Part 1: How to Have a Better (and Cheaper) Grocery Trip

When I first got married I spent a lot on groceries. At least 3 times as much as I do now. It was just difficult as I had never cooked this much in my life and I was awful at meal planning. I was raised well, don’t get me wrong. My mother did a very good job teaching me what to buy and how to cook. I just went a little crazy at first trying to get my bearing.

Now I menu plan every week and I spend a tenth of our income on food. When my husband was working full time (he’s now working on a masters program) that same amount would have been 6% of our income. The average in the U.S. is hard to pinpoint, as of 2005 (US Labor Statistics) the average was 13% but other sources say it’s more like 15-20%. Yikes.

My secret? I do 4 things, each becomes easier with diligence and planning.

1. Menu plan

Let’s be honest, those of us who menu plan do not always stick to the plan. You can’t plan for everything. But you can be prepared. Buy only grocery items you need for the meals planned that week, and have a few standbys for company or for a night you want something quick to eat.

Key: Only go grocery shopping once per week. More trips equals more impulse buys.

2. Keep to the list

This is the hardest part. I stray from my list a lot. It’s difficult, all those products that you want to try calling to you from the shelf, “Carrie! Please buy us! Carrie!”

The solution? Allow yourself a certain amount to spend on impulse buys. Maybe there is something on special that you buy a lot and you didn’t know it was on sale, or maybe you just really want to try those Russian blue potatoes. Go ahead, just stick to your impulse budget so you don’t go overboard.

3. Keep a price list

This is the real fun one. I have an Excel spreadsheet (ah Excel, how I love thee) with columns for product, brand, weight/count/volume, price, price per serving, store, and whether it was on sale or not. It sounds complicated and like it’s too much work, but it’s really not once you have it set up. It takes 5 minutes to input a receipt. And it only takes 5-10 minutes to scan the sheet for to estimate the cost of a product, figure meal price per serving, compare prices between stores, or to see if something is at a good price. It works for me. Just play around with it and see what it can do for you, it doesn’t need to be precise or perfect, and I think it could shave at least 15% off of any bill. I swear I’m not a geek! I do don’t watch Star Trek and Dr. Who in my spare time. You can download a sample Excel sheet by clicking the link below.

Sample Grocery Worksheet

4. Buy primarily only sale items with or without coupons

You don’t need to cut coupons, just buy what’s on sale. Buy two or three chickens when they’re .79/lb. and throw them in the freezer. This alone will cut costs. Check store ads too. They’re in the Sunday paper and usually at the front of the store or at the help desk. You don’t have to cut coupons out of those, you can just show them to the cashier and they’ll scan them. This could easily save you a $10 per trip depending on variables.

In addition to these I visit the Rising Sun Farms vegetable/fruit stand (on 15th and 65th north of the U-District)¬†once per week. This is a great place for those of you in Seattle. It’s not all organic, but sometimes it is. I come out of there with enough fruit and veggies for 2 people for one week and it costs on average between $10-15. I get several bursting bags for that price. It’s cash/check only, let me know if you go!

Tune in tomorrow for a great post on exciting cheap meals, I can feed myself for less than $5/day! And that includes a yummy curry recipe for only $1.30 per serving.

Photo by Bruce Turner.

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