Wednesday, July 2, 2014

$$$ Money, money money, MONEY!

Little things add up. I recently did the math and found that from digital coupons, clipped coupons, shopping/ planning meals around what is on sale, and looking through the discount bins, I consistently save about 35-40% a month on groceries. I don't do anything "extreme" or super time consuming. We eat almost every meal at home plus snacks and treats so we go through a lot of groceries. We eat what we like and our budget never holds us back from having our favorite things. I figured out that we eat about $250 worth of groceries a week. I spend about $150. We save about $4800 a year.

So, here is how I do it:

1. I buy in multiples.
I look at the sale ads EVERY week. I choose the items that have the deepest discounts and I buy as much as I can of those items. For instance, this week Kroger has skinner pasta on sale for .38 each (typically about $1 each). I will buy a month worth of pasta at that price because pasta goes on sale at deep discounts pretty often. We go through about 2-3 packages of pasta a week. So say 10 in a month. The sale price saves me about $6 for the month. A few weeks back Kroger ran canned tuna on sale for .50 each (which is a rare low price I haven't seen for tuna in a very long time- it typically goes on sale for about .69-.89)- I bought over 30 cans. That might seem extreme at first, but if you think of it in the long run- I know that my family eats about 6-8 cans of tuna a month. The normal price I pay is about .79 each. So I typically spend 4.74-6.32 a month on tuna. At the sale price of .50 I'm only paying $3-4 a month. That's about $2 a month which may not sound like a huge savings at first, but when you buy say 4-5 months worth, that's about $9. Now just on tuna and pasta- some pretty basic staples, I've saved $8 in a month. Maybe you still don't think that's much, but if I can get that sort of savings EVERY month- it adds up to $96 in a year.

This is how I shop for almost EVERY item. I buy in bulk when things are on sale and it means that I am only ever paying the lowest prices for my grocery items. This means that each week I may not be buying groceries that all together would equal a week of meals because ingredients are missing, but combined with what I've bought in the past, it all works out.

2. I buy what's on sale. 
That statement may sound a lot like what I just went through, but hang with me a second, because it is VERY different. Not all items can be bought in bulk because they would spoil. These fresh items are really important to a well balanced, healthy diet. The way I keep fresh foods in the house without running up my grocery bill is I ONLY buy what is on sale. Last week grapes were on sale for .88/lb which is a fantastic price for fruit. I also found blueberries for 1.99/pint. A few weeks ago we went out to a farm and purchased a 1/4 peck of peaches that we keep in the refrigerator- (buying from the farm AT the farm is a great way to get super low prices on seasonal produce). This gave my family three great options for fresh fruit last week and kept my grocery bill low. I do the same thing for veggies that aren't best bought frozen (like whole potatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.) I buy what is on sale (which is typically whatever is in season) and then I plan my meals/snacks around what I am able to purchase. Grapes are typically $2-3/lb and blueberries are typically $4/pint. Peaches have been around $2/lb. Last week we had $16 worth of fruit, but I only paid about $7.

3. I buy discount meat.
Now this part of how I save a TON of money really does require a small deep freezer. Also, you need to educate yourself on the proper way to freeze/store meat, how to thaw it, and how long it can be frozen. In addition to purchasing choice meats when they are on sale (brisket, ribs, steaks, good cuts of pork, etc.), I ALWAYS check the discount bins in the meat department and almost exclusively buy ground beef and roasts on "managers special" (marked down) along with anything else appealing I find there for less than $3.49/lb. I buy lean ground beef and never pay a dime over $3.49/lb for it, but I often pay less than $3/lb. If you shop much you know that those prices are at a minimum $1/lb less than the typical prices. When I see the meat, I buy every bit that is available. I wait for smoked sausage to be $1/package and then buy in bulk. I also buy bacon in bulk- on occasion there are two grocery stores in town that will run a 3lb package of bacon for $8-$9 (which is an absolute STEAL for bacon) and I will buy 4 packages at once (which lasts us 3-6 months depending on how much we feel like eating bacon). I buy chicken (boneless/skinless) only when it is on sale for less than 1.80/lb. If I can't find our staples (ground beef and boneless skinless chicken) on sale/discount, then I buy bulk packages at Sam's Club which ALWAYS carries them at the lowest regular price in town (typically a full .70-.80/lb less). Meat can be a big chunk of your grocery budget if you don't shop smart- but remember that there are many meats that keep for several months if frozen properly. You should never pay the regular grocery store price for meat. I exclusively purchase sale and discount meats and I know it is where I save a huge percent of $$$. If you live in Longview, Skinner's is really great at having discount meats, and Kroger/Albertson's run the best sales on meat. Between the three, you should never have to pay full price. Super One and occasionally Brookshire's run the smoked sausage and bacon on sale a few times a year and prices worth buying in bulk.

4. I USE ALL of the discounts available to me. 
I have the store cards for every store in town. I load the digital coupons onto my cards. It takes very little time to load digital coupons and it's an easy way to save money without spending a lot of time/effort. Brookshires will even send text exclusive deals to your phone if you sign up and sometimes those deals are really good. I don't typically shop at Brookshires because it is the furthest from my home and the prices on average are the highest in town, but every now and then I get a text deal too good to pass up. I also clip coupons. If you don't buy the Sunday paper (I don't), you probably know someone who does and doesn't use the coupons- ask for them. I get free coupons, clip the ones I might use, and keep them in plastic organizers in my purse at ALL times. I NEVER EVER leave home without them. I flip through them in the parking lot before I go into the store and pull out the ones I think I might need based on what I'm going in for. I don't go crazy, and I don't buy things I don't need. I only use them if they will actually SAVE money. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy the store brand or a different size of the item than to use the coupon you have. In addition to the free coupons I am graciously given, about once a month I browse and print out the coupons that are for items I know I buy (or that typically go on sale meaning I can purchase them at super low prices). I also have "liked" the facebook pages for several brands that my family likes. Often companies will post facebook exclusive coupons. I don't go looking through pages for coupons, but if it comes up in my normal feed, I go ahead and print it. I also pay attention to the coupons that print out at the register when I'm at the grocery store. Those coupons are typically targeted towards your buying habits and can be really valuable. I save about $20/ month using coupons and spend maybe an hour/month clipping/downloading/printing them. Not bad. *It is important to note that you may need to read through the coupon policy for the store you shop at most often to learn the exceptions- for example, at kroger you cannot combine a printed coupon with a digital coupon. Digital coupons also cannot be used for "managers special" (marked down) items, but they CAN be used for sale items.

5. I check my receipts. 
While my items are being rung up, I watch the screen to try and check that the prices are what I expected. Before I leave the store, I pull my buggy over to the side after I've checked out and I look over my receipt to make sure that every thing rang up for what it was supposed to, that all sale items were truly sold to me at the advertised prices, and to make sure all of my coupons were taken off. If I find a problem, I immediately take my receipt to customer service and have it made right. No less than 6 times a year I get over charged for items and have to go through the process to get a refund, but at times it has been the difference of as much as $20! That's a lot of money to lose to not checking your receipts!

6. I read the fine print.
There is nothing worse than thinking that you are going to get a great deal then walking up to the cash register and finding out that you didn't read the details and will miss out on the savings. This can apply to coupons, but mostly I find the issue with the "mega" sales. Often, in order to get the lowest advertised price, you have to meet certain criteria- like purchasing a certain number of items that are on the "mega" sale. If you purchase too few, none of the items will be sold to you at the discount, and if you get too many,  (say 7 instead of 6), then the "extra" items will be sold at the higher price. It's also important to note limits. Often stores will advertise "loss leaders"- these are items sold at discounts so deep the retailer might actually be losing money on the sale, so they put in limits for the number of those items that you can purchase at the discount- attempting to purchase more than the limit will result in the excess being sold to you at regular price. Also with "loss leaders" you need to make sure there isn't an "additional purchase" requirement. Especially with meat deals, stores often require you to make an ADDITIONAL (meaning the price of the sale item doesn't count towards the total) purchase of $10-$20.

7. I always check out the competition.
I shop the most at Kroger because I find it to be the store with the lowest overall prices and it's close to my home. However, I do not shop exclusively at Kroger. I buy bread at Skinners because they sell pepperidge farm bread products for .99 everyday. I look at the sale ads for EVERY grocery store in town EVERY week. Sometimes it's worth it for me to run into a different store to pick up sale items. I find this most true for fresh items (produce and meat). By looking at the competition each week, I get to make sure I'm getting the most for my money and providing variety for my family.

8. Special items are ONLY bought at super discounts.
We have a coffee machine that brews K-cups. If you've ever done the math, you know that it is much more expensive to buy K-cups than it is to buy ground coffee. For this reason I ONLY buy K-cups on clearance. I occasionally find them at Super One or Kroger on clearance and I buy up everything they have. I pay a max of $3.50 for a box of 12, but typically I pay $2-$3 per box (typically less than half of the regular price). We have a lot of K-cups and a wide variety of options at our house. This is how we handle ALL Special items. We don't buy ice cream unless it's a really good sale. We only buy candy the day after a holiday when it's half off. We save the special stuff for when it's really cheap.

9. I am brand flexible. 
It's hard to save money if you are only willing to buy the same brand you always buy. We have our preferences, but those preferences can be trumped by prices. For instance, we prefer Prego or Classico for jarred pasta sauce, but this week Ragu was on sale for 1.19/jar PLUS I had a coupon for .75/off 2. That made each jar about .81. Prego or Classico would have been over 2.50/jar. We don't love Ragu, but we are all willing to eat it. At that big of a price difference, we eat what's affordable over what's preferable. Now, we straight up dislike certain brands of pasta sauce, so regardless of the price, I don't buy those. Flexibility doesn't mean eating things we don't like or buying things we will never use. Sometimes the store brand is cheapest, sometimes a name brand is cheapest, and sometimes the right coupon can make a world of difference. We eat several brands, we are willing to try new brands, and I shop with a balance of what's most affordable vs. what we prefer.

10. I buy the SIZE that is most cost effective.
Look closely at the price tags on the shelves and you will start to see small numbers typically in a corner that will give a breakdown of the price/unit. So like when buying cheese typically the small corner price will show the price/ounce. This is really important to pay attention to. Sometimes the bigger size of an item comes at smaller price/unit- but not always. Sometimes the smaller packages carry the smaller overall price (this is especially true when an item is on sale- often the size that is on sale will be cheaper than other sizes of the same item). Does that make sense? For example, typically with block cheese, if you buy a 1lb block, you pay less per ounce than if you bought the same brand of cheese in the 8oz block. However, on occasion, 8oz blocks will run on sale at prices so low that it actually becomes cheaper to buy two 8oz blocks of cheese than a 1lb block of cheese. NOW- the one exception to this money saving rule is this: NEVER BUY MORE THAN YOU CAN USE BEFORE IT SPOILS. It does no good at all to buy a whole bunch of something if you are going to end up throwing out a good portion of it. Like if you buy cereal but your family doesn't eat it often, it may be more economical to buy the smaller box because the bigger one may go stale before you are able to eat the whole thing.

Ok, I know that was a lot of info. If you aren't big on shopping/saving it may seem overwhelming, but I promise, with just a tiny bit of time practicing the execution, it gets easier and eventually you find that it's not hard or time consuming to save a lot of money grocery shopping.

If you are interested in some of the more crazy side of saving money, I suggest "liking" the Kroger Krazy page on facebook. You can also check out for a super easy walk through of how to combine coupons with sale prices and price matching to get stuff for super cheap/free.