Groceries are a predictable, relentless category in our budget. However, it’s also a fluid category and a significant area where we can save money. As I have said before in my post about paying off debt, our grocery budget when we first got married was about $40/week. That was tight, but we both had enough to eat and we reached our goals quickly. Our budget now is much more flexible and we frequently feed friends and family at our house, but we still adhere to most of these principles.
Where to shop: this one depends upon a lot of variables. I find that deals and coupon policies are much better at grocery stores compared to the big discount warehouses. The warehouses may win when comparing unit prices to a single, full-price item at a grocery store, but that’s not how we roll around here. Right now, I have one warehouse membership that I purchased on special for less than half price, but I do not plan to renew it when the year is up. My personal favorite grocery store right now is Harris Teeter because of the stellar online shopping option (don’t be fooled, I used this before my baby was born, but with a newborn this service is GLORIOUS), customer service, and coupon policy. HT doubles coupons up to $0.99 on normal days and up to $2 on Super Doubles days. Super Doubles weeks are a couponer’s dream. This is like our rejuvenating spa day. Other stores also have good coupon policies, so learn the stores where you shop. My virtual friend (as in I feel like we’re BFFs, but she has no idea who I am- I have a lot of these friends), Jenny, has already done all this work for us so I will send you to her website for the details.
When to shop: Grocery stores start new sales on different days of the week. Harris Teeter starts new sales on Wednesday. This is a good thing to know about your store because the truly amazing discounts will sell out quickly. Another key thing to know is when the butcher reduces the meat for quick sale. Some stores do this daily and others do it once or twice per week. Most stores do NOT do this on Saturday or Sunday because those are the busiest shopping days of the week. Become friends with your butcher and ask him when he brings out that magic label printer that shoots out the discounts. Meat is expensive and we need to save where we can. When you stumble upon that array of meat with the beautiful red stickers, stock up that freezer. We will worry about what to do with it all later.
How to shop: Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. I’m about to drop a bomb on your organized little meal planning Pinterest page. Instead of planning your meals and then making your grocery list, you need to start making your grocery list FIRST and then planning your meals based on what you are buying. This shift in thinking is a challenge at first, but you will quickly accumulate your pantry and fridge staples along with several recipes to make almost whatever you want. I purchase items when they are on sale (preferably with a coupon or two- learn more about that here) and stock up so that I have enough to last until the item goes on sale again in a few weeks. I never want to run out of my supply because then I am at the mercy of the grocery store’s current prices. I recently had to purchase single-ply toilet paper because none of the good stuff was on sale, I did not want to pay full price, and our household TP situation was about to reach a desperate level. This is what happens when you don’t stay on top of things- you have to do your business with scratchy, fragile, nonabsorbent TP. For the sake of the rears in your house, learn from my mistake. This stockpiling theory applies to nonperishables, beverages, paper products, cleaning products, baby food/supplies, toiletries, and anything that can be frozen. Basically, my only weekly purchases aside from that week’s stock-ups are seasonal produce, on-sale dairy products if we need them, milk, and eggs. Some items are dirt cheap and can be bought at any time. These items ensure that you always have something at home to eat in a pinch- rice, dry beans (even canned beans), eggs, bananas, etc.
How to use coupons: There is a LOT more detail about this in my post The Grocery Coupon Strategy, but since I have introduced the topic, I do not want to leave you hanging. Again, I am going to defer to my friend Jenny because she has a perfect system and there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Jenny has already done the work of matching the store’s weekly sales with the available coupons from newspapers and online. She is amazing. I learned how to use coupons with www.southernsavers.com, but www.thekrazycouponlady.com has a very similar system on her website. If you forgot to keep your stocks supplied or need one specific item for a recipe, Jenny has a sweet little coupon database link on her site where you can search for a coupon for that item. If there is one available in the world, she has already found it for you.
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