Saving money at the grocery store is something I fuss about and research all the time. I guess it’s because our monthly grocery budget feels a little more–flexible?–than, say, the monthly mortgage payment, school tuition and all of our other fixed expenses.

And to be honest, there are a lot of opportunities to overspend at the grocery store these days (“Oooh! A new kind of cheese!” or “Oh, these would be so easy to pop in the kids’ lunches!”)

So I was thrilled to read a series of real-family grocery spending profiles– “How Low Can You Go?” here, in The Oregonian, my hometown newspaper.

Several of the families spent A LOT on groceries! One family of 3 (2 parents and a toddler) spent $200 a week (!) on groceries PLUS $150 a week on eating out. And here I thought we were livin’ large on $120 a week for groceries. Ok, to this family’s credit, they got their grocery-store budget down to $135 a week (and $40 a week for eating out) after the grocery-budget challenge.

It’s interesting to see what breaks a family’s food budget– and it’s different for everyone. One family had 2 teen boys who consumed a gallon of milk a DAY. Another family admitted to blowing money by going to multiple stores and overbuying. And if they ran out of milk during the week, they’d go pick up a gallon…and come out with a bag of other goodies, too.

Our family is still learning how to be food-frugal. My two daughters love to snack on little individual containers of yogurt, but I prefer to buy the bigger and cheaper-per-ounce container. I’m often over-optimistic about the amount of veggies we can eat in a week, so wilted lettuce or spinach often ends up in our chickens’ pen.

What does work for us, though is this coupon and price notification service: The Grocery Game. For $5 a month, I get a list of the best sales at Safeway, along with a list of the coupons I can use to make these purchases even cheaper. Because Safeway offers double coupons, I even occasionally get stuff for free (which I donate to our church’s food pantry). You can get lists for other stores that offer double coupons, like Albertson’s.

The key is that I ONLY buy the sale items at Safeway, once a week. I buy all the rest of my groceries at Trader Joe’s or Fred Meyer, which is generally lower-priced overall. Yes, it’s an extra grocery trip, but when I’m faithful about using the Grocery Game list and coupons, I see the difference in my budget.

One tip: If you decide to try The Grocery Game (they offer a free trial), save up the Smart Source and Red Plum color coupon booklets from your Sunday paper for several weeks or get them online. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take advantage of the best sales.