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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Grocery Store Woes

So, food prices are rising. Prices are rising all around - everything is going up. So, I've been trying to cut back and make changes to how I shop in order to save some money so that I can continue to scuba dive and go to Disney World and do all of the fun things that I enjoy. The problem is, I also care about the environment, and I care about my health (and Todd's health). These three things are often at odds with each other.

I thought I'd note my strategy though, and how things are going. Tonight, for example, I saved $30 in groceries (from sales and coupons), and my total grocery bill was about 16% cheaper than what it might have been several months ago. (The percentage is an estimate, I'm just going on what a previous shopping trip was generally costing for the same type of food crisis. Note though, that I bought less meat than usual this trip, so that makes a big difference).

Strategy #1: Compromise on Brands
This is harder than it sounds. I can be picky, and so can Todd (he's pickier about brands than I am). I've been testing out some generics and sale items on Todd to see what he's willing to compromise on. Prior to this grocery experiment, I stuck mostly to name brands, and paid more attention to nutrition information than price. I'm having to find a healthy balance between these now.

Still, there are things that I won't compromise on. We're eliminating trans fats out of our diets, so I no longer will buy any margarine other than Smart Balance. We've quit the traditional Oreos and now eat Health Valley. I only drink Tropicana orange juice. I'm eating natural peanut butter again. Using the environmental seafood selector, I'm trying to watch what fish I buy and no longer eat farmed salmon. That one means that to get wild salmon I have to go to the only store that I know of that sells it, which is Trader Joe's. On the subject of seafood, I no longer eat grouper, squid (that one kills me) or shark.

Strategy #2: Shop with the circular
This is my biggest savings. I used to kinda-sorta do it years ago, but not as much as now. When I make my grocery list, I note the things that are on sale. If the item is a meal ingredient, I write it on the list and star it, then plan my meals around those items. If it's a perishable that I usually buy, I write it down (brand name and all) and plan to buy it. If it's a non-perishable that I usually buy, I will stock up.

What is tough about that is that the sales go in cycles, so if something is not on sale that is a non-perishable, I have to be disciplined and sometimes go without and wait for it to go on sale (depending what it is). I'm waiting patiently for my Bigelow tea to go on sale, for example. I was waiting for Cheerios to go on sale, but I missed them on sale last week, so I had to buy them this week at almost full price (I had a coupon), because Todd was suffering from Cheerio-deficiency.

Strategy #3: Coupons
Here's a funny story - my first job was a coupon clipper. No kidding. My mom never clipped coupons, but I started clipping them. Basically, I would clip the coupons and grocery shop with my mom. The rules were that I had to compare prices and I could only use a coupon if it was a brand we'd normally buy, or if the coupon brought the price of a competing brand lower than the brand we'd normally buy. When we got to the checkout, my mom would add up the value of the coupons we'd use and then pay me what our savings was. I learned math and good shopping skills and made money.

Well, we had like 8 people in our house including boyfriends (this was when my dad still lived with us). So, our shopping trips would often be $300 or more. Coupons were more plentiful back then, and I would often make as much as $25-30 per shopping trip. That's a big allowance for a 9 year old, so eventually I just became too good at my job and the deal was re-negotiated and I only got 50% of the savings. I didn't care at the time, it was like a game.

Well, I don't do that anymore. I don't get a Sunday paper and even if I do, it never seems to have the same level of couponage. I don't like having paper and crap around and fiddling with it, so for now I am just perusing and before I go shopping and printing the appropriate coupons. I have a feeling I'll get back to the coupons before too long though, because I've been getting more store coupons since starting Strategy #2.

Strategy #4: Shop with a List
Yeah, I've always shopped with a list. If you plan meals, you have to. But, the problem I have is sticking to the list. I have an impulse buy problem in the grocery store. That is why I own an avocado peeler. Today, I did everything in my power to not buy things that weren't on my list and I think that's likely how I got such a big savings, really. Plus, #2 helps with this because I'm not tempted to buy extra sale items (since I know what's on sale before I get to the store).

Strategy #5: Comparison Shop
I'm not there yet. This involves going to multiple grocery stores, or grocery stores and CVS. I go to either Weis (and I can choose from 2 in my area), Miller's Market, Safeway in Westminster (out of my way, but I really really love that store), or Giant in Owings Mills (gone way downhill since I lived there). Really, I should look at what I want to buy, and then buy the best sale items at each of these stores. I don't have the time. I try.

I will say this -- #4 is easiest at Miller's because they have the smallest selection, but I tend to over purchase meats when I'm there (Miller's is a butcher and OMG they have good meat). #4 is the most difficult at Safeway in Westminster, because that place has every single organic, healthy and fabulous product you can imagine. It's only second to Wegman's. Btw, I judge a store's whole selection on whether or not they stock polenta and cactus paddles.

So, I'm still working on these strategies and I'll report on what new things I come up with as I do.


landlord210 said...

Grocery shopping just plain sucks. I constantly feel like I am being poisoned by the grocery store. Between high frutcose corn syrup, sugar, artifical sweeteners, preservatives, meat with antibiotics and possible mad cow, and produce with pesticides - what is left to eat that doesn't require you to get a HELOC to pay your grocery bill? Maybe I should load up at the liquor store before I hit the grocery store and maybe I won't care as much. Oh, Costco sells wild salmon, too.

Kim said...

What bugs me about this stuff is that it all conflicts. On the one hand, fish is really good for you and there are tons of studies/articles out there that say to eat more fish. At the same time, you have to watch out for high levels of mercury in salmon and other fish, so it's DANGEROUS!

Reduce your fat, use butter substitutes, yet watch out for trans fat in the margarine! Reduce your calorie intake, but don't eat artificial sweeteners.


Sandra said...

i have begun shopping the ads myself. I also go online and look at the sales as most stores put them up. Like Landlord said, the sales ads are filled with horrid foods that are empty calories and chemicals.

Wild salmon tastes better than farmed . I have to see if there is a trader joes near here, i did see s costco, a bjs and many other stores.

Of course, growing your own food can be done, although not necessarily saving any money. Square foot gardening is cool.

On brands: you gotta try to find out if the cheaper tastes the same. Sometimes yes sometimes no. I never had luck with store brand canned veggies. And the dry cereals can have a funky chemical taste to me.

I just signed up for the local weekend paper and began clipping coupons again. It does take some organization.

Thanks for sharing your coupon job story from childhood. Good real-world way to teach kid math etc.

Kim said...

I haven't really been able to compare the taste of wild salmon vs. farmed, but now that I know how to get wild, I'm good. I had frustration for a long time not being able to find the wild. We don't have a costco, that I know of. We're BJs members, but I haven't looked there (we don't buy food at BJs often).

I've been shopping the circulars online and it works pretty well. Weis changes its sales out on Wednesdays. I need to go to Miller's tonight to get supplies for a party tomorrow.

I've been thinking of doing more herbs to save money, freezing the extra. Of course I could just buy fresh herbs and freeze the extra rather than letting them go bad and throwing them away...

I am ready for the produce stands to open up.

The biggest thing I learned from couponing when I was a kid was Unit Pricing and how that worked. I had to compare unit prices and show my mom how my option with the coupon was cheaper. I couldn't cheat. Like I said, coupons were better back then. I mean, there used to be 4 books of coupons in each newspaper. Now, just a few.

Kim said...

Sandra, I looked up square foot gardening. You are right, it does look cool. Perhaps next year.

foxdeath said...

Look, all I want is a damn Oreo cookie without the trans fat guilt. I don't care what it costs... Me want cookie!!!

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