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How This Teen Saved $359 on Groceries in Just One Morning

Learn how to coupon like a pro at Dollar General.

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL-MARCH 19, 2016: New Dollar General store in this Florida beach town. Dollar General is a small box retailer with thousands of stores throughout the United States.; Shutterstock ID 394598608James R. Martin/Shutterstock

My niece Melissa’s favorite pastime isn’t typical of most teenagers: Girl loves to coupon. She was so proud of this recent Dollar General haul that she texted me pictures…and I just had to suss out her savings secrets. Here’s how she got all these household and personal care items—valued at $440—for a measly $81.19 plus tax and a few hours’ work. Psst! Here are 5 more thrifty reasons you should be shopping at Dollar General.

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NOVEMBER 27 2017 - CRYSTAL, MN: A Target 30% off clearance sign posted to a shelving display informs customers of discounted merchandise; Shutterstock ID 764485735melissamn/Shutterstock

Get a jump on Dollar General clearance events.

These come a few times a year,  Melissa said, and they’re magic because you pay half price on already-reduced clearance merchandise…AND you can add coupons. DG puts up signs in-store in the days leading up to the event, but Melissa was tipped off a few weeks early through a Facebook couponing group (one she likes is called Dollar General Couponing).

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Woman In Grocery Aisle Of Supermarket With CouponsMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Patrol the clearance aisle.

Research the clearance section (in-store and online) to see what products you could use. Selections vary by store, so Melissa and her mom actually scouted a couple of DGs in their neighborhoods before zeroing in on the one store that would yield the perfect haul. This is just one of our secrets to saving big money on your grocery bill.

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coupon time; Shutterstock ID 540903Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

Clip those coupons!

A free (and favorite) coupon source for my niece is near the entrance of her local Walmart. Coupon inserts are dropped, swapped and free for the taking…but one should follow good coupon etiquette. For this haul, Melissa told me, “I took the ones I knew I could use and left the ones I wasn’t going to use.” While it’s rare that people swoop in and seize all the coupons, she said, it does happen—and it ruins the fun for other couponing enthusiasts. This isn’t Melissa’s only place to look for coupons. Find out her tips for finding savings using a smartphone.

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TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 06, 2014: Different types of detergents on shelves in a supermarket. Tide is a laundry detergent manufactured by Procter & Gamble and one of the top three brands of detergents.; Shutterstock ID 230120146Niloo/Shutterstock

Watch the savings add up…like name-brand detergent for $0.06 a load.

When I asked which part of the haul Melissa was most excited about, she went straight to her four tubs of Gain Flings laundry pods (originally priced at $15 apiece). The Gain was on clearance to $10.75 per tub, then reduced by half to $5.38, and Melissa used a $3 coupon for each. Final price per 42-load tub of Gain: $2.38. That’s a savings of over $50! Psst! Here’s how to make homemade versions of your favorite cleaners.

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Woman chooses shampoo in cosmetics department in supermarket; Shutterstock ID 251840158Sergey Ryzhov/Shutterstock

And up…like cash back on shampoo and conditioner.

This rare combination of deep discounts and high-value coupons (in this case, $2 a bottle), leads to a scenario where you can actually earn money with a purchase. Known as “overage,” this amount can be applied to other items in your cart, thus lowering your total bill. Melissa snagged 10 bottles of L’Oreal shampoo and conditioner for an overage of $2.  Like to buy in bulk? These Costco shopping tips will save you tons of money.

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Sriracha, Chonburi THAILAND June 29, 2018: Man's hands are holding a fabric softener brand Downy on the shelves at supermarket.; Shutterstock ID 1126947779Koy_Hipster/Shutterstock

And up! She scored Downy products for $0.03 each.

Melissa found laundry scent boosters and air fresheners for the cleanest-smelling duds (and dorm) on campus. The scent boosters, on clearance for $4.05, were half off on the DG clearance event to $2.03. Toss in a nifty coupon for $4 off two items, and she took these home for pennies apiece. When laundry day comes ’round, be sure to know this genius trick.

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receipts couponingTaste of Home

Go in with a plan (and bring Mom if you can).

To stay within couponing rules (such as a maximum number of like items per purchase), my niece divided her shopping cart into six separate transactions. Once she’d gathered the items on her list, she called her mom in to help her split up the purchases and organize the coupons (my sister loves couponing, too). Thriftiness runs in the family. Pass down these 19 money-saving tips we learned from Grandma.

Note: The total savings shown on these receipts, $102.74, reflects just the coupon savings applied to the transactions—not the clearance and clearance event savings.

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Asian woman holding iced coffee cup drinking while driving; Shutterstock ID 1030860874structuresxx/Shutterstock

8. Plan to get up early.

For years, my bargain-hunting sister and niece would get up early (er—stay up late?) to hit those amazing Black Friday deals after Thanksgiving. Turns out, the Dollar General clearance event is a little bit like that, just on a smaller scale. “We went before they opened at 8,” Melissa said. “We arrived at 7:45 and there were already people in their cars, waiting!”

For avid couponers like my niece, that bit of competition adds a little thrill to the discount chase. Save time by skipping the coffee shop with these caffeinated copycat recipes.

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coupon haulTaste of Home

Here’s the grand total from this haul:

$439.75 Total estimated value

– 71.91   Discounts of items saved on clearance (bringing total to $367.84)

-183.93  Clearance event savings of 50% off

-102.74  Coupon savings

$81.19   Total spent

Too much work for you? Check out these quick ways to save cash on your next grocery run.

Christine Rukavena
Christine loves to read, curate, sample and develop new recipes as a senior book editor at Taste of Home. A CIA alumna with honors, she creates cookbooks and food-related content. A favorite part of the job is taste-testing dishes. Previous positions include pastry chef at a AAA Five Diamond property. Christine moonlights at a boutique wine shop, where she edits marketing pieces and samples wine far higher than her pay grade.