Ways to Save, Part 2: Groceries

People have always told me I was a thrifty shopper, and for many years the way I shopped for groceries was working for our family of four when the kids were little.

In the past couple of years our food budget has crept ever upward, and I was at a loss as to how to bring it back down. It seemed a combination of two more adult-sized mouths (teens eat quite a bit more than preschoolers…) and the economy conspired to make my previous strategies no longer the best route to grocery savings. It seemed a direct area I had control over, however, so I made it my goal this year to explore ways to save on groceries.

This is how I shopped for years, see if it sounds familiar…

1. I’d shop once a month at the discount bag-your-own store (WinCo here) and at the Canned Food Outlet. It would take four or more hours from start to finish, going up and down every aisle, buying basically the same things each time that we were out of, bagging, bringing it home and putting it all away. I HATED everything about it, and was usually very crabby when I came home (my family would attest to this!). Usually about half the food budget was used.

2. I’d look at some of the sale flyers the rest of the month, hitting the ones I thought were good if I was in town, and attempting to stock up on our basics (like 3 bags of chocolate chips, or two boxes of dishwasher detergent). Invariably, I would do this too much, and it would put us up to or over the budget. But I was buying things on sale, wasn’t I?

3. We’d run to the nearby store for milk and yogurt, etc. on a weekly or more basis, usually buying a few more items that we saw when we were in the store. These were usually not on sale, and while not big ticket items, would add up over the course of the month.

Honestly, I was doing all the things I thought were good: going to the cheapest stores, trying to find the best deals ( I had been doing this long enough that I had a “price book” in my head of the lowest prices on things our family needed), attempting to stock up when prices were low, cooking from scratch, not buying junk/convenience food. Plus, I had a garden that I put food up from – there were a lot of things (salsa, tomato sauce, corn, beans, etc.) that I didn’t even need to buy! Yet our monthly bill went up and up.

I’ll even list some numbers: Our average monthly food (this includes all household items such as paper products, hygiene, vitamins, etc.) bill during 2008 was $500. This was $100 more than I was aiming for. A couple of months I’d get down to $430, but there were two months last year that I came in well over $600-I can tell y0u I was freaking out! I know there are people who spend much more than this, but it was more than we’ve ever spent.

So, my goal for 2009 became to get our budget back down to $400/month EVERY month. With that in mind, I started searching the Internet and found Money Saving Mom, and Frugal Living as well as others (once you start looking, you realize there are TONS out there!). These sites helped me discover a new way to use coupons and lead me to all the help the Internet can be to alerting me to good deals locally and through the web.

Here’s a list of what I’ve learned and will go into more detail about in future posts:

-I wasn’t using coupons to the best effect. To use coupons effectively, you need more than one coupon so you can buy the most at the least price, and ALWAYS combine with a sale to get the rock-bottom price. (This is where the Internet is invaluable- there are sites that have deals and scenarios listed for you.)

-My idea of a “stockpile” and super-savers stockpiles I found on the web weren’t the same. My two or three things wouldn’t get me through to the next sale like 10 or 20 items would (this is just generic- some things you’d never need that many of, like toothpaste. But maybe you’d use that many of soup, or something, if it was .25 each).

-I had never shopped at a drugstore for anything other than drugs or a makeup item. I had never heard of playing the drugstore “game.” This has become a fun challenge. What I couldn’t get out of my head was a woman on a blog who said she used the phrase “Back when we used to pay for toothpaste and deodorant,” for the time before she played the drugstore game. What? Is this possible?

I’ll touch on each of these and more I’m learning in the coming weeks – and I’m going to post my first pictures of my weekly shopping trip on Friday, so check back to see how I did! I’m also going to be recording our monthly grocery bill, to see how much I’m able to reach my goal. Now I’m thinking I might be able to go even lower…






  1. Anonymous says

    Thanks! I look forward to future posts. Will you also touch on the organic v.s. non-organic debate? There seems to be a lot of inconsistent information out about the value of spending upon organic food. For example…bananas and oranges have a thick skin. Is it worth paying more for organic? It’s hard to make the budget stretch (especially when you’re in a cold climate and can’t have a garden) and buy organic. Thanks!

  2. Jami says

    Yes, I plan to address the issue – it’s one I think about because I garden organically and I’d like to support organic growers when I can, it’s just not always possible.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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