Who doesn’t love free stuff? I mean, free anything, right? OK, there’s the possible exception of heartaches and that annoying jingle for 1-800 Kars for Kids that is broadcast incessantly on free radio every day, but other than that!
Seriously, one of the best things to get for free is free groceries, primarily because one of the biggest chunks of your budget is food. Well, we all have to eat, so why not save as much money as you can while doing it? But to do it, you need to learn some basic skills and tricks. The most basic and obvious is to use coupons.
It’s not always easy, but with a little effort, you probably already know that you can find deals in newspapers (yes, they still have those), mailers, and online. You can combine manufacturer and store coupons to get free or almost free items! There are even more ways to score freebies. Check this out.
Best Tricks for Free Groceries
I am not an extreme coupon guy, and you don’t have to be one. There are many ways that your email, smartphone, and store apps allow you to get groceries for free or almost free. First, sign up for a top coupon site, and you’ll have a never-ending supply of coupons. If you’re concerned about overloading your email inbox, do what I did: set up a separate email address just for couponing.
For example, give Betty Crocker and/or Pillsbury your email address (click Join Free on their pages), and they’ll send you up to $250 worth of coupons that help you get deeply discounted or free canned goods, cereal and yogurt as well as the best of thousands of kitchen-tested recipes straight to your inbox! You also get access to free samples (limited quantities, one per member), so have your friends and family members sign up, too, and you’ll get many coupons.
The “Gold Mine” Where You Shop
A simple way to score freebies is by heading to the grocery store. Stores use free grocery items to draw you in to shop. You add the free item to your rewards loyalty card and then pick up the item with your card. I’ve gotten things like free French bread, cinnamon rolls, canned beans, fruit snacks, popcorn, and much more. Look at their weekly ads or check online or in your mailbox.
The Apps That Pay
Combining coupons with rebates is a big key to getting things for free. To discover these before you shop and get the cash back after your shop, try these rebate apps:
Ibotta lets you unlock rebates by completing simple tasks on the app before you shop over 150 supported stores. You scan the item’s barcode and submit a photo of your receipt to the app, and you’ll see the cash in your account within 48 hours. All new users get a $10 sign-up bonus just for redeeming their first receipt!
Checkout51 updates a new list of offers every week. You purchase them, upload a photo of your receipt to the app, and they send you money from the rebate.
SavingStar has hassle-free rebates at more than 70,000 locations you can shop, including tons of your favorite retailers, like CVS, Food Lion, Kroger, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and hundreds more. All you do is link up your loyalty cards, select your rebates, and the rebate shows up in your account after purchase.
CellFire regularly shares free e-coupons you can use to get free grocery items, and you can load them right to your loyalty card.
So don’t forget to use cash-back apps with coupons and sales and get groceries for free.
You Can Stack Deals Using a Coupon Matchup Site
Many stores allow you to apply multiple discounts to one item—called “stacking” in the coupon world.
Stacking is the real secret to turning everyday discounts into scoring totally free stuff.
For many items, you’ll be able to stack a competitor’s coupon (paid for by a competing store) or a manufacturer’s coupon (paid for by the company that produces the item) with the discount the store was already advertising—bringing the price as low as wait for it…free!
Keeping track of every deal available for the items you want to buy is an enormous challenge! I recommend you follow coupon matchup sites like The Krazy Coupon Lady. Here you’ll see weekly ads from major grocery stores and find matching coupons and rebates. The best is that you can stack a rebate on top of a coupon and even stack multiple rebates on top of each other!
It’s a bit old school, but mail-in rebates still exist! Simply purchase the item, save your receipt, and follow the directions on the rebate form to get your money back by mail. You can find mail-in rebates for free groceries in coupon inserts, company websites, and stores.
This takes a while and often costs you the price of a stamp, but it is an excellent way to stretch your grocery budget and get things for free. I do it regularly and can count on a minimum of $100 a year without breaking a sweat. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need or use to get a rebate, even if it’s a freebie after the effort!
Take Advantage of Loyalty Programs
Sign up for loyalty programs like Kellogg’s Family Rewards, or use Coca-Cola’s app to earn high-value coupons and other free stuff. Even if you don’t buy a particular product with a rewards program, you can still ask others to save the points for you or visit your recycling center to gather the points. You can still get free things by saving the products' codes and points.
Ask for Free Samples
Companies give out free samples to get their products in front of new customers. Take advantage of these opportunities to try new products and stretch your budget. You can often find free samples at your store or look for them online. My favorite places to check for free samples are Target, Walmart, and online at SampleSource.
If you’re into warehouse club shopping, you already know they overwhelm you with free tastes, coupons, and discounts every time you set foot inside. Of course, you have to pay for the privilege, so I don’t do that myself unless I am offered a “free” trial membership, such as a 90-day trial.
Sometimes your kind words are rewarded with free food. If you love a particular food item, you can simply call the company at a free 800 number and tell them! By calling or writing a quick note, I’ve scored free tuna coupons from Bumble Bee and free snack coupons from CVS. It pays to take the time to share some genuine praise.
Get Free Fruit for The Kids
If you have small children shopping with you, many supermarkets now offer free fruit (usually a tangerine or banana) for the kids while you shop. Not only is it free, but it just might keep the little ones from asking for all sorts of goodies, which will save you even more!
Make Some New Friends
There are loads of online bloggers who write about freebies so that you can become buds, or you can just try googling them for help and even more sites to check out and save money!
Or, make friends with folks whose hobbies produce food, and chances are good that their kindness reward you. My mother-in-law always seems happy to pass on some of her veggies each summer. Other friends may share some fish they caught or berries they’ve picked. Graciously accept if you’re at a potluck and someone wants to send leftover food home with you when the party is over. Remember to share whatever bounty you have with your friends occasionally, and it will return to you.
Other Ideas To Get Food on The Cheap
I'm not a farmer, but here are some other ideas for low-cost foods:
- Grow your seasonal foods and then share them with your friends. I’ll grow the tomatoes, and you grow the lettuce. Mother Earth and your neighbor will both love you!
- Go to a church or temple and participate in weekly potlucks. It’s good for the soul and your tummy too!
- Grow your wheatgrass and sprouts at home…you can raise them in trays with a bit of sunlight and little effort.
- Raise animals if you always wanted to be a farmer. OK, if you’re not going to raise your cattle for a big beef dinner (I‘m not into that for sure!), you might still have the inclination to have a few chickens on your mini farm, and you’ll have some fresh eggs for your family and friends.
- You can try hunting or fishing, and that helps with conservation while you fill your freezer with organic meat and fish at the same time.
- Join all the local restaurant birthday clubs, then eat like a king (or queen) on your birthday. Check out this list.
- Look for grand openings of new grocery and retail stores. Almost all will have specials, freebies, and coupons to help kickstart their businesses.
- Watch out for community events involving food. It may not be a totally free event, but some of those “all you can eat” events can go a long way in cutting your food budget that week!
- Start a “supper club” with your friends or family where you rotate cooking dinners. Sharing a meal cuts the expenses and is fun and special too.
- Buy more than one of any non-perishable food items when you find an unbeatable sale and then sell the extras on Amazon (some food items are restricted on Amazon) or eBay (check expiration dates, of course).
Check Your Receipt
First, some stores have a policy that if an item on your receipt has scanned incorrectly, you get the item for free! It happens almost every time I shop, so I check my receipts before I leave the store! Second, you know those little coupons that shoot out of the cash register with your receipt? They’re called Catalinas, and worth checking to see what they’re offering. These are usually high-value coupons you can pair with sales to get items for free or nearly free, and on a few rare occasions, I’ve even gotten coupons for free trial sizes of food items.
Barter or Gather
You may be able to barter for free food. You could trade your time or skill for someone else’s food. For example, you may get free strawberry jam in return for helping someone pick the strawberries. You may be able to help a neighbor with some yard work in exchange for some of their garden harvest or get free eggs in return for caring for a friend’s chickens while they are out of town. For me, it does pay to live in the middle of New Jersey, “The Garden State”!
There is free food around us in nature and in our grocery stores or apps. We just need to know where to look for it. Learn about some safe and great things to pick legally and eat, like wild blueberries, raspberries, or nuts. Ask friends and family with fruit trees if you can pick and have some of their fruit. You can check out FallingFruit, a collaborative website that shows where you can find fruits, vegetables, and nuts that are free for the taking. Check out the opportunities all around you.
An App for Giving and Getting Free Food
Finally, there’s an app called OLIO which helps match people who are giving food away (so it doesn’t go to waste) with people who can use that food. It’s like Freecycle for food, so check it out! All the food listed is for free (or a donation to charity).
Finding free groceries does take time, but when your budget is tight, it can be easier to find the time to look for free groceries than it is to find the money to buy them. Sometimes though, it’s a case of more months than money.
It’s not always just about trimming the budget. But, whatever the reason, taking advantage of free groceries is a great way to make your money go further regarding what you eat. It’s just an excellent time feeling to find ways to support yourself and, at the same time, help family, neighbors, friends, and Mother Earth too.
Are you getting the deals you want and scoring free groceries? If not, why not? Saving money is a worthy goal; believe me, free groceries make you feel pretty darn good!
This post originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.