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household finances

Rose Roberts shops with her daughter Cerys Mochan, 3, riding in the shopping cart, at a Guelph, Ont. grocery store in this Jan. 17, 2007 photo.DAVE CARTER

Lisa Paul literally counts every dime when it comes to buying groceries to feed her seven kids.

The Toronto mom sings the praises of coupons, sales and price-match policies for helping to cut her family's grocery bill down to $250 a week, even if it is only 10 cents at a time.

"On a Friday, usually when all the sales start, that's when I try to buy as much groceries as possible on sale than during regular price because at least you get to save more [on identical products]" she says.

It takes time to go through sales flyers and clip coupons, but she said she'd have to spend a lot more money if she didn't.

"What can I do? At the end of the day, we all have to eat and drink, so [saving money]is the best thing ever," she says, explaining every little bit helps coming out of a recession.

Kimberley Clancy launched website 10 years ago and now feeds her family of five on about $100 a week. She says the first mistake people make is not knowing the regular price and assuming something is cheap just because it is on sale.

"You might stock up and it might not be a great price, so you're not really saving," she says.

Armed with knowledge of basic prices, the next step is to pinpoint which grocery store in the neighbourhood is the cheapest. They're usually an independent fruit stand for produce, or the supermarket that has a major competitor close by.

"One Shoppers Drug Mart two blocks away from me has different prices than the Shoppers Drug Mart two blocks the other way. The cheaper one is near the Walmart," Ms. Clancy said.

Once inside a store, look for items that are on the outside cover of the weekly specials flyer. These are often the best deals, and could include some sold at a loss, in hopes shoppers will spend more once they've been lured into the store.

Ms. Clancy says brand name food can be cheaper than the store brand when it's on sale. If there's no sale that week, compare ingredient lists. If the two lists are nearly identical, they are probably made in the same factory.

Ms. Clancy says she snags free food several times a month through the scanner price accuracy voluntary code. Not every store follows it, but those who do guarantee that if the price of an item under $10 that scans is not the same as the one labelled on the shelf, shoppers get the item for free.

"You have to ask for it, because its a voluntary code," she says, explaining that if the store follows the policy but doesn't honour it, customers can launch formal complaints through the code's hotline at 1-866-499-4599.

She also says taking advantage of price-matching policies at stores that offer them means saving time and gas money associated with travelling to different stores.

"If you want to get all your grocery shopping done in one place you can gather up all your flyers and you can pick up all those things and put them in your cart and they'll adjust the price to the sale price of the other stores," she says.

And she said people should set aside any prejudices they have about the time or hassle of coupon clipping.

"I always say to people, even if you save $10 a week, if you think of it that way, its $520 in a year. So it really can add up," she said.

"It's not unheard of for things to be even free when you add a sale and a coupon," she says, pointing to yogurt on sale for $1 and mentioning her $1 off coupon.

Newspapers don't print as many coupons as they used to, but shoppers who head to websites like, and can choose the ones they want, which will then be mailed by the manufacturer. The coupons can be worth as much as $5 and also include "try products for free" offers. Joining a company's e-mail newsletter or Facebook page can also tip off shoppers about discounts.

Ms. Clancy suggests keeping coupons in an envelope or container in the car, because they can't save shoppers money if they're sitting on a kitchen counter.

And before you hand over the cash, use a store points card, but don't spend more simply to collect bonus points or airline miles.

Some of them end up being worth about 14 cents each, she says.