Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thrifty Tip Thursday: Grocery Shopping

Welcome back to Thrifty Tip Thursday! This week I thought I'd share with you how our family maximizes our grocery budget of $350/month for a family of four in the Pacific Northwest.

Behind our monthly mortgage, our grocery allowance consumes a large portion of our budget. When we first moved to Washington over three years ago I was shocked over food prices and struggled to keep the grocery bill to $500 to $550 a month. (This was just not going to work on our minimal income.)

Over the years, I've worked really hard to minimize our dependence on such a large working food budget and have managed to keep it under $350/month. (A miracle some months...I might add.) So you might in the world are you doing this?

One of the biggest things I do is never buy out of impulse. (Yes...discipline is the key.) We do whatever it takes to stick to our budget and dig just a bit deeper into our freezer and creativeness when we reach our budget on the 20th of the month and realize we have ten more days until the first of the month. We never go hungry, but I'll be the first to admit even I wonder what "magical" meal I'm going to come up with on the 29th of the month. (Smile.)

I always go with a list. (A very well-thought out list...I might add.) This list always corresponds with the sale items as well as few minimal needs/staples such as sugar or syrup. Each week the grocery stores send their flyers or weekly ads via mail on Tuesday which will begin on Wednesday for a week's time. (These ads can also be found on the Internet if your region does not send them out via "snail" mail.) On Tuesday afternoons, I (along with Fiona who circles the things she wants...still hasn't quite gotten the concept) spend time circling the items that are a major deal and make my weekly food plan around the sales, not my taste buds.

For example, if bananas are on a screaming deal at $.49/lb instead of the normal $.79-$.88/lb our family will be eating bananas for fruit this week. (whether they like it or not!...just kidding.) If chicken is on sale for $1.49/lb instead of the normal $1.77-$2/lb, I stock up by buying ten or more pounds and freezing by weight (usually 12 oz a meal) when I get home.

It is tricky balance to know your prices, storage availability, and how your family eats but it is well worth it in your grocery receipt. Most stores weekly use "loss leaders" (products selling below actually cost) to attract customers into their stores hoping that you'll be snagged by the $3/12 pack of diet coke that you'll purchase your bread for $.80 more. So stick to your list!! For example, last week I purchased 8 boxes (the limit) of the store brand of mac and cheese for the kids at $.25/box. We weren't out of mac and cheese, but at that price I stocked up. (But, I didn't buy anything not on the list...a huge feat with kids in the grocery store.)

Coupons can also double your action in saving money at the grocery stores. However, I find this isn't always the case for our family as we tend not to buy pre-packaged food(except for mac and cheese) and are not brand loyal. Our grocery items usually consist of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and fish or chicken and don't correspond with any coupons. This is way it is crucial for my family to follow the weekly ads for the most savings.

Following the store ads does take time and effort. Sometimes I find myself going to two store, but I tend to have more time than money. However, if you aren't into doing all the "thought process" behind the savings there is a website that does just that: I know several friends that have used the site with great success which helped them clip coupons, told them the best deals, and when to stock up on an item. I did use the paid service for the introductory month, but found due to limited storage space here at the Little Blue Bungalow it wasn't something that really helped me and went back to my own savings process.

But probably one of the best investments in food savings is my garden where I blanche and freeze much of our food for the year. My garden as a whole is another Thrifty Tip in itself so I'll save my breathe (OK...words for another day.)

And for more great Thrifty Tips make sure to check out these blogs: Traci's homemade astringent, Genny's homemade cards, and Anisa's local freebies (Denver area).

From inside the little blue bungalow,
Katie Jean

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Erica Graf said...

Hi Katie Jean,

I, too, did the grocery game for a while, but it didn't work out for us. I found it takes real concentration while shopping (read--don't bring your kids with you!) and I'm rarely able to shop sans children.

One item I kept from that experience, though, is that Albertson's will take up to 20 (per shopping trip) "other store" coupons. This can help me save trips as I can gather coupons for Fred Meyer and Safeway and use them at Albertson's. If the other store coupon is for one of their store brands, Albertson's will let you get their own store brand (provided they have one) in its place.

This week, the Safeway 12-pack pop coupon is better than the deal Albertson's is offering....but Albertson's has some better deals on some other things I want. So, I'll clip my Safeway coupon, take it to Albertson's, get my items and have my pop and drink it too :) !

Thanks for all your great ideas! I love reading your blog--I wish I lived your life! Can I move in with you?


Anonymous said...

I've got some grocery shopping tips too that I was planning on sharing in an upcoming blog. I looked into the grocery game, but I couldn't bring myself to pay for a service to save money. :) I've got a system too, and it's been working for us.

I really like the Thrifty Thursday tips... thanks for opening it up!

Sam said...

What a great idea! We've been strapped for the past year with two housing payments and a much-reduced income since we moved back to Iowa. I find to be very helpful with saving money, so check it out if you haven't already. I hope it's helpful!

I love reading your blog and keeping up with what you guys are up to. Stay well.

Much love,