ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER - APRIL 27, 2003
A coupon coup
The Web-based Teri's Shopping List tells consumers which items to buy and when so they can save, save, save.
By DIANA McCABE
The Orange County Register - Sunday, April 27, 2003
Each Sunday I'd snip, snip, snip coupons out of the paper.
But I was frustrated, because despite all that work, I'd only trim $6 to $10 off my grocery bill.
Not any more, though. Now I'm a coupon queen.
I've trimmed my grocery bill $30 a week by using a little- known Web site that almost seems like magic. It tells you exactly which coupons to use during a specific week to buy items when they're selling at their lowest prices.
In some cases - if you play your coupons right - you can even get products free.
All you have to do is shove aside your "I can-do-it-myself" pride and check out Teri's Shopping List, which you'll find at www.grocerygame.com.
The list is the brainchild of Teri Gault, a 43-year-old Santa Clarita resident who created a database to track grocery prices and sales cycles so she could save money feeding her own family of four.
"We know the history of the sales price (of items), so we can say what we think it will do," Gault says of the database, which goes back five years.
Gault charges her customers what amounts to $1.25 a week for a list of products that are on sale with coupons at either Ralphs or Vons - chains that double the value of coupons.
Shoppers can download the list on Sunday morning, check out her recommendations on combining coupons with sales items and then go shop - with coupons in hand, of course.
I must say, I felt really silly - and skeptical - at first. What good bargain hunter pays someone to tell them how to use coupons? What if the list was filled with items I didn't need? But after a few weeks testing out the list, I found it worked for me in a big way.
Before I started using the list, the $6 to $10 that I saved per week included extra coupons my mother mailed to me from Ohio . I'd still end up paying $60 to $70 a week on groceries in a low-maintenance household - me (a vegetarian), a catatonic cat, and a husband whose idea of haute cuisine is combining macaroni and cheese with a can of tuna fish.
Then I began using Teri's Shopping List. The first time out, her coupon recommendations saved me $22.65.
A few of my savings on stuff I normally buy:
Jif peanut butter, regularly $2.99 but on sale for $1.99. But with my 55-cent coupon (doubled) from that Sunday's paper, I got it for 89 cents.
A big container of Kraft's parmesan cheese on sale for $3.99, down from $4.25. I had a $1 coupon (doubled), so I spent $1.99.
How it works
The key is to use your best coupons when the items are at what Gault calls their "rock bottom" sales price. Then you stockpile those items while they're cheap.
Her rule of thumb for personal items: You should keep one unopened product in your stockpile for each person in your household. (That rule helps avoid overstocking. No one needs 22 jars of pasta sauce unless they're feeding an army.)
Using her database, Gault has learned that products often go on sale for a short time and then return to their regular price for nine to 12 weeks.
So that coupon you clipped last Sunday may not be used until the next sales cycle comes around. Gault will tell you when to use it.
She color-codes her list to help you. Items printed in blue are the best deals for stockpiling. Those printed in green are free. (The value of the coupon equals or exceeds the sales price.) Items in black are luxury or convenience items with a good price.
"My blue/green items are expected to beat prices anywhere, including Costco," Gault says. (Although once every four to six weeks, Gault says she buys eggs, butter and cheese at Costco because it's tough to beat its prices on those items.)
In four states
Teri's Shopping List has been on the Web for about three years. It began in California and since then has expanded to Arizona , Colorado and Wyoming . Texas is next.
Gault has about eight employees who help her with the lists in California and Arizona . The rest are franchises. Most of her customers routinely save 67 percent on their grocery bills, she says.
Beyond that, unless you're playing the rebate game (which Gault doesn't like to do) and can spend 10 hours a week figuring out sales stuff, it's tough to get your bill to zero, she says.
For me, flush with success from my first foray with Teri's coupons, I couldn't wait to hit the grocery store the next week. At first I was bummed because the week's list had bargains on items I'd never buy, such as Pillsbury Brownie Mix (39 cents instead of $2.39) and Starbucks Ice Cream ($2 instead of $5.98).
Then I spied my booty: toiletries. My biggest coup was Mitchem deodorant. It normally sells for $4.69, but was on sale for $2.49 - a bargain I formerly would have gone for even without a coupon.
But the list said there was a coupon in that Sunday's paper for $1, which meant I got the Mitchem for 49 cents. (I even had a second coupon, so I bought a second product for my stockpile.)
At the checkout counter, my coupon savings totaled $30.65. I'd cut my shopping bill 41 percent. I thought I was doing great.
Then I met Michelle Baier, a 37-year-old mom from Orange , who saved $4,000 last year with Teri's list.
Baier, a former sales and marketing executive, regularly saves at least 50 percent on her grocery bills. Sometimes more. I know this because she has printed out an Excel spreadsheet on which she tracks her savings. She also keeps every grocery list and receipt, which she graciously shared with me.
"I've been telling a lot of people about this list, but they are skeptical that I have saved that much," says Baier, who shops for herself, her husband, their 16-month-old son and the family dog.
Last year, her monthly savings were about $300 a month - the equivalent of a monthly car payment for the family.
Baier, who even has her coupon holder organized to match the aisles of her local Vons store, shared a few tips she has picked up from Gault's list:
Look for manufacturers' coupons in all the inserts (not just in your grocery store's ad) in your Sunday paper. If it's a manufacturer's coupon, you can use it at your grocery store, even if it came from another store's insert.
If a product is selling two for $5 (or another combination), you don't have to buy two of the items to get the discount. You can just buy one and still get the discount - in this example, for $2.50. (Gault will recommend when to buy several and when to go for just one.)
Using your coupon on a larger item isn't always the best deal. For example, in the past she would buy plastic baggies en masse at a big discount store, but now she waits for smaller sizes to go on sale, uses her coupon - and gets them for a cheaper unit price.
Don't disregard coupons on items you've never tried. Trying out a different brand of toothpaste or pasta is OK. Many shoppers experiment with new products and as a result are happy to have more variety in their pantries.
Think beyond your household. Some items that Baier gets for free, such as Lipton Mashed Potatoes Side Dishes, aren't items she'd use at home, but they're great for community potlucks and food drives.
The list has saved her money, but she's having fun, too.
"It's like a game to see how much I can save," Baier says. It's not like I'm a penny pincher. I just love a good bargain. Who doesn't?"
Ditto for me.