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Extreme couponing, outlet store, grocery guide offer ways to save

With grocery prices continuing to rise, Newmarket residents have options to cope with the sticker shock

Newmarket residents are among grocery store shoppers across the country who are finding ways to trim costs and cut corners amidst severe sticker shock.

Groceries are an inevitable expense and the cost has continued to go up across Canada.

A family of four consisting of two adults and two children will pay an average of $16,288.41 for groceries in 2023, according to the 2023 Canada's Food Price Report. The report is a forecast of food prices prepared by researchers at the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University, the University of British Columbia and University of Saskatchewan.

“Given the increases Canadians saw at the grocery store this past year, many are likely hoping to hear 2023 will bring some relief, but our models tell us that isn’t likely to happen just yet,” said Simon Somogyi, a professor at the University of Guelph.

Shoppers are searching for relief in the form of grocery savings. For Newmarket resident Steph Donahue, that means returning to her roots as a self-proclaimed extreme couponer.

Donahue, who began couponing when she was a teenager to save money, said she was a TLC-level couponer, referencing the reality series, Extreme Couponing, which ran on TLC in the 2010s.

Now, as a mom of two toddlers, she doesn’t have the time to be quite as extreme but she still uses coupons to save money.

“It’s been great knowing what I know in order in order to save money, especially when it comes to diapers and all those baby needs,” Donahue said.

Her couponing process looks like this. Every Wednesday is prep night. At midnight, she is able to see the flyers on the app called Flipp. She looks at the different sales, checks her stockpiles and plans her grocery list around that.

“There is a lot of research. I mean, on Wednesdays, I spend about two to three hours on it, just seeing where the deals are,” she said.

The reality show would often focus on couponers who managed to get a cartload of groceries for less than $5. According to Donahue, it is doable.

Another big element is stocking up. Donahue said when there’s a good sale on an item, she will buy enough that she knows she can use before the expiry date, and it lives in her stockpile.

However, she also chooses to stock up and donate a lot of the excess to the local food pantry.

For her, couponing has afforded her family a number of luxuries, like treating themselves to takeout regularly, but as a stay-at-home mom, she said it has also been important to penny pinch. Couponing has also allowed her to help out friends and family in need.

“There’s always family and friends who are struggling,” she said. “I’ve been ramping up a little bit just to help them out, too.” 

Her advice for anyone who wants to try couponing is to look at the flyers and plan their shopping around the sales. She also suggests looking for coupons, including in-store coupons, and taking advantage of reward programs such as PC Optimum.

“You know, a dollar here, a dollar there — it all adds up,” she said.

However, couponing might not be for everyone. For those who don’t have the time to dedicate to it, there are other ways to save on grocery shopping.

Anna Stegink and her husband, Jelmer, have put together a free crowd-sourced grocery guide, based on saving tips shared in a number of community Facebook groups throughout the Greater Toronto Area, including Newmarket.

“It’s amazing how fast the economy has changed, and just how fast food prices are going up,” she said.

The couple asked members of more than 50 local Facebook groups to share their best tips, tricks and hacks to save money on groceries in today's challenging shopping environment.

More than 500 people shared their advice with the Steginks and the couple used the top 10 most popular and impactful tips in their grocery-saving guide.

The tips and tricks include shopping sales, using flyer apps like Flipp, price matching, buying close-to-expiry foods for discounted rates, and cooking smart by using leftovers and preparing and freezing meals from discounted food bought in bulk.

One of the biggest tips that stood out to Stegink was it matters where people shop.

“Something I actually didn’t realize before was the store that you shop at, even if it’s the same store, depending where it is, can make a big difference on prices,” she said.

She used to live in downtown Toronto and noticed prices being marked up compared to where she lives now in Innisfil.

“If you live right downtown and you can kind of get outside the city centre to shop, you’re probably going to find much better deals for the exact same thing,” she said.

“I hope the guide will help people find new ways to save money and eat better,” she said. “Shopping on a budget can be stressful, but using the right tactics, apps and services can help people stretch their dollars and get better value.”

For Newmarket shoppers, most grocery stores offer price matching and others regularly offer lower prices, like Food Basics, No Frills and Giant Tiger, and there's a smaller store called The Grocery Outlet at 759 Davis Dr., where there is a selection of food items for 30 to 70 per cent off the normal retail prices.

The Grocery Outlet was founded by Carolyn Boiani and her sister in 1998. The Newmarket location is a franchise of the corporation, which also has stores in Whitby, Trenton, Peterborough, Oshawa, Toronto and more.

It sells products made for particular retailers or customers that are either not quite up to spec or are overstocked, but the products are fine to eat. Often these products could end up in landfills, but The Grocery Outlet changes the packaging and is able to sell it for a much lower price.

“We saw there was a gap in the marketplace where we could help prevent companies from having to throw things out that were perfectly fine and edible and we saw an opportunity to get product into people’s hands at a much lower price,” Boiani said.

The product that’s available at the store changes regularly, but there are often baked goods, frozen food items, and various snacking items available for lower costs than one would find at typical grocery chains.

Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope as the food report stated while food security will continue to be a concern for many in 2023, there might be a dip in prices later in the year.

“There is the possibility that, later in 2023, as the economy cools and the Canadian growing season comes back online, we could see prices fall again,” said Somogyi.

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Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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