The first way to achieve this is obvious: coupons and rebates. I like to think my late father-in-law may have been the inspiration for Extreme Couponing 20 years ago. They would drive to the next state to get the Sunday paper because they had different coupons than we had here. Then they spent some of time cutting, sorting, and adding them to their impressive pile. They combed the sale flyers of the 3 local markets to see what could be matched and who offered triple or double coupons, then made their list. On one trip, they filled up a cart to overflowing with items that were on sale and buy one/get two deals. After they handed over the coupons, instant rebates, and triple coupon vouchers, I heard the clerk say the grand total....about $3.00. If I wasn't mystified enough, she meant the store owed him approximately $3.00! They also had mail in rebates that they received checks for down the road from this same trip. Did they buy only things they needed at that time? No. Did I reap the benefits of them storing extra items? Yes! But, as hard as I tried, I couldn't wrap my brain around this process. So, if you have space for storage and time to plan, this might work well for you. As for me, I need more brain storage, maybe after the kid era.
What I can handle is a warehouse membership, that is if I can make the initial cost worth the savings I receive during the first month. The best part is that I have receive many more items in a box/bag than at regular stores for almost the same price, and sometimes for less. This way, some are technically free. I have actually found some organic items for less than the regular store-brand items. Juice and school snacks fall into this category. Plus, I have been able to use store and manufacturer coupons together to make other things even cheaper like supplements, razors, and natural yogurt.
My other favorite thing is finding the day-old shelves for produce and bread in the regular stores. Since my resolution, I have been able to procure some awesome veggie deals and nice bread for the rest of the family for 1/3-1/4 the regular price. More for free! Yes, some things are worth passing up, but it is a tragedy what stores throw into their composter, and not because they are actually stale or past prime. Believe me, I have seen beautiful organic produce and gourmet deli breads tossed out because of a stamp or because the greens on the carrots were not as bright. Whole heads of lettuce were tossed due to one bruised outer leaf that would be removed anyway, apples because a new batch shipped in, and grape tomatoes because one in the container was slightly wrinkled. The breads are almost always still soft and made by the bakery, not mass produced like the rest of the items in the bread aisle. We got fresh garlic bread the other day for .70 because the bag was wrinkled when it was put on display. Really?? I would like to make more of my own, but time is my enemy lately.
Another trick in my bag is to grow some of our own food. When we bought our house, I had the plans for my first garden already in hand. The first summer was spent leveling ground, building beds, getting compost started, and putting fencing in place- all with second hand tools and materials. It's not Better Homes and Gardens, but it grows food! By the second season, I had also received donations of canning jars from many kind friends' attics and basements. I have put many of these to good use, but not all from my garden. I am still getting the hang of making the harvest last longer than the season. However, I do purchase carrots, green beans, potatoes, yams, poultry, beef, pork, and squash when they are less than $1 a pound and process those for later use. In November, I especially look forward to turkeys for .50-.60 a pound. I cook up most of these, can the meat, cook the carcasses, can the broth for soup or gravy, and freeze a few for later in the year. This removes some cost and cooking time from my weekly needs for many months.
As a side note, it is worth mentioning that if your family has had to choose between paying the mortgage, keeping the heat on, or buying groceries, there are community groups that offer free groceries weekly or monthly. Some ask for income information for verification, some ask only for what other assistance is received, ie fuel assistance, and others ask for no verification. Some of these same groups also offer free hot meals daily or weekly with no questions asked. I hope the other methods work for you, but I would be remiss to not mention the help others offer when you've done all you can do.
How have you saved money on groceries?