Competitive Grocery Shopping
By Patti Hermes – Parent to Parent
I don’t care what the so-called experts say.
If we’re not technically in a recession then let’s just tell it like it is: Times Are Tough. Even families who didn’t lose their jobs are having trouble making ends meet. Everything goes up except the paycheck, and the fact is, we’re just not breaking even any more. And yet you still have to feed all those little darlings who keep hanging around insisting they’re hungry. So we all seek out the usual ways to save money on groceries: cut coupons, study sales flyers, turn the simple chore of feeding the family on a budget into a part-time job of research and planning. I can do the research, not so good on the planning, and it all falls apart on execution anyway (nobody wants what I planned to cook for dinner!).
So, should we all resort to Extreme Couponing? Since when did couponing become a verb, anyway? I’ve always shopped with coupons, some times more than others. It’s all one big game to the stores, having detailed coupon policies that change with the manager’s mood, and never the same policy from store to store. Is it really worth my time and effort to save a few cents?
And now, to make all us amateurs feel bad about our own grocery shopping skills, we have the superior shoppers of Extreme Couponing, coming to you every week on basic cable. And you thought there were limits to what can make a reality TV show? But of course, they don’t show reality. Because in the real world, the whole store doesn’t stop to watch a customer check out over $1,000.00 worth of groceries and pay less than $10.00. It’s all an act for the cameras.
A quick check of the coupon policies at the various stores in my area showed me that much of what the Coupon Divas of the world are banking on is pretty hard to find: doubling and tripling of coupons, and coupon stacking. I happen to live in an area with plenty of competition, yet those days of double or even triple coupons are all in the past. While some stores do allow the shopper to combine one store coupon with one manufacturer’s coupon all on one item, it is only when the coupons don’t explicitly prohibit it. Most of the store coupons in my collection do prohibit any additional savings at all. Some stores now have their own electronic coupons (tied directly to your club account and applied automatically), and many more are refusing all internet coupons.
So while I applaud the efforts of the Kings and Queens of the Coupon World, and especially the generous bloggers who share their best research with all of us (see here, here and here just for starters), there must be a way for the rest of us to feed our families and still stay within our budgets. Actually, there are lots of ways, and you probably already know some tips of your own. The thing is to pick and choose what works best for you and your family.
My number one advice is always grow your own. I’m still waiting for winter to take a hike so I can get the gardens started outside, but I also like to keep some fresh herbs growing year round on a window sill in the kitchen. No room outside, you say? Lots of veggies can be grown in containers, and last year I purchased a hanging tomato plant (grape-sized) that produced all summer long. Of course that option leaves us subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and we can’t produce all our food here in suburbia, so I still must shop.
I read the weekly sales flyers. Lots of them. And write down prices and comparison shop. I also have a number of those club cards so I can get the lowest prices at each store. But with the price of gas going up everyday, it doesn’t always pay to drive from store to store in search of savings. My computer helps out by printing out shopping lists, with prices, and I try to consolidate them into just two stores that are adjacent to each other, with the lowest total. It’s all about the total.
Yes, I still use coupons. But most of the time, I have found that simply switching to the store brands for many items saves me way more cash than buying high-priced name brands and using a measly 25 cent coupon. Likewise, buying staples and cooking from scratch, buying unpackaged produce in its natural state, will all save you money over pricey convenience options that have too much sodium anyway. Around here we pay for convenience only when we can afford it, and I try to get my sons to chop the onions for me for free.
One more thing, one which I fail at regularly but I keep on trying, is menu planning. If you can plan your meals, including snacks, for an entire month, and cook in bulk, you can save plenty. If you can only plan a week ahead, at least you have your list and you can stick to it. Eliminating extra trips to the store for just a couple things can help to keep you within your budget. Keep your menus simple, and look to your ever-helpful internet friends (here, here, here and here) for the basic how-to’s.
Spending money is easy. Saving money requires careful planning. When it comes to feeding your hungry family, it’s all worth it. And if you find yourself with a little extra, why not share it with your local food pantry, for the families that don’t have enough.