I was recently asked about suggestions for how to save money on
groceries. As far as I can tell, there are three ways to reduce your
grocery bill if you are not willing to be a couponer (which I most
definitely am not):
1. Meal planning
2. Cherry picking the sales
3. Taking only cash with you to the store
when J and I were two footloose and fancy-free young marrieds in the
wilds of Columbus, Ohio, I used to do all three. (In fact, I used to
clip coupons at the time, as well, but found I almost never used them
because they were for food items that did not pass my sodium/nutrition
Every other Sunday, I would sit down with my cookbooks and
various and assorted clipped recipes and plan out our meals for the next
two weeks--including breakfasts and lunch snacks (since we ate
leftovers for lunch, I didn't feel the need to plan those). To help me
narrow down my meal planning/recipe choices, I'd start by going through
our larder to see what we already had so that I could choose recipes
that required a minimum of purchases. I would also use the sales
circulars for Aldi, Kroger, and Giant Eagle to determine what recipes I
could make with sale items.
Once I had my meals planned for the
week, I'd write down my list of what to buy at which store. I also kept a
running tally of the amount I was willing to spend on each item so that
if I found an item that was less expensive than my set price, I'd know
to jump on it. (Have you ever been at a store buying an item that you
only purchase semi-regularly and found yourself completely unsure
whether you're looking at a good price or not? Yeah, I hate it when that
happens). Next to each item on my lists, I would write down my set
price, so I'd know to buy it at a store other than the one I had planned
if the price was right.
After all of these shenanigans were
completed at home, I would grab my stash of canvas grocery bags, our
cooler and some ice packs, and my $100 in cash and head off for the
I'd always go to Aldi first, since both selection
and prices were lowest there. I'd pick up whatever I could there, stash
it in the car, and head off to Kroger.
Generally, the Kroger stop
was specifically for a handful of items from the circular, although I'd
double check on item prices just to be sure.
Finally, I'd end at
Giant Eagle. They had a long-standing promotion for saving on gasoline,
which is why I'd end up doing the bulk of my shopping there. I'd finish
up my purchases, load up the car, and on most trips, then buy gas at the
attached gas station using the savings I'd just earned.
all of my shopping at each individual store, I would carry a calculator
and a notebook to record how much I was spending so that I would (and
could) not go over the limit of the cash I carried.
At the time, I was able to keep our grocery budget at just under $200 for the month.
from the moment I sat down to create the meal plan to the minute I
pulled up at the house and hollered for J to come help me unload the
groceries, it would take me 7 (SEVEN!) hours to complete two weeks'
worth of grocery shopping.
Yeah, I don't so much do all that anymore.
I still do take the time to create meal plans for a week at a time, and
I will often carry cash to grocery shop (although I often end up having
to supplement that cash with our debit or credit card once I hear the
total), I definitely do not cherry pick the sales anymore. I also only
spend about an hour and a half to grocery shop each week. But we're
certainly spending much more than $200 per month these days--even
discounting the additional cost of a third mouth to feed.
was asked about ways to save money at the grocery store, I launched into
my explanation of how these three things can really help. (When we were
in Columbus, I managed to get our grocery budget down to less than $200
per month from over $400 per month by doing all of this).
I then also asked my listener to please not look at me as though I had sprouted a second head.
was a lot of work to save all that money. At the time, I saw it as a
fun game where I could get one over on the grocery stores. (I also saw
it as an excellent excuse for not getting any grading done on grocery
shopping weekends, the importance of which cannot be understated).
But with the time crunch I now feel as a mom to a toddler, I value convenience more than I value the grocery savings.
I thought I'd put it out to my readers. How do you save money at the
grocery store? Is it just something that will be time consuming no
matter what, or have you found some fast, frugal grocery hacks?