Now that we’ve set up a basic budget, creating sinking funds and a jar system, started repaying debts, and saving for the future, it’s time to start looking at the ways we can get more of the things we want, for less.
Groceries are a great area to start. I could keep this post simple and tell you to shop only the outer perimeter of the store; it’ll save you money and help you lose weight at the same time! Food found in the outer perimeter of the store is typically fresh and unprocessed, while the foods in the aisles are more convenience based. If you have the time, creating meals from scratch with fresh foods is much better for your family and CAN BE cheaper on your wallet. In the resources at the bottom of the post, find links to great recipes to substitute for your favourite convenience foods. Post your own favourites in the comments to share!
Grocery shopping and menu planning can be a lot more complicated that simply shopping in certain areas of the grocery store. There’s a lot to be understood about how stores price items, use displays, and provide coupons, and I’ll discuss a little below (with links to people who know much more than I!).
Often you’ll be browsing through the store and see signs claiming ‘lowest price’ or ‘big savings’, however it can be difficult while standing in the aisle to know whether an item is actually a good deal or not. For this reason, it is a good idea to create a price book for the items you purchase regularly. Keeping a small notebook in your purse with small charts listing prices can help you keep your grocery budget to a minimum by using the premise of stockpiling. Typically, stores work on a 12 week cycle for sales so when your price book tells you that at item is at it’s lowest price, you would buy as much of it as you would need for the next 12 weeks. Tracking grocery prices could quickly become overwhelming if you were tracking the prices of every item in the store, but if you limit it to the items you purchase on a regular basis AND that you have the capability to store bulk quantities of it without spoilage, it can save you a lot of money in the long run. Often, Christmas baking staples such as flour and sugar are priced as loss leaders (at or below cost) to get you in the door for the great deal, while the rest of the items on your Christmas cookie shopping list are at regular price (or inflated!). For this reason, it’s a good idea to document when season-specific items go on sale at your grocery store each year so you can snatch those special cookie ingredients up at rock bottom prices for all of your Christmas baking.
Grocery stores often make use of the end caps (ends of the aisles) to display popular or attractive items, however these items are rarely on sale or will be used to display a sale item alongside a ‘neccessary’ accompaniment which is not on sale.
Did you know that grocery stores will place the most expensive items at eye level to increase the likelihood that you will purchase these items on impulse? Just knowing facts like this can help you to keep your grocery costs down, as you’ll (hopefully) pause to consider before you pick up that unneeded item that’s charming you from the shelf!
I am no expert on coupons, in fact I rarely use them unless they provide savings on something I use constantly (and I’ll hold onto them until the item goes on sale) or I’ll use the “buy 2 of X, get 1 of Y free” coupons if I was already planning on purchasing X item (make sense?). Grocery stores will display manufacturer coupons on the shelf when the item is not on sale to increase their profits as they will be reimbursed for the coupon’s value; if they displayed the coupon during a sale they would lose out on it’s appeal because they’re item is priced for less profit. Knowing this, if you’re shopping and you see coupons available for items you purchase regularly, grab some and use them that day if you need the items, or save them for when the item goes on sale. Watch your expiry dates though and throw away any expired coupons!!
Now that you’ve learned some of the strategies grocery stores use to trick consumers into purchasing high cost items, here are a few strategies to help you to maximize your grocery shopping budget.
Grocery Shopping Strategies:
1. Create a list before hitting the stores.
2. Never shop on an empty stomach – increases the likelihood of impulse shopping!
3. Use your flyers to create your menu plans
4. Create a price book to keep track of what a ‘good deal’ is
5. Don’t be afraid to visit multiple stores to complete your list (within reason)
6. Take cash – you’ll be more disciplined in buying only the items you need!
7. Talk with the butcher, baker and produce manager to see when markdowns occur, and where they are displayed – then make use of your freezer!
8. Stockpile when prices are low; that way you can ‘shop’ your stockpile when you’re creating a menu plan instead of the high mid-cycle prices at the grocery store!
How do I shop?
Around here, the flyers come out on Wednesday or Thursday and start on Friday morning. I usually sit down on Thursday morning to create my menu plans for the week. Why do I do it mid week? If I menu plan on Thursday, I can make use of both the current week’s sales and the next week’s sales. I may have to shop both Thursday and Friday, but I can capture both sales cycles and have the groceries I need to last until the following Thursday.
Here are the steps I use for menu planning:
1. Check what’s in the freezer and pantry and see what needs to be used up.
2. Check the flyers for sales on meat and produce.
3. Pick recipes based around expiring or sales items, with other sales items as the accompaniments.
4. Find appropriate recipes in cookbooks or online and input into the Plan to Eat site
5. Print out shopping list from the Plan to Eat site, and hit the stores!
Some great online resources!
If you’re living in the US or Western Canada, consider joining The Grocery Game for a time. The program involves some guided coupon clipping, but does all the matching up of lowest price sales to valid coupons. Membership is $1 a week, with a 4 week free trial. You can participate in the program indefinitely or learn from how they track sales and start implementing it yourself (although $4-5 a month isn’t bad for someone else doing the work for you!).
I’ve mentioned this website before while planning a freezer cooking week. The Plan to Eat website allows you to add in your favourite recipes from around the web and in your cookbooks, and you can add them to the weekly calendar in the order you would like. There is a shopping list and pantry function that makes it easy to create a list of what you’ll need for the upcoming week’s menu. My favourite features of this site are the easy ‘bulk input’ functions of the recipe file (just copy and paste ingredients) and the ability to click and drag recipes around the calendar and ingredients in and out of the pantry. Get 30 days free for signing up!
Coupon Clipping/Grocery Saving Blogs: