The journey up a mountain is a series of smaller hikes and climbs and this is the same approach we take to Debt Mountain: savings happen one supermarket trip at a time.
Getting the grocery budget in order has been a challenge, as I have mentioned. But by golly, it is coming along! Read on to learn about our grocery bargains!
I have tried to do price books and cash envelopes in the past, but they never worked. What is different now?
- I am tired of tossing our money out the window.
- I want to be a better caretaker of the funds I am given by my employer.
- Google spreadsheets allows me to track every dollar budgeted and spent.
- Online ads make price comparison SO MUCH easier!
The Dude and I grocery shop on Fridays, for a few reasons. First, I am on a 4-day work week and Fridays are my day off. I work until 5:30 pm and get home around 6:30 or so. Although I could shop during the week after I get home, it is not appealing, especially since I have to get up at 5:30 am. Furthermore, I get paid on Fridays (every 2 weeks), so it is a good mental touchstone. Additionally, our best produce shop is run by 7th Day Adventists and is not open on Saturdays. During the winter, they close at 4:30 on Fridays and give an additional 5% off all day Friday to apologize for the inconvenience of closing early. And finally, Free Friday Downloads come out on Fridays. Although they don’t have to be purchased on Friday, it is a good way to remember them.
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
On Thursday night, I spend several hours looking over the flyers and filling my Google Sheet, broken up by store, and keep a running tally of the budget. I do this while watching TV or a movie. I add all the digital coupons and look through any paper coupons I might have.
On Friday, we get up and go to the bank and withdraw either $150 for the week or $300 for two weeks. The details are still a bit wiggly. We took out 2 weeks worth last week because today is the day after Thanksgiving and I had a feeling the bank would be closed. I like going into the bank to get the money because they will give us envelopes and the denominations of our choice. Their envelopes are great because they have this nice cooperative message on them. It makes me feel like we are in this together, and the bank is holding me accountable for my choices as well, even though they are not.
We are using cash for groceries because cash is tangible. It is a new experience for me; I haven’t used cash in years and years. But trying to make things come out even, and having a set number of bills left in my envelope, have really helped me to focus on the amount spent.
After we get our money, the fun begins. We start at Grocery Outlet, price-checking yogurt, cheese, and cereal. I give myself wiggle room here because the prices aren’t listed online and sometimes I find ridiculous prices here that can’t be passed up. I often find things are cheaper here than the sale price at another store, so I make a point to add the size and price of the product at Fred Meyer or Safeway so we can compare unit price.
There isn’t a Franz bakery outlet super close to our house, so we don’t go there every week. We try to buy bread on sale in the grocery store, but it is so much better when we can swing a trip. Today we went to the outlet that is down by the bakery. We got their organic wheat bread for $1 a loaf!
We got 5 loaves. We also got 3 packages of 6 plain bagels and 2 large packets of English muffins. They have a rewards program and since we spent $10, we could get one item from the freebie rack. We got an 8 pack of hamburger buns.Total cost for all bread products: $10. To get the same products and brand at Fred Meyer this week would have cost $52, even with sale pricing at FM.
We throw bread and extra bagels and whatnot into the chest freezer. We have never had any issue. When I can’t get down to the bread store, we buy store brand bread and skip the bagels and English muffins. Safeway has been having a fairly consistent 99 cent sale on their store brand pan bread, but almost all of it has sucralose, which we hate. I want to be better about incorporating Franz into our shopping. I may just plan to go every other week and spend $20. This would actually be a better deal, because if you spend $20, you get 3 freebies. The main outlet has a HUGE selection of breads and bread products in their bargain room, all 5 for $5.
Is it Miller Time? No, It’s Meyer Time
After the bread store, we went to Fred Meyer. For those of you who don’t live in the NW, Fred Meyer is not just a grocery store. It has clothes, furniture, household goods, hardware, lawn and garden. Everything. Like a Super Walmart. So going there on Black Friday was not the most pleasant thing. And it was a location where we don’t usually shop, so we don’t know the layout. But the bargains were too good to pass up! For instance, Classico pasta sauce is 99 cents a jar, limit 5. Butter is $1.99 a pound. Grapes are 99 cents a pound.
Cleaning without getting cleaned out
I am trying to be more deliberate about our cleaning products. My strategy has always been: we get low on spray cleaner (kitchen or bathroom) and I go to the Dollar Tree and buy a spray bottle of Awesome—- or to Target and buy some Method. But in my quest to walk more lightly and to save more money, I am moving into concentrates. We are using Dr. Bronner’s and water for dish liquid. I tried to make dish washing detergent but haven’t been successful yet. I wanted to go a similar route for spray cleaner.
We weren’t finding vinegar or Dr. Bronner’s to be getting the cabinets clean, so we need something stronger. I had received a pack of coupons from FM. One of the coupons was $1 off any cleaning product, $3 or more. I did some research and decided Pine Sol is the way to go. The 48 oz bottle was $3.39, which came down to $2.29 after coupon. I filled an old spray bottle with about a capful of Pine Sol and the rest of the bottle with water. There isn’t even a noticeable difference in the Pine Sol level. That bottle of Pine Sol should last us years.
Happiness is a cheap tube of Chapstick
My other huge score this week came in a tube. Several tubes, actually. Ci uses and loves classic original Chapstick. He is OK with Burt’s Bees as well, but that is it. He was running low and asked for a new tube. I decided to shop around for the best price. I checked Fred Meyer, no sale. Safeway didn’t put out a sale flyer after Thanksgiving, so no price checking there! Dollar Tree only had an off-brand product. I looked in Walgreens and Rite Aid online. Lo and behold, Walgreens had a 3 pack, buy one get one free! $3.49 full price. So, I would be able to get 6 tubes for $5.25. Not too bad. 87 cents each.
Rewards for the win!
When hunting for grocery bargains, be sure to think beyond the price. While I was price checking the Chapstick, I remembered that Walgreens has rewards points that can be used like money at check out. I logged to see my balance. The new process there is that for every 1,000 points, you get $1 in rewards money. I had $3 in rewards money! $2.25 for 6 is 38 cents a tube! Looking at my balance, I noticed that I was 180 points from the next level. This is one of the reasons I shy away from rewards points, it is easy to talk yourself into spending to save, and I think it can work against you. But for 180 points, should I buy something else I need and then ring up the chapstick? Maybe, but I didn’t really need anything else at Walgreens.
While I was pondering this, I was staring at the Walgreens screen and notice they were pushing their fitness and lifestyle tracker. They were giving points for adding things to the tracker! 20 points per mile of exercise recorded. I had done quite a bit of walking this week, so I added some miles. And then I tracked my sleep. Each night’s sleep tracked adds 20 points. In about 5 minutes, I had added the needed 180 points to put me into the next reward tier. So now I could get 6 tubes for $1.25. 21 cents per tube. The story got better when we went into Walgreens. The 3 packs of Chapstick were bundled with a bonus tube!
So we got 8 tubes for $1.25. The end price was 16 cents per tube!
Grocery bargains are fun, but take me a lot of time to find!
Yesterday we went to 7 stores. The trip took about 4 hours. I spent 3 hours the night before, planning the grocery list. I will spend about an hour making a meal plan. This is the reason why I hope to get this shopping down to every other week. But the Dude and I do it together, and we have lunch along the way, so there is some nice time spent together in the midst of the drudgery. Yesterday we rewarded ourselves with a visit to the Humane Society to visit the critters as well.
Why do I put myself (and my husband) through it? As I mentioned, groceries were a place where we could really reel in our budget. I have gone from at least $200 a week (and often more), to a low of $100 a week, bumped up to $125 a week, and now settled at $150 a week. According to the USDA, a family of four on a thrifty plan should expect to spend $148 a week. If there is a 5th person, add 20%, which brings it up to 177.60. Their budget is based on children who are between 6 and 11 years old, and I am feeding young men. My methods have us saving at least $27 a week off the thrifty plan, and more if the price increases based on the age of the eaters. At $27 a week, that adds up to $1404 in savings over the course of the year. And that is a savings from what the USDA considers the thriftiest plan. Compared to what I was spending, I am saving a ton of money. But even compared to the thrifty column, I am doing well!
If you have the time and are willing to do some prep work and shop several stores, you can get some great grocery bargains!