Sunday, July 11, 2010

Save Money on Grocery Shopping, Part 2 of 5

Let's get Wal-Mart out of the way. (Oh, that we could!)

There are two types of people: those who loathe Wal-Mart and those who tolerate it. Oh, and those who love it. Three types.

If you are the type of person who wouldn't darken the doorstop of your local Wally World, that's OK with me. More power to ya. But I have 2 grocery stores within 12 miles of my house: a Food Lion and a Wal-Mart. Kroger -my local favorite - is 26 miles away. So, my choices are limited.

Wal-Mart saves me money. And in my quest to remain a stay-at-home-mom, I will take advantage of many means to save money…also, hey, at this stage in my life, it provides many of our household needs from clothing to water softener salt to OTC medication….all at prices that I can afford.

As much as I can make it convenient with two little beasties with me 24/7, I make it a point to shop locally with small businesses. In fact, we purchase all of our meat - except, occasionally, chicken - at a small independent grocery - Bartley's Meat Market. I buy all of my spices and extracts at A&B Bakery, a local bakery. Both of these markets have fair prices, are conveniently on my access routes to and from town and stock the items I need at great prices. But recently I ran out of baking soda and, being in the middle of a recipe and rather than run all the way into town (7 miles), I purchased the baking soda at one of these two stores. It was $.79 for a 4 oz. box. Jeepers! I generally pay $.50 for a 1 lb box at WalMart. I was glad to patronize this store, but I'd go broke on BS if I didn't shop where the deals were (pun intended).

Another reason to shop Wal-Mart is that they match published competitor's sale prices. The full policy is on their website here. But the basics are if you find a lower advertised price on the same product - that is, same size, same brand - they will price match. They will NOT price match BOGOs (buy one, get one free) or % off when multiples of the same item are purchased (i.e., buy 10 of select items, get 30% off each item). It is important to note that they will match store brands. For example, if Kroger's brand of cheese is on sale, say, 16 oz. for $2.50, you can get the Great Value brand cheese for 16 oz. @ $2.50. This could potentially save a trip to another store if there are only a couple of these type deals in the sale circular ad and will add up to big savings.

Now that Wal-Mart is out of the way, here are some sensible things you can do on your very next shopping trip to begin saving money - no coupons needed:

1. Make a grocery budget and stick to it. For our family of four, ours is....oh, who am I fooling?....we're aiming for $125 a week. That is high - really high for us. We can do a $100/week budget, but I have to concentrate. Like I said, blogging about this is motivation.  Your budget might be higher based on who you're buying for, your income, what you are purchasing at the time (buying diapers? that takes up a huge part of a grocery budget.).  But if you want to save money, you definitely can, no matter what your budget looks like.  Oh, I should note that our "grocery budget" includes pretty much anything you can purchase from the outer two-thirds of Wal-Mart - food, OTC pharmacy and toiletry items.  Not t-shirts, underwear or automotive.  Or fabric.  (Sorry, K, you're not in our budget :)

2. Try the store brand. I know! You are still going to buy the Kraft Mayo or the Hellman's because you LOVE it and you can tell the difference at a bit if someone tries to slide a knock-off brand into your ham & cheese sandwich.
You have choices, though:  keep buying the brand name with a coupon and on sale, or condition yourself to tolerate the lower cost product. Your third choice would be to eliminate this product from your pantry shelf all together. You just have to find out what works for you. For things like Mayo or even ketchup, we go for specific brands that we enjoy and crave. For things like saltine crackers, mustard, milk, bread the store brand works for us.  Try it - you might like it and just don't think you would.

Another exception: When the sale price of a national brand or a national brand + a coupon is lower than the store brand price. Always - EVERY TIME - compare prices and don't just assume that the store brand is lower. I see this a lot at Wal-Mart and with loss-leader items at other stores.  They also change their prices on common items and move them up and down week to week or so.

3. Shop with a list. This will help curb impulse buys, but if you must shop with kids, you can say, "but it's not on the list!" and save yourself a hassle right there. Hek, forget the kids.  Them you can tell "NO."  It's ME and my husband who are the weakest links on this one! ! The exception to shopping "off list" is when you see an item on clearance at an unbeatable price or for which you have a coupon.

I keep my running list stuck to the side of the fridge. Whenever I run out of an item - or better yet, am low on something in my stock, I write it on the list. I have a general idea how long it takes us to run out of something like, say, pork-n-beans, and when I am down to two on the shelf, I write, "porknbeans SU" which lets me know that if I see a good price, I should buy several to replenish. If not, then I buy one or two cans to tide me over until a sale.

4. Try to do without some things - or make them yourself. We don't purchase floor cleaner. If you've been to my house, you know what I mean! (Just kidding.) (Kinda.). Instead, we use a mix of ammonia and water to clean the floors and countertops. We use vinegar and water in a spray bottle to clean windows and mirrors, and we make our own laundry detergent. I make our own biscuits, pizza crust, breadsticks, breadcrumbs, dill pickles and jelly. The savings are well worth it, and - I don't run out of them because I can make them fairly quickly.
When we had our kitchen floor installed I asked the installers what to use to clean it.  They said, "ammonia and water."  No kidding!  So right there I saved, what, $3 off Mr. Clean or whatever the new floor cleaner brand is?

5. Know your prices. You'll have to write them down. Amy Daczyn, author of the Tightwad Gazette and (WHOA!  I just linked that to and that is a GREAT price!  Get it!  Its the 3-part book that I have, well-read!) others suggest a price book. I just have a random list that I keep with my coupons.

But the point is you have to know if a sale is really a sale, and if it is really a sale, is it the BEST price you can get on an item. For example: CVS regularly has Dawn dish soap as a loss-leader for $.99 for a 19 oz. bottle. I know that I just have to wait a week or two for it to go on sale and go buy a few of them to keep myself in stock. Just last week, Target advertised the same soap for $2.25 as being on sale. Really? What about Lays potato chips - Target had them 2 for $5 in that same sale ad, and a week later, Food Lion had them 2 for $6. Which would you buy? (NEITHER! Buy the store brand and you won't know the difference.). These might not be the best examples, but you get the idea.

6. Read the signs. And the fine print. Most grocery stores put a unit price on their shelf price labels. It pays to read this! For example, I buy Kroger brand powdered milk*. It costs less than the Wal-Mart or Food Lion brands, often by several dollars. HOWEVER, I don't buy the large box. You'd think the large box is a better value, right? Nope! In this case, the smaller package with the individual serving packets is the better buy - by less than a dollar, but I buy about 10-12 boxes of powdered milk a year. Not much of a savings on its own, but when you add it all in, it really ads up. Take a look at cheese, too. 8oz. + 8oz. = 16 oz. But often the 8oz. cheeses will be priced less (per ounce) than the larger blocks or bags. Just buy more of them to get to the amount you need to stock your shelves.

*My kids love powdered milk. I know, they're crazy.  But I really don't mind it, myself, either. Generally I use it in recipes like hot chocolate and to stretch regular milk. Really, you can't tell the difference if you mix it with 2% milk, unless you're a milk connoisseur. 

7. Read more signs and know what they mean. Just because it says, "$10 for $10," you don't have to buy 10. Or another favorite, "3/$5". Do you need 3 or just one? Do you have two coupons for the product? Then use two coupons and leave the other one on the shelf. Check the store's policy, too. Food Lion often has "BOGO" (buy one get one free) items. You don't have to pay full price for the one - you can just get one of the item and get it for half price. Say, you want the Edy's Frozen yogurt, but you only have 1 coupon. It is buy one get one free, so right away you've saved 50%. Add in your $1.00 off coupon and your savings rate is high. Kroger often has 10 for $10 mix or match-type sales. Love 'em. I buy things I wouldn't normally buy -because these are brand name items that have published coupons - like cookie dough - but I use a coupon - usually $.40 off - and since Kroger doubles their coupons up to $.50, it makes the coupon value shoot up and the price shoot down.

8.  Use Coupons to your best advantage.  That's next week's post.  I'm just trying to psych you up to it.  You're dreading using coupons and I'm going to help you see that its e-a-s-y.....

9. Plan your menu.  We have about 10 meals we rotate through pretty regularly, and when I think about it I throw in something different. I usually have the ingredients to these meals on hand. We have picky eaters in this house, so your situation might require more creativity. But to be a great shopper, plan your meals around what is on sale. Don't serve rump roasts when they're at their highest prices. If I'm doing it right, I loosely plan a menu of about 10 meals when I'm scanning the sale ads. But, I also stockpile, making menu planning more flexible…..

10. Stockpile. This is where you are going to realize the most savings. Since it's so important, I'm going to give it its own blog entry…..

Questions so far? Leave them in the comments section below and I'll answer right away.

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