One of the funnest things I have done is help friends find ways to save money on their grocery bills, it is instant gratification and dare I say it, like a little pat on the back! You can actually measure your success through savings.
STEP 1: Adjust your attitude! Most of us plan our menu by what we want to make that week then hit the stores. If this is you, I suggest you make a list of what you want to make and be flexible to change it, you will see what I mean later. Or make your menus according to what is on sale. You have to be willing to accept the challenge of providing great meals with the least amount of money.... it is a challenge. I like challenges :) Also, be prepared to wait for some items until they go on sale, it's worth it. Stores rotate their major sale items about every 3 months or so, chances are that everyday priced item that you think you need will be on sale soon, you will be prepared with a coupon, and you can even store up!
STEP 2: Prepare your list of "wants" (top sirloin, chicken breasts, etc...) and weekly items (butter, eggs, etc...) And hit the Sunday paper, cut out only the coupons that you will actually use!! With a Sharpie mark the coupon flyer (Red Plum, Smart Source) with the date received and keep if you want to go back and look for something you think you missed, otherwise toss it. Also, flip through the paper looking for random coupons, they're in there! Take out all store flyers that you frequent and set aside.
* I have a Coupon Bin that all my supplies are in for easy access and to reduce clutter.
STEP 4: Read all store flyers that apply to you and compare the sale items, and couponed items, to any on your list. For me whatever store has the most items conveniently on sale for me, wins my business that week. Do not get excited about any fun sale items you don't need, they should not direct your shopping trip. The basic items a family needs are sometimes where stores make their money, they know we all need these things, so they try to lurer us with sale items we may not need.... giving them twice the amount of our money. Don't do it. Get to understand your store's language, does 10 for $10 really mean I have to buy 10 of them to get that price? Most of the time no, get to know their gimmicks and promotions.
STEP 5: With your store selected, make your shopping list if you haven't already done so, complete with this week's menu items, any basic needs, check the calendar for any events coming up this week, etc. Pull coupons that apply to items on your list and place in either front of coupon holder or separate envelope. See if you can't improvise some things on your list for sale items (here is the flexible part I eluded to). Instead of top sirloin ( reg. price $12.99), could you make london broil (sale price $4.99 per pound) because that is on sale, instead of chicken breasts (reg. price $5.99 per lb), could you purchase a whole fryer (on sale for $1.99 per lb) and spend a few minutes with a knife, etc... Also, some sale items might be great "stock up" items such as cereal, soap, mac and cheese, etc. When I find mac and cheese on sale for $.77 a box and have a coupon for $1.00 of 2 boxes, yah, I am all over that one! I just spent $.44 on 2 boxes, which in all honesty I don't regularly buy it so, I can be happy with the purchase. If you want to sign up, there are many online coupon providers too; redplum.com, bettycrocker.com, coupons.com are just a few, with some research, you can almost find anything has a coupon.
PRICE TRACKING: If you have an iPod, download a grocery app. I use Grocery IQ, I know there are others out there to assist in electronic lists. They also have electronic coupons and price tracking so you can track what stores have the best prices on items, however this can be done in a small notebook as well. Price tracking gives you a threshold of what you are willing to spend on an item, knowing it's price when on sale. You will become very savvy on prices and be less willing to shell out your cash for everyday prices. The number that you want to concentrate on is the Per Unit number, this is the one that determines if you are getting more or less for the same size/amount/volume of an item. Also, if you want, you can start tracking the sale items rotation (again, usually every 12 weeks) at your favorite store and include that information in your tracker.
CARD LOADING: This is an automatic coupon deducted from your total when you swipe your registered Store Card, you can find these through your store's online site, shortcuts.com, smartsource.com are a few. It's free money and no clipping.
STEP 6: With list in hand (electronic or paper) head to the store, don't forget your coupons, store flyer and bags. Sure we all want to go "green", but some stores provide as much as $.50 back to you per bag, now you are making money! Shop the perimeter of the store first, filling your cart with what usually turns out to be the needs (lettuce, milk, onions, etc.) this gives you less room for unexpected items. Shop from your list, along the way compare prices to see if there isn't an unadvertised lower price on something sitting right next to it. Just because something is on sale does not mean it is the best deal. For example if Bumblee Tuna is advertised on sale 2/ $6.00 and Starkist Tuna is priced at $ 2.50, plus I have a coupon for $.40 off, Starkist wins and I saved $1.40. Be checking and be flexible.
THE "STORE": I made a Store in my garage for stock-pile items, the items on sale that I wanted to take advantage of, usually chips, soda, laundry soap, things that will store well if not used immediately. Because my family is so darn picky about stuff they eat, I find that stock-piling does wonders for my budget. I love to host too so, I am always conscious of items that I may need, even weeks in advance - before they inflate the prices like at Thanksgiving or Football season. These items are made off-limits to my darling family so my efforts do not disappear too quickly :) On a side note, taking advantage of super sale items also allows me to have donation items available for those that need it, why keep your treasure all to yourself!
STEP 7: If an sale item is out, get a rain check. Keep watch at the register, often busy cashiers do not care about your personal challenge to spend less as much as you do, so just be ready to catch something that may have been missed. And the fun part - reading the receipt! Look at the savings, review your receipt each time seeing where you can make improvements and you will see the percentage of savings getting higher, while the Total Spent is going down! Personal success!
Make any notes in your tracker that will be helpful for next week's trip.
- I am not an expert, this is only the information that I have learned (sometimes the hard way) and I pass it on.
- Selecting more simple recipes and fresh produce in season has helped me stay on task, in this economy I have resigned that now is not my time to experiment with expensive and hard to obtain ingredients.
- I do sometimes shop at 3 or more stores in a month, getting what I want. We eat organically, as much as financially possible so, I really have to search for good deals and often stock pile meats on sale. I have to be very flexible and have learned to be prudent in the volume I purchase, lest it go to waste.
- The highest percentage on a store receipt I have saved to date if 83% and I am thinking about framing it.
- I am not a fan of "pay for membership" grocery sites, because I believe they loose their value quickly and become just an expense. There is a free site couponmom.com that seems productive, and I am sure there are others.
- I do not formally recommend any website or store.
- I do not do everything I listed, I have at one time, but I have tweaked my own personal system so I manage this area but am not enslaved to it. You will have to do the same which is why I wrote everything down.... now, you know what I know.
- I love food-making it, eating it! God, who created me knows this and He has not let me down in my desire to provide healthy, satisfying and fun meals for my family and He has made this fun. He has been the most awesome guide in my search of "how do I do that, with only this?" I give Him the Glory and look ahead to next week with anticipation for His next miracle.