Get in the Game

Michelle McDowell does something almost unimaginable these days: She feeds her family of five—including 8-year-old twin boys Adam and Zachary and 15-year-old daughter Chelsea—on $90 a week in groceries.

“We’ve never had more food in our house,” the Shorewood mom says.

But about 15 months ago her weekly grocery bill looked more like the bills the rest of us ring up, about $200 a week. Then a friend introduced her to by showing her the toiletry stockpile in her linen closet."And I was amazed,” McDowell says.

The Grocery Game, created by Teri Gault in 2000, creates an online list of the lowest-priced products at your local supermarket and matches the products you select with manufacturers’ coupons and weekly specials, both advertised and unadvertised. It then breaks down the list by items to put in your stockpile, items you need or want as a treat and items to be had for free. By tracking 10,000 grocery items weekly, the list does the math on the best sales, telling you how many of what product to buy, what size and even where to find the coupons.

“Supermarkets are making money off people who don’t know how to play the grocery game,” Gault says.

But more people are learning. There are now about 100,000 households using The Grocery Game every week and traffic has tripled since the beginning of the year as grocery bills have risen. A family can save up to 50 percent on their bill from the first week, with the average savings for a family of four ringing up at $512 a month, Gault says.

“It’s the only way that I know that you can save money without having to cinch up your belt.”

McDowell says she always cut coupons. But even after all the work of cutting out the coupons, she figures half the time she’d forget to bring them to the store."And I may not have used them the right way, like now I won’t use a coupon unless something is on sale,” she says.

While it took her about a month to really use the members-only lists, her full-size freezer, the pantry and the refrigerator are now always full. It even has her husband, Scott, asking:"How can you be spending less money when we have so much food?”

As summer food prices soared, McDowell turned to her stockpile of food to keep her grocery bill in check. And when a neighbor collected donations in July to send overseas to American troops, she turned to her stockpile to fill up a box."You have your own little grocery store in the basement,” she says.

She admits she used to feel embarrassed at the checkout with all the coupons, but her typical savings of $50 to $60 a week with those coupons help ease that.

“The way the economy is now, it means a lot. I’m teaching my kids something, it’s not just that we’re saving money. They know if they go to the grocery store with me, before they even ask for something now they say‘is this on sale, do you have a coupon for this?’ We’re teaching them you can’t just throw money away just because you want it.”

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