Saturday, May 26, 2007

A few thoughts about smart shopping

I used to think those ladies that said they could cut one quarter of their grocery bill off by smart shopping were nuts. But that was back in the day when we had two good paying jobs (and worked the hours to go with them), so a trip to the grocery store did not constitute the most important chore in our weekend.

Now days we must pay a lot closer attention to where every penny goes, and it has become a sort of "can I beat them" game.

Since I'm armed with a list of what's in my freezer and my pantry (you did do that this week didn't you?), shopping is a sort of five part exercise in beating the system.

Part 1: The List
If you are trying to save your pennies, never, NEVER go to the store without a list (never go when you are hungry either.....its deadly to your health and your finances!)

The List begins with a sort of running note during the week of those things that we are out of or we're close to out of.....milk, bread, etc., are the basis of this part of The List.

Additions to The List really grow when the weekly ads arrive (see Part 2)

Part 2: Weekly Grocery Ads
You may have thought of this part of the newspaper or the bulk mail as just something else to recycle. If so, you need to revise your thinking.

I start out with a sheet of notebook paper and the ads for the three stores that are in our area (close enough that we can do all of them in one day without having to take a cooler with us).

I go through each ad and write down the items that I might be interested in and what the price is at each store. You'll discover that more than one store may have the same item on a sale. This is where it gets tricky and it becomes more important to write this all down before you go.

Just because two stores have romaine lettuce on a BOGO (buy one get one) free special, it does not mean it makes no difference which store you get them at. This week at two stores in our area they had just such a special running. At one store I would have paid $3.69 for two packages under the BOGO, at the other store it was only $3.29 ... its all good! Read all that fine print and choose the store that saves you that extra $0.40 on top of getting that free package!

After I know what all the specials are I go through the whole list and highlight which price is the best on items that are available in more than one store.

All of this data gets transfered to a new sheet of paper with sections for each store. I write down what the items are at each of the stores and what the prices advertised are (it pays to make sure you actually get the price that was advertised).

Part 3: Coupons
Now when you get that Sunday paper, there are usually some little packets of coupons in there. Once again, these are not just to go in the recycle bin! Read those sections with a pair of scissors in hand. Clip out the ones that are for stuff you actually use (don't bother with the rest of them, there's no point saving coupons for baby food if your youngest child is 24--unless they have a baby of their own!)

After you have created your master list in Part 2, go through the coupons you have and see what coupons you have that can be used for anything that's on your list. My favorite thing is to find something that's on a great sale that I also have a great coupon for....its like found money!! And a lot of stores in our are will double your coupon up to $1.00, so it can be like getting free food.

Make a note on your list if you have a coupon to use for something. If there is a particular store that you know has a better deal on something that was on your list in Part 1, make a note of that too.

Remember, The List is your roadmap to saving $$$!

Part 4: The shopping
Do this part right after breakfast in the middle of the week if you possibly can. You don't want to shop when you're hungry (your brain doesn't function well, and everything looks good so you'll overspend every time). In the middle of the week you will get the best selection on the items that are on sale and might be limited in quantity.

Take your own cloth bags with you! The grocery stores in our area give us $0.05 per bag that we bring in because they aren't using the ones they have to pay for. Besides, why do you need all those plastic bags.....adding to the landfil is not what I have in mind when I do my shopping. I even take my cloth bags with me when I go to Walmart....they may grumble, but they will use them (they won't give you any kind of $$ off tho').

Stick to your list! Buy what you know you need. Don't buy 6 cans or packages of something you've never tried just because its on sale, that doesn't save you anything if no one in the house will eat it. And watch for expiration dates on EVERYTHING that you buy.

When you're picking up the things on your list, compare the prices of different sizes, watch for the coupons that are right there in the store in those little dispenser things on the shelves and the ones that are right on the packages (I bought a bigger jar of pickles for less than the smallest jar by picking up the size that was on sale and using the coupon that was with the display).

Usually our only departure from our list is a trip through the markdowns. My mother (who has been doing this for years!) calls this "used meat" when it is at the butcher counter. Since we usually will not buy pre-ground hamburger (who knows what's in there!), we look for quality pieces of beef that are marked down. A chuck roast that is well aged makes some of the best hamburger you'll ever eat, so if you have the ability to grind your own, consider this option.

Part 5: The Reward
The reward is more money in your pocket and eating well. As we have shopped over the last two weeks, I have gotten $211 of groceries for $136.14 -- we saved 35.5%!! over the three stores. In one store I saved 46.4%. We have also earned two $0.10 per gallon off on a gas fill up, which will save us another $5 or so.

My favorite "save" for this week was this one: we needed coffee, and one store had a particular brand of bulk whole bean coffee on sale for $8.99 a pound. I also had a coupon for a FREE 12 ounce package of the same brand of coffee if you bought either a pound of bulk or 2 12 ounce packages. I bought a pound and a quarter of bulk beans and got the 12 ounce package for savings of $8.20!

Yes this all takes some time, but its worth the effort, and it makes me feel like I'm winning somewhere!

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