Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Finer Points of Grocery Shopping

Not too long ago, I shared some goals with you that I have set out to accomplish during 2013. I'm so excited to report that I have been able to stick to these goals pretty faithfully and have seen some amazing results!

Probably the area in which I've seen the most progress is our grocery budget. If you've kept up with my blog, you know that my goal was to switch over from grocery shopping every week to going every two weeks. Friends, let me just say, this has resulted in some wonderful financial changes! We have been able to save 30%-40% just by carefully planning and going to the store fewer times. I don't know why, but staying away from stores keeps you from spending money (shocker, right?)! You eventually just get into the habit of going without if it's not in your cupboards. 

In order to keep this pattern of savings up, I've really had to work on a system to carefully plan out my grocery shopping trips. 

1. Create a Staples List

I believe I've briefly mentioned this before--but having a staples list has drastically changed my grocery shopping strategy for the good! Honestly, it cuts down on the amount of time I spend making out a grocery list and helps me quickly identify what I am lacking in my cupboards.

To create a staples list, I simply searched for some good pantry lists online and then compiled my own making sure to include all of our "regular" items that I feel I MUST have available. I grouped the items into logical categories to make sure I didn't leave anything out. Once I was sure I had everything on it and I liked how it looked, I printed it off and currently have it hanging on my refrigerator.

When it is time to make out my grocery list, I take the list and read through it while checking my cupboards to make sure I have each item in stock. If I find something is missing or about to run out, I add it to my shopping list. Easy peasy!

Here is a copy of my personal list. Feel free to download it and use it, or let me know if you want me to personalize the title with your name. 

2. Look for the Best Deals

I have three different stores that I do my grocery shopping. The reason being that they are the stores that I have found the best deals at for the items I normally buy.

If you don't have an Aldi in your area, I am so sorry! This store is hands down my favorite. I buy pretty much everything I can here. The prices are wonderful and usually end up being cheaper than using coupons at another store. Aldi has gorgeous produce that is fresh and of good quality. The downside is that they don't carry every single item I usually need. However, I am usually able to buy about 90% of our groceries here. Aldi has been a huge help in maintaining a low grocery budget!

Wegmans typically chooses several items to set at a sale price which is locked in for a period of 6 months or so. This is great because it makes for dependable savings. I find that Wegmans is pretty expensive on most everything, but we use their locked in savings for purchasing our meat. While their prices are pretty much the same as Walmarts, the quality is no comparison whatsoever! Everything is fresh, and my favorite part is that they individually package chicken breasts making it super easy to store them in my freezer! I've also been taking advantage of their frozen veggies which are currently locked in at 99 cents a bag.

Let's face it...we have to en up at Walmart at some point! Basically Walmart ends up being our catch all for whatever we couldn't find at Aldi or Wegmans.

By doing some research and finding these stores that can offer me consistently low prices on items I use every week, I've been able to save week after week without going crazy with hopping around from store to store and spending hours pouring over ads. Simple dependablity works wonders for me! 

3. Count the Cost

Once I have a completed grocery shopping list, I figure out how much I'm going to spend. Normally, I can remember approximately how much each item costs at the store that I buy it. If I can't remember, I use the store's website or flyer to joggle my memory. If for some reason I can only find a ball park figure, I shoot high and round up the cost. It's way more fun to be pleasantly surprised when you spend LESS than anticipated rather than finding out you are going OVER what you had planned.

I add up everything up so I know exactly how much money to plan on. I have a budgeted amount that I like to stay around or under. If I find I have gone over that amount after adding everything up, I start pruning my grocery list to get rid of things I think I can do without. There are always little extras I find I can discard until next time. When I'm all done, my grocery list usually looks something like this: 

4. Stick to It

This is the most important part of the plan! Unless I absolutely stay focused on getting what is on my list, I tend to wander around and see things that I talk myself into "needing." This is so dangerous and leads to the biggest budget crasher ever! Don't let yourself fall into that trap. I like to hold my list and cross each item off as I place it in my cart. If I stick to my list and buy only what I've planned for, shopping really goes much faster as well! Saving time and money all in one shebang!

Obviously there are times when you will have to improvise. For example, if you forget to add something crucial to your list.

Planning like this has the potential of leading you down a miserly, worry wart path. Choose not to take that direction either. It is almost as bad as being a money waster. Seriously, no one likes someone who is cheap and never does anything special! I've learned that if I've done my part in planning out my meals and grocery shopping list, we usually have some buffer room to allow for "special" things like ice cream, or breakfast at McDonalds, or a coffee date at Dunkin' Donuts. Don't let your zeal for saving rob you of the joy of doing small spontaneous things with people you love. Trust me, it's a lesson I had to learn :).