Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Right Stuff!

Yesterday was errand day for me, and I started off by stopping at the local Goodwill store (I'll tell you about my finds in a later post), then went to WalMart for things like dog food, printer paper and light bulbs. Not to mention a few crafty things I needed, ummm, wanted. Then off to buy food to restock my quickly depleting pantry and fridge. And no, I rarely buy my groceries at WalMart, for several reasons, one being - they don't always have the lowest prices (gasp!).

But while I was shopping, I got to thinking about doing a post on grocery shopping, and couldn't get it off my mind during the almost sleepless night I endured last night. (Note, if I sound kind of loopy in this post it's because I finally got to sleep somewhere around 3am and woke up around 8:15am - 5 hours rarely does it for me.)

So, I guess my question for you is . . . . . "What kind of grocery shopper are you???"

These days, when food prices are skyrocketing along with the prices of everything else, and folks are losing jobs right and left, 401k's are dwindling, and we are being faced with smaller pocketbooks and larger expenses, how do you manage to feed your family???

Even when my husband and I were both working and had smaller expenses and bigger pocketbooks I usually watched what I spent on food. Of course back then we lived within 5 miles of almost any type of restaurant you could possibly want to visit, so we ate out a lot, but I also cooked a lot. I've never been one of those folks who just pushed a cart through the store, throwing random items in to the basket as they caught my fancy. Partly because when I did that I still didn't have what I needed when I got home. But mostly because of the shock I received when the cashier told me the total of my bill! YIKES!!!!!

And I've also never found it very cost effective to go to 3 different stores just to get what's on sale. By the time you factor in the gas for your car, the time it takes and the stress of going through checkout 3 times, it's just not worth it.

For the last 5+ years we've lived out in a rural area that is at least 10 miles from a decent restaurant (unless you count a Subway next to a gas station a decent restaurant!) and by the time hubby gets home from working a long hard day and then driving over an hour to get home, he doesn't want to go back out again. So I cook! And I'm not talking a frozen entree and a couple of cans of veggies. I cook! Every meal isn't a long drawn out affair, 5 courses and such, but it's usually a meat, a starch and a veggie or a couple of veggies. Sometimes it's a country meal of just veggies.

But I rarely use pre-made foods. Oh, occasionally, when they are on sale, I'll buy something to have on hand for a crazy day, but more often I'll make up dishes and freeze them and have homemade pre-made foods!

Here is my 'bakers dozen' list of tips for saving time and money on your food shopping:

  1. Find the one store that fits your pocketbook and lifestyle and shop there regularly. Kroger is MY store. I find I get more for my money there than any where else. The major players in my immediate area are Kroger, Publix, Ingles, Walmart Super and Super Target. But consistently I find I get more for my money at Kroger, so that is where I shop.
  2. If that store has a 'preferred shopper' plan with a card, USE IT! And don't give them a fake name and address like a friend of mine did - give them your correct current name and address, and in return they will send you coupons for things you actually buy! Once again, Kroger's 'Plus Card' saves me money and about 3-4 times a year I get a nice little packet of coupons for things they know I use. For example, back in November I got a packet of coupons that included one for $9 off if I spent $90 in groceries (that's 10% folks!), along with one for $1.50 off if I purchased $5 in fresh produce, and one for $1.50 off if I purchased $5 in dairy products. Oh, and $1 off of the purchase of 2 64 oz or larger Tropicana OJ, $1 off 5 Hunts canned tomatoes, etc. These are things I use regularly, and that saved me $14 on just 5 coupons! (Side note: We won't even talk about their gasoline savings of 10cents off per gallon of gas, but it's another great savings!)
  3. Shop their sales - if you don't get a sales flyer in the mail or a newspaper, get online and find their weekly special ads. Most stores have a few products that they have on a rotating sales schedule. For example, Kroger has their boneless pork loins on regular price around $4 a pound, but every month or 6 weeks they have them on sale for $1.98 a lb and they will slice them up however you want them. I buy 2 or 3 of them at a time, have them cut into either chops or small roasts just right for the two of us, take them home and seal them in meal-sized packages with my food saver and have them on hand all the time. I usually end up spending less than $2 per meal (meat only) for the two of us that way.
  4. Check their website for coupons that can be loaded directly to your preferred shopper card. Kroger has 'Shortcuts' program, and usually the coupons are for products they have on sale already.
  5. Find 'alternatives' to a grocery store. I'm very fortunate to live in an area where poultry is big business. Right in downtown there is a Tyson chicken plant, and they have a 'company store' where you can buy a limited line of chicken products. The best - 20 pounds of boneless skinless breasts, flash frozen individually and packed in 4 bags of 5 pounds each, for market price. Last time I got 20 pounds for $28, which is $1.40 a pound. Show me a grocery store where you can find that kind of deal, please! Also, a local butcher shop has the BEST ground chuck, ground fresh daily on the premises, and usually for much less per pound than at the big box grocery stores. It's literally on my way home from the grocery store, so when I need ground beef I stop in, buy 10 pounds, take it home and divide it up in 1 and 1 1/2 pound sections (because that's what works for me), seal it up in food saver bags and freeze it. I end up spending less that $2 a meal for ground chuck on average.
  6. Clip coupons for things you actually use. All those other things, either trash them or share them with a friend. Buying something just because there's a coupon just isn't pocketbook friendly! This can include coupons in the paper and online. If you aren't a 'brand name' person, and buy whatever is on sale or you have a coupon for, that's fine, but don't go and buy something that you don't already use just because you have a coupon.
  7. Don't buy personal care products, household cleaners, laundry detergents, pet foods, etc. at a grocery store! You are almost always going to spend more for them than you would at a discount (Family $, Dollar General, Walmart, etc.) or wholesale club store (Sams, BJ's, Costco, etc.). and that leads me to . . .
  8. PLAN AHEAD!!! I shop at my local BJ's wholesale store and buy enough laundry detergent, fabric softener, bleach, dish detergent, paper towels, tissue paper, etc. to do for at least 3-4 months at one time. I've found this saves me time and money in the long run, and we have shelves in our garage to hold it all comfortably.
  9. Make a list!!! Keep up with the things as you use them, and if you are running low on something, add it to the list. When I go through the sales papers I have my list in hand. Anything that's on sale that I use anyway, I usually add it to the list, too. If you know there's something you want to make for dinner next week, make sure you have everything you need and if you don't , add it to the list. Take the list to the store with you and check things off as you put them in your cart.
  10. Have a budget amount in mind! My husband manages our money, and I gladly let him! But when it comes time for grocery shopping, we discuss our financial situation and agree on an amount that works for that point in time. I have a trusty clipboard that I take to the store with me, with my list, coupons and an ink pen attached. As I put things in the cart, EVERY ITEM's price is written down on that paper and every so often I sub-total it so I have an idea how much I'm spending. Doing that REALLY makes me think about emotional purchases and choosing between things I need and things I want. I normally do a big shopping trip about once a month, and 1-3 smaller trips throughout the month for things like milk, oj, etc. Usually those smaller trips are done by hubby on his way home from work or on a Saturday afternoon.
  11. Don't be afraid to use store brands! This is a biggie for me! As a loyal Kroger shopper, I've tried many of their store brands, and rarely find them inferior to major brands, and often find them superior! I'll share a bit more about that in a minute. But if you want to try a store brand, just buy one or two of the store brand and see if you like it before you stock up - I think you will be pleasantly surprised!
  12. Plan your meals ahead of time! Once every week or two, sit down, look at your family's schedule and plan meals accordingly. At least write down the main dish you will serve so you'll know ahead what you need to buy or take out of the freezer.
  13. Buy in bulk as much as is appropriate for you and your family. A single person in a one bedroom apartment doesn't NEED a 36 roll package of tp, but if you drink a lot of bottled water, and you have room to store a 36 pack, go for it! The per bottle price will be much lower. If you have a family and cook a lot, and buy in bulk, invest in a vacuum sealing machine. I don't know what I would do without my food saver! Yes, the bags are expensive, but I always re-use them at least 2-3 times, so over time it's really not as expensive as you think.

These are my tips - tried and true for me - to shopping wisely. And they work for me. Every 'primary shopper' and 'primary cook' (usually the same person!) needs to look at their cooking habits, their shopping habits and come up with their own shopping guidelines that work for them. I'm not an expert on America's shopping habits, but I am an expert on MY shopping habits, just as you are an expert on yours!

Before I go, I wanted to share one thing about using store brand products. I find I save a of money by using store brands, but I only buy them if they are equal to, or better than the brand names we like.

One example, saltine crackers. I grew up eating saltines and loved them, always using the same brand - Nabisco's Premium Saltines. As I got into adulthood I found I just didn't like them any more, mainly because the aforementioned brand tasted flat and were gummy, almost like they were under-done or something. Now I buy Kroger's red box 'Thin and Crispy' crackers, and we LOVE them! They taste great, and the best part? They are about 1/3 to 1/2 (depending on sales) the price of the name brand. You can usually get them for somewhere between 99 cents and $1.30 a box, compared to well over $2 for the name brand.

Another of the Kroger brand I use is their cheddar cheese. Once again, I PREFER it to the brand I insisted on using for years - Kraft! The cheese has a better texture and better flavor. I buy the bricks on sale and keep them in my fridge until I need them, and I rarely buy pre-shredded cheese! For one thing it's usually more expensive, AND it's coated with something to make it dry out so it won't stick together, which I don't care for personally. Besides, it only takes a minute to shred up an 8 ounce bar of cheese! Yesterday when I went shopping, Kroger's 8 ounce bars of cheese were 3 for $5, or $1.66 each. I bought three, and they will keep in the fridge for ages and ages, much longer than they will actually last! Sometimes I'll buy a bar of mozzerella or swiss to use in recipes. I use what I need, keeping the leftovers in the original packaging, but sealing up in a foodsaver bag. Once again, the leftovers will 'keep' much longer than they will actually 'last'!

How about peanut butter? For many years, Jif was the only brand I would buy. A few weeks ago I broke down and bought a small container of the Kroger brand, and do you know what? It was just as good as Jif, and much less expensive! Yesterday I bought an 18 ounce container of the Kroger brand for $1.41 on sale. Jif was on sale for $2.49 for the same size. That gave me another $ for buying something else that I needed, and I did!

And one last item - canned tomatoes! I use a lot of the 'petite diced' canned tomatoes. This time of year I make a lot of chili and soups, in summer I make salsas and pastas using the same tomatoes. Yesterday Hunts petite diced tomatoes were on sale for 92 cents per can. Kroger brand petite diced tomatoes (same size can) were on sale for 50 cents per can. I bought 6 cans (42c x 6 = $2.52 cents), and I was able to spend that $2.50 on something else I needed, and still stay in my budget.

Now, I don't JUST buy store brands. I find Kroger's brand of breads are inferior (both fresh bakery and pre-packaged) so I bought a loaf of my favorite (Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White) which was on sale for buy one get one free. I bought one loaf for half price. I also bought a brand name of OJ (Florida's Natural, my 2nd choice) because it was on sale and it is better than the Kroger brand. We prefer Tropicana Pure Premium, but their prices have skyrocketed and they are rarely on sale for a decent price. But you should get the idea by now that I actually think about my choices.

I came home with about $115 worth of groceries (based on store brand vs name brand plus coupons plus store sales) for less than $85. And I felt very, very good - like a smart shopper, a good wife, and all because I spent a little extra time planning for my shopping trip, actually gave thought to what I was buying and why, and tried to shop wisely.

I sure hope I haven't sounded preachy today, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. And I thought that maybe someone could benefit from my years of experience at something that I really do know something about. I'd love to hear from you about how you shop. After all, we are all in this economy together, and this blogging community brings us even closer together, and through our blogs, we should be able to help one another any way we can.

Blessings friends, and happy shopping! Becky


SoBella Creations said...

My husband is our grocery shopper. He sticks strictly to the list. We plan out what we want to eat for the week. And he buys all the ingredients. And also buys things we use everyweek. He grocery shops at Super Wal-mart. We buy laundry detergent, tp, papertowels, meat, produce, seafood at Costco. I love Costco. My Mom clips and sends me coupons every two weeks.

English Cottage in Georgia said...

What a wonderful and timely post.
I have been budgeting and using what I used in my early teaching (and financially challenged) days - making menus for two week periods. I write a weekly menu on a chalkboard in the kitchen.
This commits me to a plan and helps me with the shopping. A plans discourages my impulsive urges. Sadly, our small town has only one major grocery store.

Jeanneoli said...

I need to be better about sticking to the list and making sure I have everything so we don't eat out too much.

debbie said...


debbie said...

please forgive me for calling you Dana and I think in one post I called you sorry...been a long day

dana said...

YOU need to write a book!! This was a wonderful post! I already do many of the things you suggest, but one thing new to me was REUSING those food saver bags--BRILLIANT!!! I found a long time ago that it just didn't make sense for me to hit 3 or so stores just to pick up their sales for the very reasons you mentioned, plus when one store has, lets say grapes on sale, the others usually do, too. I have found, like you, it's best for me to find a store that works for me and shop there. Our store even has 5% off total grocery cost on Wed. for Seniors (seniors being anyone 50 or over!) That saves a bunch over the course of a month--then you add sale prices and coupons. AND they even have a gas station (in the parking lot) where you take your grocery receipts--they give you 7 cents a gallon off for spending $100.00 at their store!

You are so right about not buying cleaning supplies at the store, but sometimes, I do. If I only need Tide--it's cheaper to buy the bottle there (small one) than make a special trip to Walmart or $Store, but I hate it when that happens to me! It means I didn't plan well. :)

One thing that has been impacting our cost at the store is trying to buy products that are low in sodium---canned veggies and even meat! First, their hard to find ("no salt added") and when you do, they're MORE expensive! I do see that more and more folks are realizing that we shouldn't be eating as much sodium as we are used to (both healthy and unhealthy folks) and so some companies (Hunt and DelMonte) are putting more of the No Salt added products on the shelf--but ya gotta look for them! :) I have learned than I don't need canned beans--it's so simple to cook a batch. Then you have them for lots of recipes.

I love your blog and I am so glad to have found you through Wordless Wed!! Dana

Ladybug in TN said...

A wonderful, insightful post......

You should write a book!