s the word for a whole cooked ham, turkey breast or roast beef in the meat section. Then take it over to the deli section and ask them to slice it. You will save more than 50% over the brand-name and even store-name deli meats.

Many stores also have different meat expiration and promotion policies. For example, a Publix ground beef insider secret is that the “market ground” meat label means the beef could be ground from high-quality meat left over from an advertised special (never expired meat), which is a great way to get better-tasting, higher-quality ground beef. Just check the meat specials and ask the butcher.

Ask your manager:

-What is your policy on marking down meat?

-What are the choices in ground beef, turkey and chicken?

-Do you sell whole cooked meats in the meat department?

-Can I bring a whole cooked meat from the meat department to the deli for slicing?

Produce Savings in The Bag

Many stores mark down and repackage produce that might be below the standards for full-price display, but that is not the biggest secret in the produce department. Economides says that bulk packaged produce is usually less expensive — up to 50% less expensive than loose produce — because packaged produce is priced by the unit and not by the pound, as with loose produce.

She says that by law, each bag must contain at least the advertised weight. The big secret is that to avoid underweight-error problems, grocers will throw in an extra food item so you get a few more ounces in the bag. “Just weigh your bag and see how many extra ounces are provided and pick the heaviest one for the best deal — especially if you eat a lot of apples, potatoes, grapefruits, etc.”

Ask your manager:

-What is the store’s policy for marking down produce?

-Where and when can I find marked-down produce?

Credit Card Rewards Add Up to Real Cash

Any time a store or credit card gives cash back, you should try to take advantage of it, Kay and Economides agree. Costco’s TrueEarnings American Express card earns between 1% and 4% cash back depending on the type of purchase.

Target’s RED debit and credit cards save you 5% on Target purchases every time you use them. Kroger has a 1-2-3 rewards credit card that earns points for purchases and rewards customers with cash to spend in Kroger. None of these cards has an annual fee.

Ask your store manager:

-Does your store offer a credit or debit card that earns rewards?

-How do the rewards work and how can I use them?

-When are the rewards applied?

Other Ways to Save

“There are so many different types of promotions and ways for you to take advantage of them, and the best thing is to be as informed as possible to find the ones that work for you,” says Kay.

Here are some more specific perks at some stores:

-A mobile coupon program at Target allows coupons to be scanned directly from your phone.

-The CVS email program notifies you of unadvertised specials.

-If a Publix clearance price rings up wrong, you get it for free.

-Whole Foods, CVS and Target offer reusable bag rebates that take cash off your final receipt.

-Register rewards from Winn-Dixie give you coupons for your next purchase.

-You can activate a Upromise account at a grocery store in your area to earn college money on items you’re buying and saving on already.

-Many grocery stores offer special deals on their Web sites.

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