Friday, August 26, 2011

Fiscal Friday: Groceries

My friend Chasity recently asked me to do a Fiscal Fridays on grocery shopping on a budget, or on how to save money on your groceries. I'll be the first to admit that this is an area in which I need to improve as well; just last night, Matt told me that the grocery list I gave him was too expensive, and I need to work on cutting it down. (I plan the meals in the house. I can't help that I have expensive tases, haha.) So, to help my readers and myself make a less expensive grocery list each week, here are some tips.

(image from user Cadaverexquisito on Wikimedia Commons)

1. Plan your meals.
I follow a method that I've watched my parents do for as long as I can remember. They make four weeks' worth of menus (dinners only Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner Sat-Sun), then make corresponding grocery lists for each week. Every Sunday, my dad would print the menu and grocery list for the next week (they started the week on Monday), look through the kitchen and cross items off the grocery list that we already had in the house, then go get the rest of the groceries.

This is helpful for a few reasons, the first being that you never wind up buying things you don't need. And if you plan your meals right (i.e. have chicken three different ways in one week), you can even save money buy buying in bulk...but more on that in a minute. For our household, I created five weekly menus consisting of five meals, since we usually get lazy one or two nights a week and eat leftovers or order in. But I made a fatal error: I made pricey menus. I got overzealous with things like Asian meatball subs with Chinese five-spice French fries, New England clam chowder, orange sesame pork chops, crab spring rolls and...well, you get the picture.

This is where "planning budget-friendly meals" comes in. I'm sorry to say that I really, really need to work on this one, so I don't have any real advice for you yet. But I'm working on it, so maybe I'll have a post on that in the near future :)

2. Buy in bulk.
It might increase the cost of a single grocery trip once a month, but believe me, the overall savings are totally worth it. Good bulk items that you should be buying include frozen meat like ground beef, chicken, pork and fish; dried goods like pasta, rice, sauces and canned or frozen fruits & veggies; anything that you eat a LOT of, and in my opinion, eggs. (Hard-boil half the eggs right when you bring them home and they will keep WAY longer than raw eggs. Then you can eat them as snacks, for breakfast, turn them into egg salad for lunches, etc.) Things you shouldn't buy in bulk? Produce and dairy, because they'll likely spoil before you can use them. And that's just wasting more money!

I'm a firm believer that Walmart is the devil, but even I have to admit that it can be a decent place for bulk purchases. If it makes fiscal sense for you, consider a membership at warehouse-type grocery stores like Sam's Club or Costco. Just remember: You have to make up for the cost of your membership with actual monetary savings.

3. Be a coupon clipper.
No, I'm not telling you to be one of those crazy ladies who freaks out because she lost her coupon for 10 cents off that bunch of bananas. But it's worthwhile to scan the Sunday ads for sales and stock up on items (aka, buy in bulk) when they're cheaper.

Apparently, there are some websites that help you find coupons, or they compile them for you, or something like that? I've heard of them, but I have no idea what they are. Anyone out there know what I'm talking about?

4. Store brands are your friends.
Stop saying they're gross, or they taste different, or they're inferior. Most of the time, that simply isn't true. And the only way to know for sure is to try it! For example, I only buy store-brand pastas, sauces and usually stick with store-brand cereals, but I "splurge" for Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and Vlasic pickles, because I know they simply taste better to me. I also usually spring for higher-quality lunchmeat, because the store brand stuff is pumped up with fillers and water. Ew. Store brand cheese, though? I'm all over it. (Sidenote: Cereal is absolutely the best thing to buy off-brand. Name brands are marked up SO MUCH!)

5. Know where to shop, and when.
This one is a little tricky, particularly for you non-Midwesterners who don't have the stores I'm about to mention. My apologies for that one. But if you have an Aldi near you, I would say that this should always be your first grocery shopping stop. Get your generics here, and (sometimes) your produce. It's all VERY cheap, because it's all off-brand.

Other stores, like Kroger or Giant Eagle, are more expensive but offer other perks, like gas points. Giant Eagle is a great example of this; even the off-brand items are pricier than at other stores, but you often make up for those costs when the time comes to fill up your gas tank and you realize you get 50 cents off per gallon. Kroger, on the other hand, has fuel points as well, but they also usually have 10 for $10 deals or something like that going on. Yes, please!

Which brings us to the topic of "when." Find out when your grocery store(s) normally has its sales, particularly on perishables like produce, breads and dairy. It's okay to buy the "manager's special" items, as long as you immediately freeze them (bread or meat) or use them within a day or two. (For those who don't know, "manager's special" items are about to expire, so they give you deep discounts in hopes that they won't have to throw the items away and lose the profit.)

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Well, that's all I have. I hope you were able to find some useful info in this, and that it wasn't all "duh, Emma, we knew that!" If you have any tips that I didn't include, feel free to add them to the comments! Also, a disclaimer: I wasn't paid or perked by any of the stores/brands I mentioned. I just felt like getting specific. If any of the aforementioned stores/brands (or anyone else) WANTS to pay me to talk about their stuff, shoot me an email!

Also, could you do me a huge favor? Go take this survey about budgeting. It's completely anonymous, only 8 9 questions long and it will REALLY help with next week's Fiscal Fridays post! Plus, I'll love you forever and send you e-hugs :) Thank you so, so much!

Have a financial question you'd like me to tackle? Email me at verbal {dot} melange {at} gmail {dot} com.


  1. All good points! I plan a dinner menu weekly and look in my cupboard for things I already have and go from there. It saves a ton of money! And Giant Eagle is definitely more expensive, but the plus side is the fuel perks and they do double coupons!

  2. These are some fun tips, I've been enjoying reading as YOU learn more and figure out you budget. A couple tips I've got for cheaper meals! Eat vegetarian a few night a week (just leave the meat out of your spaghetti or lasagna) and make veggie soup.
    I do the soup thing a lot more in the winter (because it's cold out) but a veggie soup (especially with homemade broth) is delicious, healthy and surprisingly cheap.

  3. My cousin is one of those crazy coupon clippers, and she saves TONS of money. One time I was stuck behind a mother of six in Walmart. She saves $300 every grocery trip by clipping coupons. Could you imagine??

  4. I have jumped into couponing! It is really an art form, lol. Wonderful tips - that reminds me - I need to make my meal plan for next week :)


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