The Grocery Game

From extreme couponing to urban foraging, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. Just Google it sometime, if you haven’t already. I did, and I found that a good many of the suggested options required a whole lot of effort to see even the most minimal results. Sure there are folks out there who can spend hours sourcing coupons and get an entire cart of groceries for $2. I, on the other hand, could spend hours sourcing coupons just to arrive at the store without them. Or worse, walk out with 3 bags of free mustard.

We play a different kind of grocery game. Simple shopping.

[I chose cutting costs on grocery shopping for our January focus because I feel like we’ve gotten away from the core concepts of simple shopping and are in great need of a refresher.]

The basics of simple shopping are:

Make a Stock List: The single best way to improve grocery spending is to make a list of your favorite meals and snacks. From this selection of menu options, make a second list of all the ingredients and/or products required to create those meals. Only purchase the items on this list and always keep at least one of each of your most used stock item in your pantry reserves.

Shop Less Often: Keeping extras of your favorite items in the pantry means fewer trips to the store and fewer trips means fewer spending opportunities. Create a schedule for grocery shopping – one that fits the way you like to eat.

When we lived in Florida, we had a system worked out for shopping – weekly trips to the Amish Market for fresh produce and eggs, monthly trips to Walmart for dry goods, and as-needed trips to the grocery chains for meats and when certain items from our list were on sale. Moving threw a monkey wrench into that system. There’s no year-round farmer’s market here and Walmart is the place to socialize, not shop. We do have an ALDI though and Angie’s mom gave us a Sam’s Club membership for Christmas. Our new plan going forward is to shop ALDI for the majority of our groceries and Sam’s Club quarterly for bulk items. The local farmer’s market, which is within walking distance of our apartment, opens in April (yay!).

Farm Market Finds
Oh how I miss the Amish Market! Our weekly produce runs used to look like this.

Cut Down on Convenience Foods: In most cases, frozen convenience meals are significantly more expensive than making the same meal from scratch. And let’s face it, scratch meals taste better and are better for you.

Pizza is a great example. Angie makes a mean pizza using a large burrito-sized tortilla for the crust. We top it with fresh veggies, fresh mozzarella, ham and bacon, for a cost of about $1.75 per pizza. Even the best frozen pizzas can cost 3 times that much on sale.

Forego (Most) Couponing: Coupons often promote spending rather than helping to reduce grocery costs. A lot of coupons are for processed foods and many are offered to encourage you to try new items. Sometimes that new product is great but more often that item will just sit in the cabinet or fridge until it goes bad. By only buying from a list, it’s easier to resist the temptation to use coupons for the latest and greatest new food fad (and it also helps cut down on food waste).

I do spend a few minutes every Sunday morning checking the coupons in the newspaper for items we use regularly. I may find 1 or 2 per week. The same thing applies to downloading coupons to our Kroger card. Occasionally there’s one we can use (usually it’s just the Friday Freebie).

Total - $8.57. Nature's Harvest bread was the Friday Freebie last week and our favorite sausage was on sale (2/$6 and each had $1 off coupon attached).
Total – $8.57. Nature’s Harvest bread was the Kroger Friday Freebie last week and our favorite sausage was on sale (2/$6 and each had a $1 off coupon attached). Plus we got $1 off the milk.

Shop Sales: Grocery stores have sales for a reason – to get you into the store. They know that the majority of folks who come in for those few bargain items will also do the remainder of their shopping there, making up their loss. The real discounts go to those who only buy the bargain items…the bargain items that are on their stock list.

To supplement our regular grocery trips (and to pick up items at a better cost), Angie scans the weekly ads from Food Lion and Kroger. If an item that we have on our list is on sale at a greater savings than ALDI or Sam’s, then we’ll get it. If the item can be stored, we’ll get several of them.

Make it Fun: Grocery shopping really can be fun and there are a lot of different strategies to make it so. Set a target goal – like $50 – and see if you can get all the items on your list for that amount. Wager with your significant other (or child) to see who can find the best overall deal. Loser makes dinner.

Recently we’ve found a way to make money while grocery shopping. Trendsource is a reputable mystery shopping company that pays you to gather data while you shop. In our area, shops pay $12-$17 and take about 30 minutes to complete.

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