This can be a time consuming process, so I spread out the work throughout the week and spend only the amount of time I can afford to spend. Some weeks, I just don't have much time and may have to skip a step or two. Doing any of these steps saves some money and is worth the trouble.
Step 1: Collect Ads and Coupons - Newspapers, fliers, mailbox inserts, online. I stash them in a file folder until I am ready to scope them out.
Step 2: Make a Sales Comp. List - I scour my sales ads looking for things that are great deals, and things that I would buy. I only write down items that fit both criteria. I am not interested in things that I don't need.
Step 3: Make an On Hand List - This is where I look over my pantry, fridge, freezer and cabinets to see what I have stashed in there that needs to be used up.
Step 4: Make a Menu - Set out your comp. list and your on hand list. Study both and make up some meals using items on both of these.
Step 5: Clip Coupons: With your sales and menu items in mind, clip coupons that you may need. If you need cereal and there is no sale, go ahead and grab all of your cereal coupons, you never know what you may find on sale that wasn't advertised.
Step 6: Make Your List - Look over your menu and list each and every item that you need. Mark the items you will be using on your comp. list, so that they are easy to find while you are in the store. Staple these two together. You will need them both in the store. I also paper clip my coupons to my lists as well, but for those of you who use a binder, you may just want to slip your lists in there.
I always take my ads with me when I shop and when I am selecting items, I always check generic prices against my comp. list and coupons. I want to be sure I am getting the best deal. I also an lucky enough to have an Aldi store nearby. That is always my first stop. Most times their prices are already lower than sales prices. Plus, they always have awesome produce sales.