This week, I’ve been focusing a lot on how to save money with groceries.
I realized something very important a few days ago. We love to make great food. Each week, I plan my grocery list according to whichever mouth-watering gourmet recipes I’ve chosen to make. I have a “guideline” type grocery budget – it doesn’t really matter if I go a bit over, as long as I’m still in range of the discussed amount. So, inevitably, I almost always go a bit over – usually around $20. It’s not a huge deal, but each time I check out, I give myself a mental jab and think about how nice it would have been to come in under $—.–. Then I forget about it – until the next week’s shopping trip.
This week, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I’d save money if I planned my meals around the sales instead of expensive recipes. A simple revelation, although it hit me like a ton of bricks. Duh, I thought to myself, where has my brain been?!
So, I sat down with all of the grocery store sale ads and began to make plans. Unfortunately, all of the “regular” grocery stores had absolutely nothing that we eat on sale. Henry’s (my dear, sweet Henry’s) had many, many things (that we frequently eat) on sale. I also looked through the Summer Trader Joe’s flyer to see what new, interesting, and inexpensive foods they were selling (Trader Joe’s doesn’t do sales – they’re already so, so cheap!). I set to work at creating a list of all the sale items I was interested in. Then, I wracked my brain and searched my cookbooks for things I could make with those items. In the end, I came up with a great list of meals and most of what I bought was on sale. Wahoo!
As I carefully considered my list, I could tell I’d probably still hit the budgeted amount – but at least I wouldn’t go over. That was a start. But then I started to wonder…how can I spend even less? Is it possible to buy the healthy foods we prefer without spending this much (by the way, after all was said and done, I ended up spending about $8 more than I had hoped)?
So, I wrote my aunt. My dear, wonderful, smart, information-retaining aunt. She is amazing. I am constantly in awe of her and the little bits of information she hands out. She’s always got something new and interesting to say, and she never fails to give me some type of helpful advice when I speak with her – even if our visit or conversation lasts less than 20 minutes (seriously!). I wrote her an email and said, “HELP ME! I want to save money! I don’t know what I’m doing! I need recipes! I need HELP!” (well, maybe I didn’t say it exactly like that but that’s how desperate I felt!).
We spoke the next day and she gave me some very helpful tips:
Always check the sale ads – when there is an item on sale that you know you use frequently in several different meals (for her, it’s canned crushed tomatoes), buy several of them and stock up your kitchen. Then, next time you make a meal that includes those things, you spend less at the grocery store because you already have (some of) the ingredient(s) at home. When you buy things on sale and stock up your kitchen, you end up “shopping” mostly from your kitchen instead of the store.
Buy meat from the butcher station instead of the packaged section. Packaged meat almost always costs more (because of, what do you know, the packaging!)
When buying meat on sale, buy extra and freeze the rest for later.
Invest in The Grocery Game. It’s a website that provides you a list each week for your local grocery store – the list includes fairly priced items (buy now if you need it), sale items (buy in bulk because the price is as low as it’s gonna go), and “free” items (when you use a coupon [sometimes combined with sales price], you end up getting the item(s) for the price of the sales tax, only!). The website also provides information on where to find all the coupons – store coupons and manufacturer’s coupons. It’s $1 for a trial of 4 weeks – after that, it’s $10 every eight weeks for one store, although some areas have more than one store listed, so for each additional store, it’s $5 extra every eight weeks. So, one store = $10/eight weeks, two stores = $15/eight weeks (just to be extra clear). If you visit What Is the Grocery Game?, you can see an example receipt. The bill was for $33, and this woman left the store paying a mere $3.33! WOW!
Make a price list binder (this is an idea from the Tightwad Gazette). This is a very helpful (albeit time consuming) tip! Basically, you go to the grocery stores in your area and write down the everyday price of every item you tend to need (or items you only occasionally buy). The end result is a binder full of each store’s prices. You can then compare prices to know where you can get the cheapest option – and, even better, you can compare weekly sales prices to regular prices to be sure you’re truly getting a deal!
Write down ALL PURCHASES you make for three months (this, too, is an idea from the Tightwad Gazette). This is also time-consuming – but worth it. Begin to record every single purchase you make (yes, even the package of waxy chocolate donuts at the convenience store) in a notebook. Make sure each item has its exact purchase price next to it. At the end of three months, go back and evaluate your purchases. Mark the ones you deem were “essential” and the ones you realize were “non-essential.” Then, add up the amount of money you spent on “non-essential” items. You will likely be amazed at how much money was spent on things you don’t really need. Then, adjust your spending habits accordingly!
I plan to put each of these suggestions into practice. My main motivation is this: right now, we’re a family of 3, and Jack basically eats off our plates so we don’t have to buy extra for him. However, we are hoping to be blessed with a large family someday. The truth is, as our family grows, we will not be able to spend money like we do now. I want to get into the habit of spending as little as possible now, so that later, the adjustment is not quite as difficult.
So, does anyone have any money-saving tips? How do you cut costs without compromising health and quality? Share your secrets! 🙂