Friday, March 6, 2009

Finding ways to save money at the grocery store [Guest Post]

(This is the second post in a new series of guest writers.)

Becky Kaine is the mother of my two children, my wife, my best friend, and the most amazing person you could ever meet.

We've been working together to manage our finances through this "new economy" and since groceries make up a large portion of "controllable expenses" - we made a budget and Beck made a commitment. We exclusively use the FREE to track our expenses and budgets, check it out if you haven't already.

Here is what she has to say about all this:


I’ll admit that I’m not necessarily the best saver. I really like the THOUGHT of saving…..but I really like the feeling of spending! This is why I’ve been put on a grocery budget. It’s this whole debacle of the economy that has our family – like countless others – abuzz with assessing our money habits – specifically where it is going each month. I’ve learned some very interesting things about my habits over the past three months. These revelations will not be new to many of you who were responsible with your purchases in the first place. But maybe a few ideas here might help your household, too.

First, I had to take an honest look at how and why I shop. I mean clearly, I’m going there to get food. But why am I getting the food that’s going into my cart? I am a visual shopper – easily persuaded by fancy displays and signs that tout “Special Savings!” My cart was filling up with expensive specialty items and bulk purchases that didn’t save me anything at all. I needed to arm myself with a plan if I was going to maintain my new budget. And here is the plan:

Shop once a week.
Yes. I was overwhelmed at the thought – but it has actually reduced my stress level tremendously. I have two daughters (3 and 5) and for each of you that have ever shopped with children – the grocery store is one of the last places you want to be with them. I can handle once a week. Of course this means you will need to….

Plan ahead.
I take a little time each week – a day or two before shopping – to decide what the family will eat the following week. I love to cook and bake – so I try a few new recipes and then round it out with old standbys. There’s a balance in the menu. Some dishes are a little “fancy” and require extra time to prep and cook. Of course, like most families, our days are filled with obligations like school, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, etc. I need to be flexible and have those quick go-to meals on hand, too. In addition, the tastes of our girls are not the same as mine or my husband’s and one daughter has food allergies. But don’t let the circumstances of your family steer you away from the simple act of planning ahead. And because you know when you’ll shop next it’s manageable. But you’ll need a…….

Shopping List.
This list has everything I’ll need for meals the next week (obviously) in addition to anything we ran out of. And here is where I really benefit from shopping once a week. My (bad) habit was to go buy something that I was running low on. I would stick it in a storage cabinet until I needed it. Two weeks later I would run out of the original product and (forgetting I already bought a replacement) buy more. Now when something runs low….I ask myself…..will it last another week or do I need to buy it now? That helps me decide if it needs to be written down on the list. It took me a couple of weeks to decide “how much” I needed for certain staples (like milk) to last a whole week. Also, I focused on using up fresh and “faster-going” fruits and vegetables soon after my purchase and then using frozen or heartier ones later in the week. But you have to stick to the list to make your plan work. Of course to really get your money’s worth out of your groceries you’ll want to….

Reduce. Re-use. Recycle.
Sort of. Become a fan of leftovers… artful ways of “recycling” your meals into new creations the next day. Or at the very least….start freezing!! This has become a whole new world for me. Sounds silly almost….but I would usually eat leftovers for a day or two…..then let them mold over….forced to toss them in the garbage. Now I freeze leftover portions of soups, muffins, cookies, etc. right away. They make great meals and treats later on. Which brings me to my “safety net” of sorts. Once a week we have a “cleanup” meal. Basically whatever you can find to eat – that’s your meal. Simple classics like pb&j. Frozen meals. Breakfast for dinner. Essentially it’s a back-up plan for a night that didn’t go the way you thought it would – but it makes the most of the food you’ve already purchased. It doesn’t mean an unhealthy meal….just one that uses up what you have.

So there you have it. My plan for keeping to a grocery budget. Nothing earth shattering. Just common sense. Some days I feel frugal. Mostly I feel responsible and empowered. My husband loves that our grocery bills have been cut by almost 50%. I wonder what budget he has lined up for me next???