Now we're getting down to the good stuff, hmmmm? Before you go to the store, you've got to do a few things at home. If you haven't already done your inventory, you need to go ahead and take care of that. (Remember to note it on your inventory when you use items. I keep them posted in my pantry cupboard, top of my deep freeze, basement fridge and main refrigerator.) Inventory sheets in hand, let's head off somewhere quiet and work on that grocery list.
Gather up your store fliers. Around here they show up on Friday, maybe. Sometimes they mosey into my driveway on Saturday evening, along with Friday's paper. It might be Sunday or Friday or Monday in your neighborhood. Here I do my lists on Friday. Or I do them on Saturday. I might just not get around to it until Sunday. Whatever day works for you, peruse your store fliers and make a note of the big ticket items that you will need (like meats) that are on sale.
You know what your family needs on a regular basis. You know just how much they use of those items, too. Go ahead and list those regular purchase items. You'll have your milk, cereal, bread, peanut butter (it's a staple in my house), baby food, formula, etc.
Using your inventory and your menu, flesh out a menu for the coming week(s). How long your menu is depends on your shopping cycle. If you shop every two weeks, do a two-week menu. Remember, your menu does not have to be written in stone. You simply need enough meals to cover your entire grocery cycle.
Until you get accustomed to purchasing enough in one shopping cycle to sustain your family through the entire shopping cycle without additional trips to the store, continue writing out the breakfast & lunch menus. This will probably just include a whole lot of ditto marks -- or if you do it on the computer like me -- a lot of copying and pasting.
Why are we avoiding additional trips to the store? Because they are expensive. Because if you're a gatherer like me, the $5 you plan to spend on milk will quickly become $30 for milk and spaghetti sauce and marked down pasta and a candy bar because you deserve it just because you had to go to the store again and a bag of cookies for the kids lunches because you feel guilty over the candy bar you will not be sharing with the kids, etc. Every trip to the store is just more money out of your pocket. (My tip for inbetween shopping trips that absolutely cannot be avoided: go with exactly enough cash to cover your intended purchase and leave the debit cards, credit cards, and check books at home.)
So we've got menus, inventory, fliers and the beginnings of our shopping list. Where are we shopping?
Everywhere I've lived has a no-frills type of store --- it's a bag-your-own, discount-price type of store. If you haven't been shopping at your own local no-frills type grocery stores, now is the time to try them out. I am very pleased with my overall savings and the quality of the food at our own local no-frills type store. My store happens to be called No Frills, but in your neighborhood it might be Aldi (gosh I miss Aldi) or Save-a-Lot, or Food Basics. Whatever it is, you need to be shopping there. Bring your own bags!
Now then, complete your shopping list based on the big ticket items that are available on sale to fill in the holes in your menu.
You are not going to go to multiple stores for your groceries. Chasing sales just costs you more in gas, in added unplanned purchases, and in peace of mind. If your big ticket items are on sale at one store and you're doing the bulk of your shopping at a different, discount store --- go to the discount store first. Why? Because they may have carry-over sale items from previous sales that are no longer advertised. They may have unadvertised items that are a better deal than those at the full-service grocers. You may be able to eliminate that other stop.
Here's how to get in that store, get what you need, and get out without spending more money than necessary.
- You must go with list in hand.
- Go alone, or at least without the kids (I know this isn't always possible)
- Do not be hungry when you go
- Stick to the list
- Get out of the store in 30 minutes or less (I can do it- shopping for five for two weeks!)
- Choose store brands over name brands
- Choose local, in-season produce whenever it's available
The big thing is getting out of the store as fast as you can. Sounds daunting. While you're getting used to this method of shopping you might not make it under 30 minutes. Just stick to your list. That's the point. I manage this and I'm not running through the aisles, knocking down the elderly. I just stick to my list, maintain my focus, and leave that store the minute I've checked off my final item and gotten through the checkout. I do not stop and ponder sales. I do not stop and wonder whether I've forgotten to put something on my list. I just stick to the list and get the heck out of there.
As for store brands vs. name brands --- come on, you're not really believing all that hype are you? Do you really think that the name brand is coming from a different factory than the store brand? tsk tsk tsk. All you have to do is try. If you're that averse to using store brand items, try them. Try one brand and if it doesn't meet your standards, try the next store brand. There are usually a few non-name brand choices. Try them all.
What about the kids? Can't leave them behind? Can't leave them with a grandparent or sitter for your 45 minute absence? That's okay, I understand. Your kids must not be hungry if they're going with you. Give them a snack before you head out the door. If the kids have a tendency to demand, beg, plead, etc., offer them up something that is free as a reward for good behaviour in the store. Take them to the park after you've put the groceries away. Play their favourite game with them. Whatever -- let it be free, and let it be a reward for their good behaviour in the store. If one child is well-behaved and another is not, make sure that child gets his reward. The other kids will see this and will want it to. Remember, you're going to be speed shopping so remind the kids that you MUST hurry. The speed factor alone may be enough to get you all through the store without a toddler meltdown over marshmallows or a first grader's begging for play dough. Stick to the list and get through the store as fast as you can.
Oh, did I forget to mention coupons?
Nope, I didn't. If you're already using coupons, then good for you. I hope you've found a method that works for you. If you're not using coupons, don't worry about it. You're not missing much. You need to focus on the bottom line right now and coupons will not necessarily get you to a lower bottom line. I will talk about coupons in a future post.
Now, if after all this, your grocery bill is still too high, we'll look at other ways I've cut mine down further in my next post.