Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Grocery Shopping

A few weeks ago Ally at Sweet and Savory posted about how she grocery shops and I really enjoyed reading it and comparing to my own routine. I think it is a great idea to share how each of us shops since let's be honest - if we have extra money it's not like we're running to the mall for a new outfit - we're probably on the hunt for cool ingredients or kitchen gadgets!

How often:

This may surprise a lot of you, but I only shop two or three times a month. Usually every week and a half to every two weeks, depending on when the milk runs out! Seriously, that is always when I go shopping- when I know that Johnny only has enough milk left for one bowl of cereal in the morning!

We get the Sunday newspaper subscription solely for the coupons and I am always on the hunt through web sites, newsletters, e-mail subscriptions, and our store rewards for more. I keep them all alphabetized in a coupon folder.

I always have a list started and add to it through the weeks when I notice something is running low or we've run out. Before I leave for the store I do one final sweep, opening all of the cabinets, refrigerator, freezer, and bathroom closet to make sure I've accounted for everything. Once I have the list completed, I sit down at my desk and check the store flyer online.

First I look the flyer over to see if there is a great sale I can't miss, and then I do a search for specific items on my list, or items I have coupons for. I try to match coupons plus store sales as often as possible to double my savings. I put a big dot next to items with coupons to double check and make sure it is the cheapest option. There is no point in purchasing an item for the sole fact that you have a coupon for it.

I organize my coupons, pack my list, make sure my purse has a pen, and grab my reusable bags and head off. From start to finish with coupon clipping, list making, checking sales, and organizing by savings this takes me about an hour but that time is totally worth it to me for the amount of money I save! I routinely save $10-20 per trip in coupons alone and have even had a $45 coupon saving trip!

At the store:
The very first thing I do at the store is whip out my list. Spur of the moment purchases are always the unhealthy things we see and want, but don't need. Extra, unplanned purchases are also very expensive in the long run.

My mom taught my brother and me from a very young age that the outside aisles of the grocery store are the healthiest, cleanest eating. Vegetables, meats, dairy are all on the outside aisles, whereas neon colored and processed foods inhabit the center of the store. There is obviously a need to venture to the center of the store, but I do still stick to wholesome foods like beans, grains, pastas, and necessary ingredients. Johnny's whey allergy helps a lot with control here since whey is used frequently in processed foods. We can't buy them so they don't go on the list and I don't go down those aisles! There are times that a good six months will pass since the last time I went down the chip and cookie aisle.

Once at the register I make sure the bagger knows I have reusable bags. I give the check-out clerk my store card to swipe so the savings are shown in progress down the receipt instead of all at the end. Then, I stand and I watch the screen. You would be surprised at how often errors are made at the register. Double scans, produce confusions (broccoli heads rung up as the more expensive broccoli crowns), wrong prices, sales not counted, etc. When the last item is scanned then I hand my coupons and watch them scan them. I've had clerks forget to scan my coupons or not scan certain ones, so again I watch this process. Very last I make sure I am handed any printed coupons with my receipt since clerks forget these all the time, too!

Because these trips are so large and I have to read almost every label it takes me about an hour to an hour and a half. I make sure to pee before I leave for the store and I never go in hungry or thirsty!

To be honest, I do not stick to a steadfast budget. I would say roughly each trip costs between $120 - $140. Every two or three months I do a huge restocking trip that is closer to $200. These restocking trips include buying rarely needed items like paper towels, dog food, soda (kept in our downstairs fridge for entertaining), and meats during a big sale. (The above picture is from a restocking trip, there were also 3 cases of soda not shown. The total bill minus sales and coupons was about $190.)

There are a few items I only buy during a sale such as meats to freeze and certain items that are easily frozen, such as butter. Other items I never, ever purchase without a coupon coupled with a store sale since I can take my pretty time and wait for them to align. These include laundry detergent, all toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.), cereals, and shelf-stable pantry items such as Bisquick, canned items, or pasta. Also, if I have bought a name brand it is almost certain because I had a coupon and it ended up the cheapest. Otherwise I stand and work out cents per ounce or cost per serving and get whichever brand is cheapest.

Personally, I do not drive store to store. The grocery store is by far the closest to me. I would have to drive another ten minutes (each way) to get to the nearest Target or Wal*Mart. I find in the end if I couple coupons plus store sales there is not that much of a price difference between non-grocery items. It's not worth it to me to add another hour's worth of a trip and shopping to save a few cents in the end. However, if your stores are conveniently located (my parents' grocery store is directly across the street from their Wal*Mart) then by all means, shop around for the best price!

We pay for our groceries by using a credit card. Don't fret, though - any grocery trips on the bill are paid off that month. We do this for the convenience at the register and to rack up reward points.

Can we just take a moment here to appreciate reusable bags!? Not only are they better for the planet, but they are so much better than eight million little plastic bags that dig into your hands when you try to carry them in. I invested about $15 in maybe a dozen bags and have had them for about three years with only one casualty. I have three really tough ones that are good for heavy purchases and the thinner canvas type ones for the other items. All are machine washable which comes in handy every few weeks when they start to get grungy or have had a meat package leak on them.

I bring in all of the bags at once and put them on the kitchen floor or counter, wherever there is room. The immediate items like ice cream or milk go in first. Then I unpack each bag and put the items grouped together - ones that will go in the pantry, ones that will go in the refrigerator, and those that belong upstairs. This helps opening and closing the fridge 800 times or just throwing stuff in the pantry willy nilly. It also helps me to concentrate on putting it away because I can make sure old items are brought to the front and don't expire.

Any items that need immediate washing or processing get put on the counter by the sink. When I am done unpacking the groceries and put the bags away I get to work immediately on these. If you put them off they will never get done and that is just more work down the road. I find devoting 15-30 minutes right off the bat when I'm already in "grocery mode" saves me a ton of time in the end. If I want fruit or vegetables it's so much more convenient and easy to just grab and eat them - which makes me grab and eat them more often!

And there we have it! I hope you enjoyed reading, maybe got a few pointers, and will think about sharing your grocery routine! Perhaps you have a trick up your sleeve that I don't know about yet!


sophia said...

Wow, great tips. I still cannot believe you only go shopping 2-3 times a month! that's crazy...bc I go every. single. day. I have to walk a mile to get to the better store, so I can't bring a lot with me at once. Thus, every day! It's a good way to stretch my legs though!

Simply Life said...

wow, nice work! ha, I love how true it is that we share that extra money might be used on food not clothes! :)

Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my post about this, and I enjoyed reading yours!

I also set out everything when I get home and place them in "categories" pantry, fridge, freezer, etc...I'm a little ocd!

The Diva on a Diet said...

Wow, you've got this grocery shopping thing down, Christina! You put me to shame. I'm a terrible, haphazard shopper. I often shop every day, just picking up what I need for dinner that night. Its a habit I got into years ago, because I've only ever shopped/cooked for 2.

I walk to all of the stores I frequent, grocery, produce, butcher shop, because they're all in my 'hood. I try to use the reuseable bags as much as possible, though sometimes I forget.

Its not really practical for me to do a big monthly shop, both because I have to carry everything home myself and because we both have so many evening commitments that we can be out of the house two or three nights a row in any given week.

My daily shopping gig works for us, but I don't recommend it for all!

live pura vida said...

I really like this! I've done a couple of posts after grocery shopping, and it's a lot more interesting than you might think at the beginning. I like seeing how other people go through the process, too. My kitchen floor looks like a bomb went off after I get home from shopping because I spread everything out in piles, too, as I'm organizing it to be put away.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christina!! Thank you for this post!! I love your tips and am glad that there's someone who can trump my own grocery saving skills so I can learn a few things all at once! 1 hour is not THAT Much time considering how much you save...in fact, I actually enjoy scouring the grocery store flyers we get for products i might want to stock up on. hahahah

I also grocery shop at a low frequency. It really helps to save money and makes trips way more productive when you go! :)

Anonymous said...

Yep - you and I pretty much shop the same way - except that I am a once a week shopper :D

Hope you are enjoying this weather!!

Christina said...

Thanks for reading guys! :) I'm glad you liked it, I was worried it might bore everybody.

I don't envy you Sophia and Diva - walking w/ groceries is hard work! When we went to DC I was having a blast souvenior shopping in the grocery store. Then I realized at the counter when I was handed my bags that I don't have a car, I needed to WALK them back to the hotel room - about 4 blocks away. That was HARD work and I only had 4 or 5 bags!

Jenn@slim-shoppin said...

Wow, I thought I was organized, you put me to shame!

It is so much more rewarding to plan ahead like that so you know exactly what you are getting, and you know what you have.

If I lapse and go to the store without a list, I always buy too much, or I buy something I already have, and I hate when that happens!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you've already figured out I love grocery shopping!

I use a lot of the same tips and tricks - especially monitoring as they ring things in, but at my store it's almost worth not correcting right then - since they do double your money back if something's bad or rung in wrong!

Alisa said...

We used to get the Sunday paper just for the ads and coupons too! Our town is small though, so we get all the ads in the mail now, and my sister sends me coupons from her paper, since we buy different things :)

Wow, I literally go to the grocery store three or four days a week! BUT, I walk there. The major grocer is just half a mile up the road and the other smaller one (with good produce sales) is just 3/4 mile the other way. With one reusable bag slung over my shoulder, I am good to go for a little sunshine and fresh air. So each trip is only $5 to $15. Man, those reusable bags are SO much easier to carry too!

Spiceaholic said...

I loved reading your grocery shopping tips.

I'm one of those freaks that loves to do groceries, but I'm not as methodical as you, that's for sure!

Definitely plan on using some of your tips.