Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Shopping Cart~ A grocery challenge

I posted a facebook status asking my friends to tell me what they spend on groceries each month. I was overwhelmed by the responses. SO many people from all over the U.S. sharing their typical grocery bills. I wanted to make a few observations before moving onto my ideas for trimming back at the grocery store.

#1. Different areas of the country have different prices on the shelves. Keep in mind as you read this that I live in Northern California. Many of the responses I received came from the North West and the West Coast. Please do not look at your grocery bill and compare it to another family that has fewer members and lives in a lower cost of living area and think that you are not doing well budgeting. You need to do what's best for your family and your area.

#2. How you eat will dictate your grocery bill. If you eat "all organic", your food bill will be higher. If you eat lots of "convenience foods", your grocery bill will be higher. You get the idea...

#3. Not everyone defines "grocery budget" the same. I had lots of comments from people clarifying that they buy diapers and wipes from a different budget entirely, and some that lump those kinds of items in with their food items. Determine what works best for you and go with it.

As I was reading the comments and figuring out how much people were spending per person per month, I started to feel a bit shy about writing this. I thought "Wow, they are a lot more savvy than I am, maybe I should let them write the blog!" However as I charted things out based on # of people, and toiletries included etc. I came to find out that I do have something to offer! Of the 21 families polled (mine included) the highest per month was $300 per person, and the lowest was $70 per person. (I will clarify here that I WAS NOT the lowest, however I include all toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers and wipes in my figure and she does not) So, do you want to know my total?
***drum roll please***
Our family spends a budgeted amount of $80 per person each month for food and all personal items.
You should know that it has been a HUGE blessing to receive WIC each month, and that it is not with out "sacrifices" that we work this budget. If you like to eat what you want, when you want it, this blog post is not for you!
Here's my top ten of how it works for me: (for more, see this past post!)
1. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN ~if you fail to plan you plan to fail~
This is even true of grocery shopping. I've recently come into a system for planning our meals each day and it has helped us so much to stay on track with our grocery budget.
2. Eat Boring~
It's true, if you eat the same thing for breakfast every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you will know what to buy and you won't deviate from your list as much (because of course you would NEVER go to the store without a list right???) For example, Monday nights around her are Mexican dinners. I buy similar ingredients each week, the only question is flat or folded?
3. Know Your Bargains~
A friend of mine laughs at me because he will hold up an item and tell me how much he paid for it, and I will give him the approximate price of the same item at WinCo. If you don't have a mind for remembering specifics, keep a "price journal". Always check the price per oz. or per serving so you know that you are getting the best deal. This goes for shopping at places like Costco too. Just because it's bigger doesn't mean it's better!
4. Knowledge is Power~
Know what you have at home so you don't "over buy", and also know what you need so you don't forget something and have to make a special trip back.
5. Do without~
I'm sorry, but it's the cold hard truth. Sometimes you have to go without in order to make things work. I love ice cream, but I only let myself purchase it when we are going to have company or for a special occasion. It makes it that much more special.
6. Don't drink~
Okay, so this isn't what it sounds like... I mean simply this: you already pay for water to come out of your tap, don't buy some from the store. Why purchase sodas when you know it's bad for you? Why spend $3.00 each time you stop by Starbucks when you can make coffee at home and buy a creamer that will last you 3 months for $1.87? And I haven't even mentioned alcohol!
7. Go green~
Things like paper towels add up, so do household cleaners. Go to the thrift store and buy a few old towels. Cut them up if you need to and clean up kitchen spills with those instead of a paper towel. Use paper towels only for absorbing grease from foods and you'll cut back a lot. Check out this website for ways to use vinegar... I can get a HUGE bottle of vinegar for about $2.00, and it can do so much!!!
8. Calculate the Cost~
Carry a calculator with you and add up each item as you put it in the cart. This does two things: First, it makes you very aware of what you are spending your running total and the cost of each item, and Second, it will make you second guess that "impulse buy" that you want to just toss in the cart.
9. Hover~
Yep, be THAT lady, that watches the checker vigilantly making sure that they key in the right number for your apples so they don't charge you $0.98 a lb instead of $0.48 a pound! I've saved a LOT of money by watching closely and then double checking my receipt on the way out the door.
10. Fresh is Best~ It's not always cheaper to eat healthy, but frequently it is. Fresh produce which is better for you costs less than it's frozen or canned counterpart. I make my plan for the month and then keep a list of fresh produce to purchase at the beginning of each week. This way it won't go bad and I've not wasted money on food we don't eat.

Feel free to share your grocery tips in the comments section below! It's always a joy and pleasure to learn from you! This is what Works For Me, for more helpful hints see this blog each Wednesday!


Laurie said...

Yep. I ussed to do all those things and it paid off big time. I really had a great system that worked for me. It was an art form.

I did a major shopping every two weeks to save time and correspond with payday. The day before shopping I did several things: checked the ads, planned my menus, made my list, assembled my coupons and cleaned the refrigerator.

Shopping day became pizza night once and then canned food night the next.

On shopping day I went to 2 or 3 stores, shopping specials at all and cheepest essentials at one.(That was back when gas was cheeper though.)

I had a master list of everything I ever bought and made copies of it so all I had to do is see what I needed and mark it on the list.

By the time Rachel was a teen, she and I could drive a few miles to WinCo, do all the shopping and be back home in about an hour. We would go about 10pm and by the time I'd decided what veggies and meat to buy she had gotten everything else and would complain that all the stockers were in her way!

Sarah said...

I'm intrigued by your system for planning meals. I've tried lots of systems, but they never seem to work for us. Our unpredictable schedules just make it so hard! Maybe you can do a post about meal planning?

Kerilyn said...

Good post, Amy! I would also really appreciate a post about meal-planning. A goal I have for the month of February. Eating is a form of entertainment for Josh and I...making it "boring" for dinners and weekends is a difficult concept for me. ;-)

The Homemaker said...

Okay Sarah and Kerilyn, you've got it. I'm working on a meal planning how to and should have it done within a week or so! I hope my ideas will inspire you to find a groove that works for your families!
Thanks for visiting!

Eric and Tara said...

This is random... But I have started using old paper grocery bags instead of paper towels (so that I don't have to buy the paper towels) to soak up grease after cooking. It works great! Loved this post!

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