This is part of the Saving Money on Groceries series.
So now you’ve got a grocery budget to work with, or at least have started down that path. A great way to begin saving is by only spending your money on the most frugal choices – getting the most bang for your buck. From this strategy will flow a change in what meals you cook. Of course, you may need more expensive ingredients for a special meal. You may also take advantages of sales and coupons (I’ll discuss this at length another time). But if your basic monthly shopping – and therefore the majority of your meals – focuses on the most frugal foods, you’ll save a TON!!!
Choose Frugal Stores
First of all, shop primarily at Winco or a comparable store. I know, I know. It’s not as fun or pleasant or convenient as the other stores. But really, you do save a lot. You may find some good deals at warehouse stores like Costco, but be careful and compare prices. Stores like Safeway and Albertsons can be great for coupon steals, but otherwise they are not good everyday shopping choices. Natural food stores are only good choices when you’ve decided you must have higher quality or organic food regardless of price. We only shop them once in a blue moon. I’ll post about that as well as grocery store alternatives later.
Record and Compare Prices in a Price Tracking Book
Second, start a price tracking book. It’s a pain in the rear to get started, but it helps. The main benefit is that it gets you much more familiar with what things normally cost in the stores you shop in so that you can tell when things are overpriced/average/cheap, help you evaluate a potentially good deal, and compare sale items to generic items. I track prices at Winco, Costco and Whole Foods. I compare all other store and sale prices to Winco’s and compare specialty and organic/local prices to Whole Foods.
- Set up your book. You can use my template if you want. I can’t upload the documents, but here’s a picture of part of it. Let me know if you ‘d like a Numbers (Mac) version or an Excel (PC) version and I’ll email it to you. Don’t get too excited about the prices – this is from over a year ago and we’ve also changed some of our food choices. Put in the stores you shop and the typical items you buy. If that’s too involved or not quite what you want, do a google search for “price book” and you’ll find other ideas. It could be a simple pocket notebook or a single slip of paper with only basic items. Whatever works for you.
- Input prices. Take your receipts home and plug in the prices. I put in a standard price and a sale price to start with. But really it’s more helpful to know the standard price (the cheapest non-sale price you can find, including generic product). Then you will begin to view a sale price more accurately.
- Calculate unit prices. Packaging and pricing can be deceiving. It is much more accurate to know the unit price of an item. It’s usually price/oz or price/each. Check the shelf tags at the store. Places like Winco include the unit price. When you add prices to your price book, you may be able to get unit info from your receipt but many times you’ll have to calculate it yourself. It takes about 10 minutes even if you’ve already put things away.
- Use the data. Carry a cheap calculator in your purse or pocket and a copy of your most recent price book for a while. You can then compare unit prices and evaluate sale prices whether you’re at home looking at ads or coupons or if you’re at the store.
This sounds like a lot of work but it’s really not that bad and it’s only temporary. The knowledge and familiarity you’ll gain with the products you buy will more than pay off pretty quickly. You don’t have to obsess about the price book or calculating everything correctly. Just get started and keep going until you feel confident evaluating prices on the fly without maintaining your price book. Every once in a while, you might want to go through the process again. Just update your old price book. We’re doing that now because of the move and picking up on couponing again.
Shopping the Basics
Third, have a “stick to the basics” strategy when deciding which foods to buy. Really concentrate on only buying items that are:
- Always frugal
- In season or just going out of season
- On sale
- Versatile (not specialty items)
- Easily stored
There is such a wealth of information, tips, and resources for each of those 5 items that I’ll do a separate post(s) for them next.
So tell me what you think! Which stores do you choose to shop and why? Do you think you might try a price book or have you tried one before?
Next post in the series: Shopping the Basics.