Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Eat for less: More grocery budget tips

I had $100 to spend and a lengthy list of items to buy. Bananas, pears, celery. Rice, eggs, cheese, bread, milk, cheese. Ground beef, cheese, chicken, cereal, cereal bars, cheese.

My frustration grew as my cart filled, the eye ever on the budget. I wanted sparkling water but decided to skip it since we now go through almost two gallons of milk a week. Orange juice wasn't on sale so I opted to get a smaller jar of peanut butter.

By the end, I tossed up my hands. I went back through the aisles and grabbed what I wanted. I was done with the budget and whatever we were over ... well, we were over.

 photo d0da2418-3767-4340-afe0-1a6ae697ed7a_zpsb408aa5d.jpg

I lucked out that week, staying under my budget and still getting some luxury items, but it's not always that way. It can take a lot more finessing to get the necessities and the fun stuff for the week.

But I've learned a few tricks that help me get what I want and keep it under budget.

Be loyal to a store — when it pays. Kroger is the most convenient store to my house, and the chain is also the most popular in the area. Like so many stores, they have a loyalty card, which offers savings and a way for the store to track purchases. It can feel a bit invasive but Kroger mails out loyalty coupons that can be applied to the items I buy most. Free cereal bars? Yes, please. And, while you are at it, I will take 50 cents off the rice that's on sale. Thanks for asking.

I also get fuel points at Kroger, and my $400 monthly spending at the store can save me $5 on gas. It's not a lot but I'll take it.

Shop in the morning. My neighborhood store will put perishable items on manager's special like clockwork — at 8 a.m. Meat that can go in the freezer and vegetables still with days of life can be found at a good discount. I try to make it at the store on Friday before work or Saturday before a run to get the best-looking products for the best price.

Get to know the employees. I shop at the same Kroger at the same time (usually) each week. I know the guy in the meat department, and he knows me. He knows I like to buy sale items, to which he'll direct me. I never would have bought chorizo had it not been for him but the $2.49 roll became two meals, including chili. Employees are also, at times, at liberty to further mark down items or make them free depending on the expiration. A Kroger employee gave me a six-pack of Tropicana juice boxes at no cost as he only had four days on them. It was an instance when being a regular shopper worked to my advantage.

Use coupons for the things you buy. I rarely use coupons from online sources or the newspaper because they are most often for things I don't buy. If I wouldn't get it at full price, I don't need it at a discount — no matter how great the savings is.

A note on this: Use the coupons only if it makes the deal better. For example, I had coupons for Laura's Lean Beef and Kroger's Simple Truth Chicken. I could use them whenever to save a bit but I waited. On Saturday, I found both products on manager's special, which equaled about double the savings.

If it's a good deal, buy it. On the most recent shopping trip, I didn't need either the beef or the chicken but I bought them. Yes, it cut into the budget for things I needed on that trip but it was going to save me for the next week. I do this especially with meat as it is often the most expensive thing on the list. A word of caution: I buy what I think I will use in the next month but no more. Grocery stores cycle specials and new coupons come out. I will be able to get a good sale again.

Plan double-duty dinners. There's a good chance that the Laura's Lean Beef will become meatballs next week. The first meal will be with pasta and sauce, and the second can be a meatball sandwich. Pulled pork and barbecue chicken are great for this, too.

Know what's worth your money. Mark drinks Tropicana orange juice. Period. The times I have tried to go to a lower cost beverage have been met with complaints and, sometimes, waste. I no longer try to save money on juice. However, there are no complaints when it comes to store brand cereal and pasta. I also alternate between the good stuff and the value items. One week, we get Private Selection ice cream (the best) and the next week it's Kroger brand or a sale item + coupon.

How do you save at the grocery?


  1. I don't think I'm as savvy a shopper as you are, but I do try to save money where I can. I second the story loyalty tip! For me, Meijer mPerks are amazing. The rewards dollars really add up, and I alway make sure to get to the store when they do 5 percent off weekends. It pays to shop at the same store every week.

  2. What this chick does:
    I make up my meal plan, my list and then do a $$ estimate. I go to the store with that amount in cash, no card and no checks. That I way I have no choice but to spend within my budget. ;-)

  3. I shop at Target and use their Red card to get 5% off my total bill. It basically pays for your tax. Plus I read somewhere that Target and Walmart are some of the cheaper options for groceries and I've done some comparison shopping. Target comes in low. BUT they have all that OTHER fun stuff there .. Champion sports wear anyone? So I have to be really careful not to go over to the "dark side" of the store. Plus my kids enjoy going there. That's never good.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I try and have a menu already figured out so i am not just buying random stuff. Potentially wasting money because i won't use the produce. I am really good at not wasting though! ;)

  5. These are awesome tips! You're right- if it's a good deal, it's worth it to go off the plan and get the sales. I never noticed the early morning discounted foods - I'll have to check for that!

  6. I really really miss Kroger. The grocery stores here, even Whole Foods, cannot compare to the afforadable organics they offer. Food is super expensive here...$3.25 for a single organic bell pepper for example. Say what?! Trying to watch my grocery spending more closely even if it means going to multiple stores.