Thursday, June 7, 2007

Saving Time and Money: Navigating The Grocery Store

Grocery shopping can be a huge drain on your time and on your wallet, especially if you have a large family or if you work outside of the home. Here are some tips that have worked for me, intended to get you out of the store as fast as possible, while spending as little as possible.

1) Prepare ahead of time. This means having a basic idea of what you would like/need to cook in the following days, checking kitchen staples, and making a list. I plan my meals for the week in advance, so I make a simple menu. Then I list items I need to buy, plus things for lunches and other items like baby food or anything we may be running low on, such as milk or bread. Then I check my coupons and pull out any I may be able to use, and peruse the grocery store circulars for the best prices. If you don't get the paper, most chains have the circular available online. I also organize my list by department; all produce items together, all dairy items together, etc, so I spend less time crisscrossing the store for something I forgot. It sounds like a lot of work, but it actually takes very little time and it saves precious moments in the store.

2)Once you get to the store, stick to the list. The best way to do this is to not even go down aisles that don't stock things on your list. Be aware of advertising and impulse purchases. This article on MSN Money lists fifteen ways that stores use advertising to get you to spend more money.

3) If you are shopping with your kids, come prepared with diversions. The store I most frequently shop at has the carts with the ride-in truck attached. They are harder to steer, but my toddler loves them and he has so much fun that shopping for food is much easier. Older kids can hold your list and help cross items off as you get them, and if you have a math-minded child, they can help compare prices. A friend gives her toddler a sheet of stickers from the dollar store and lets her decorate items as she puts them in the cart. When I buy produce, involving my son in deciding what kind of fruits or vegetables to buy not only keeps him occupied, but also makes him more likely to eat it.

4) Avoid shopping on the busiest days or at the busiest time of day. Those days and times will vary depending on where you live, but I have found Saturday mornings and right around 5PM during the week to be the times to avoid. Store hours will also vary, but my favorite store is open until midnight seven days a week. I have found that the store is practically empty if I go when the kids are in bed for the night. I leave them home with my husband and get to shop by myself in relative silence.

5) Keep an eye on prices. Just because an item is on sale doesn't make it the best option. Another brand may be cheaper. Many stores list a price per unit, such as ounces or pounds, so that is one way to compare if the larger package really is the better deal.

6) Consider store brands. While there are some items I am absolutely brand loyal to, such as Sunmaid Raisins or Perdue chicken, I'll try just about anything once. A lot of store brands are comparable to the more expensive brand name product and can save you a lot of money. For example, I will buy Safeway brand bread crumbs and frozen vegetables, but not canned soup or tuna fish.

7) Stock up on staples. At certain times of the year, you can buy certain pantry staples for way below normal price. Baking goods are usually on sale around the holidays and soups are cheaper (and more coupons available) in the winter months. If you have the storage space, buying non-perishable staples for next to nothing will save you a lot of money. Be sure, however, that the item is something that you will use. It does you no good to buy canned beans for better than half price if your family doesn't care for beans. A good option for those very cheap items you just can't pass up is to donate the food to your local food pantry.

8) Consider coupons. Many stores will double or triple coupons. Don't forget that if you buy an item on a 'buy one get one free' sale, you can use two coupons. Check out or google 'coupon websites' for more options. You can also visit the website for your favorite brands, many offer printable coupons for the products. If you have babies, sign up for savings programs through Gerber, Enfamil, Similac, or whatever brands you use. Gerber offers coupons for jar foods and Enfamil Family Beginnings provides a few cans of free formula, a free diaper bag, and 75 dollars in coupons for formula. There are websites to trade coupons, websites offering couponing advice, and websites telling you which coupons to use at which grocery store. If you are interested, the possibilities are endless. My local paper offers coupons on the weekends, and a cost of 99 cents per week, the coupons more than pay for the paper. Be sure not to fall prey to buying an item just because you have a coupon. It doesn't save money to buy two of something so you can use the coupon if you only needed one of the item.

9) On warm days, shop for nonperishables first, then food that needs to be refrigerated/frozen to minimize spoiling or thawing.

10) When checking out, group like products together on the belt. Be sure to keep meat separate from your produce. When you get home, putting away your purchases will be easier. I make sure all my perishables are bagged together. Then if my kids are fussy when we get home, all I have to do is grab those bags and put them away. I can give my attention to my kids and leave the rest for later.

11) Buy "family size" packages of items you use a lot of. Ground beef, for example, is often several dollars cheaper per pound if the package is more than three pounds. Separate the meat when you get home into labeled freezer bags and store in the freezer.

12) Beware of extras. Grocery store prices on things like cosmetics, OTC medications, diapers and paper goods are often two to three times higher than at another retailer. I have often tossed a pair of pantyhose or a roll of paper towels into my cart if it was the only non-cooking thing I needed, but if you have a long list of things like this, it may be worth it to go to the other store. It depends heavily on what retailers you have available and how close they are.

Have a tip not listed here? Leave a comment!


Jen said...

Kayla at Army of 5 blogged the other day about a bulk discount store BJ's and their coupon program, which is handy.

Recently in the Reno Gazette Journal there was an article about store brands and how they are manufactured, and who they are manufactured by. It was extremely interesting, and there is probably a link in their archive.

MommyK said...

I left one of my own tips out! When I grocery shop, I also take the time as I put the food away to clean out my fridge. Toss anything suspect, wipe up any spills rearrange things if needed, so everything fits. That way, I rarely forget I have something and less gets wasted.