Saving on Groceries

I just read a couple of articles that suggest that a good blog should be posted to at least everyday. One even said several times a day. Well, I’m not among those whose brain is firing on all three cylinders every single day. So here’s a clip from the first part of chapter seven of the book (Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely):

For me, the number one ingredient in cooking at a lower cost has been willingness. I have needed willingness to try new foods. I’ve made it an adventure to try new ways of preparing foods. I’ve learned to enjoy cooking with less expensive ingredients. It’s been fun and creative to make something interesting out of whatever I have on hand.

Price Book

[sorry about the big bold section headings – they weren’t like that in Word. Somehow the transition to Kindle format made them swell up.] Ask any internet thrift message board about saving money on groceries, and someone will mention a price book. A price book shows you the price different stores charge for the same product. It doesn’t have to be an actual book. Mine right now is a spreadsheet. Before that I just remembered which store had the best prices for some things and didn’t worry about the rest. Some people use tiny notepads that fit into a shirt pocket, others use spiral notebooks.

I filled mine in from my grocery receipts, by far the easiest way. I haven’t recorded prices for meats and chicken. I already know I don’t want to pay more than $1.29 a pound for chicken or $3.50 a pound for ground beef (2012 prices). A very low price rule of thumb like that works well. A sale may make the price better at a store that my price book shows as usually more expensive. Instead of comparing to other stores I can compare to my rule of thumb. Having a price book will protect you from the supermarket tricks like putting things in a special display at the end of an aisle as if they are on sale, but they’re really not. Another thing to watch for is the “10 for $10” sales. Sometimes the normal price is actually less than a dollar. With a price book you know for sure what’s for sale at a good price and what isn’t. Also watch out for this when buying canned food at an everything’s-a-dollar store. Walmart has canned fruits and vegetables that cost less than a dollar a can (again, 2012 prices).

Buy one get one

The Winn Dixie stores in my area put their meats on special buy one get one free every two to three weeks. I can buy enough chicken thighs to last at least until the next sale. Meats bought in quantity can either be frozen raw in meal-size portions or cooked first and then frozen in meal-size portions. To thaw frozen raw meat without partly cooking it like a microwave does, put it in a heavy cooking skillet (not over heat), whether aluminum, steel or cast iron. The cookware conducts the cold away from the frozen food, warming it faster. Save A Lot’s meat prices are also very good, and Walmart’s can be good too.

Seeing the pattern of sales

When you buy an item regularly, after a while if you tune in to it you notice it goes on sale at regular intervals. If the interval isn’t obvious, you can ask the manager of the department that item is in to tell you what the pattern of sales for it is. I asked at the Publix Supermarket seafood counter. They told me that they cycle three types of fish, one on sale each week. Nearly every type of food has its sale pattern. Once you know what that pattern is, you can buy enough (if it will keep) to last until the next sale, so you never pay full price.

Meal planning

When you’ve learned the pattern of sales, you can stock up on the things you need for the meals your household often eats. Then you can usually make supper without stopping at the store. It’s very helpful to have thought about supper at least a day ahead so that you can be ready and not find yourself at 6 pm standing in front of the stove with a blank mind. Ask me how I know this!

An easy way to create a meal plan is to make a note every day for a month of what you actually had for supper. If you ate out, note a similar meal you could make at home, or substitute an easy meal that you like. Cross off any meal you didn’t like much and put in one that you would like. And there’s your very realistic, completely personalized meal plan. Then make a master list of all the ingredients you need to make those meals. Add your most popular breakfast and lunch ingredients to the list. Before each shopping trip, cross off what you have on hand so you don’t buy it again unnecessarily (unless you’re stocking up on that item). What’s left is your shopping list. Most stores have their weekly sale ads online now. Look for sales on the things on your list, and you know what store or stores to shop at this trip.

Use a list

Most articles about saving money on groceries include the advice to make a list. With a list you know you’re buying the things you actually need. I try to write my list roughly in the same order I’m going to pass things in the store. I also go straight to the back of the store without looking around and then work my way forward, so I only pass tempting aisles once. That way I shop more quickly and cut down on impulse purchases. Impulse purchases can really add up. Years ago I tried out a local grocery delivery service. I learned that the $10 fee was a bargain compared to the things I would have bought on impulse if I went to the store myself.


One comment

  1. Don’t forget to shop at Aldi’s. Wonderful whole chickens .99 a lb. So many other savings too. All of their non brand foods that I’ve tried are delicious! I understand it is owned by the same as Trader Joe’s

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