Shopping for savings

Last year when we did our taxes and I took a good look at the itemized summary from the bank, I was surprised and somewhat disheartened to see just how much we'd spent on casual meals over the year. It would be one thing if those meals had been memorable or could count as "entertainment" in and of themselves. But they really didn't. Lack of planning, lack of energy, lack of creativity, (lack of desire to clean up after) all added up to a lack of wisdom in where and how our food money was spent.

If you're like me, the first area to cut back when money gets tight is eating out. And if you're like me, now is definitely one of those times of life when we need to be watching our spending carefully. So that means cooking at home more.

One thing I do know, is that it's hard to cook when there's no food in the house. When I was in college I rented a room from a family with 5 daughters. In addition to teaching me that I'm not cut out for the large family thing (too much noise and commotion for me!), I also found out that I don't want to be in a situation where I have to go to the market every day for dinner fixings. It costs more in time and money to always be doing dinner on the fly.
In case you missed it, I really don't like grocery shopping that much. So, out of self-preservation, I've had to create some strategies that allow me to spend as little time (and money) as possible when shopping for food.

When Hubs and I were first married, my trips to the supermarket depended upon when the checking account could finance a basket full of groceries. Eventually I discovered that with a little planning, it's possible to have a well-stocked pantry and money left in the bank. You don't have to do all of these things; incorporating just one or two new strategies can make an impact on your bank account.

I've learned to plan my menu around what is in season and inexpensive; to buy basic foods that can be used a variety of ways and to keep certain items on hand all the time so there is always a quick, inexpensive meal option. I read the newspaper ads for the best deals on groceries and I stock up on pantry items when they're on sale.

Some shopping pros suggest using a small spiral-bound notebook with one page each for items you commonly purchase. Track the prices, both sale and regular, at the stores you typically shop, and then buy the items (including meat and produce) only when they're available at the lowest price. (Here's a great source for a printable grocery-tracking booklet.)

I know that I never need to pay more than $1.99 a pound for any of the kinds of meat I typically use; whole chickens are often available for as little as .59 per pound, and nearly everything is on sale at some time. I buy fresh fruits and vegetables at their prime season, always trying to stay below .99/lb.

I became a coupon clipper. With some planning, I spend less than three hours a month in the grocery store. My grocery shopping preparation goes like this:

  • Check my master pantry list for items we are out of or low on.
  • Pull the coupons from the Sunday paper.
  • Quickly scan the coupons, keeping only those for items I know we'll use, discard the others. (If you get really serious about couponing, you can ask friends and family to keep their coupon inserts for you.)
  • Check store ads to see what items are on sale (I actually cut out the little picture from the paper so I am sure I remember the brand, size, quantity limits, etc. I use the pictures as my "list").
  • Organize coupons, etc according to the layout of the store--dairy items together, frozen items, produce, meat, etc. (This helps ensure that I don't forget anything and I'm not traipsing back and forth searching for things.)
  • Put list/photos, coupons and ad information together for when I'm ready to shop (often in an otherwise to-be-discarded junk mail envelope.

Shopping this way helps eliminate impulse buys. My policy is to only buy things that are on sale and pretty much only things we use on a regular basis. My pantry isn't full of odd items that were "a really good deal" that we'll never eat.

Because I shop so seldom and only buy items at or near their lowest price, I stock up. I'll typically buy 3 or 4 each of the non-perishables on my list. That way I'm sure to always have what I need for our most typical menus and won't have to run to the store for something to complete a recipe. When I get down to the last one or two, I start watching for it to be on sale again.

There are a lot of great sites that can help you become one of those shoppers where the stores almost pay you to take things home. The Grocery is helpful because it lets you know what the lowest expected price is over a several week span as well as when there are coupons to use on those items, so you really can buy things at the best possible price. I think it's helpful to have the 'pros' do all the legwork for you until you catch on to the system.

It takes a little more effort to be intentional about shopping and saving money, but once I got the hang of it, I've been surprised to find that shopping carefully and cooking at home can save both money and time, leaving more of each for more interesting and meaningful pursuits!

Go to the ant...Observe her ways and be wise, (she) prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

Up next--planning your pantry


Van said...

Met you at Renee's blog and thought I would drop in. I am with you when it comes to groceries and cooking versus eating out. Great blog and very encouraging.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

I so need some tips in this area! Planning meals saves me a world of time; I always go through the food lion paper and get the buy one get one free everyweek. In addition, I head to Sam's at the beginning of the month and to Wal-mart on other occasions. I'm not very organized with the process, but love saving any amount of $.

Parties? Are you kidding me?


JottinMama said...

What a great post! I don't exactly love going to the grocery store either and find it a tad frustrating at times. I seem to always feel pulled b/w healthy foods, inexpensive foods, and foods we actually like. It can be a difficult task! So, thank you for your advice for the grocery store! I am gonna put those tips to good use!

Have a wonderful week!

Kate :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...