I guess it’s been said, and brought up to my attention, that I’m rather great at budgeting our grocery bill! I just am a penny pincher, and I do all that I need to, to save when I can. So to help a few friends out that have asked me how I do things.
First, I start with all of the local ads. I go through each ad, page by page. I list each store, and under each store I write down ONLY items we eat, need, or want to eat. Then I make a master list combining all of the stores. It looks something like this: (See below)
- Banana’s .39 cents /lb
- Oscar Myer 8 count Hot Dogs 2 for $1
- Milk $1.12 ea
- Libby’s 14.25-16 oz canned veggies 4 for $1
- Banana’s .49 cents/lb
- Chicken buy 1 get 2 free
- Boneless pork chops buy 1 get 2 free
Then I do my master List of all of the stores. If there are duplicate items (normally there are, since I write down ALL items, regardless if it’s under another store yet or not) I ONLY write down the store that has it for the cheapest value. It’s NOT always necessarily the cheapest price, but it’s the cheapest value. For example this last grocery run, Hidden Valley Ranch 28oz was 2 for $5 at one store, and the 72 oz was $6 at another store. You have to break it down to price per unit. In this case, price per oz. 28 x 2= 56 because it’s 2 units of 28oz for $5. Now divide. 5/56= .09 cents per oz. Now Divide 6/72= .08 cents per oz. Sure it’s only .01 cent difference, however, that cent makes a difference in tax later. The BETTER value is the 72oz for $6.
So my master list would look something like this:
- Banana’s .39cents/lb @ Fry’s
- Oscar Myer 8 Ct Hot Dogs 2 for $1 @ Fry’s C= .45cents off when you buy 2.
- Milk $1.12 @ Bashas
- Libby’s 14.25-16oz canned veggies 4 for $1 @ Bashas C=.50 cents off when you buy 5 or more.
- Chicken buy 1 get 2 @ Albertsons
- Sugar (I add items I’m out of and need, that I couldn’t find a price match for at the end.)
Second, I clip ONLY coupons from the newspapers, and my online coupon sites that we USE, and NEED. I don’t waste my time clipping coupons I may or may never use, or items we may or may never need. I have a coupon pile of un-clipped coupons, in case I need to go back and retrieve it, however, once those are expired, I toss them. I don’t like clutter, or things taking up space. You don’t NEED to be an extreme couponer, to use coupons effectively. My philosophy is, only clip what you will use. You may be wondering what the C= at the end of my master list above mean. Those are my coupons I have clipped. I match my coupons up to the items on my list. I will cross check my coupons with the ad match list, and again figure out what the BEST value is. Sometimes using the couponed item is the best value, and sometimes, it’s not. The trick with this list, is to remember that this list is ONLY a guide, it’s not an absolute. I’ll explain that more in a few steps from now.
Third, I meal plan. I make a month calendar, and I meal plan for the month. I make sure to include Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and snacks. EVEN if on the OFF chance we eat out instead of cooking at home, I STILL plan for every meal and snack. That way I KNOW I will have enough to last, and perhaps hold us over if I don’t get to grocery shop on time. My Meal Plan looks something like this (See Below):
B: Cherrios 1/2 banana
Snack: Gold fish
Lunch: PBJ Sandwich, carrots w/ ranch
Snack: Celery w/pb
Dinner: Pork Chops, baked potatoes, dinner rolls, green beans
I do this for every day of the month. Again I use this as a GUIDE! It’s not set in stone, and I don’t rigidly go by this schedule. It’s just a guide to let me know HOW much food I need to buy. If I want to have BBQ ribs one night, vs Pork chops, we are flexible enough to change it. If I’m not feeling well, then I have hot dogs we can do from another nights meal. Or if Our son wants Carrots instead of green beans, then we change it out.
Fourth, I price match and use coupons at Walmart. The Walmart by our house is a rural Walmart, and our food is not taxed, plus we get fresh food daily there, and prices are lower, than city Walmarts. Perks of living out in the boonies. =) This is where I use the master grocery list above as a guide. Let’s go back to the Hidden Valley Ranch from my last grocery list. We determined that the 72oz bottle for $6 was the best value. However, when I get to the store, I don’t just automatically grab that. I look to see if any other ranch that I know we will eat, has a better deal. For example: Great Foods Ranch (Walmarts Brand) was 36oz at $2.50 ea. Just do the math again. We know that the 72oz @ $6 is .08 cents/oz. So all we need to do is 2.50/36= .07 cents/oz. Yes, it’s LESS than the 72 oz’s, however it’s cheaper. You can get 2 36 oz bottles that is equal to 72 oz’s for a $1 cheaper, because it comes out to $5 instead of $6. You are getting the SAME amount of ozs as you intended to get, at a cheaper price. Don’t be afraid to try off brands. My husband was a Hidden Valley Ranch snob for a LONG time. Then the price of ranch kept increasing, and I said enough is enough. I’m getting what’s cheaper, and you’ll eat it or you wont. I try to buy the Hidden Valley Ranch when I can, if it’s the better deal, just for him, however, he knows, that if it’s not the better deal, I’m not getting it. You’ll be surprised how many of the off brands, and brands your not fully aware of, have no taste difference, or very slightly different. It IS okay to “splurge” every now and again, and get the “good” stuff. Just not as a habit. Now if Hidden Valley Ranch had a coupon that I clipped, I would have already figured it out with the coupon. I do clip coupons for all ranches, just IN case, the coupon and in store deal combined is better.
Fifth, I buy my bulk items from Costco/Sams club. Mostly hygiene, and baby items like diapers, etc. Sams club gives you MORE diapers in their box, for the same price that it is at Costco. However, you get MORE wipes in a box for a cheaper price per unit at Costco, same with Gold fish. (That’s why we have both memberships. I sat down one day and figured out how many diapers, and other items we buy in bulk, and then divided it all buy the cost of the membership. The cost of the membership is minute in the amount that we save. To buy half the amount of diapers from Walmart we pay 3 dollars less than we do at Sams club.) We typically only buy snack items in bulk, and hygiene such as toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, baby butt cream, diapers, wipes, sometimes canned food and boxed food items, if there were no good deals in ads, or coupons. Soda in bulk is almost always cheaper at Sams and or Costco, not always the case, that’s why knowing that a 36 pack of pepsi is $5.30 at Costco/Sams is their set price, unless they have a coupon that month comes into play. Safeway will do 4 12pks for $10 every couple of months. Break the unit price down like before and you can see where it’s cheaper.
Sixth, I have a separate budget for groceries that is not part of our grocery budget for items that go on super sales. Items that have a LONG shelf life. For example, last grocery shopping trip, canned tuna was .15 cents ea, vs the normal .49 cents ea. If you eat Tuna, you know it’s hardly EVER on sale, that’s a GOOD time to stock up. Same with boxed and other canned foods. Such as Hamburger Helper, it was on sale at 10 for $5, most times, at best it’s 10 for $10. You get the idea.
Seventh, I know when to shop at what stores. For example, Albertsons does their buy 1 get two free on almost all meats the 3rd week of the month. That’s when they have the highest volume and best meat to do this with. You HAVE to go to Albertson’s for this, Walmart does not price match BOGO’s especially on meat, UNLESS the ad happens to have a “unit” price savings, etc. Which it never or on a very rare occasion does. It’s BETTER to price match at Walmart the second week of the month. This is the week when ads are the best, because this is the week they have their largest volume of food come in. Ads typically drop on Wednesday here, so I never go that day, they get low, and don’t restock until that night, so I go on Thursday’s or Friday’s. Saturday’s there are too many people there doing what I’m doing. I’ve found that Thursday’s are OPTIMAL days to go and price match during that second week. I bulk buy the fourth week of the month, because that’s the week when Costco drops their coupon ad, and you can get TP, Diapers, Wipes, etc cheaper. Hint, if Costco does their $5 off on Huggies diapers then it’s still a better deal to get diapers at Sams club. HOWEVER if they drop their $6 off on Huggies diapers that week, then it’s a better deal per unit at Costco. Cleaning supplies are on the best deals the first week of the month.
I have four separate grocery/shopping budgets. 1 for groceries, 1 for hygiene, 1 for cleaning/bulk/other needs and 1 for perishable short shelf life items, like milk, produce, etc. I didn’t learn all of this over night. It took me about 6 months of going to various stores every week, listing things, watching trends, really looking at the ads and coupons, talking to the grocery stores, etc. Yes, TALK to your grocery managers! They are willing to tell you how that particular store operates on sales, coupons, price match, etc. Talk to the produce and meat guys, they are MORE than willing to tell you when things go on sale, and what the trends are. Sometimes if you ASK the meat guy, he will give you meat at a RIDICULOUS lowered price if he has to take it off the shelf that day or the next. Meat is STILL good if you freeze it! Just remember your basic food handling, get it chilled and frozen promptly and defrost it properly, to get it out of the food danger zone, and COOK it at the proper temps. You can google search all of that if you don’t know how.
I do this for EVERYTHING! I price match and use coupons for everything. I have a rule, IF it’s NOT on sale, with a coupon or/ or price ad match, then we DON’T get it, unless we ABSOLUTELY need it. That’s how I Birthday and Christmas shop as well. I start Christmas shopping and birthday shopping almost the day after. A penny here or there may not seem like a lot right now, or at that time, but it does add up quickly. You are taxed on every single penny, so that ads up. I’ve been able to cut our $600/month food bill down to about $250/month. That’s just using coupons I need and will use, with price matching. I’m not an extreme couponer, and I have no desire to be, or stock up an entire closet or garage, to me that’s wasteful. But I do back stock enough in my fridge and cupboards, JUST in case there is an emergency. We are NOT on any public assistance, we don’t qualify, so I’ve had to radically take a look at our budgets, and make some significant changes. None of what I do, takes more than two days. One day I spend going through the ads (usually a Wednesday), clipping my coupons, getting organized, etc. and the second day (about two hours) at the grocery stores. I DO look at the ads every week to stay current with trends or if on the off chance, an item we didn’t stock up on, is now at a super sale price, I can stock up on. However, that’s rare, and the system I use, is really been doing great.
I hope this helps some of you! Happy shopping and saving!