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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Grocery Game

As food prices rise higher and higher, we are all trying to find ways to save money on our food. Starting a garden is a great way to save on produce. The initial cost may be a little high, but year after year, you will reap the benefits.

As I was driving last Saturday, I was listening to a radio program that promised if you went shopping with him, he could show you how to buy 15 meals worth of food for just $35. I just needed to be one of the first 20 callers. I pulled over and called right then, and I was one of the first 20 callers.

Shopping day arrived and I decided I would buy whatever he said to buy, even if it wasn't something I would normally get. As we walked down the aisles in a caravan of shopping carts, I just couldn't stop saying, "oh, my kids are going to be so excited, we never buy this" and, " wow, we sure are getting a lot of treats,  the kids are going to want me to shop with him every week!"

As I was checking out, my total came to $38 due to the tax and the extra head of lettuce I bought. I have to admit, my cart was pretty full for such a small price  because of the coupons that were provided by my shopping guide.  As I looked at the individual items in my cart, I realized that only about half of it was actually "food". 

He wanted a $10 tip at the end and another $10 for more coupons just like we used that day. I had to smile and pass him by. It is against my moral code to tip him for encouraging people to shop and eat that way.  And there is no way I'm going to get the coupons if it is going to encourage me to buy those types of items. I will stick to price matching, that way I'm getting the best deals possible on my produce, which normally would fill up at least 1/3 of my cart.  I use this website for my price matching. (I have not been paid or endorsed for linking this website, I genuinely like it, and want to share what I like.) 

Here is what ended up in my cart. 
This is what I actually consider "food"

What are your money saving grocery tips?



kelli said...

great post. as commodities rise in price, i'm amazed at how inexpensive processed foods remain. one could "save a bundle" shopping at wal-mart, but the cost in the long run is far more tolling on our health.

to save i buy nuts, seeds and grain in bulk, grow my own, participate in a csa, and this season i'm learning to preserve more of my produce.

*~*A*~* said...

Is this guy claiming Pop-Tarts are a "meal"? Sad.

Karina said...

Yes, I spent a lot of time figuring this out myself as well. Thanks for the tip about Deals to Meals!

Rachel said...

Ugh. Seeing that makes me want to gag.

We gave up the grocery store altogether to help save money. We focused on buying food direct from farmers, through specialty shops (like real butchers) and through a buying club/coop. Not only did we save money, we got away from processed food and are eating much higher quality foods.

Unknown said...

Rachel and Kelli, you guys inspire me! I still feel like I have a long way to go, but we have come a long way as well.

A, I know! Pop Tarts as a meal. ha.

Unknown said...

Ewww gag! Keebler Cookies and 'Bar S' hot dogs! I'll pass :)

We grow as much of our own food as we can, we purchase our meat from a local butcher and I also can a lot of our home grown food for winter eating as well.

So people look at me like I am crazy, but if you spend a couple more bucks on quality food, you do acutally pay less in the long run because quality food fills you better and makes you stay full longer too!!

Cheryl Ann said...

Frankly, I'd rather spend more on HEALTHY FOOD than his junk food! Pop tarts? Come on! I buy a lot of local fresh produce and fill up on salads. Maybe it isn't the cheapest, but it isn't full of sugar and by-products like his stuff. What a ripoff! Yes...quality over quantity any day! And, yes, I do spend more for organic meat also.


* Buy in bulk as much as you can and rotate through your inventory.
* Shop the perimeter of the store for the basics - produce, meats, grains, dairy.
* Stick to a list.
* Try your very best to make do with what you have and fight the urge to purchase stuff that is being pushed by advertising.
* Make your meals from scratch with the bulk being vegetables. "Peasant food" is mostly fresh vegetables, is cheaper and healthier.
* Use cash. Once it's gone, you're done.

Christy said...

Shew...thanks so much for easing my guilt! My sister has started couponing and goes on and on about how much money they save. When I plan my grocery list, I just can see how couponing would save me much money because they don't offer coupons on "clean" food very often!

I always feel guilty after talking to her because I could be saving my family so much money if I used coupons and bought junk, but I can't, in good conscious, fill my kids' & husband's bodies with that nonfood stuff. I'm still trying to recover from a childhood of junkfood!!!

Poptarts for a meal...that's funny now (but definitely reality in college!)

I look forward to browsing the Deals to Meals site! Thanks again :: C

Julie said...

Christy, no way you should feel guilty about feeding your family healthy meals instead of junk! My sister is also a big couponer. And their fridg and cupboards are stocked with junk food, convenience foods. No way I'm compromising my families health to save a buck! We can save money in other ways, what we eat is more important.

tawnya said...

I agree with Rachel above. We switched to CSA / Farmer's Market in the summers. I can produce as able. We buy meat straight from farmer's in our valley (lamb, beef, pig, chicken, Thanksgiving turkey). I can also get eggs and cheese locally, we have our milk delivered from a farmer and make my own bread (a wheat grinder at home is heaven!), although we do have an organic mill in town, as well. Once I do this, our grocery budget is strictly cash and used for organic stuff I don't can myself and the occasional treat. While I'm spending MORE than I did when we ate processed with coupons, to us it's worth it and we adjust the budget elsewhere!

K-Koira said...

My number one grocery money saving tip is to make sure you eat what you buy. Throwing something away after it goes bad means you spent a lot of money on nothing, making it a very expensive purchase.

A Mini Beginning said...

I agree, that guy gave you a whole lot of junk! To save money for our family and still get a healthy meal I use alot of veggies from our garden in the summer. We also try to can what we can to have in the winter months and we plan on having a much bigger garden next year. I make alot of things from scratch no quick frozen meals in this house. Which can be really hard when we are in a hurry with two little girls but I somehow make due. When we have things like pizza (kids favorite all time food) I make everything from scratch freeze what I don't use that day for another and use veggies and herbs that I grow. I even shed veggies in the sauce, I even hide carrots in the sauce mainly for me because I don't like carrots lol. I also buy alot of frozen veggies usually in the winter months because the flash frozen is suppose to have more vitamins preserved in them than fresh produce that has been sitting for weeks maybe even months and they last ALOT longer than fresh produce does thus saving money in the long run because we don't have food that is going bad. We started making our own ice cream at home too. This didn't start as a money saver thing for us, it started because my youngest in lactose intolerant and she needs ice cream with lactose free, rice, or soy milk I also only buy organic soy, lactose free amd regular milk and it is impossible to find organic ice cream around here! But making it at home is the best! I have NEVER gone back to store brand ice cream since. Once you have had ice cream at home it is never the same! You also see the difference when you look at the store bought ice cream ingrediant label and compare to how simple and good it is without all the "crap" that they put into it. We always make our own juices (from frozen juice), salsa, sauces, and soups, ect also at home. I only use canned when I have to. I make trips to Sam's Club sometimes to buy in bulk and we only eat out once a week now. I buy as much organic as possible but for me it isn't too expensive because I buy the Meijers brand organics. They always claim to support and buy from local Michigan farms so I figure I'm getting the organics that I want and supporting Michigan businesses at the same time. I only buy bakery made cookie or make them at home. You will never find oreos in my house lol. My husband also loves to make pies at home and we always use fresh produce for them. My husband and his family also has a few healthy mediterranean resturants and delis on MSU campus and the EL area so I have him bring home good old health mediterranean alot also. Which feels like we are having ordered in food and is helpful on the days when I don't wanna cook. I am trying to talk him into selling at the local farmer's makets too but it is a no go so far. In the long run we may not save that much but we are eating and giving our girls healthy foods while educating them on it as well. I get praised all the time when we eat at other's houses because these girls eat so healthy and LOVE their veggies too! I guess another way that probably saves us money also is that I NEVER make seperate meals for my girls (ages 3 and 1) from the very beginning I would blend up what we were eating for dinner and feed it to them as babies. I never gave them the chance to expect a special "kids meal" from me. So it probably saves us money in the long run also. When we eat out they don't eat off the kids menu either we just order an adult meal and have them share. I know I am blessed with good eaters lol! We can always cut corners in other ways if we have to to make sure that the healthy foods are always there for us :)

Teaspoon said...

I don't know if you were referring to it with your title, but I actually use a site called "The Grocery Game" at http://www.thegrocerygame.com/

They track sales (so they know when a "sale" is really a sale, and when it's pretending to be to get you in the store), and then post lists of both the advertised and the unadvertised sales, as well as noting which of those items have coupons in which newspaper inserts. (I haven't paid for toothpaste in nearly two years, from waiting until there's a sale and coupon combination that makes it free.*) The site allows you to check off those things you would normally buy, then print a shopping list that includes a note on where to find coupons that are currently available. You don't have to buy things that your family doesn't eat to make it work, so there's no phony "savings."

It doesn't work for everyone, but since it also keeps track of sales on meat, milk and produce, we're eating better and spending about $70 less per week than we were before I subscribed.** That gives me more money to spend at the farmer's market and the food co-op, so I actually get more organic and local food now than I used to, as well.

*Even if the sale + coupon makes something free, it may still be subject to sales tax.

**There's a free four week trial period, after which the weekly list for one store is $10 every 8 weeks and the list for any additional store is $5 every 8 weeks. They have lists for most of the major chain grocery stores and the major chain drugstores -- most subscribers take one of each kind after the trial period.

I haven't been paid to promote TGG, and I won't ask for the referral credit if any of your readers tries it, so no one need feel like they're being used if they go look at the site. Like I say, it doesn't work for everyone, but it's worth less than $2/week for me to have someone else handle tracking the sales and coupons. I plan my next week's meals based around what's on sale, and that helps me save even more.

Proverbs Thirty One Woman said...

I know a ton of people who are really big on using coupons. But I rarely use them for food because you don't see coupons for items like produce, dairy, or meat. You only find them for processed garbage. Blegh.

My best advice is to keep a price book. For years, I put this off because it seemed like too much work, but I discovered if I did it a little at a time, it was no big deal. And it has saved me a bundle knowing which stores are worth shopping at and whether a sale is really a good deal or not. I wrote about how to do it here: http://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2011/04/update-on-my-price-book.html

Teaspoon said...

I agree that there are a lot of coupons for junk, and they're almost always the ones with the flashiest ads surrounding them.

But there are also usually some coupons for things like eggs, yogurt, cheese, frozen or canned vegetables, juice, coffee, tea, frozen fish, canned tuna, pasta, breakfast cereal, and baking staples like flour, sugar, baking powder and spices (especially around the holidays).

Early summer usually sees coupons for condiments like mustard and pickles, and there are coupons all year for non-food items ranging from toilet paper to shampoo to laundry detergent to pet supplies to antacids.

There are a lot of reasons people might choose not to use coupons, but if the only reason someone isn't using them is because they think there aren't any for the things they usually buy, it might be worth leafing through that Sunday newspaper coupon packet. Cheers!

Tightwad Mom said...

This is how I try to save money at the grocery store and still eat healthy (http://tightwadmomsfrugalforum.blogspot.com/2011/04/rethinking-my-grocery-shopping-strategy.html). I use to clip coupons like a mad woman and match them to sales at the store., I got lots of items uber cheap, but my family was eating lots of prepackaged food that didn't keep them full very long. Now we eat more produce, bulk nuts, and homemade convenience foods. We eat much healthier and for the same amount of money, as when I was trying to be a coupon queen.

daisy g said...

Rock on, Sistah! More and more, folks are waking up to the importance of eating REAL food.

Our co-op saves us money and we are eating organic produce. Growing your own is ideal though.

Mrs. Farmer said...

I tried couponing and I have found that the only items I really use them for are:

-Canned tomatoes
-Personal Care Items (toothpaste)

I have to agree that most big deals with coupon matching are on stuff I don't want or need. How am I saving money spending .75 on a box of Pop Tarts when not buying them at all is cheaper? Heck, it's FREE! You can't beat free.


Rachel Bancroft said...

Thanks for this great post. The not buying "real food" is exactly why I stopped doing major couponing after only a few months of trying it. I was just ending up with too much of the stuff we don't need to be eating. Ive been trying to focus on my garden produce, farmers market, keeping a price book and looking for deals on things our family actually needs. And thanks for a great blog!

Alison said...

thanks Marisa! I've been using a coupon program and just haven't been using it at all. I like the free other supplies I get: toothpaste, soaps, toothbrushes, etc, but I do get sick of buying just the processed stuff. Or I get stocked up on items and then don't know what to do with them besides the same 6 recipes I know my family likes. I'm bound and determined to plant a fall garden (one good thing about AZ). We got an extra freezer and have considered buying beef from a butcher to fill it up. Right now it's mostly milk since there was a great sale last week.
Jeff thanks you very much as well! :)

Jennifer said...

YES!!! I wholeheartedly agree. As other commenters mentioned, coupons can be great for paper and personal products, with occasional coupons out there for milk, eggs, etc. Mostly, though, it is junk. I won't even call it junk food. Just junk. Plus, the idea of savings is relative. If X store says their sale helps me save $1.99, it's based on their idea of the original cost, which may be inflated.

My friend, a mother of two preschoolers, was shocked that I spend less per month than her on groceries for my family of seven (which includes a 15-year-old boy with a hollow leg!). I guess my best saving advice is to COOK, COOK, COOK! She loves to eat chicken, but refuses to handle it, so will buy only boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I've learned to stretch a chicken (which I can often buy for $.59 a lb.) into at least three meals for my family: Roast chicken served with ample veggies one night, soup from the carcass another, leftovers in enchiladas a third.) Mostly, though, we cook meatless meals. I also have a snack policy that my children can have fruit or veggies WHENEVER they want -- which I hope distracts them from noticing the lack of convenience foods in the pantry.

Don't let a coupon lure you into spending money to try something new!

Unknown said...

There are so many great ideas here, I will try to compile a list and make a post out of it!

Erin said...

To help save on groceries we have huge gardens and what we can't grow we buy from the Amish. I can/freeze/deyhrate EVERYTHING I can. We raise our own animals (chickens, rabbits and beef) also my husband hunts in the fall so we get fresh venison and turkey occasionaly. I trade a local dairy farmer eggs for milk part of the time. We are raising a heifer that is part gurnsey and plan on turning her into a family milk cow (and will be buying a milk pasturizer from Lehmans). We plan to raise a few pigs this fall.

I just canned 14 quarts of Cajun Bean soup and 7 quarts of potatoes yesterday.

I use coupons on occasion, but mostly for toiletries and laundry soap (which I have stockpiles of!)

Kim said...

I buy in bulk our flour, oats, etc...from Bob's Red Mill - love their 10 grain flour!

I use Cash n' Carry United Grocers for kid size snack items like bagged peanuts (cheaper than Costco for that kind of thing by far).

I do use Costco for 12-16 boxes of butter in one visit, pasta, prego, and organic peanut butter. I am working to take cash and keep it to my list. I used to go to Costco once a month, now I go every 3 months - it is a huge difference in not buying and spending so much there. Now, when we splurge for something there, it's just not that often and 3 times a year doesn't dent the budget.

I use a local grocery chain (WINCO) for bulk foods and go about once every 6 weeks.

I also use Grocery Outlet, for misc. canned goods and things when needed, candy for camping trips, and organic goods that have not sold elsewhere, but are still within their date range.

We have our own chxs for eggs.

I buy milk from the corner mart in town. They sell good local valley milk (always hormone free in Oregon) cheaper than the big grocery store (Safeway) and it keeps me out of Safeway - where'd I spend more on other not needed items. Love leaving the kids in the car and not dragging everyone into the store.

We grow and eat what is seasonal. I do occasionally buy bananas from the store.

We will go out to a apple farm this fall and pick over 100lbs of apples for winter storage. Cost about .60 cents a lb.

We pick and process strawberries and blueberries and freeze them into jam and frozen berries for scones, pies, muffins on Sunday mornings in winter.

I am not growing corn, but growing lots of squashes for winter storage.

We will continue to plant into the early fall for winter veggies of turnips, fennel, beets, carrots and onions and potatoes for fall and early winter eating - as long as they last.

Mostly, I try not to shop very much and stay out of the stores. I hit all the major stores once about every six weeks and we eat what is on sale, a loss leader (if it's healthy) and use a lot of bulk food and we bake. I've learned making hamburger buns is easy and saves me an end of the day trip into town, with a bit of planning.

We do eat meat, but not as much as we used to. I will use 4 chx thighs with some beans and that mixture will be used on nachos, taco filling, thrown into soup later...we stretch out the meat and eat more beans.

I do buy hamburger from a local farm for $3.00 a lb for hormone/antibiotic free. We don't eat much steak or pork ever, but I find I don't miss it. We do buy bacon for vacation!

I have a long way to go to keep working on my family's food budget, but we are working on it and this was from a girl who used to just walk into Trader Joe's and shop for the week a few years ago :-)

Stephanie said...

wow. possibly my favorite post (including comments) ever. thanks marisa!

-Sydney- said...

I agree! lots of great ideas. Another tip for coupons is to get on mailing lists for "real food" companies (I have a junk email account for just such a purpose). I frequently get coupons for stonyfield, silk, nature's valley, So Delicous, etc which are some of the brands I DO buy. I agree that most of the Sunday paper coupons are junk I wouldn't buy anyway so I don't bother.

A Joyful Chaos said...

By cooking almost everything from scratch really helps and also never going grocery shopping while hungry. I also ignore coupons unless they are actually for something I need to buy anyway which is a very rare occurance.

katieo said...


Hope said...

I have also found coupon-ing is not worth my time and effort. My mom encouraged me to follow her example. I bought the notebook and worked out a filing system and starting buying a couple of papers each Sunday. But I realized quickly that there were very few coupons for items that I would consider real food OR the coupons were for items I didn't really need and would never have bought without a coupon. In the end, I have found that shopping Aldi (just staying away from the processed junk) is the best way to go for my family, along with growing some of my own and picking up favs like natural peanut butter at Whole Foods.