Stephanie Nelson once took a friend grocery shopping.
The friend put little or no effort into the trip and stocked her basket with her usual items. With identical shopping lists, the friend spent $250.
Though Nelson, author of The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half, is an expert, that's not even an extraordinary example. Supershoppers such as Nelson demonstrate similar savings almost anywhere, week after week.
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"People think, 'Grocery spending, who cares? That's the minor spending,' " said Nelson, who operates the website CouponMom.com.
But groceries are huge.
The American family of four spends $9,200 a year on food. Add paper goods, personal-care products and other items, and you're spending $10,000 annually.
"The biggest spending category where you have some wiggle room is groceries," Nelson said. "People don't realize that by learning a few tricks, they could be saving a lot of money."
The key is planning your supermarket trip. But not everybody is willing or able to invest the time. Here are tips based on the amount of time you can plan:
Minimal effort, great savings
For what Nelson calls "busy" shoppers, doing no planning but spending five minutes on strategy after you arrive at the store reaps 20 percent to 25 percent off regular supermarket prices.
-- Concept: When you get to the store, pick up a sales flier, paying particular attention to front-page offers and in-store coupons. Also get a store loyalty card.
-- Best tip: Be flexible about brands you buy so you can switch to those that are on sale and try store brands, which are generally quite good.
-- Unusual tip: Use the five-minute rule: If it takes less than that to do it yourself, avoid precooked, prewashed and precut foods.
Medium effort, fantastic savings
If you can plan 30 minutes per week, you'll probably score 40 percent to 50 percent in savings.
-- Concept: Plan meals around each week's store bargains and shop with a list. Compound savings by matching sales to coupons from the newspaper and the web. CouponMom.com is among the sites that point out the best deals each week.
-- Best tip: Keep a log on prices of items you buy often, so you'll know when something is truly on sale.
-- Unusual tip: Weigh lettuce in the produce aisle. It's usually sold by the head, not weight. You can get 25 percent more just by using the nearby scales to get a large head.
Big effort unbelievable savings
You join the "varsity" when you can plan for an hour or more each week. You'll be rewarded with 60 percent to 70 percent off full price, Nelson said.
-- Concept: Visit multiple stores, including drugstores, discounters and warehouse clubs, for the best deals. Study your regular stores' policies regarding price guarantees, rain checks, Internet coupons, competitor's coupons and store-brand guarantees.
-- Best tip: Buy multiple items when on sale and use multiple coupons to create a stockpile of bargains.
-- Unusual tip: Use two coupons for "buy one, get one free" deals. You're buying two, so you should be able to use two coupons.