Smart Shopping

So how do you buy groceries for cheap? How do you provide for your family with a very limited budget?

It all has to do with smart shopping techniques I’ve learned from books, the internet, and some of you all. I’d like to share 12 of the best ideas I’ve heard. There are many more, but I could easily fill an entire book – and you don’t want to read a book where there should be a blog, do you?

Many of these ideas

Smart Shopping

1. Shop the loss leaders like crazy – last week I got 90% lean ground beef at Giant Eagle (a mid-line grocery store) for $2.29 a pound. That’s unheard of nowadays – the same stuff at Sam’s Club is $3.29 a pound, and the usual price at Walmart is closer to $3.69 a pound. When I come across deals like these, especially in meat, I buy enough for a month or more. In my experience, I can expect the stores to “loss-lead” a meat product in a six-week rotation. So if ground beef is a loss leader this week, I can expect that in 6 weeks it will be a loss leader again. However, be careful that you don’t stock up on loss leaders to the extent that you can’t get the groceries you need!

2. Double your coupons when you can – but again, be careful. Many of the stores that double coupons also cost significantly more in general. If you double your coupons on a few items but buy a bunch of full-priced stuff you’ll still lose money.

A good example of the price difference – I went to Walmart and bought store-brand gelatin for $0.26 each. The Jell-O was $0.48. I went to Giant Eagle next and happened to look at Jell-O there. How much was it? $0.96! The next week it was on sale for $0.50 each. Even on sale it was more expensive!

3. Make sure it’s really a deal. Use a price book. I know when something is a good deal because I know the prices.

4. Buy locally when possible. Your local farmer’s market or flea market is a good place to get produce and even meats for excellent prices when they are in season. You might also find people selling teas, spices, soaps, and just about anything else you could use!

We also buy from the local Amish stores – they are bulk foods, mostly, and some sell meat and cheeses from the local Amish cheese factories/butcheries. They are only slightly lower in price, but we are also supporting a locally owned business that makes much of their food within our county.

5. Buy produce in season and can or freeze it if you can. Buy frozen vegetables and fruits when they are out of season – or don’t buy out of season produce at all. Apples and oranges are in season right now, and frozen corn, broccoli, peas, strawberries, etc, are readily available. We also froze some of the berries from our yard last summer – they’ll be great for sauces when they thaw. We’ve canned many tomatoes, and we still have several quarts of tomato base for soups and sauces.

6. Buy items with rebates – Walgreens has items that are completely free after rebates every month. You can even browse the rebate catalog online! Check other drugstores, too. My experience with Eckerds and CVS is that they don’t have quite as large of rebates, but they still have those items that are significantly discounted, and nearly free if you have a good coupon.

7. Try it before you buy it – using sites like absurdlycool.com and walmart.com to get free samples of items in the mail. There are some ethical considerations to sampling – don’t request samples you wouldn’t use or don’t need. I tend to sign up for the free samples of things I enjoy – I just signed up for a sample of tea for my Senseo hot drink machine – but I avoid the samples of artificial sweeteners and dog food since I use neither.

8. Check for a money back guarantee before you buy. A couple of years ago, I bought a certain expensive moisturizer from Bath and Body Works and absolutely loved it. When I went to buy another bottle, the company had changed the formula to include sunscreen – which made my face break out. Bath and Body Works has a satisfaction guarantee, so I was able to return the nearly unused bottle for a merchandise credit. I am more likely to try a new product if I know I can return it if I hate it, and usually I’m happy with it.

9. Write or call in to companies with your complaints and or suggestions. I recently burned a pumpkin pie from a big frozen dessert company (it was a loss leader) even though I followed the directions exactly. I figured I still must have done something wrong until my friend came for dinner the next night with a burned pumpkin pie from the same company. We both wrote the company and complained, since it was obviously not a fluke. I recently got several coupons in the mail from the company, including one for a free product (though I won’t be buying more pumpkin pie, the apple pie from the same company was very good.) I also got an email repeating the directions, so be prepared for them to only half-listen to your complaint.

I’ve also recently written a coffee company about some samples I received and really enjoyed, and suggested that if they created the product in a darker or flavored blend, I’d definitely buy even more than I already had. Guess what? I got a free product coupon in the mail, along with more samples – of their new Columbian and flavored blends! I like to think I did that, but the likelihood is they were already planning the new flavors. 🙂

10. Buy store brand. It’s almost always the same stuff. If you don’t like the taste, it’s not because it’s a weird store brand – it’s because it’s a name brand you don’t like. I don’t buy generic ketchup because there is one brand I like and I haven’t found the store brand that matches.

My father worked for a very large, famous food company. He would tour factories and watch as his company’s brand label was placed on the goods. Then the factory workers would stop the line, change the label to a store brand label, and continue labeling. Same food – different labels. And significantly different prices.

11. Buy in bulk when you can afford it. I don’t buy little 10 ounce boxes of baking soda for $0.50 each. I buy one 12 pound bag at about two-and-a-half cents an ounce (it’s $4.89 for the bag) from a warehouse club. The 10 ounce boxes cost five cents an ounce – that’s twice as much! Since I use it for cleaning and baking, we’ll go through about two bags in a year. Buying the 12 pound bags saves me about $10 a year. No, it’s not much, but if you think about the fact that this is only one product of many that we buy – it adds up!

12. Don’t buy prepared meals. Buy the rice, veggies, and meats and make it yourself. For the same price as one frozen prepared meal (like a skillet meal or lasagna) one can make two or three meals from scratch – sometimes more.


What do you really need?

Do you really need expensive bags of preservative-rich chips? Over processed cookies? Tubes of yogurt? Cereal straws?

Our nation is drowning in fatty, sugary, overprocessed foods that destroy our bodies and our wallets while filling landfills with dumptrucks full of shiny plastic and cardboard. We save nothing by buying junk at the grocery store.

What smart shopping comes down to is a commitment to find the best prices, but also a commitment to buy and cook healthy, wholesome foods that will nourish our bodies and keep our pocketbooks a little fuller. By keeping the junk food out of the kitchen, we keep it out of our bodies, which means a fewer medical bills, diet pills, and large grocery bills!

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An Explanation

There’s been a lot of concern and discussion on other boards about whether or not our family – 2 plus a toddler – be able to live on $100 a month for food. I think it might be good for me to explain some background information as well as how I can be so confident that we can stay within our budget and still eat healthy, nutritious meals.

First, this is only a reduction of about $50 from our current budget that we’ve had for over a year. Until recently, my husband was unemployed and we were living on savings.

Second, right now we have a well-stocked pantry that should last us about a month to two months if we don’t buy anything but staples. We have a good amount of frozen meat as well. So it’s entirely possible we could go under budget this coming month.

And finally, this is only a temporary budget. Our goal right now is to get our personal Citibank card paid off through snowballing and selling some larger items we have. Once that is done, we’ll look at our grocery budget again and determine what needs to change.

Some have expressed concerns that one cannot eat healthfully or enough on this budget – I want to assure you all that we will not risk our health. 🙂 Living thoughtfully and frugally means making sure our bodies stay healthy since medical bills are definitely not cheap! So if necessary, we will go to the food pantry, beg my parents for money for food, or simply pay less on our credit cards so we can raise our budget.

Welcome!

You know, it’s crazy, but I never imagined I’d be in this much debt by the time I was 28. I have student loans, two mortgages in two states, and a TON of credit card debt from starting a fairly successful business without funds (obviously not successful enough.) I’m going to go into more detail in a later post, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m overwhelmed and tired of it.

I don’t want debt anymore. None of it. Not even a mortgage. I want it paid off.

And you know what? I’m tired of paying for expensive products – especially when they are expensive because they are overpackaged or stuffed with chemicals. I’m tired of having cabinets full of stuff I don’t need or don’t use just because I bought into some advertisement or because I thought it might actually work better than something else I had. And I’m tired of worrying about what exactly is in my food – whether it’s pesticides, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup (I struggle with a major Pepsi addiction.)

Funny, but I find greater satisfaction using vinegar to clean my stove and refrigerator, knowing that if today my 2-year-old son decides to lick it (kids are weird) I don’t have to worry. Not about the toxicity of my stove front, anyway. My son is another matter! And knowing that I don’t have to worry about running out of paper towels or diapers (not to mention paying for them) because we use cloth napkins and diapers whenever we can is a very secure feeling! There is something to be said for the feeling you get when you look at an object and know your hands provided it – a knitted sweater, a sewn tablerunner, or a jar of blackberry jam, picked and jammed fresh from your own yard.

Not everything I suggest will work for you. You have to adapt what you can, file away some, and be creative with your own situation. You have to ask yourself on a regular basis – how could I consume fewer products? how could I get this cheaper? how could I use something else instead of buying something new? There’s a Quaker poem I like to repeat to myself on occasion to remind myself to ask those questions:

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

We recently moved out to a rural area of northeast Ohio for my husband’s new job and we have some new options open to us. Canning, gardening, even raising chickens are options available to us now. We live in an area fairly densely populated by Amish – they provide resources for us we didn’t have living in the city in the south, such as chicken killing (I’m such a wimp!)

But that might not work for you. You may not have space for a garden and you’ll have to adapt – either starting a container garden or looking for other ways to save money on healthy, local food. Or you might prefer your diet now, and not desire a change.

My number one rule of frugality is do what works for you. This blog, and all others, are simply a resource of ideas. For example, if you love to go out to eat and you cut your out-to-eat budget to $20 a month, you will feel like frugality is a punishment. The goal is to make frugality a game. Eliminate what you don’t need or really want. Keep the things that make you feel human. Every little bit counts!