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Thursday, September 29, 2011
10 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store
After writing my Tips for Saving Money post, I thought it would be good to do a post specifically for saving money at the grocery store. I don't know about you, but besides rent, food is probably the biggest chunk of our budget. It's also where, in my opinion, you'll be able to save the most.
I should probably preface this by saying that we don't eat organic (I'd love to, but for right now those things really are out of our price range, even on sale), we don't have any food allergies that we have to work around or anything else that would limit what we can eat. If your family does have things you need to work around, then just implement the things you can!
Also, these are tips you can use without coupons. I'll talk about coupons in a later post.
1. Don't be afraid to try the generic/store brand products. It's true, some of them aren't as tasty. But really I can't tell a difference in most things. There are a few things I don't do generic - peanut butter (has to be Skippy) and my Aveeno lotion are probably the biggest things. You'll save so much money if you aren't particular about the brand. Don't worry that you'll wind up paying more in the end because you won't like it. Some stores have a 100% guarantee on their store brand products. I know that Wal-Mart and Smith's (a Kroger affiliate, so I think all Kroger brands would have it too) both have this policy in place. I don't know for sure, but I would think that Target would offer the same kind of guarantee also. I've used their guarantee on different occasions at both Wal-Mart and Smith's. Wal-Mart will simply give you a refund but Kroger will actually give you the same product from the National Brand. If a store offers this kind of guarantee, most of the items should say it specifically on the label. If you still can't find it, ask someone at the customer service desk if they offer anything like that.
2. Know the Sales Cycles of your local stores. It doesn't matter if you're using coupons or not - things will go on sale and that's when you should stock up on those things that you know you'll use. Watch the ads for about 6-12 weeks and you'll see that the same sales start to repeat themselves. When an item is at it's lowest price, that's when you need to purchase enough to get you through 6-12 weeks (or however long, based on your sales cycles, until that item will go on sale again). Knowing that Quaker products are always on sale in January and that baking supplies start going on sale in October will save you lots of money! Here are a couple articles that explain the sales cycles a little better than I can.
Grocery Sale Cycles from Living Richly on a Budget
Real Extreme Couponing: Learning Sales Cycles (with a video!) from Southern Savers
3. Compare the price per ounce/unit, not just the price. This is a big one! Some stores make it easier on you and actually put the price per ounce on the shelf tag. but for stores that don't, simply pull out your calculator (or phone, in my case) and do the math. Taking a couple extra seconds to input some numbers is really worth it, to me anyway. The do an ounce/unit comparison, you just need to know the price and the number of ounces or units. Simple! Just divide the price by the ounce/units. For instance, a jumbo pack of diapers includes 23 diapers and costs $8.99. So $8.99/23 = $0.39/diaper. Once you have the per ounce/unit price, you can determine which is the better buy.
4. Take Advantage of reward programs offered by your stores. Nowadays, almost every store has some kind of rewards system. Smith's has their fuel rewards (earning points towards money off of gas purchases), Walgreen has Register Rewards, CVS has Extra Care Bucks, and so forth. Often times, signing up for that silly little card will mean big savings for you in the end. Occasionally, I'll end up waiting until the end of my purchase to have them scan my rewards card. Before they scan my card, my purchase will be around $80. After it scans and lowers the prices, it's down to around $40-$50. And that's even before coupons. Those silly little cards really do help lower your price. Often times, you don't get the sale price without the card. Be careful at places like Walgreens where they print the reward for you to use at a later time. Those little papers are easy to lose and will usually expire within 2 weeks time. Be sure to go back and use them!
5. Don't be mislead by the 10 for $10 sales. There are sales which require you to buy a certain amount of items (often times they're advertised as "Buy 10, get $5.00 off" or something like that). The 10 for $10 sales typically do not require you to actually buy 10 to get them each for $1. That's their way of trying to make you buy more. And, in my experience, the $1 price tag usually isn't that great of a price anyway! $1 for a can of spaghetti sauce? No thanks. I bought it during the case lot sales for $0.88/each! If you question whether or not you actually have to buy 10, speak with customer service at your store.
6. Know the price points at which to buy! I know this kind of ties in with the sales cycles, but it's important to know what are good prices for your area. In my area, I don't buy ground beef unless it's $2.49 or less per pound (it used to be $1.99 or less but the price has been steadily going up and not coming back down). It will probably take about 6-12 weeks (as you see the repeat of the sales cycles) to know what your optimum price points are, but you'll gradually be able to figure it out. If it helps, create a spreadsheet of items that your family uses the most. Take a look at your past receipts and start inputting that data on the spreadsheet. It will help you visually see what the lowest price point is.
7. Always, always, always shop from your list. What's that? You don't have a list? Well you need to start making one. This goes along with the meal planning that I wrote about previously. Plan your meals and make a shopping list based on those meals. Keep your list with you at the store - don't just stuff it in your purse and forget about it. Make sure you have everything before you leave the store. Having to make an extra trip to the store later in the week to pick up some forgotten enchilada sauce could mean picking up extra items and spending more money. Be honest. How often do you really go into the store and only get the one thing you need? Also, stick to your list. Sure, those ding dongs look tempting, but you're trying to stick to a budget!
8. Don't go shopping when you're hungry! You'll be more tempted by those ding dongs if your stomach is grumbling - which means you'll be more likely to throw some unnecessary items in your cart. Try to go after a meal, or at least after a good, healthy snack.
9. When it comes to fresh produce, know which items are in season. Apples and squashes are usually on sale in the fall and grapes are usually on sale during the late summer months. Find out which fruits and veggies are "in season" with this handy list from MoreMatters.org. Of course, what's in season for you will vary based on where you live.
10. Shop ALONE! I know this one can be hard to do. I actually do all my shopping with my mom and Andyroo in tow. I do the couponing and deal finding for both of us and she's so thrilled that she's saving so much that she's willing to help keep an eye on Andyroo. It works for us. You might consider trading babysitting with another mom so you can each go shopping in peace. I also prefer shopping without my husband. He's always finding things that he wants and I always feel bad saying no. He pretty much knows that I don't buy anything unless it's on sale or I have a coupon, but he still asks. I'm not heartless and I'll usually compromise for something like chips or a snack food. But there have been times when he's added as much as $10 worth of stuff to the cart. It doesn't sound like much, but if he tagged along every week, I could be looking at an additional $520/year! Yikes!
Do you have any tips for saving money at the grocery store? I'd love to hear what works for you!!