2009-05-03

Saving at the Grocery Store

So being that I am on continued "financial lockdown", I thought I would share one place that my GF and I have been particularly good at keeping costs low: the grocery store. We were $120+ spenders at the grocery store every two weeks and we are now averaging constantly in the $70-$85 range. Doesn't seem like too much until I did a little analysis. Also, disclaimer for those in expensive cost of living cities, these are Midwest prices.

First, there are three adult mouths to feed at my house. My GF, her brother, and myself. When we were paying $120 per trip, you have to remember that I was a frequent out to eater (4-6 times a week), the GF was only 1-2 times a week, and her brother 3-4 times a week. So there is a whole set of costs that are now reduced from me eating out once a week max and everyone else continuing their same habits. That being said, with me eating at home more, more food should be consumed and thus more groceries needed, right? Well, yes more food is consumed but it is important to know what I am eating. Basically very little is getting spoiled and not eaten now that I am around. All that being said, the savings is coming from being a better picky shopper.

Enough explanation of my personal situation and let's move on to some tips:
  • Pay attention to what is on sale: This is the number one rule! Look at your store's flier (usually right there when you come in), look online, and plain just look at the tags on the aisle. Coupons that come in your mail obviously can be handy too. Adjust your eating habits to what is on sale for that week. Last week, strawberries were $.99 a pack so we ate a lot of strawberries. The trip before that whole pineapples were a $1.50 so two week of carved pineapple was served at our house. Hy-Vee in Kansas City has been having amazing deals every week in their fliers and then we get coupons from the mail from them that have been ridiculously good, I am going there today to use my 5lbs of potatoes for $.58 coupon and my $.59 loaf of Hy-Vee bread coupon. It's been great, we can get a lot of food for very little, and by giving in to what is on sale we get variety every trip to the store. It prevents that same 'ol' food feeling you can get from eating at home rather than going out. Some stores are transitioning from newspapers to the internet and even email fliers, so sign up.

  • Know what generic products really save you money: Key generic food that can save you lots of dough is cereal and bread for sure. At my store, Hy-Vee, makes great bread of all types and usually something is on sale for cheap every week. Sometimes it is plain old white bread for same price as a candy bar, and other times it can be some butter top wheat or cottage wheat for a buck. Generic cereal (I mean store brand not Malt-o-Meal) can be tricky at times, as some can end up tasting like saw dust, but for the most part generic cereal still tastes pretty good. You have to try some to really see what works, but for me generic apple cinnamon tasty-o's, cinnamon toast squares, and golden honey crisps are pretty delicious. Generic bread and cereal are particularly cheap compared to the full price brand names, often times half the price. Some other generic products may not really save you a lot of money ($.10-$.20 off) and really just name brand stuff on sale is just as cheap so just take note. Other good high-savings cheap generics are ketchup, mustard, chips, oatmeal, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and crackers.

  • Watch the meat prices (Vegans skip ahead): For the meat eaters out there, don't just buy what you like. I get at least a pound of deli meat every trip for sandwiches, and every time I want to buy roast beef, but if it isn't on sale then I won't get it. Look at the sale deli meat, it is again like half the price of the rest of the stuff. Most delis will let you try a slice if you are worried about the taste and buying only what's on sale forces the variety in your diet. As for other meats, I am a snob when it comes what I call the grilling meats, like hamburger meat, steaks, pork chops, chicken quarters, etc. I look for light meats, and yes they are on sale just as much as the fatty stuff, you just have to look. Again be open to what is on sale (notice a trend) and also look at the pre-wrapped stuff away from the butcher's counter, a lot of times there is the same stuff cut the day before for a lot cheaper (30-40%). Don't forget to check the bologna, brats, and hot dog aisles, usually one is on sale for cheap.

  • Pop is expensive: The real deals on pop are $1.20 and less on two liters, and $11 and less for 3 12-packs. You can figure out the math on your own to adjust for price. When these deals come around load up if pop is important to you, otherwise try to avoid it.

  • You don't have to buy all 4 pizzas to get the 4 for $10 deal: Pop, pizza, chips, cookies, condiments, ice cream, among others tend to have deals that are 2 to 5 for some good price. Most grocery stores will still give you that value price even if you only get one item of the deal, so only buy what you need.

  • Buy food not condiments: Okay sometimes you need condiments, but seven types of salad dressing is overkill. Limit your variety of condiments at home so you use things up and open up on your variety of food. For me I like all sorts of barbecue sauce, but if I haven't used one up at home, then I won't try a new one. Food fills you up, not sauce.

  • Conversely stir fry sauces are like gold: Stir fry is delicious and easy to make. Buy a wok, preferable stainless, cook your meat first (any meat), add your vegetables, mix, cook, and then lastly add the stir fry sauce until your stir fry is sufficiently flavored. It doesn't take much sauce at all for everything to taste great. Prepare some noodles or rice on the side (also cheap) and you will be amazed how close this tastes to your favorite Chinese food place. A lot of times I just cook the vegetables and not add any meat. Super healthy and super good. Yes the sauce can be a little pricey at times, but it takes very little to fully flavor what you eat.

  • Quantity and Quality is key: Make sure to look at the weight or amount of stuff that is in the box/bag when comparing prices. For instance chip amounts in bags vary wildly, so be aware of when a bag is cheap but gives you nothing and when a bag is cheap and can feed a football party. When I refer to quality, I am talking calories. For example Miracle Whip is typically cheaper in price and contains something like 30-40% less calories than mayo. Butter vs margarine vs margarine spread also varies wildly in calories, price, and amounts. (Note: don't mess around, if you are making cookies at home, use butter)

That's it, if you have some more good tips please share it in the comments as I am sure I will do a version 2.0 of this article as I figure out more.

5 comments:

Mike said...

Funny you should ask. One of my colleagues at work was telling yesterday that instead of buying chopped hamburger meat at $4.49/lb, he buys round steak on sale at $1.49/lb and then asks the butcher to trim it and grind it.

He tells me that ground round makes the best hamburgers he's eaten, and he also saves a pretty penny in the process.

Atlas@mymoneyshrugged said...

Great tips! I found that my bill is 10-30$ lower shopping at Super Target along with the quality is just as good as regular store.

I also have been making burritos that I can freeze and reheat, which I can make 6 of them off one pound of ground turkey, cheese, salsa, tomatoes.

Grant said...

Great post, MJ. I too am a Hy-Vee fan, and recently converted from Price Chopper.

I found that even with the Chopper-Shopper discount card, HyVee prices can still come in under PC.

I also like Mike's tip on having round steak ground to burger style beef, but you DO have to be careful with the choice of steak. I've had mixed luck with this method, but it's always enticing to try out when ground beef prices rise.

As for your pop tip, I tend to skip right past the pop aisle all together, with the exception of buying those little mini cans of coke that are perfect size for a Jack and Coke mixer. I've been on a "drink more water" kick lately, and trying to stay off the soda. I'm not a big fan of the sugar-free stuff either. I'm not convinced the sugar substitutes aren't bad for you.

Anyway, if you done anything with this post, it's reinvigorated my appetite...

MJ @ Dyslexic Research said...

@Grant

Yeah I am a recovering pop addict myself, that is why I know the good prices. I have been on a pretty good health kick and sworn off pop again. With all this free time, I am trying to get things back to being simple, eat right and exercise.

MJ @ Dyslexic Research said...

@Atlas

I love ground turkey, especially to make hamburgers out of. My GF's dad does something similar that you do but instead with enchiladas, they can keep for months.

Also, I know you are now a Super Target guy, check Slickdeals.net for periodic deals there. In the past my GF's brother has gotten mountains of food there almost nothing. Usually they come in bunches like everything mexican or everything pasta.