Usually, the recommended coupon strategy is to get to the point where you're only buying items at their bottom sale price, with coupons. Theoretically, you could do this shopping at just one store because eventually, on some kind of cycle, everything will go on sale. And most of the time in our area, getting that bottom sale price means using a store's loyalty card.
For me, though, there's always something that has thrown me off. A coupon's about to expire and the store is out of that item, so a rain check isn't even going to help. So much is on sale one week that I can't afford to buy everything I'd like to. They have a 3-day sale and I can't get there during the 3-day period. They require you to buy 3 or 4 of some perishable item to get the sale price, when I can only use one. Which means I either have to start trying to catch the sales cycles at store #2, and #3, and #4... or pay inflated "regular" prices at that one store when I need something not on sale.
Now what if you only have one day to do errands, or have to use a taxi, or just can't afford all that driving anymore? If you can't hit all those different stores every week--which ONE store do you pick?
What I've found out is, your best bet for one-store shopping is probably one WITHOUT a loyalty card. I've found quite a few studies comparing shopping trips at stores with loyalty card programs, and without. All the ones I've found have had the same result--the total is virtually always better at a non-loyalty card store. It's almost shocking to read this stuff. Here is a representative sampling:
East Coast, in 2003--
Midwest, in 2002--www.nocards.org/savings/regular_price_study.shtml
California, in 2000--web.archive.org/web/20001120044300/http://www.kfmb.com/bob/g...
I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but several of my current favorites are Aldi, Target, Wal-Mart and IGA--all stores without loyalty cards.
I have liked the feeling of going into a store, knowing I'm going to be getting a decent price even if there isn't a special sale going on, and even if I don't have a coupon. I can go at my convenience and buy exactly what I need.
And I feel like these stores respect me more by not making me play games. It's a much less stressful way to shop.
Now that I've read those studies, it kind of confirms that I've been moving in the right direction. So it's going to be the core of my plan to reduce errands and gas usage.
I can't get everything I need at any one of those non-loyalty card stores, but I should be able to get everything I need over time by rotating the trips. Maybe not at the absolute lowest price, but a fair price, and that's good enough for me considering the time and gas savings.