How a Change in Your Grocery Shopping Strategy Can Save Time and Money

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For the last few months, my wife and I have been trying an experiment to see how the change would impact our bottom line with grocery shopping.

Grocery Shopping Before the Strategy Change

Step #1: My wife would make a menu and a grocery list.

Step #2: My wife would make a weekly shopping trip to Walmart/Sam’s.  Walmart is the cheapest place for groceries because of price matching.

The problem is that Wal-mart is 5 miles from our house, and Wal-mart is SO MASSIVE that it’s not a fun place to do grocery shopping. Less than a mile away from home is a Safeway grocery store.  Shopping there is always a more pleasant experience.  They even offer to help take the groceries to the car.

We started brainstorming and trying to figure out if there was a way we could shop at Safeway and still do it for less or not much more than Wal-mart.

The Grocery Shopping Strategy Change

Step #1:  I spent about an hour writing down the price of the items we usually buy at Wal-mart and Sam’s. (As a full-time blogger, I have the luxury to do these sorts of experiments.) It was actually a very enlightening experience that I’d recommend if you’ve never done it before.  Prior to making this list, we’d get our weekly grocery ads on Wednesday and say, “Is $1 a pound for tomatoes a good deal?” Typically, neither of us would know.  However, by having our very own price sheet, we can check and confirm if it is indeed a good deal. I also take the list with me when I go grocery shopping.

Step #2: We altered the order of menu and grocery list creating.  Instead of making the list first, I’d go to the grocery store and buy items on sale by category.  As an example, if they have apples and oranges on sale this week, we’d eat apples and oranges as our fruits for the week. The next week they may put grapes and pears on sale.  As another example, we typically keep cracker type snacks on hand. After switching our shopping style, we’d buy cracker snacks based on what was on sale for the week.  Since I made a Wal-mart price comparison list, I knew that these items were in fact cheaper than Wal-mart – even the off name brand.

Another possibility that doesn’t work as well for us is to make the menu after you’ve discovered the weekly sale items.  If chicken is on sale, you might include a chicken meal on the menu instead of a beef menu. In our case, my wife is very organized and likes to have a monthly menu ready at the start of each month. By the way, I think people underestimate how much money a menu saves. If you are tired after a hard day of work, you might decided just to go out and get food.  However, if you have a menu, you don’t have to use any energy to figure out what to eat.

Step #3: Reduce our Wal-mart/Sam’s shopping to once a month. This saves both gas and time. Typically, we buy staple items at these two stores, so we actually just have a recurring list of what we need to buy when we end up at Walmart.  The fact is that there are just some items at Walmart that are much cheaper than anywhere else.

Miscellaneous Comments About Grocery Shopping

Coupons: We’re not really into coupons, but we do look through the coupons to see if there is a coupon for something we plan to buy. If we could get more organized with coupons, I’m sure we’d use them more.

Stocking up: When an item is significantly on sale, we go ahead and stock up (non-perishable).

Other promotions: Our local grocery store has extra promotions that make it less expensive.  As an example, they’ve had several times when you get 30 cents off per gallon of gas when you spend $50 or more in a single transaction.  With a minivan, that can be worth $4.50 on a tank of gas.

In the end, we’re saving money on groceries and spending less time grocery shopping, but it did take a few changes to our regular shopping habits.

Conclusion:

You don’t always have to seek out big extravagant plans for saving money around your home.  Sometimes it’s just a small change, but over a long period of time it can make a significant difference.

What do you do to help reduce the cost of your groceries?

Comments

  1. Gabe says

    Craig,
    This is a great idea. I have been talking with my wife about doing something along these lines. I actually thought about buying a subscription to http://www.emeal.com (as recommended by Dave Ramsey’s website). It is an extra expense, but it gives you a weekly menu, based on your preference (gluten free, traditional, vegan, etc.), and with the menu it sends you, it also gives you coupons to the grocery stores you input as shopping at. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that sort of system? It is spending money to save money, but have you heard anything about it? Does it save more money than it takes?
    Finally, I know your wife’s personality lends itself to organization, but my wife has more of a “free spirit” when it comes to the kitchen. Don’t judge us by the “Thanksgiving” meal, because she is a FANTASTIC cook and that was mostly my fault :), but usually, she doesn’t want to be “tied down” by a menu planned a week or two in advance. Do you have any recommendations you have found helpful with your family that helps to overcome this type of hurdle…where you want to plan, but you don’t want to be committed to only one thing? Or is it one or the other?
    Thanks!

  2. Drew says

    The money saving ideas are good things to consider. We got into a habit of trying to cherry pick certain stores for their deals each week and found the expense of gas and time investment really just wasn’t worth it. Reality of busyness, kids, and life in general make it harder to spend the time needed to research these savings month after month. It’s easier to know I’ll save more total basket each time I shop at Walmart/Sam’s. They’ve earned my trust to always have the lowest prices and like you said, their price-matching solidifies the random promotions from other competitors.

  3. says

    We shop from one store and then the other and we compare their prices. That’s how we know where we can get the lowest price. Whatever we do, we stick to our list and yes, we use coupons to save on groceries too.

  4. Leesa says

    These are some terrific ideas that we will surely be implementing asap. Thank you so much for sharing. We buy as much as we can from Aldi, which is a couple blocks from our house. Then we buy the rest of our groceries from Wal-Mart which is also just around the corner. This works well for our budget. If you have an Aldi close to you its always cheaper then Wal-Mart. I also just recently found out Wal-Mart has coupons right on their website that you can print out.

    • says

      Lessa,
      Thanks for the tip on Aldi. We don’t have any in our town, but might be a good place for people to check out. I also appreciate the tip about coupons from the Wal-Mart website.

  5. su says

    1.One week out of the month, don’t shop. Plan menus with what you have on hand.
    2. Put your left overs into single meals into sandwich sized boxes that are all the same sized. Put them into your freezer in a stack. (In Japan, Individual lunches are called Bento’s. )Put the last one you put in on the bottom to automatically “shuffle” your meal choices. If you don’t have dinner planned or you need a quick lunch, you already have an option. I recommend micowaving it on a plate, vice the box. It tastes better and is more appealing. If you only have serving of a vegetable, either put it in a “soup” collection or in a sandwich box in the freezer to wait to add other left overs to make it a meal. This cuts down on food waste, gives you a ready meal, and helps your teenager have something to warm up when they are “starving”.

    Most weeks, I eat this way for lunch at work. It saves me $5-7 a day, plus it gives me lunch time to relax instead of waiting in line somewhere. I can control calories, food content and lunch options. I have access to a freezer at work and try to have at least one extra in case I forget my lunch one day. Do the math. You might find a nice savings and certainly more control over your diet.

    • says

      Su,
      I really like the idea of getting lunches packed up into containers before hand. I strongly believe that the more we do things ‘in the movement’ the more likely we are to pay for a more expensive option because we’re feeling tired when it comes time to make a decision.
      Thanks so much for the comment.

  6. su says

    I love coffee, I hate to throw away a half pot that went stale.

    Here are ways to curb the loss:
    1.Buy a thermos or a thermal caraffe. The Stanley one that keeps things hot for 24 hours is my favorite. Make your coffee and put the rest in the thermos. Later you have coffee that isn’t stale.

    2. Put the rest in a glass jar and heat it up tomorrow. It won’t go stale for a day or so.

    3. Keep the starbucks frappicino glass bottles or similarly sized ones. Make your own iced coffee option and put it in the frig. Adding hot chocolate mix is a tasty option.

    4. Frozen coffee, use plastic lidded glass or a plactic bottle to make frozen iced coffee or frozen teas. It will keep your lunch cold later and will give you a cheap, tasty lunch beverage.

    • Su says

      I have discovered over the years that if you cut up the meat in the bento type lunches before you freeze it, it freezes more unifiormly and microwaves faster . But also, you won’t need a knife. In your lunch box. Remove the bones too. Why freeze something you cannot eat?

  7. Su says

    Absolutely. Giving yourself options saves time,money and resources I think it probably saves me better than 100 a month , and I feel better when I eat less junk.

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