Keep it Simple | Part 4 – How to Grocery Shop on a Budget
Ahh shopping, some would call it “retail therapy”, but… does that still apply when you’re shopping for groceries? Likely not. I’ll admit, at one point I actually enjoyed grocery shopping. It was mostly during my couponing days, when I’d spend hours (or days) prior scouring the web for deals, mapping out my plan of attack, clipping and meticulously organizing coupons in my binder and finally going out and stuffing my car to the ceiling. It was exhausting, but also thrilling. I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. Now, some 10+ years later, and things have changed a bit.
For one, coupons aren’t as prolific as they once were. In the heydays of Extreme Couponing, you could really rack up some deals, getting your entire order free or sometimes even getting money back. Crazy right? But, the companies started catching on to it, and things changed over time. Now, I’m not saying it’s not still possible or profitable – lots of people still do it – but it’s just not for me anymore. Plus, nearly everything you can coupon for is stuff we don’t even use any longer! The only things I can think of would be paper products like Paper towels, toilet paper & trash bags.
So where does that leave us, when we’re trying to be as frugal as possible but still provide healthy, nourishing and delicious food for our families? It can cause quite a bit of stress to someone just starting out, trying to figure out how to plan out meals, prepare them properly and shop for them, multiple times a month, without the whole process consuming their life! Don’t worry, I got you! If you haven’t already, check out parts 1, 2 and 3 in my Keep it Simple series, where we discuss those things in detail and go over some super simple tips and hacks for easing your mind on this whole process. Without further ado, let’s dive into the final part where we arrive at the store (or pull up Instacart on our phone, #2023life) and start filling our cart.
Deal or no Deal?
Just cause something is “on sale” doesn’t mean you need it. Read that again. It’s actually a line from my husband, when he started questioning some of my purchases. At first, I was annoyed, but it really got me thinking and (after much hesitation) I had to admit he was sometimes right. Sure, maybe gluten free breadcrumbs are on clearance, but do you really need 20 boxes? Does your family even like or use them? Will they be utilized before their expiration? Of course, you could use this as an opportunity to bulk buy and stock up if the answers to those questions are yes’s or you could totally buy them and donate to your local food pantry! Those are both great options if the price is right and There are two sides to this, though, and the other is when it’s not actually a deal.
You gotta understand, advertisements and flash sales are all about getting your attention, and they do a pretty good job of it. A lot of times the price isn’t even that different from the presale price or competitors prices. Sometimes, it is a good deal but if you’re seeing an advertisement and it’s a store you don’t normally frequent – is it worth visiting for one deal? These doorbusters are usually losses for the store, but very effective at getting you in the door – because that’s when you’ll be tempted to make more purchases and spend more money. Taking all of these things into consideration will help you save time and money right off the bat.
Another way you can find deals is to check the Unit Prices on things. You can usually find it right on the price tag next to the actual price, but sometimes if an item is on sale this can be tricky. You can also just look at the ounces and the price and compare them that way. Usually, buying the largest size of something saves the most money, but not always!
Bring your List
Always, I repeat, always bring your list. Never rely on what’s between your two ears, it’ll let you down when you need it most. Sure, if you’re just running up to the store for a last minute bunch of Cilantro or something (make sure you don’t walk past the impulse buys!) you’ll be fine, but if you’re going “for just a few things” or an entire shopping trip – take a list! Trust me. A lot of people nowadays like to keep their list digital, for understandable reasons – who leaves the house without their phone these days? But I’m a pen and paper type gal, so I always have my trusty notebook by my side. Keeping a Master List of products you currently have and need is integral to saving money and time, you won’t buy too much of any one thing and you’ll also never run out of essentials – causing you to panic buy on Amazon overnight or go to the store and pay full price when you could have gotten a deal!
Ok so maybe that sounded a little more exciting than it actually is, but what I mean is that most stores have a Rewards system where you get points off, cash back or some type of discount for using their “member card”. Exclusive clubs like Costco and BJs require membership to enter, but most grocery stores don’t have such stipulations. You’re doing yourself a disservice, however, and leaving money on the table if you shop without utilizing whatever they have to offer. After all, if you’re already making a purchase, why not reap the full benefit of shopping at the particular location you are at? Some people choose to take full advantage of these cash back scenarios and plan their purchases around getting the most out of them, “rolling” rewards over and doing multiple transactions. If this interests you and you’re able to do it without too much time or effort spent, go for it!
Of course, you can’t talk budgeting and saving money without mentioning coupons. It still is a viable option, and can really give you some great savings and stockpiles if you do it right. I will tell you that is is a big time investment, though, so be prepared to get sucked in – if you’re trying to be most efficient with your time, it may not be the best option for you! Many stores have Store Coupons on their website or in their flyer, and sometimes they even stack with Manufacturer coupons which can be printed out, cut out from newspapers or ordered on certain couponing websites/eBay.
You can also get coupon codes online for when you’re making online purchases. One of my favorites, mostly because it’s so easy to use is Honey/Paypal Rewards (it’s an app, too). In fact, I had almost $13 in rewards just sitting there that I never realized until I downloaded the free Chrome Extension and checked! (totally gonna buy more books with that!) Every time you make a purchase at one of their participating retailers, not only do they automatically look for applicable Promo Codes for you but you also earn Points, which can then be redeemed for cold hard Cash! Cool! Rakuten is similar in that it’s also a Chrome Extension or App, in which you can earn Cash Back for doing nothing but having it installed and going about your normal business! The cool thing about Rakuten is that when you sign up and spend your first $30 using my link, you get $30 cash back and so do I! Sweet! (you can also give your friends and family this deal as well, with your referral link!)
The double-edged sword of modern day variety. Le sigh. It’s great to be able to have a choice of where you shop so you can find the best deal possible, but it can also cause a lot of chaos and getting stuck in analysis paralysis. I used to spend so much time cross-checking multiple stores for deals, but once I realized that time = money I laid off a bit.
I have a few stores that we know and trust, and I generally stick to them when shopping. We have a few local farms that we adore, in which we purchase our meat & other animal products from, a local bee farm for honey, a store across state lines to buy our “illegal in our state” raw dairy from, a Club store (Costco) where we buy certain bulk items and of course a grocery store (Shoprite) that we buy most of our staples that we like to stock up on. There are times when I’ll run down to our local grocer to pick up a few last minute things I forgot, etc, but in general as long as I plan ahead and consult my list, I know what I’m getting and from where, which really cuts down on stress and saves time!
Does shopping online for groceries and household goods cost more or save? That’s totally dependent on you and the specific way you choose to shop, however I’ll give you this to consider: Are you shopping while tired or hungry? Would your kids come along and add $30 extra of snacks to the cart? Would you be tempted by shiny impulse buys and end up diverting from the grocery list you walked in with? For me, shopping online is cheaper because it saves me from all of the above, plus gas and time!
Don’t be Vain
Not everything has to be pretty. In fact, one of the first places I go when shopping in person for produce is the “imperfect” basket. A little corner of the store where all of the ugly or expiring soon veggies and fruit hang out. You can really stock up on some great deals here, and depending on what you’re making, sometimes super brown bananas are ideal (Hello smoothies and banana bread)! Especially around the end of season for certain produce (like Spring for Tomatoes) you can really get a good deal on bulk buys, which is perfect for canning!
Shopping in person not your thing? Me too, most days. Misfits Market‘s got your back! They have everything from produce to meat, fish, cheese, beverages and more! It’s organic and honestly I’ve never gotten anything truly ugly. Most of the time it’s just misshapen, the wrong size or even completely normal – but at a discount! This is a great place to shop and save money, they even have Wild Caught fish! Woohoo!
Store it Properly
Make sure if you’re shopping in person that you bring along insulated bags or a cooler to keep the frozen things frozen – especially if you have a long drive home in the middle of summer. When you get home, make sure you already have places to store everything. This kind of needs to be done in the Prepping stage, but it’s worth mentioning here because sometimes after the hassle and exhaustion of a long shopping day we just want to slump down on the couch and order a pizza – but make sure you put away those groceries properly first! Freezing any meat you won’t be using immediately, soaking your veggies and fruit in a vinegar/water mixture for a few minutes prior to rinsing, drying and storing (this not only removes a majority of pesticides/toxins but it also prolongs their storage life!), and updating your Master List so that you know what you now have. Also, make sure you’re rotating foods that you keep in bulk, remember FIFO – First In, First Out. Expired food = wasted food = wasted money.
When at all possible, shop local. Word of mouth is the best referral anyone can get – or give. Talk to people, network, be sociable. You scratch my back, I scratch yours type of thing. Get to know your local farmers. Ask questions. Are your kids part of a co-op? Talk to the moms, chances are they probably have the same concerns and ideas that you do about saving money, finding deals and still providing healthy and delicious food for their families. If you have a few good friends you can go in on bulk buys with them and everyone wins. If you have a favorite local place to buy grass-fed beef, ask your farmer if they have any other connects for eggs, tallow, dairy, animal feed, etc! You don’t know until you know. Google’s algorithm makes it nearly impossible for the little guy to be found online, even if they’re practically in your back yard, so small businesses and farms rely on people just like you to spread the word and bring in the traffic.
Don’t Shop Hungry
This one’s a no brainer, but honestly think about it. How do you feel when you’re hungry? Are your words, choices and actions different? Probably. Being hangry isn’t an excuse for making poor judgements in the grocery store, and that decadent 3 layer chocolate cake isn’t going to stretch your food budget – but it will stretch your belt, so lay it down, go eat a nice big chicken salad, and shop when you’re satisfied and clear-headed.
If you have any greenness to your thumb at all, consider growing some of your food. This can save you a ton at the grocery store. Herbs are a great example. They’re quite expensive and only last a week at most when properly stored, however if you grow them, you have them most or all of the year and you just snip off what you need and they keep producing! This is a great entry into gardening and may give you the courage needed to branch out and try your hand at tomatoes, peppers, green beans and more!
Shop the Outer Aisles
Not sure if you ever noticed this, but all the “good stuff” is on the outer edges of the store. This can save you a ton of time. For years I walked up and down every single aisle, every single time, because “What if I forgot something and it catches my eye?!” Bologna! All of the stuff in the middle aisles is processed, processed, processed junk! The exception would be certain flours & dried goods, frozen vegetables (check the label, but if it’s just “broccoli” then you’re safe!) which are picked and frozen at their peak and sometimes can be fresher than their “fresh” counterparts, and paper goods. You’ll get to know your own personal store, but for your budget, diet and time you’re better off sticking to the outer aisles.
Be Kind to Yourself
Life is a journey, we pick up things along the way. Everyone we meet can impart something into our lives if we are open to it, every experience we have can teach us something valuable if we allow it to. One day, you too will be sharing tips and tricks you learned along the way with someone else, you only need to be one step ahead of someone to help them on their own journey. Life is a gift, we must cherish it and live in the present moment, making the most of it. Sure, saving money and eating healthy is super important and should be strived for, but there is also something to be said about having peace. Nothing is worth stressing yourself out over, because at the end of the day your health (and that of your family) really comes back to the peace and love in your home. When you know better, you do better. You learn as you grow. Do your best and let God do the rest! If you have any tips, tricks or hacks you’d like to share with me, I’d love it if you left a comment or sent me a message!