Saving Money in the Grocery Store for Real People

I know, I know-you’ve heard it before. Probably from some of those people who spend their whole lives wrapped up in finances in some way. Wouldn’t you really rather hear it from someone who isn’t going to claim to save more than she spends, someone who is actually trying to feed a family (a family, I might add, that insists that there be a certain amount of junk food in the pantry and pizzas in the freezer).

I cannot for the life of me figure out how a person can actually save more than they spend simply by clipping coupons and watching sales. I can verify that if you will spend a few minutes a week clipping coupons, you can save a couple of dollars a week. That’s provided, of course, that you only clip and use coupons for items you would otherwise be buying. Be sure to keep your coupons in some type of order that works for you and weed out the expired ones on a regular basis or it will be so frustrating to use them that you will simply stop.

Sales are another matter altogether. I am huge proponent of watching for things to go on sale in every aspect of my life and my grocery shopping is no exception. I thoroughly scan the ad from the store I shop regularly for the products that I use and I make a list of those items (be sure to include the size and price so that you can actually find it when you reach the store). I take a quick glance through the flyers from other stores, checking to see if there are any outstanding offers. If not, it’s not worth the time or gas to drive all over town. Even in the store I shop regularly, I’ve made it a point to know their sales. If it’s on sale this week for one price will it be on sale for that same price again in two or three weeks. If so, it’s worth buying only what on need but not worth stockpiling.

I have plenty of room to store extras and a deep freeze as well so I buy in bulk when I find a good deal. But be careful about buying large packages; it may actually be cheaper to buy two of the smaller size than one of the bigger sizes. If you can’t do the math in your head, make sure you bring a small calculator with you. Even if it’s just a few cents, they can add up over a year. If it’s a great sale, buy as much as you can afford and have room for. For example, my family eats a lot of boxed cereal. Once in a while, a store will have it at half price and I’ll literally load up my cart with cereal.

Plan your weekly menu around what is on sale that week, rather than planning a menu and then buying the things you need around it. If steak is on sale on week, I’ll plan a meal around that, first utilizing what I already have on hand.

Keep a running list on your refrigerator of what you’ve used up and need. That way, you never find yourself picking up something in the store just because you can’t remember if you have it then getting home to find you already have three of that item in your pantry. That’s especially frustrating if the next week the item is on sale and you paid full price!

Combine your list of sale items and list of items that you need and condense them into a list that is set up in the same way your grocery store is set up. This saves a tremendous amount of time and time is money, as we all know.

I find that I can actually save more money if I work with a monthly grocery budget rather than a weekly budget. Some weeks we have simply used up more food. Some weeks there are better sales and I am wanting to stock up.

Some folks will tell you to stick adamantly to your list once you arrive at the store. I’m all for that as long as I don’t come across a sale that wasn’t advertised or see an item I know I need that I forgot to write down. You have to be somewhat flexible. Likewise, you have to be willing to try store brands. Some are quite good, but sometimes saving a few cents just isn’t worth giving up quality for. Consider the way you are going to use a product as well, when you are trying to decide between store brand and name brand. If the product is going into a casserole, you probably won’t be able to taste the difference and might as well save the money. Canned products are usually cheapest during the cooler months and they last a long time so stock up. Likewise, condiments will last a long time on your shelf, so stock up if you hit a good sale. But don’t over buy on condiments; they last a long time and you don’t want to have to look behind twelve bottles of steak sauce to find that can of soup you need.

In the fresh produce aisle, I stick to seasonal produce as much as possible, again working my menu around it. The stores will always have a variety of fruits and vegetables on sale. In the warm weather months and in the warmer climates, it’s easier to find a good variety of fresh produce to work with at a reasonable cost. Only buy what you can use before it spoils or plan to freeze or preserve it within a day or so. If you’ve got a freezer, it’s almost always cheaper to buy fresh produce when it’s in peak season and freeze it for winter than it is to buy the frozen packages later.

Do some experimenting in the deli department. The higher priced meats and cheese are usually better but you may be perfectly happy with a cheaper brand. The very cheapest items are usually mostly water-you get what you pay for. Compare the prices of the deli meats and cheeses with the prepackaged products. There’s a good chance it will be cheaper to buy fresh. Do not buy ready made salads or deserts unless you absolutely have to; it is always cheaper to make it as home.

Milk is milk (the same is true of heavy cream, half and half and butter). Buy the store brands. Juice is cheaper to buy as frozen concentrate, but the diary versions are fresher and may have a better nutritional content. Buy cheese in bulk only if it is cheaper then immediately package it into more usable sizes when you get home and freeze what you won’t need right away. Don’t over buy-cheese loses it’s flavor if you keep it too long in the freezer and you will end up throwing it out.

Meat is very expensive these days. Watch for sales and don’t forget to check the butcher’s counter as well as the prepackaged area of the meat department. It is cheaper at the store where I shop to buy bacon from the butcher than to buy Hormel or Farmland. If you buy meat in bulk, make sure you repackage it when you get home into amounts you will use in one meal and be sure to use wraps specifically made for your freezer. They cost more but the meat will last longer so it’s worth it.

Don’t buy beauty products, medications, or paper products at the grocery store unless you know that it’s a lower price than you might find at Target or Wal-Mart. Try to keep a separate list for these types of items and once or twice a month make a trip to a discount store for these items.

Do not be tempted by those extra products in the store-they can really blow your budget in a hurry. But if your store offers a pharmacy, dry cleaners or post office you should consider utilizing them. Compare prices first to make sure they are comparably priced but you can save yourself time and gas by making one trip to the grocery store for all of those needs. Then don’t forget to redeem those coupons when you check out.

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