The Fine Art of Grocery Shopping
February 12th, 2013 posted by Amy Clark
by Amy Clark
Grocery shopping is one of the first places you can learn how to be frugal. I am amazed when I go to the grocery store how many times people are spending so much more money than myself and getting half the amount of stuff I have within my cart. Here are just a few ways you can learn to cut back on your grocery bill.
Cut and Organize Your Coupons
There are many people who take the time to cut their coupons, but there are few who have them organized in such a way that they get used. Here are a few suggestions for learning how to be an effective coupon-cutter. First, if you do not possess an organizer for your coupons I would make a run to your local dollar store and purchase one of these along with a small set of scissors that you can carry with you for any surprise coupons you might run across while you are out. Once you have your organizer you can began clipping your coupons and putting them within their appropriate section. I found that by splitting my coupons into sections though I would end up with lots of expired coupons and it also created another chore for me which was to clean my organizer out. If you find this system works for you, by all means, continue with it. If you are like me, however, and you don’t have time for extra chores like organizing then I would suggest my organizational method. What I do is cut all of my coupons and group them into one pile and organize them by date so that I know that the coupons on top are the ones that need to be used the soonest. It does make it more difficult to find one particular coupon because it is not in a category, but you also end up using more of your coupons because you are more aware of their time frame. After you have cut all the coupons out of your local newspaper you can begin going to online coupon sources for more coupons. There are a couple of great sites that you can go to for extra coupon savings. The two sites that I frequent the most often are www.coolsavings.com , www.smartsource.com , and www.valupage.com . All of these sites also offer additional savings if you complete surveys about certain food products and this allows you to often double or triple your savings. Another great place to look for coupons is on the actual web site for the items you use the most. This is especially handy if you are buying diapers, baby food or formula. If you sign up with many of these companies they will in turn send you lots of coupons and magazines through the mail. Don’t limit yourself to just baby items though because many of the foods you buy have coupons you can print for free on their web sites. Once you have all the coupons printed and cut out you can proceed onto the next step. // Flier Research Yes, this doesn’t sound like a very exciting task, but once you get the hang of it you might start feeling the excitement I do when I run across the grocery fliers. In order for you to do truly accurate flier research it is good to do cost comparison charts on groceries that you frequently purchase. Items that you could list on your chart might be milk, bread, flour, sugar, or pasta. When you go to a store all you need to do is whip out your Cost Comparison cheat sheet and write down the store you are at, what item you are comparing, the amount that is within the item (ounce, pounds, gallons, etc.), and the current price. Then take this sheet to other stores you go to especially the wholesale clubs you frequent and start keeping track of the price for each place. Once you have this in front of you, you will know the cheapest place pound for pound where you should purchase your item. This also gives you a good background to find out if something really is on “sale” within your grocery fliers. Go through all of your fliers and mark the items that you find to be a particularly outstanding buy. With this information you can do one of three things. One would be to go to each of these individual stores just to pick up what you feel is an extremely good deal. This would take a lot of gas and a lot of effort. As a mother whose time is limited this might not be the best option. Two would be to find a store that matches prices on certain items. All you would need to do would be to bring your flier into the store and ask them to meet the price on the items you are purchasing. One national chain I know who does this would be your local Walmart. Third would be to simply pick the store with the absolute best deals and make that your shopping destination. The third option is what I usually end up doing because for me it is the simplest although I have been known to run cross-country if someone is running a particularly good deal on diapers, for example. Some of the really great grocery stores do not advertise in fliers so I would suggest that you do a little research in these places. The Dollar Store is a great place to find many of your household cleaners, paper products, and spices at a fraction of the cost. Be wary around the canned goods though because a dollar for some canned goods is still not a better deal then the supermarket. Another factor that can affect your choice in grocery stores is the double/triple coupon factor. You can save so much money if you go to stores that offer this. Many do not advertise that they offer coupon doubling/tripling so call around to your local supermarkets to find who offers you the most for your coupons. Using the sales from the fliers and the double coupons can sometimes end up with money in your pocket and getting many items for free. On average, if I go to a place that offers double coupons I can come out of the store with fifty bucks in coupon savings. When you are on a budget this is a huge amount and very worth the time and effort you have invested into researching. Another special note is that some stores do put limits on the amount of items that you can buy- like a limit of two or three. If one store offers an item unlimited at a little higher cost rather than a store that limits you, I would definitely take advantage of the unlimited option if you are needing more than the limit states. You can always try all of the options to discover which the best is for you and the best way to use your time. After you have completed your flier research it is time to begin your menu-planning.
For me this is the most time consuming part of doing my grocery shopping. Trying to plan in advance what you will be eating for the next week, two weeks, or month can be a daunting task. This was one of the hardest for me to master, but believe me when I say it is worth your time. I am a person who truly dreads going to the supermarket and will go as little as possible to avoid returning to it. I wanted to find the most effective way to get the job done and not have to return there for a month so that was my goal. Many people go once a week or every two weeks, but you need to find what is right for you. After you have decided how often you plan to go to the grocery store you can begin planning your meals. Because I go once a month I plan seventeen meals out for the month. On the list I include side dishes which can be rotated and desserts that I can make on occasion instead of purchasing store-bought cakes/cookies. Seventeen meals is what I have found is enough for one month since we do eat out occasionally as well as have leftovers from meals. If your recipe index is limited or you are tired of eating the same thing, this is a great time to try out new recipes. I love to cook so I subscribe to “Taste of Home” magazine as well as “Cooking Light.” Both of these magazines offer lots of new recipes each month as well as tips on cooking techniques. You can always try to get the magazines at the library so that you don’t have to pay for a subscription or just request this as a birthday or Christmas gift. A free place to get great recipes is www.allrecipes.com. On this web site you can type in the ingredients you have on hand and the site will offer you recipes using these ingredients. The best part about the site is that you can create a grocery list right from the recipes you chose so it saves you from writing them down on your grocery list. I pay special attention to the reviews of these recipes as well because if many people have found the dish to be lacking, I do not want to waste my time and money making it. Other ! great web sites that offer wonderful recipes are www.campbells.com and www.kraft.com. You can always use these recipes and substitute the brand name foods for the off-brand in your grocery store
Making the List
Get out two sheets of paper and use one for your grocery list and the other for your menu plan. On the grocery list divide your list into categories based on the aisles that you would go through for your items. For example, you would have a category for dairy, cereal/breakfast, frozen foods, grains/pastas, baking needs, canned goods, paper products, and household cleaners. I then write down what I need on my grocery list, making sure that I do not have the items I am listing already in my pantry for all of the meals I have chosen for the month. If I have a coupon for the item I write a big “C” by it, pull the coupon from my organizer, and put it in an envelope. If the item is running on sale in the flier then I put a large star by it so I can make sure I buy the item that is on sale. It is important that you write a good description of what you are looking for that way you do not forget once you get to the store. Instead of writing “butter” on your list, you would write “Land of Lakes Butter” if you had a coupon in order to avoid confusion once you are in the dairy aisle. Make sure that you have plenty of lunch meat, condiments, bread, eggs, and cereal on your list. These are items that you might forget to list that you will definitely need during the week.
Making Your Trip
Finally, you have made your research, grocery list, and menu plan and now you can make your trip to the grocery store. It goes without saying, but as a reminder always make sure that when you go to the grocery store that you are not going on an empty stomach. I have done that plenty of times and am both amazed and horrified at the amount of money I spend not to mention my choices of food. Once you have a full stomach, it is time to decide how much money you plan to spend at the grocery store. I pick an amount that has been budgeted by my husband and I and do not go over the amount. It is so easy to become sidetracked by all of the great things on the end caps as well as other things that seem appealing, but by setting a budget I know that I cannot stray from the list that I have made. The best way to stick with your budget is to go to the bank/ATM and withdraw the agreed upon amount of money to spend. By having the cash only you will be surprised how much easier it is to stick with your budget. Now that you have your cash withdrawn you can hit the grocery store. Make sure that you have your envelope of coupons, your coupon book (just in case) with your small scissors, a pen to cross of your items on your list and a calculator to keep a tally of how much money you are spending. The most important advice I can offer you is do not get sidetracked! It is difficult to do, but essential if you want to stick to your budget. Once you have paid for all of your items be sure to put the money leftover from your budget back into your envelope. When you get home write “Food Money” on the outside and keep this envelope on your fridge. This money can be used to put towards milk/bread as well as pizza or a night out for your family. By having the cash you really do end up staying in your budget.
You can never do too much research when you are doing grocery shopping and each minute you spend doing that will be time well spent. It is great if you have a good friend who is equally enthusiastic about saving money because you share tips on where to shop together. Many times my “grocery- buddy” will call me and ask if I saw that a particular item was on sale. Sometimes I have looked so quickly through the flier that I have not seen the item and this really helps me when I do my shopping. Always remember that if the store runs out of your item that you need and it is advertised as being on sale to get a rain check for the item so that you can still take advantage of the sale price. When they ask the quantity you are planning to buy when you come back to the store always aim high. It will never hurt for you to say that you need more then you do, but it will really hurt your wallet if you have to buy more then what you stated. I wish you luck on your shopping adventures and hope that using these helpful tips you can find the best technique for you and your family. Happy shopping!