(WTOL) - Many families are now spending $150 to $200 a week on groceries when a few years ago, we spent only $100.
Prices are up sharply on staples from milk and eggs to chicken and cereal.
But there's a new way to cut those costs with the newest form of online coupons.
Mom cuts her Grocery Bill in half
Heather Tenney is a mom who has slashed her food bill hundreds of dollars a month just by using coupons.
While we watched, she grabbed a box of spaghetti for 10 cents and a bottle of PowerAid for free.
"It's 10 for 10, and with the PowerAid coupon I get it free!"
Her monthly grocery bill is what most of us pay in a week. She tells me "I spend about $150 to $200 a month for my family of four. A month? A month."
Heather's weapon of choice: The newest type of online coupons, from websites like Coupons.com, SmartSource. com, and grocery stores sites. (Click links above)
You can also match your coupons to current sales at stores by joining websites like The Grocery Game and The Grocery Advantage, though they charge a small monthly fee. For a free blog that will connect you with weekly sales in the Cincinnati area, try MommySnacks. (Click links above)
Fighting Coupon Fraud
Heather says a couple of years ago most grocery chains stopped accepting home printed coupons due to forgeries. But she tells me sites like Coupons.com now offer individually tagged coupons that cannot be forged....and stores are taking them again.
"Each time I print it, it gets a brand new code. Every two are different. That way the store knows they were not photocopied."
Heather's other Tips
Heather suggests you then sort the coupons into clear plastic folders so you can see them instead of stuffing them in an envelope.
Why? Because "in a matter of seconds, I can see all my coupons at once."
Coupons in front of her, Heather shops by price, not by brand...which is how she never pays full price for cereal. She says "when you can get them for $1 a box, 50 cents, a box, why would you ever pay full price?"
So many people have asked Heather how she does it, she's now started an online blog called "Little Miss Know it All," where she shares her secrets.(Click links above)
But before you click
Meantime, nationally known coupon expert Joe Daugirdas offers a couple of safety tips. Among them, make sure you are dealing with a legitimate website, like Coupons.com.
He says you can tell if a site is secure by looking for a lock at the bottom of the screen - or an "s" next to the http web address.
Not sure? Many on line coupon sites have reliability reports at the Better Business Bureau.
And Joe says beware coupon sites that sign you up for things you don't want such as one site we found, which will charge you for a 2009 Entertainment Book unless you cancel.
But while you surf for savings, Joe and Heather's final tip: Don't give up clipping coupons. The Sunday paper still has great deals.
And if its a P&G Brandsaver Sunday, with deals on Tide, Downy, and other popular brands --you've struck gold.
Before you go to the Store
Despite all the improvements, internet coupons are still not accepted by all stores. So call your local store and find out their policy, before you spend a couple of hours surfing for savings.
That way you don't waste your money. I'm John Matarese.
A number of people have expressed privacy concerns to me. They are unhappy that Coupons.com, SmartSource, etc, require you to register, and in some cases require you to download special printing software on your PC.
Why do they do this? This is designed to prevent fraud. The whole online coupon business went bust 2 years ago, because of fraud.
The problem is that people were taking a 25 cent off coupon to Tide that expired in 2 weeks, for example, and "photoshopping" it into a $2.50 off coupon for Tide that never expires. Then they'd forward it to friends, who would forward it to more friends. Next thing you know, 2 million people have a $2.50 off coupon for Tide that never existed in the first place.
Some people changed 50 cent off coupons to FREE, printed them, then went to the store to collect their "free" detergent, orange juice, etc. That's theft...its the same as shoplifting.
Therefore they now make sure you can only print and use 1 or 2 coupons. You cannot change anything on them. And each coupon has a unique identifier, or "cookie," that --yes-- can be traced back to your computer.
That to me is fair. Don't like the privacy invasion? Then stick with the Sunday newspaper for its coupons. You'll remain anonymous, unless of course you use a "preferred shopper" card at the grocery store, in which case you again have no privacy.