Friday, October 29, 2010

The Way I Shop

My grocery strategy
Part 1

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with efficiency.
For years, I'd look at the grocery flyers, make a list and head out. I was always worried that I'd forgotten to write something down, so I'd go up and down every isle of the grocery store hoping to jog my memory. Too often I'd get home and realise that some important ingredient for a meal was missing; causing a return trip.
So not efficient. Or cost effective. Do you know how much money I was wasting by buying whatever it was we were out of each week plus the ingredients for whatever I planned to serve? Lots!
But so many people shop this way. Little by little, I started to change my ways and now keep my grocery budget between $4-500 each month. Sounds a little high, doesn't it? This is supposed to be a post about saving time and money on groceries, after all.

Well that approx. $100/week for a family of 6 includes all household products (tissues, paper towels, cleaning products, laundry soap) and things like diapers as well. Jason was a big meat eater and so about 90% of our meals included either chicken, pork or beef. We also don't have a vegetable garden, so there's no savings there. And to top it all off, we live in Canada, on an island. Things aren't cheap.
To give you a perspective, my mother would spend around $200-$250 each week on groceries when I was growing up. This was for a family of 7.
So after such a long introduction, how do I keep my grocery budget so low?
It's not coupons (though I use those occasionally).
It's not by growing our own produce.
It's not by cutting back on meats and convenience items.
It's simply by watching the sales.
I started to notice a cycle effect on the sales that our local grocery stores would put out each week. Usually somewhere between every 4-8 weeks the same item would come on sale again and again.
So by watching my family's eating habits I was able to determine approximately how much of something we would consume every month or two (depending on the item) and I was able to buy each thing only when it came on sale.
A recent example will illustrate the possible savings with this strategy: A certain higher end brand of boxed chicken nuggets, fingers and burgers can be bought at a local grocery store for a regular price of around $11/box. By watching the sales, I was able to purchase these for $5/box. That's a savings of $6 for every box! That week I was able to stock up on such items buying 5 boxes at $25 (lasting probably 4-5 months, as we don't eat a lot of these) instead of the regular prices of $55.
Boxed chicken burgers may not be something that I would have bought 5 boxes of over those 4-5 months, but by using this strategy we get to vary our meals so no one gets bored. They make a great quick meal when the kids have swimming lessons and Im not tempted to run through a drive through for nuggets when I can feed my whole family for $2.50 (half a box), plus sides. That's not even the price of one happy meal. This week frozen pizzas are on sale and if I stock up on those, then we have two convenience meals that we can choose from.
This strategy works for so many items:
Each season sees different meats on sale. During the summer, grilling steaks and pork chops were especially cheap. Those might be on sale now as well, but maybe a dollar per pound more than they were just a couple months ago, even though the store still calls it a sale. Grilling steaks don't work so well for us to stock up on because it's already almost at the freezing mark here. But pork chops work really well. I bought 7 or 8 packs of boneless pork chops at a buy one get one free sale at the end of summer. Those will last a good couple of months in the deep freeze and Im not forced to buy them at the (nearly double) regular price.
Fall is a good time to stock up on whole chickens and sometimes about a month before the holidays you can buy a cheaper, frozen turkey. It's all about knowing the cycles and watching the prices.
All of our produce is determined by what's on sale. We may eat broccoli this week, spinach next and fresh corn after that. When something is in season, it tends to be a better deal than when it has to be shipped from further away. I make sure my kids get lots of fruits in their diet (not so much on the veggies simply because they don't eat them) and to do so on a budget can be tricky. By buying only what's on sale, I can get two or three different fruits for the week for only a little more than if I were buying a single not-on-sale favorite.
For the last couple of weeks, seedless grapes have been on sale for around $1.37/lb. Normally they would be around $3. If I buy them every week, the kids will get sick of them, but if I buy them only when they're on sale, they can go through a bag in an hour. I bought probably about 6lbs. Im also less likely to restrict their consumption when I know it didn't cost a lot.
I know that since I bought grapes two weeks ago on sale and they were also on sale last week, it will be another week or two before they're on sale again. By then, my kids will want them again. So not only does this strategy cut my grocery bill in half, it also allows for a greater variety of flavours.
Cheese is probably the most predictable of the dairy products. It goes on sale usually every month. The regular price for a 500g block of cheddar cheese is about $8. When it goes on sale it can be either $3.99 or $4.99. When I see it for $3.99, I stock up big time. It was this price two or three weeks ago and I bought five or six blocks. There's still two in the fridge and cheese should be on sale again next week, or possibly the week after. I never have to buy it at the outrageous price of $8, even though my family loves cheese.
Milk never goes on sale here. It's just one of those things. I think the grocery store price is $3.77 for 2L of milk (insane, I know!) but at a local convenience store, I can get it for $6.45/4L. Not a huge savings, so I don't go out of my way, but enough that I stop there whenever I think of it.
This strategy can be useful for almost every product. I can't think of anything at the moment (other than milk) that doesn't go on sale, at least occasionally. By keeping track of each item's cycle (even a general idea) you can cut your grocery bill in half, without the fuss of coupons or the time of growing your own produce.


megan @ whatmegansmaking said...

These are great tips. I really need to get better at this and pay more attention.

Em and Lib said...

Wonderful strategy!

'Becca said...

This is a really clear, detailed explanation of some things that I do, too! I keep stocked up on a lot of basics (mostly things that last a long time, like pasta) and then buy things on sale and in season and plan meals using what we have. My mom set a great example, so it comes pretty naturally to me, but I find a lot of people don't know these skills. Thanks for spreading the word!

Marni's Organized Mess said...

What a wonderful explanation and great batch of tips!

Glad I came across your blog!