Before we dive into a department-by-department guide (Part III) to shopping your local grocery store, I think it’s best to arm yourself with some tips and insider knowledge about grocery shopping in general. Take from this what applies to you. There’s no point in trying to memorize how to calculate price by volume, for example, if on the spot math isn’t your thing.
Before you write your list, however, it’s kind of important to figure out what’s going to go on it.
Here’s a basic overview of my list making strategy:
1. Create a “Meal Plan” pre-plan listwith a combination of current fridge, freezer and pantry inventory. Also on the list goes the meats and perishables I am already planning to purchase.
2. Figure out where I’m going to physically shop and make note of what’s on sale this week. (I buy most of our meats from our local farm CSA, but if Stop & Shop has a fantastic sale on a meat product that I would buy, you bet I’m going to pick some up.) This goes on my pre-plan list.
3. Using a combination of regular-rotation recipes, recipes I’d like to try, and recipes that are not in the regular rotation but my family still enjoys, I create a weekly meal plan that features the products on my pre-plan list.
4. Create a list for in-store shoppingusing the “Need to Buy” section of my pre-plan list. I also try to see if I can take advantage of coupons or cash back offers through a few apps and websites. Any extra savings still adds up!
5. Shop most of my in-store list onlinethrough Stop & Shop Peapod, or, when I lived in an area that delivered, Whole Foods Insta-cart. (Miss my Whole Foods delivery service!) Because I work right near a Stop & Shop, I schedule a pick-up for the bulk of my perishable groceries and pick up them up curbside on Thursday or Friday nights before I pick up Brynne from daycare. Genius!
6. Shop the remainder of my in-store list. I try to go during off-hours, but more often than not I do this smaller shopping trip after work on Saturday afternoon. This is when I either purchase the items I had a physical coupon for, or if I need to pick up some things from Target. As far as doing actual shopping goes, this trip is a breeze, because it’s usually only for a few items.
7. Once a month,create an order for my household items and canned goodsthrough Grove Collaborative and Thrive Market and make note of my delivery day. (If I unexpectedly ran out of something, and need it ASAP, it goes on my list for in-store shopping. I try to avoid this happening, when possible.) Some people like to automate these orders. I like to have a little more control, simply because I might not run out of an item as often as an automated delivery would fulfill it or vice-versa, and I run out too fast.
Now that you know my list-making strategy, here are a few really useful tips for staying as close to your budget as possible.
(Again, please pick and choose from these tips the ideas that will best fit your life.)
1. Do a running estimate. I will often times use my phone calculator and just round up to the nearest dollar as I go down my list. I total my items pre-coupon. Because I do the bulk of my shopping online, this isn’t too tedious, because it’s generally only a basket of items.
2. Buy frozen produce. Especially if you tend to prefer organic, this tip will save you SO much money. The veggies we buy are often sold pre-cut, “riced”, or in other ways ready to use. And you get more “life” out of your produce. Frozen is also an easy and inexpensive way to get your toddler to eat more fruits and veggies. (More on that here.) Ain’t no shame in the frozen veggie game!
3. Cut down on meat. Most people are astonished when they compare what they consider an appropriate serving size of meat is versus what the proper serving size is. (Think the size of your palm, or 6 oz.) Another good tip is to figure between a ¼ and a ½ lb per person. By cutting back on your meat serving sizes, and putting more produce, legumes, and grains on your plate, you’ll be blown away by how much your bill will drop.
4. Buy in bulk, when it applies to you. I tend to stay away from “bulk-buys” for the most part. I don’t like the space these packages take up, and I just feel like there’s too much room for food to go stale, or people to get bored, or in other ways for there to be waste. Maybe when my girls are older bulk purchases will make sense for our family. One thing I do buy in bulk, however, is toilet paper. Simply because it’s often cheaper, and no one wants to get caught without!
5. If something that you want on sale is out of stock, ask for a rain check.This might sound old-fashioned, but do yourself the favor and take the two minutes to get the rain check from customer service. If it’s a great deal, and something your family uses regularly, you won’t regret it.
6. Pack individual lunch snacks using snack baggies instead of buying prepacked snack sized products. The savings from buying a “family” sized bag of chips, for example, versus a bag of 6 individual packs, is incredible.
7. I really think this should go without saying, but…Use the store savings card. Please. If you don’t have a card for that store, ask the cashier if they have one you can use. To not take advantage of store-loyalty card savings is to literally throw money away.
8. Buy perishables in their “first form.” Don’t waste money on fresh pre-cut produce. Shred your own cheese, it’s super easy and leads to less waste. Buy romaine lettuce heads and wash and chop at home. Again, the savings will be staggering.
9. Drink water. (I make an exception for Glen with this one, because he is the primary bread-winner and likes to have something in addition to water to drink in his lunch bag. Don’t skimp on something small that will make your person happy.) But for kids lunches? Pack a reusable water bottle. Healthy andfree.
10. Last but not least, CHECK YOUR RECEIPT! (Sorry for the shouty caps) But seriously, just take the 30 seconds to quickly run down your receipt before you leave the store and make sure everything looks okay. You can further examine at home, but if something jumps out at you upon a quick glance, it’s probably wrong, and you’ll save yourself a trip back and further annoyance by just taking care of it now.
How to Read and Factor Unit/Volume Price:
This is an extremely useful skill that can come in handy when you are deadlocked in a decision between two or three similar products.
If the items in question have passed all of your other quality criteria, the one determining factor might come down to price. How do you know what is the best deal? Look at the unit price. This is often found in smaller print below or under the shelf price, but what if it’s not there?
Here is a super simple equation:
Price/Quantity= Unit/Volume Price
Here’s an example:
Two similar bags of flour, one is 16 ounces and sells for $4.99. The other is 12 ounces and sells for $3.99. What’s the better deal?
$5.00 (round up)/16 oz = .3125 or $0.32 per oz
$4.00/12 oz = .333 or $0.33 per oz.
It comes down to pennies!
Here’s another way to figure out “best price” when faced with a choice between an individual product or a multi-pack of that product
(a great tool for determining whether or not to buy in bulk)
An 6-pack of Snapple is on sale for $3.99 and individual bottles of Snapple are on sale for $1.00 each
$4.00/6 = .667 or $0.67 each
$1.00/1 = $1.00 each
In this case, it makes sense to “buy in bulk!”
...have a question about anything you've read so far? send em a message so I can help you out!
In addition to the above savings tips, here are three of my favorite tips for cutting down your time spent in the store.
AKA: How to get in and out faster
1. Utilize Delivery of Non-Perishables Once a Month– I like to use Grove Collaborative and Thrive Market for canned goods, cleaning supplies, paper products, and other “dry” items. It saves me time and money. And shipping is fast and free if you spend around $50, which is very reasonable, if you’re limiting these shopping expenditures to once a month. Another huge benefit is I know exactly what I’m spending, and can adjust my cart if necessary. There is nothing worse than being at the checkout, quite a bit over budget, and nothing can be done about it until after you’ve paid. Yikes.
2. When checking out, go for the line with the least amount of people in it. It usually only takes a couple of minutes to check out a customer no matter how large their order is, so three people in line with full carts will generally take less time than six people with only a couple items each. Don’t waste time going from line to line in search of a “perfect” one.
3. Bag your own groceries and place items on the belt in baggable order (Frozen and cold together. Boxes and cans together. Breakable items last.)Not only will your cashier be grateful, but it speeds up the process, and you’ll have everything where you want it. This will also save time when you unpack after, as everything should be grouped by where it belongs in your fridge, freezer, or pantry.
While shopping, you ideally want to buy what is freshest and therefore farthest from its “date.” But what, exactly, do those dates mean?
Here’s a quick guide:
Use By– The product is no longer safe to consume past this date. If a product on the shelf is near this date, look for something fresher. If a product is past this date in your home, get rid of it. When in doubt, throw it out.
Best By– shelf-stable, or “pantry” products. Best by means the date by which the product will have passed its best quality. This is especially important for ingredient items like baking powder or baking soda, or for something like cereal or oatmeal. The items will be usable/edible past this date, but the flavor or texture might change.
Sell By– This label can be confusing. Generally stamped on perishable items like meat, dairy, or bread, this label means the date by which the store should sell the item. The item is usually still good for a length of time past this date, however. Do not buy items that have past their sell by date. Store items that pass this date at home in the fridge, or freezer when applicable, and check on them regularly for freshness.
And there you have it! A run-down of strategies and tips for how to get the most of your time, energy, and money at the grocery store! Stay tuned for Part III on Grocery Store Shopping, where we’ll go through the store department by department, giving you the best tips for getting the best deals and the best quality products.
See you soon!