Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Tue Sep 27 2011, 01:08am

The "Extreme Couponers" over on TLC may be making things harder for the "Pristine Couponers" I know who use but don't abuse coupons

The "Extreme Couponers" over on TLC may be making things harder for the "Pristine Couponers" I know who use but don't abuse coupons. Apparently, some stores, scared off by shoppers who know how to score hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for just pennies, are now tightening up their coupon policies. So it's a great time to consider a grocery savings strategy that uses NO COUPONS at all!

I'm talking about Price Matching. Most grocery stores have a few sale items each week that are so cheap the store loses money on them. They're called "loss leaders" and they offer them because they figure while you're there buying ultra-cheap bread, you'll also buy high-priced peanut butter and jelly to go on that bread. The trick of Price Matching is to pick off all the most deeply discounted sale items of the week at just one store ľand avoid the temptation of other non-sale stuff at the store. That way, you save time, you save gas and you save money. What's not to love?

The first step to Price Matching is to find a store that does it. How do you do that? This is low tech: You ask. Many stores have a "don't tell unless they ask" policy. In other words, they offer price matching but they don't advertise it. So call around. You may find that the policy varies within chains, so be sure to check with the local store you plan to frequent. Most will only price match close competitors within a certain mile radius.

Next step: scan all the store circulars in your town and circle the best deals, planning your week's menus around them. Then go to your chosen store to buy it all. Some stores require you to hand over the competitor's circular --from a newspaper, a direct mail flyer or the internet-- as proof of a lower price available elsewhere. Other stores will take your word for it. A few have competitors' circulars at the cash register for the clerk to reference, so all you have to do is ask. Find out which level of proof your store requires and be ready to rumble.

A logistical tip from my pals Chrissy Pate and Kristin McKee of it's a good idea to put all your price match items in one area of your cart, then load them on the belt together. When that merchandise comes up on the belt, explain that you are price matching and ľno need to feel self-conscious-- the clerk will know just what to do.
If you have more than one choice of stores that price match, try to shop at one that matches and has consistently low prices overall. You will inevitably need some items that aren't on sale anywhere and can't be price-matched, so it's helpful if your chosen store has low everyday prices across the board.

The mother of all price matchers is Walmart, which has groceries at many of its stores now. Walmart will match the price of any store in your local market. Check with your closest Walmart for details of its particular rules. And, don't rule out Target! Super-Target now carries groceries and is starting to price-match. Even regular Targets offer some foods and many personal care and household items.

So what kind of savings are we talking? Of course, your results will vary, but I did a little experiment. I chose a well-balanced variety of 50 different food, personal care and household products that a typical family of four would buy. By price-matching, I was able to spend $111 instead of $200! If you achieved that same savings every week of the year, you'd save nearly $6,000 annually! That kind of savings is hard to match!