Stretch That Grocery Dollar!

And now: A Hausfrau Moment

As I paid for my groceries the other night, the woman in line behind me let out a gasp. 

“How on EARTH did you manage to get all of that for $100?” she asked.  As the cashier handed me my receipt, I answered the woman succinctly, “Practice and coupons.”

Let’s face it: these days we’re all trying to save as much as we can, wherever we can.  That especially includes grocery shopping.  Even I was amazed at how much I had managed to purchase, a teeming cartful of food, for $97 and change.  Even at my best, the bill is usually around $200.  But as my gas cost keeps rising, I’ve been forced to search out many new ways to save wherever I can.  Maybe some of these tips can help you save some dough as well. 

Armed with her coupons and sale fliers, Janice Greenfield hit two supermarkets Friday afternoon in Londonderry. First, she bought a carriage full of groceries at Market Basket. Then she headed to Shaw’s with a flier that already had a bunch of coupons attached to it.

“I’ve always been a sales-oriented shopper,” Greenfield said. “I stock up on sale items and I use coupons.”

As it so happens, I also shopped at Shaw’s the other day–because that’s where the items I needed were on sale.  I don’t often shop there anymore since we bought the house, because it’s not very convenient unless I’m already in that town.

Tip1 is “make a list.”  I can’t tell you how important this first part is.  By making a list, I don’t just mean make a short list of what you’re out of or think you want.  Think about what meals you’re going to prepare at home in the next couple of weeks or so, and how many times you’re going to need the more costly items, like meat and fresh produce.  Meal planning is step one in paring down your grocery bill considerably.  It doesn’t need to necessarily be formal meal planning, but at least have a general idea of what you’re actually going to use this grocery cycle.   We all know the cliché: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Well, in this case it’s not just a cliché, it’s a truism.  If you want to take the route of “formal” meal planning, you can try this link, which has a printable meal planner and shopping list.  These charts are invaluable to me.  (OrganizedHome is a very helpful site for we, the anal-retentive, lol.)  

Tip2: “use coupons.”  Oh, stop groaning.  How much would you have to save by using coupons in order to consider it “worth it?”  $5?  $25?  I usually save about $15-$20 just by using coupons that take me perhaps 10 minutes to print and cut out.  That’s like paying myself $90-120 an hour for those ten minutes.  Do you make that?  If so, get the hell off my webpage, you rich bastard!  Just kidding.  Kinda. 

You can find coupons all over the place.  They come in the mail, in packaging of items you buy, on the back of last week’s grocery receipt, in fliers in the newspapers, in the Valpak (although come to think of it, I’ve not seen one of those in a few years . . .).  But today, more importantly, coupons abound on the internet.  Try Smartsource, Coupons.com, and even your local grocery store.  Often they have coupons on their website.  In addition, Price Chopper often has 4 “triple coupons” in their weekly flier, allowing you to save 3 times the amount of 4 separate coupons, as long as the original is under $1.00 and does not say “may not be doubled.”  I’ve gotten some free, yes, free, stuff this way.  Cha-CHING!

If you’re still tepid about coupons, click here to read about “mastering coupons without being a coupon nut.” And take note of what one of their commenters said: Frequently manufacturers will run coupons for a sales push, and the stores time a sales push about two to four weeks later, when most people have already spent those coupons. I save coupons and stock up during those sales, and often find items that, with coupons, are priced about 60% below regular retail.  Very true, and very useful as a tip.   

A warning about coupons: don’t let the “perceived value” of the coupon entice you into buying something you don’t need or wouldn’t normally buy.  I only clip coupons for the brands and items I already use, or sometimes for a treat, like Drumstiks.  But it makes no sense to clip coupons for more expensive brands than you normally use, because the actual value of your savings often is negated by a higher original purchase price.  WATCH YOUR UNIT PRICE.  I cannot say that enough.  Unit Price is what makes your Bottom Line. 

Tip3 is “don’t be a slave to the idea of shopping at the same store all of the time.”  Many people, myself included, tend to like one grocery store over another–but that preference can be costly, and unless we’re talking about produce, the quality of the goods is generally the same.  I don’t usually shop at Shaw’s anymore, because it’s quite a bit farther from home than the Price Chopper and Hannaford Bros. supermarkets I normally shop at, but it is on the way home from work, and if the deals are good enough, and I plan well, the side-trip is worth it. 

Tip4: if there are two grocery stores close to each other, compare their fliers.  I’m lucky enough to have two competing grocery stores directly across the street from one another, so splitting my grocery list to take advantage of both sales on the same day often saves me an extra $20-$30.  That’s almost a whole gallon of gas!  :) 

But how, you ask, can you get refrigerated or frozen items at one store and then go to another?  It’s called “bring a cooler with you.”  Depending on how far from home the stores are, you don’t even need ice in it.  An hour or half hour in the cooler will do your frozen/refrigerated foods just fine. 

Tip5: buy in bulk whenever possible.  You may think this doesn’t apply to you if you’re single or only buying for the two of you, but that’s what God made freezers for.  And items like granola bars, popcorn, and other dry goods can be purchased at Costco or Sam’s Club for a fraction of the price, and will last you 6 months or more. The advantage of buying in bulk, obviously, is that you reduce your unit price.  So you’re paying 20 cents for that bag of Orville Reddenbacher movie theatre butter microwave popcorn instead of 40 cents per bag.  If you keep your eye on your unit price, you will save money

If you have a good-sized freezer you can also save money.  Buying meat in the larger packages saves you an average of 30-50 cents per pound, and that’s not even when it’s “on sale.”  I tend to buy ground beef and chicken in large family-sized packages, then divide the packages separately when I get home, and freeze them.  There’s another $20-30 off the bill right there. 

Keeping your eye on your unit price also feeds into tip 6: stock up on sale items, like the lady in the quote above said to do.  When peanut butter (Peter Pan, if you must know) went on sale a couple of months ago for $1 a jar, I bought the maximum of 12 jars.  Do we eat that a lot?  No, but sometimes, and it keeps for a long time.  Considering that those same jars are now $2.29 @, I saved $15.48 on just peanut butter in the long run.  I like Swanson Pot Pies for a snack sometimes, and I tend to store a couple at work for when I don’t have time for a real lunch, but they normally cost $1.29.  A month ago they were on sale at 2/$1.00.  I bought twenty of them.  (Yes, we have a big freezer.  It’s the only way to go.)

Tip7: don’t be afraid of “Store Brand” products.  I can honestly tell you that the Shaw’s brand of “Honey Bunches Of Oats with Almonds” tastes no different, as far as I can tell, from the Post brand of the same cereal.  Except the Post box will cost you $1.50 more.  For the friggin box?  Getouddahere. 

Tip 8: Leave the spouse at home.  The last thing you need is him putting anything and everything he wants in the cart because he thinks “we need it.”  In five minutes your spouse can easily offset all the savings and effort of your meal planning, coupon clipping, etc., just by throwing whatever he likes into the cart.  Hey, I don’t eat shrimp.  You want to spend $10 per lb, go ahead, but not out of my grocery budget.  I’m saving money here, pal. 

So there it is.  You can take my advice, or you can do this.  Your choice. 

Helpful articles & websites:

 

20 thoughts on “Stretch That Grocery Dollar!

  1. Tip 1:
    Absolutely true, although I can’t remember anything if I don’t make a list. You should come to a store knowing what your going to buy, this cuts down on spontaneous spending. Establish a limit to what your gonna get.

    Tip 2:
    Too many people are too “proud” to use coupons because they make them look cheap. Get over it people, practically everyone uses them and if you don’t use a coupon on an item that you could you might as well set your money on fire, because your wasting it. Coupons offer so much in savings and should be used and kept. It’s a good idea to have a coupon drawer at home where you can sort out the coupons by there expiry dates.

    Tip 3:
    I always shop at the same store. It’s the cheapest and largest in the city, and no it’s not Walmart… moral objections to buying food at that place. The crazy thing is why people spend more to shop in one place rather then another for just simple things like having there bags packed. You can buy some cheese for 7$ for 500 grams at one place, or you can dish out 14$ for the same 500grams at another place and get your bag packed and have a shorter line by maybe 2 people. 7$ is worth a short line and a bag being packed?

    Tip 4:
    As above, always compare the prices. Savings are everywhere and you might not know it. For instance, yogurt is cheaper in the second store mentioned above haha.

    Tip 5:
    Buying in Bulk is great. If your going to sue the stuff why not save some money in the process?

    Tip 6:
    Yep just like buying in bulk as above.

    Tip 7:
    Now with store brand items…. There are things you should not buy store brand. Cheese, wine in particular. Store brands for the most part do have a very different taste then name brands though, not always but in my experience mostly. Although almost everything I buy is store brand, substitute a little taste with some savings. Not a bad deal.

    Tip 8:
    Hahah, true that.

    Great post mate.

  2. Excellent tips Jamie. I’m the food shopper in my home too. I do follow most of the tips you have. I am not afraid to use coupons. But I only use them for items I already buy, or in some cases, to try a new item. In general, I won’t use a coupon if, by using it, is still more expensive than another brand or the store brand. Sometimes I can get an item for free when I use the coupon when the item is on sale.

    I’m not afraid of store brands either. But there are certain items, like Heinz ketchup, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, HP sauce, that I won’t substitute with another brand, let alone the store brand. But usually I can get these items on sale with them costing as much or less than the store brand anyway.

    I will buy bulk for some items, but I try not to go overboard. Huge inventory is not always a good thing, and space is limited. And we don’t have another freezer to store frozen items.

    I almost always go to Shop-Rite, which is by far, the cheapest supermarket in New Jersey. But I’ll check out the flyers and sometimes go to another supermarket if they have a sale on items that I need to get.

  3. Thanks, Pat.

    I forgot to mention Tip #9: eat before you go. Keeps the impulse buying down.

    I also occasionally check the fliers for the local drug stores, like Kinney’s or Rite-Aid. I go right by there anyway every day, and if there’s a really good deal on something (and occasionally there is) then I’ll stop in just for the sale item.

    And I was surprised at the number of brand name items that they sell at the local Dollar General store. I get most of my spices either there or at (here come the hate mails) Christmas Tree Shops. Although the one spice I never skimp on is Chili Powder. The cheap stuff just doesn’t taste the same. There’s also a Kitchen ETC nearby where I buy my Cumin for a fraction of the price of the grocery store.

    A big part of frugality is knowing where to buy what for the cheapest.

  4. Dude, great piece. Seriously, you should shop this one around and see if you can sell it. List articles are always, ALWAYS, in demand, particularly ones as timely as this.

  5. All great tips, Jamie. You have to be the most sensible person I (don’t) know. A question for you. What kind of cat litter do you buy/is the best deal? I’ve never had much luck with store brands.

    #1
    It’s the cheapest and largest in the city, and no it’s not Walmart…

    And you’re keeping the name a secret?

  6. Great article, Jamie.

    San Francisco makes this a challenge, but in general, I can keep our grocery bill for the two of us, big and heavy eater bears both, under about $300 a month by using four things:

    1) Costco. Like Jamie said, buy in large quantities and store. This is from whence all of the staples around which we build the house menu (meats, herbs, spices, nominally-prepared foods, cheeses, sandwich stuff) comes.

    Besides, it’s a cheap date — where else can I take my husbear out for pizza, hot dogs, and a soda for six bucks?

    2) Trader Joe’s. We go here for particular items — prepared foods, specialty cheeses, and so forth. They cost about half to two-thirds as much as a regular supermarket with national brands does, and sometimes you get amazing deals.

    3) The local veggie market. All sorts of good stuff that’s fresh as can be and dirt cheap. Since moving to California, I have become a complete fruit snob because of this place — and as such, have replaced expensive candy and ice cream with a nice tangerine or banana.

    4) Walgreens. You laugh, but you can pick up grocery items on sale at these places at insanely low prices — chicken broth for 50 cents a can and so forth. The only hitch is that you sometimes have to hop from store to store to stay ahead of the “four per customer” limit, but since there are three of them within a two-mile radius of us, it’s not hard. :)

  7. I will say this about coupons. In the last couple of years, I’ve virtually cut out all prepared foods from my budget, instead preferring to make stuff from scratch (yeah, I’m all granola like dat). As such, though, I’ve found coupons to be less and less useful in reducing my grocery bills further as they are generally for highly processed, prepared items I wouldn’t normally buy anyway. They’re still good for things like cleaning products and air fresheners, but as I’m not starting to cut those out of my budget again in favor of “greener”, home-made products that work just as well and activate my allergies less, I don’t know for how much longer coupons will be valuable except for rare purchases of cereal or OTC drugs like Advil. So your point about perceived value is well taken.

  8. QJ, I would have no idea how to sell this article. Seriously. If you really think it would sell, do you have any tips? Send me an email.

  9. John, we don’ t have a litter box. But when we did, I only used the Arm&Hammer multiple cats clumping litter. Since we moved (almost two years ago, now) the cats love being outdoors so much that they meow to go out. Even when it’s freezing they like it outside, because they go play in the barn and chase the occasional mouse. Although I do have to throw Skyler outside to go to the bathroom when it’s really, really cold.

  10. Pingback: Thursday Quickies « I Must Be Dreaming

  11. Well, you could always post them again, or send me an email, or HAVE SOME FUCKING MERCY AND TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

    Er, sorry about that. I think I’m channeling Joan Crawford this afternoon.

  12. Thank you for the tips! Making a list and sticking to it definitely helps with the food budget. Since my fiance and i live in two different households right now and its his first time out on his own, he doesn’t really have any idea how to shop smart, so since i make more money in the meantime than he does for now, I help him out and buy him groceries that will last a few weeks. I found that buying certain prepared products esp when your sig other is living in a place that doesnt have a well working stove and doesnt have alot of time or energy left over nor can cook but only a few items, things like ramen noodles or noodle bowls and easily preparable dinners that you can make in a few minutes help out a lot. Things like bread and peanut butter, canned goods, snack foods if you shop around for deals and micro hot pockets go a long way for bachelor like types. I remember my dad telling me that he lived on frozen waffles , burritos and hot dogs for a while, but some of those things do not fill you. Believe me, living in a college town and having to scrape once in a while myself, ramen noodles are not only filling, but if you buy the cup of noodles at say, walmart for 27 cents a piece, they also have dried vegetables. and they are microwavable. This is especially helpful for the guys who are on a budget and in college or just starting out. Things like instant oatmeal and poptarts are easily and cheaply gotten, and are quick and easy to make and provide enough nutrition to keep you going. And buying potatoes saves alot of money as well. I also see a lot of people buying frozen vegetables and fruits, which are generally cheaper and last a lot longer and are just as fresh as the produce. You would not believe how far i stretched that money and still had some left over to take us out to dinner or pay for gas. I generally eat at work most of the time, and have a smaller appetite so i dont need to keep much food around for myself. But guys generally get hungrier, and some of those like the landshire micro burgers and poor boys and submarine sandwiches go a long way. I also found that a good meal is buying fresh flavored artisian bread, fresh lunchmeat and cheese and you can generally split a huge sub between the two of you and make an easy healthy meal out of that. Generally i use walmart for my deli meats because they are cheaper and just as good if not better than somewhere else. It does pay to shop around. But coupons are good only if what you need is there, i havent used any i have this time around, but the coupons they include for some of the restauraunts around here have been helpful. it doesnt hurt to hold onto them just in case. hope this was helpful.

  13. And im telling you, no offence to the guys, but women KNOW how to shop. If you can, let your woman or mother or whatever do your shopping with you or for you, or take a girlfriend. we are PROS at this. I have saved myself and my sig other So much money and time and stress by doing his shopping for him, his money or mine, and stretched it alot farther then if he did it on his own. Guys generally do not like to shop. they are impulse buyers. Theyre hungry, which is the worst time to go to the store, they see something they want it, they get it. Its a divide and conquer sort of mentality. I dont know too many guys who like to shop at all. Women are programmed to do this. This isnt sexist, this is a statistical fact. The woman in your household or life, will save you more money than you can ever dream of buying stuff. Men save, women clip coupons and shop. We know what we’re doing. If you cant at least find someone to shop with, dont shop when you are hungry, make a list, ask for advice. Check the flyers every sunday or online for weekly ads. thats what we do. We worry alot. I tell you shopping for my mate has certainly eased my mind. I know it has his. And it makes us feel good if we can help you, makes us happy gives us a sense of purpose. Men are providers, women are nurturers and caregivers. this is in our dna. let us do the shopping. we love it. :p

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