Do you ever feel like your grocery budget is the most difficult portion of your finances to get control of? I rarely make a specific grocery budget and when I am in the store I often become the queen of impulse purchases. Add an active toddler to the mix, and grocery shopping becomes even more complicated. Sometimes I feel like I am training for Supermarket Sweep. Remember that show?
Over time I have learned a few things about shopping smarter when it comes to groceries. I still have a lot to learn, and I have to admit, we have yet to set a specific grocery budget. Guess that should be my New Year's Resolution. But I have discovered ways to plan my shopping trips to make the most of sales, coupons, etc. So I figured I would share some tips to help you and your family save money. Most of these are nothing new, and many I have read in financial books, blogs, magazines, etc. It's a little lengthy, but hopefully you will find it beneficial. So here goes:
- Make a list and stick to it. This seems basic, but how many times do you run into the store after work or in the middle of other errands without specific items in mind? When you do this, impulse spending goes up drastically. I notice when I impulse buy, it is usually unhealthy items too. It also makes your trip to the store longer because you stroll the aisles trying to remember that last item, waiting for an epiphany while staring at rows of cereal (am I the only one who has done this?). I have found the Grocery IQ app on my iPhone extremely helpful for this. It allows me to make separate lists for each store that I frequent and as I shop I can easily delete items. I can also easily transfer items from one store to another if I find it's unavailable where I originally planned to buy it. I like this because it means I always have my list with me (assuming I have my phone, which I rarely forget). So if I make a last minute trip to the store, I don't have to remember my list. It's helpful when I think of something to add to a grocery list because I can add it no matter where I am and not have ten different pieces of paper with lists. I am sure there are many other apps which would be just as good, this is just one I found a few years ago and have loved.
- Shop the sales. Each week, your local stores should send out their "circular." This has all of their specials for the week. Here in Albuquerque, I receive most of them in the mail on Wednesday, and the sales run for a week. Some stores, like Target, release theirs on Sundays. Although some of these come in the mail, others do not. They may appear in your Sunday paper, and almost all of them are online. So check the websites for the stores in your area. I also like the Target app for iPhone and iPad because you can easily peruse their circulars on those devices. When items are at a very low price, especially things like meat and bread, buy large quantities and freeze them. Our freezer is small so we recently bought an inexpensive deep freezer to keep in our garage. I like having this for this very reason (and because I needed extra space to store all of my green chile)! We found ours at Lowe's for around $200 (I can't remember the exact price and it's not online). It's the Holiday 7 cu. ft. chest freezer. There is also one that is 5 cu. ft., which now I realize would probably have been plenty of room, but oh well!
- Be willing to shop at several stores. It's easy to find the one store that you like best either because it's the one closest to your house, the one that seems to have the best prices, or if you're like me, the one that has the best atmosphere (I know, it's ridiculous). For some people, like those of you working full time with a family, activities, etc., it may not be feasible to do this. But if you do have the time, shopping at different stores can save you money. After a few months in Albuquerque, my regular stores became Albertson's, Costco, Target, and Trader Joe's. This is based on location, prices, and personal preference. I love Trader Joe's. They have great prices, it's small and easy to get in and out of (this is a huge plus when you are shopping with a toddler), they have a great selection of healthy products, and it's close to my house (and the great selection of cheap wine is a major plus). However, if you have shopped at Trader Joe's, you know that you cannot find everything there. I love that it is small, but that means a more limited selection. And I feel like their produce is hit or miss. And they do not have sales or accept coupons, so their prices are always the same. Some of the prices are great, but some items you are better off purchasing elsewhere. Target has good prices on pantry items and some frozen foods, they also have weekly deals in their circular, and they accept coupons. So I go their for specific items. I buy almost all of our baby stuff like diapers and wipes there as well. However, their produce selection is small (at least at the one near my house) and usually much more expensive. Costco is good when you need items in larger quantities (obviously). They have a good selection of produce with decent prices which I really liked when we did our Reboot and I needed lots of fruits and veggies. But most of the time, I don't need such large quantities for just the three of us. Costco sends out monthly coupons, and if you check those, sometimes they have great deals. I like getting things like macaroni and cheese, snack items, and other non-perishables. Albertson's is the most expensive of these three if you don't shop the sales, but if you do, you can get great deals. This is where I buy most of my meat and a good amount of my produce. They also accept coupons and occasionally run a double coupon special. Figuring out the best places to shop in your area can take time. Shop around, check prices, and compare each store. You will begin to find which stores have the best prices for the items you buy most. Another store that I have recently started shopping at is Sprouts. I didn't go much until recently because it was just a little more out of the way. But as I looked at their circulars each week I noticed their sales on produce especially were excellent. So this is a new favorite. Also, on Wednesdays they honor sale prices from the new circular and the one from the previous week. So if you can plan it out right, you can get some great deals. The picture above is from my most recent trip to Sprouts. I bought all of those items for $35.91. Most of the fruits and veggies were on sale, as well as the tortilla chips. The sweet potato chips and crackers were not on sale, so I could have spent less if I wouldn't have made those impulse buys. But, you get the idea. Below is my receipt just to give you an idea of the breakdown.
- Use coupons. This is a no brainer for some, but for others it seems like a waste of time or something that only the crazy people on Extreme Couponing do. But you can do this without spending too much extra time and it can save you a lot. My main rule with coupons is do not use a coupon just because you have it! If you do not normally buy something, don't get it only because you have a coupon. That is not going to save you money. And look at the prices at the store, it may be cheaper, for instance, to buy the store brand of paper towels without a coupon than to buy the name brand with one. Your Sunday paper should have coupons, but if you are like me and do not get the Sunday paper, you will need to find them elsewhere. I have some friends that get it and do not use most of the coupons, so I ask them to save them for me each week which they are very sweet to do! There are also many websites with coupons. I go to Coupon Suzy and coupons.com each month to print out coupons. Each have coupons for many different brands. You will need to install a program on your computer in order to print them, but it is very simple, and the instructions are on those sites. Once you do it for one of them it should work for any coupon site. On these sites you just click the coupons you want and it will print them for you. It only takes me about five minutes. Many brands offer coupons on their websites too, so if there are certain items you buy frequently, go to their website and check it out. There are also store coupons from places like Target. Go to their website to print them out. In addition to those on their site, you can sign up on their website to have mobile coupons sent to you via text. When you check out, show your phone to the person working there, and they will scan the coupons directly from your phone. When using store coupons, most stores will allow you to use them along with manufacturer coupons. So, for instance, if I have a manufacturer coupon for $1 off a box of Pampers and a Target coupon for $1 off a box of Pampers, I can use both and receive $2 off. And while we are on the subject of diapers, this is what I usually do: Target often runs sales where you get a $5 Target gift card when you buy two boxes of diapers (I prefer Pampers, but they do this with Huggies too). So when they have these sales, I try to time it with my manufacturer's coupons and Target coupons if I have them. Sometimes I save around $10 when I add up the coupons and gift card I receive. Albertson's also will double coupons (up to $1) occasionally. This will be indicated on the front of their circular.
- Check the price per ounce. This is usually on the price tag on the shelf at the store in small print, of course. One brand or size may have a lower price tag, but when you look at the price per oz./unit, another brand might be a better deal.
- Bring your own bags! It's better for the environment and you save $.05 per bag most places. I know it isn't much, but if you think of how many bags you use per year, it adds up! I also like bringing my own bags because you can fit more in each bag, which means less bags to load and unload!