Sunday, March 3, 2013

super easy guide to grocery shopping

I had a newlywed ask recently for a how-to for grocery shopping.  She got married fairly quickly after leaving home and didn't get a lot of practice doing her own shopping (for real food), and now she's shopping for two.  Two students, who don't always have time to cook.  I tried to keep it simple while explaining enough that someone totally inexperienced could follow along.  Hopefully it's not too wordy...  Skip or enjoy.  :)  

1. Decide on a budget.

Before I was married, my budget for groceries was $30/week.  I didn't use coupons, and I ate well.  Now that I'm married, the budget is still $30/week.  I still don't use coupons, and we still eat well.  We designate $150/month for groceries - $30/week plus an extra $30 in case of a fifth week.  I chose $30 arbitrarily before being married but kept it because it was an amount I could do easily.  After getting married, I had more room for food storage so I switched to a monthly budget in case something was on sale one week and I wanted to go over $30 to stock up.  You may have children, love the expensive brand of orange juice, or only eat organic.  Consider your eating habits (those you have and those you want, if you're trying to alter your diet), have a discussion with your husband / wife, and decide what budget will work best for your family and paycheck.

EDIT: Suggested by my friend Allison - don't forget about your location!  Groceries can cost a lot more in some areas than others.  If you just moved, know that your last budget might need to be amended.

Once you have a budget, think about your spending habits.  Are you fairly diligent with keeping track of your money, or would using cash be a better option for you?  We use cash to help me stay within the budget.  Any leftover at the end of the month goes into an "Extra Grocery Money" jar, which I then use to bulk up our food storage.

2. Procure some grocery ads.

If they come in the mail, great.  If they don't, look them up online.  Don't go overboard - when I lived close to a lot of different grocery stores, I would look at a lot of ads to see which stores would save enough money to warrant going there.  Now that I live close to three grocery stores, I only look at three ads (and usually only go to 1-2 stores).

3. Decide what's cheap enough to buy (that you'll eat!).  

I circle items with a dark marker as I go through ads.  It's easier to see while putting together my list or if I run into a store with just my ad. 

This can be tricky when you're first starting.  What's a good deal?  My (very) general tip is this: For physically small things, like a can or fruit, get as far away from $1 as possible.  For bigger things, like bread or meat, get as close to $1 as possible.  I recommend creating a Stock Up List as you go if you're still figuring out what good prices are.  I got one from Money Saving Mom that I like, but her prices are much lower than what I usually see, so I filled out my own.  (She uses coupons and I generally don't.)

When you first start this step might take a while, but be patient!  As you get accustomed to the prices in your area, it'll go faster.  It takes me about the length of one song to go through all five ads (one store puts out 3) and figure out my shopping list.

(If you want to download a Stock Up List, here is the original from Money Saving Mom and here is one I have started. Mine's not complete because I have a good memory for the most common items.  I've been filling it out more diligently, though, so check back later if you want a completed form. :)

4. Using your ads, create a shopping list.

This is pretty self-explanatory.  If you only want to go to one store, only make one list.  If you don't mind going to a couple of stores, make sure your list clarifies which store each item is at.  If you circled tomatoes in two ads, which store has them cheaper?  I typically look at ads for three stores, make a list for all three, and then decide where to go.  If an out-of-the-way store only has tomatoes and bananas on sale, I skip the tomatoes and bananas.  Those go on sale all the time.  If there's cheap cheese, though, I'll go. 

5. Using your shopping list, create a menu for the week.

Some people mix up those two steps.  In my opinion, that's what breaks the budget.  Don't make a menu and then buy what you need for that menu.  See what's on sale and create a menu using those foods.  Include breakfast, lunch, dinner (including sides and vegetables), snacks, and beverages where applicable.  We eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich or leftovers for lunch, and drink water, so I focus on dinner (and bread for lunches).  

This step will also likely take practice if you're newly on your own.  One very helpful thing my mom did when I moved out was give me a blank calendar.  She told me to make a list of every food I could  make.  Your collection will grow - and be on the lookout for recipes that use everyday ingredients - but a list might be helpful for now.  I know how to make many more foods now but I still refer to that menu when I get stuck.  If you're a student, think about simple recipes!  Fancy ones are tasty, but for many schedules (and budgets) they're not realistic.  Planning complicated meals will just find you eating out once you realize you don't have time.  You can still eat really good food that's simple!  Leave me a comment if you need (specific) ideas for simple recipes.  That's about all I make.  

6. Grab your list and go shopping!

Keep your budget in mind as you're shopping.  Don't buy 45 on-sale frozen pizzas to build up food storage if you only have $30 to spend.  Also, check the off brands.  They're often cheaper than the on-sale items you were going for in the first place.

Finally, if you only buy Ramen every time you go shopping, yes, you will most likely save your budget.  But you'll be so bored! that it won't take long before you fall back into old habits.  So, one thing I like to do is buy something fun every week.  Doughnuts, bagels, string cheese, corn dogs... something that may or may not be on sale, but that will be fun without breaking the bank.  

Phew!  It was wordy, but hopefully I kept it simple while including enough (and not too much) info for you.  Good luck with your shopping!  And feel free to ask if any questions come up.  :)


"[Hook] felt his ego slipping from him.  'Don't desert me, bully,' he whispered hoarsely to it."  - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


Bree Ammons said...

I liked this post. It's always nice to get someone else's ideas on how to do every day things. It helps me to revamp my way of doing things.

Allison said...

Great list! Although I would add something to the budget part... you should also keep in mind your location and how expensive things are. It can be quite a shock going from Utah to somewhere more expensive where your previous budget is met when you buy only a few items.

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