Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rerun: Stretch That Grocery Dollar!

Originally posted by me at IMBD. Thought it would be helpful to newer readers, especially in this economy:

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:

Synergizing the Shopping List and the Coupon Box
Zen and the art of the grocery list

Organized Home

No comments: