Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grocery Shopping Strategy

I have $100 or less for groceries every week. Holidays or not. JR has already spent $26 on jam & beer (it's the breakfast of champions) at Costco. I should never let him go alone. Damn pharmacy! They take an hour to fill 1 prescription which leaves way to much time for JR to wander the store. JR let loose at Costco does not bode well for my food budget.

There are 2 prevailing grocery shopping strategies. One says that you should make up all your dinner menus for one week then build your shopping list from there. The second one says that you should make up your shopping list from the sales flyer then plan your menu from that list.

I have some problems with the first strategy. I could never in a million years make up a menu for a week before hand. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal. Long term planning (yes, a week is long term for me when it comes to food) is just not going to happen. These are the questions that run through my head (after I block out the evil voices with a little wine).

1. What if I decided on any given day within that week that I just don’t want to eat what’s on the menu for that day? What are my options? Do I switch days? What does that do to the other day’s meals? Will it hurt the other 6 day’s feelings? OMG! The pressure will kill me.

2. What if what is on the dinner hit parade takes an hour to cook and I’ve just had the day from hell? Speed cooking is in order. I want to slap that meal on the table and get on with dousing my bad day with a big ole glass of red.

3. What if I pick 7 of the most wonderful, scrumptious, mouth watering, invite the President over for dinner meals only to find that the ingredients are going to require that I sell my first born, a prominent body part, or sexual services. (okay, I’ll probably have to do all 3 in order to pay for these types of meals and still pony up some cash)

You can see where I’m going with this. The menu to list strategy just isn’t one that I would advocate.

Now the second plan I’m all over. I greedily snatch up all the sale flyers that come in the mail on Tuesday and Wednesday, grab a pair of reading glasses (give me a break I’m almost 50), a pen and paper then settle in to beat the grocery stores at their own game. I try to think of it as a game because otherwise it is a boring way to spend an evening.

First order of business is to focus on the front page. This is where the stores are going to concentrate their best deals. The front page and the produce page are the lost leader stuff. I pretty much skim the rest.

Let’s deconstruct my Fry’s flyer (Koger for some of you, QFC & Fred Meyer for others, and if it's not one of these store I'm lost. You get the picture though)

There are 3 different meats on sale. Typically I would pass this part by but I have family coming in for Christmas so I don’t think tofu will cut it for Christmas dinner. I’d be willing to crave it into any shape they would like; say a duck or bunny.

Our choices are:

Ham at $1.17 per pound (JR hates, loathes, despises ham. This one is out)

Whole Standing Beef Rib Roast at $3.77 per pound. (this is going to cost like eighty begillion dollars but it is most likely what they will have.)

Aged T-Bone Steak at $3.97 per pound. (this will not feed a crowd easily. It’s out)

On my list goes the Rib Roast though it goes against my less than $2.00 per pound for meat rule. It’s Christmas, we’ll just cut back somewhere else.

Next item that catches my eye is potatoes. I need potatoes. I just used the last of the ones I bought 2 weeks ago for garlic mashed tonight. They were yummy BTW. Served with a Marsala mushroom sauce. Wait a sec…………othay I’mm back (shallow).

Anyhoo, Fry’s has a 5 pound bag of russets for .97 cents. Sounds like a good deal but not so fast. Albertson’s has a 10 pound bag for $1.47. Even a math challenged librarian like me can figure out that Albertson’s is the way to go.

Here is what my shopping list looks like after comparing all 5 of the stores in my loop.


Standing Rib Roast $3.77/ pound (ouch!)

Potatoes .99cents

Sour Cream .99cents

Fry’s potato chips buy 1 get 1 free reg: 2.29 – 2.99 (only if I have money left)

Wheat Thins $1.88 per box (JR eats these instead of Fritos. This is a good thing. We negotiate Fritos purchases)

Yams .89cents / pound

Sweet Onions $1.00/pound

Bath tissue $6.49 – double roll 12 pk

Cool Whip .68cents – 8 ounce. **Basha’s coupon (normally I never buy this stuff but it makes easy chocolate ice box pie.

Challenge Butter 1.49/pound **Basha’s coupon


Potatoes 1.47/ 10 pound bag

OJ 2 for $4 - 64 ounce

Mushrooms 1.00/8 ounces (take raincheck on ice box)

Green beans .97cent/pound

Sunflower Market (a cheaper version of Whole Foods)

Green beans .88cent/pound

Leaf lettuce .88cents/each

Eggs 2 for $4/ 18 count

**Basha’s is another local store but they don’t have anything I want this week but Fry’s will still honor their coupons.

I go through the sales flyers all the way through one at a time writing down what I want. If the same item is cheaper at another store I mark it off (i.e. the potatoes at Fry’s). All these stores are within a mile from each other. I walk in buy what is on my list then walk back out again. I try not to take JR (or let him come with me as the case may be). See the Costco example above! Need I say more?

Stocking up is a big part of my plan. Last week I bought 2 - 5 pound bags of flour. I didn't need flour but it was on sale for .99cents. Since I make all my cookies, scones, most breads, etc from scratch I tend to go through a lot of flour. So I bought the limit (2). The mac & cheese pictured below. Not an item I would normally buy either but the Boy is out of school for a month. The mac & cheese was on sale for .50cents a box. I thought: cheap lunch and bought the limit of 20.

This is an example of my shopping prowess. It is what I can buy for $83 and change.

You can see why I don't need very much this week. That's how it rolls for me. One week I spend just under $100 and the next week I'll spend about $40. If I didn't have to buy a massive hunk of meat this week it would be a $40 week. JR's already spent a quarter of this weeks grocery money but I still think I can make it just under the wire. Wish me luck.

I hope this gives you a good starting point. If you have any questions pop it onto a comment. I'll answer them as fast as I can.




  1. I went shopping for groceries yesterday- the first for my new house. I spent a lot, but many of what I bought should last a while. While I think your research is amazing, I doubt I'll be that dedicated... though I do plan on using coupons!!!

  2. Such a strategist! (But are you sure some of that money didn't go towards beer, jam and WINE?)

    I am too lazy to be this dedicated, but I *am* trying to save money on groceries because we were guilty of a lot of convenience food.

  3. Great ideas here. I'm so impressed at the way you combine planning with flexibility. The Tightwad Gazette would be pleased! And I put you up on my blogroll so if you get comments from crazy Alabama women, you'll know I sent them.

  4. DeeMarie: That first shopping trip doesn't count. It is bound to cost a bundle.

    Keely: No Wine, Damn it! It's the convenience foods that will get you. Stay out of the middle of the store if you can.

    Cathy: All my idea come from Amy. Flexibility is the name of the game. And I have had more traffic from Alabama women. Thank You.

  5. Eggs are $2 a dozen here (at WalMart), BUT I am using your tricks and tips to bring my $100 a week bill down to at least $75 a week. (There is just two of us old folks). What will blow it for me is when the kids decide they want to come up and see us (meaning stay for supper) and I haven't planned for it.

    BUT I'm going to give this a GREAT BIG TRY!


  6. Hi - Enjoyed reading your blog -- I've added you to my blogroll! Thanks for some good tips on being food frugal. Now that Devoted Spouse and I are retired I work at making the pennies go farther and thank heavens for coupons. Cheers, Linda

  7. Wow, girl. That requires some serious homework but look at you!! You're a wiz!

  8. Dang, that is a LOT of groceries! Nicely done. I bought a 20# bag of rice from Costco for the very reasons you list here - stock, stock, stock!

    We haven't gotten dedicated about clipping coupons yet, but your post is the final motivation I need. Thank you. I'm gonna start doing this for our budget.

  9. I'm seriously impressed with your strategy, although I'm far too lazy to follow it. Maybe once everyone in the house is feeling better, I'll start planning the meals more. I'm like you though, a week in advance is INSANE, I never know what I'm going to eat until a couple of hours prior. I do spend an exorbitant amount of money on impulse purchases so I know there's merit to your strategy and I plan on TRYING to try.

  10. When all of our kids were home I did the weekly meal planning and it saved us not only money but time. Now that it's just the two of us I need to get back to it so that I don't have a cabinet full of things that wouldn't make a meal if I put them all on a pot. Thanks for the motivation!

  11. I just have to say that I am in awe of your organization around grocery shopping. Also--from another vegetarian--I'm so impressed--I just don't think I could cook for a family like you do! Maybe that's why I don't have one, but seriously--you are amazing!