Grocery shopping is something most of us either love or hate. I know very few people who are indifferent to the errand. Being on a budget can make it a daunting task, and when someone suggests using coupons, it becomes maddening to many shoppers who are confused by store and manufacturer rules. Here are a few hints to stretch your food funds with – and without – clipping vouchers.

RESEARCH – Know your retailer. Some supermarkets run their weekly special from Sunday through Saturday, but others wrap theirs around the weekend days to entice the working shoppers to visit their establishment on their days off. Planning your shopping trip around their calendar can offer substantial savings on the things you normally buy, or might pass over as an unnecessary expense. Scan your flyers if you plan to shop at multiple stores to get the best bargains, too.

WATCH THE CALENDAR – Big holidays aren’t the only time to watch for special prices on your seasonal favorites, like the Thanksgiving turkey. Oftentimes, our stores will feature items that we may not normally be focusing on. For instance, around back-to-school time, there’s a noticeable increase in in-store specials on cereals and individually-packaged snacks that are convenient for packing lunch boxes. Around the beginning of the new year, you can look for markdowns on healthier food options that center around the popular “new year, new me” resolutions. Baby items are a hot-ticket in January as well. And, fortunately, it is also a time of year when much-needed cold and flu products might be marked down.

STORE APPS AND E-FLYERS – I’m old school. I remember best with a primitive pen and paper list in my hand. But, I’m learning to embrace this age of technology and do the research nearly every grocery and big-box store has a mobile app that is specific to their own perks. For instance, the Walmart app lists their weekly flyer, and their Savings Catcher (more on that in a minute). Another local grocery store offers an “add to list” option with their app, which keeps track of items in their store for you. If you’re look closely, some also offer e-coupons for a handful of items with extra mark-downs. Some of these are for a limited time, though, so pay attention.

REBATE APPS – I enjoy using these most, but they require closer attention to your budget and purchases. These apps offer a rebate into an account that you set up, and your savings or earnings can be transferred to an e-gift card to be spent later in either their store, or another retailer. My family and I are fond of apps like Ibotta, which offer a special discount on select items just by scanning your receipt. It’s best to plan your trip ahead if you use this app, so you can either combine your savings with the store special, or simply know you’ll earn money back on something you’re already going to purchase. The savings you earn are deposited into your account, and can be redeemed for gift cards for other retailers. Initially, I got focused on earning the savings toward a big gift card, but found that I was buying things that I didn’t always need right away, or at all. It is very important to know your apps, though, because some will let you collect the savings AND use a coupon, but some won’t.

The Walmart Savings Catcher, mentioned above, is my most-used money back app. You set up your account, scan your receipt, and the app browses other local retailers’ advertisements for lower prices. If one is found, you earn the difference onto a Walmart e-gift card to be spent in their store later. It also stores your receipt information if you need to make an exchange or return, so you won’t need to fumble for a slip of paper. If you’re like me, having young kids makes it hard to plan multiple stops at different locations to get the best deals on everything (and still keep your sanity some days). The convenience is by far my favorite feature. The downside to this option, though, is that you’re spending the difference on the spot, and waiting for the return; it takes up to three days to process your submitted receipt. For instance, if I knowingly buy an item for $1.88 that is on sale at a different market for $1.25, not only am I spending an extra $0.53 upfront, but the difference can only be redeemed at Walmart.

SNIP AND CLIP, BUT KNOW THE RULES – I like clipping coupons. Finding the best deals for we need and watching the savings tally has become almost thrilling. Always scan your Sunday newspaper for the flyer packets, and pay attention to the week. Usually, the first and last Sunday of each month will have more inserts. For some of us who live in rural areas, it pays to buy a newspaper from a more metropolitan area, where the cost of living is higher, because the coupon values are also above the local average.

I frequently print coupons from the manufacturers of our favorite brands. There are big box retailers who offer their own in-store coupons, too, and a few who let you “stack” the two together. There aren’t many, though, and when merchants catch on that they’re losing money, they often change the rules. It is very important to review their coupon policies frequently. One rule that has never changed: Expiration dates.

Be sure to check out Doc Frugal’s coupon saving center! Just clip the coupons you want and then print! 

EMPLOY HELP – Ask kids (or grandchildren) to help make the grocery list for the week whenever possible. They like having a say in what the meals will be, and they learn some solid, basic math skills by adding the coupon totals and estimate the grocery bill. Clipping them out is also fun for the younger ones; my five-year-old likes to practice with her safety scissors, “like in school.” If you’re fortunate enough to have close friends or family members who like to stretch their pennies, too, you could also set some time aside to clip, sort, and trade coupons together. Every little bit helps!

STAY ORGANIZED – This is possibly the most valuable tip I can offer. Know your budget and make your list using whichever method suits you, study your store’s advertisement and make a plan for your outing, and check their coupon policy. If you’re new to the grocery saving game, you’ll see that the prep work will be worth it in the end.