Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grocery Shopping 3: Heading to the store

It's not uncommon for people to suggest shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals. For me, it's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Yes, I can go to the four grocery stores in my area, get the best deals for each item and spend $10 on gas doing it. For some of my friends they spend more than that in gas attempting to get better prices. With gas at just under $4 a gallon, does that really make sense? One friend justified it by saying they got food stamps so it wasn't the same budget. I wanted to ask where they could have used the extra money if they hadn't spent so much on gas but I didn't.
Yes, I get food stamps and that makes up the bulk of my budget but after bills and gas, I get to use the leftover money for more groceries. Sometimes there isn't any but I would rather fuel my family than my car.
I pick the best store for my needs for the month. Lately, that has meant a discount grocery store that is the furthest away from my home. Because I only go once a month and I save a great deal, I do my shopping there. However, I don't buy much in the way of produce or meat there (discount groceries often have poor quality produce and horrible meat prices to make up for the discounts in the rest of the store).
I go into the store with my list, my kitchen inventory and a calculator. My kitchen inventory is on a clipboard with a pen so I have a good writing surface. As I pick up items, I write the price on my list next to the name of the item. I do this for two reasons - 1. I like to keep track of the prices on my KI so having the prices on my list makes going through the list easier. and 2. if I find the same item for less somewhere else in the store I have the amount so I can change it in my calculator.
As I shop, I add the prices in my calculator. This keeps me from estimating how much I am spending (which only works part of the time). I can keep a accurate record of the expenses so that I don't get to the checkout and find I have overspent.
I walk into the store with a budget in mind. My goal is often less than what I have available to spend so I can keep some extra for later in the month. It doesn't always happen because I can't always guess how the prices will change from month to month. However, by aiming for lower than my budget I can almost guarantee I won't go over my budget.
For me, it's not enough to just have an overall budget. I, also, give myself budgets for certain items. The store closest to my home has a deal of 5 packages of meat for $20. Because I know that I can get meat for that price, that becomes my meat budget. I can not spend more than $20 on meat. But that's still not enough of a budget for me. If I spent $20 on meat without considering how that would impact meals then I could end up with only a meal or two so I challenge myself more - No more than $2 a meal for meat. That allows me to get higher quality meats if I desire without overly impacting my budget. Now $2 a meal budget doesn't mean I buy hot dogs and canned tuna to keep my budget down (even though we occasionally buy those as well). What it means is that I have to come up with a way of stretching the meat so that I am only spending $2 or less per meal (I like to challenge myself even lower but that doesn't happen easily).
We like bacon, it's something we add to a meal as the meat - it's not the meal its self. Bacon runs about $2.50 for a package. I can take a package and make two meals out of it. Lately, the meat department has offered bacon that runs $2.29 a pound for thick slices that look really nice. In this case, I break up the package into freezer bags with six slices each. This past month, I spent just over $7 for the package and broke it up into 7 bags giving us 7 meals at just over $1 a meal.
I found chicken thighs for .98 a pound. The one thing I don't like about bone in chicken is that it becomes very difficult to stretch it. When I can buy them, I prefer the boneless skinless chicken parts because I can easily cut them up and toss them into whatever dish. Bone-in parts almost always become part of the meal, vegetable, starch menu. However, for the price it wasn't two bad. I spent between $4-5 for each package (bought 2) and broke them into about 8 meals with a two having extra parts for a lunch. With bone-in thighs I give everyone 1 piece. Cooking more than that will guarantee that they eat more than that so I don't cook anything more than 1 extra piece for lunch (I'm the only one who takes a lunch since my son eats at school and hubby eats at home).
I keep things flexible when I shop. I keep my mind open to deals I can't pass up. In August, hotdogs were .68 a package. We don't eat hotdogs often and I feel like they are a good quick fix and they freeze really well. I picked up two even though they weren't on the list. It did mean making sure that I had enough for everything on the list. I, also, don't always walk out with everything on my list. I like crushed ginger in the glass jars but if I'm going to pay $3 I want it to be all ginger not ginger with oil and high fructose corn syrup (I didn't even realize you could buy it that way). Not getting the ginger meant money for the hotdogs.
Be aware that prices change. Something that was a great deal last month may not be as great of a deal this month which is where having the prices on your KI comes in handy. Shopping can easily be stressful and crowded stores open us up to mistakes. Take your time, go when it's not so crowded and don't have it part of a busy day. I, always, make a shopping day when nothing else is planned (atleast for me). I want to be able to take my time through the store and have time at home to put the groceries away and update my KI. I can't do that if I only have a limited amount of time. I've gone grocery shopping in the middle of the night just so I can have enough time (thankfully all our stores are now 24 hours).
Hope that helps. Tomorrow I will talk about developing a food support system and how that can benefit you more than any other technique.

No comments: