• Like a bad penny, debt always turns up…

    unless we change how we interact with money, of course!

    The Bad Penny is dedicated to two pursuits: getting out of debt and staying out of debt! It recognizes that frugality and caring for our planet go hand in hand, and that our unsatiated need for stuff is hurting us in so many ways.

    Easier said than done!


    I am not a finance professional. I write about the world as I know it, and my advice may not be the best course of action for you! Please seek qualified advice for your particular situation.

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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!