Grocery Shopping Tips & Tricks

Recently, I watched a YouTube video by Thomas DeLauer called “Grocery Shopping 101 | How to Shop Healthy”.  His video definitely shared some interesting perspectives, but he and I do things very differently, so I thought I’d share my strategies here.

One of the first things Thomas mentioned in his video was a budget.  As you all know, I have a budget, and it’s an important part of managing resources that come onto the homestead.  We seem to agree that a long-term view of a grocery budget allows for the purchase of bulk items to get the price down as well as sale items that are at a “stock up” price, but the similarities in our strategies stop there.

Here are some of the strategies that I use for grocery shopping.

Use a Log and a Price Book

If you’re trying to make the most of financial and material resources, you have to know what you use and how much it costs.  I use a spreadsheet, but you can use any method that’s convenient for you. Start by logging what you buy and when you buy it.  Some folks also log what they use, even if it was purchased before they started logging. I absolutely think that information is helpful too, but in my experience, it can be a challenge to keep it all straight since I’m one of five family members and I’m not aware of every single item that is used by every single family member.

Next, start a price book.  Again, mine is based on a spreadsheet.  I have a column for the store at which the item was purchased, a description of the item, the weight or quantity of the item, the total price of the item, and the unit price of the item.  This might seem like a lot of data to track, but it’s only challenging at the beginning. Most of us buy the same things, so the longer we maintain the price book, the fewer data points we end up adding.

I hadn’t used a price book for years, but when I started keto on the cheap, I decided it was worth it to start tracking again.  One spreadsheet in the book has keto foods, one spreadsheet in the book has non-keto foods, and the last spreadsheet in the book has grocery items for the household that aren’t food at all (like paper goods, trash bags, and the like.)

Since I’m the one who makes the grocery lists, I thought I knew where to get the cheapest prices for certain items, but as I started entering data into my price book, I was surprised to discover that not everything was as cheap as I’d thought.

Don’t Buy All Your Groceries from One Place

While the homestead is in a rural part of the county, I live outside a town with a population of around 50,000 people.  That means that I can have the peace and quiet of country living while still enjoying the convenience of living within 15 miles of almost everything I could want on a routine basis.

While some folks think it’s a waste of time to shop at multiple stores, we’ve managed to plan shopping trips to use our time as effectively as possible.  That means that I can buy groceries from three or four different places without wasting time (which also is a resource that needs managed.)

What does this strategy look like for us? On each payday, I start with a grocery list.  I look at sales, and since I have my price book, I can add items to the list along with the store from which they’ll be purchased.  I go one step further and add list items in the order that we shop the store, so my designated shopper doesn’t have to keep referring to the list in fear of forgetting something.

My routinely buy groceries from four different stores — Sam’s Club, Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart.  During every two-week pay period, my husband or my daughter will visit each of those stores at least once, and they do it when it’s convenient for our schedule.  For instance, we have to take our boys to scouts in town every Monday night. Rather than going back home for an hour, we typically do our Sam’s Club shopping to make the trip into town more efficient.

And if our list includes something from Walmart, it’s not uncommon for my daughter to pop in after work and get items off the list.  She works about a quarter of a mile away from Walmart, so it works out pretty well.

Kroger is about two miles away from my husband’s job and Aldi is about 3 miles away, so again, we can orchestrate things so that we’re not making special trips into town for grocery shopping.

Lastly, my shopping list is accessible to my husband and my daughter online, so they don’t have to worry about forgetting things on the list (unless I forgot to put them on the list.)

When I was little, my mom shopped at multiple stores to optimize her grocery money.  The thing was though, she went to all of the places on a Saturday morning so “shopping” got pretty exhausting.  She didn’t work outside the home at that point though, so she couldn’t weave routine visits to each of her stores into other errands “in town”.  We have that luxury though, so we don’t have to get overwhelmed by the time commitment of doing all the shopping at once.

Plan to Avoid Waste

We use bulk buying and stock up deals to extend the budget, but if you’re not buying with potential waste in mind, you’re missing an opportunity.  What do I mean? Well, has this ever happened to you? You find a great on something perishable so you snatch it up with the intentions of using it all or portioning it for the freezer.  For whatever reason, that doesn’t happen though, and then you end up with rotten meat or vegetables in your fridge. At that point, the bulk buy or the sale price actually cost you money.

I’m not always perfect.  I still toss stuff that I didn’t use up or put in the freezer, but because I’m a lot more aware of this pitfall, I can plan for success.  For example, I buy a lot of chicken thighs. If they’re not on sale, I pay $1.08/lb at Sam’s Club. That package lasts my kids and me for a week or so.  I know that I can get an 8lb package for my family and there won’t be any waste. A couple weeks ago though, Kroger had chicken thighs on sale for $.77/lb.  I bought three packages, around 20 pounds, and I brought them home. When I opened the first package, I fixed my lunch and I packaged the rest for the freezer.  The next day, I did the same thing. On the third day, I opened the last package and kept that one in the fridge. Then, when my fresh supply ran out, I started tossing two-packs of frozen chicken thighs into the fridge to thaw.  I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out a rotation that didn’t involve running out of chicken or emergency defrosting because I forgot to take something out of the freezer.

Some Final Thoughts

One of the strategies that DeLauer shared in his video included shopping the store based on food importance rather than layout.  I understood his point, that you should shop based on the importance that the foods play in your meal plan, but in practice, it wastes time and keeps perishable items at room temperature for longer.  At my Sam’s Club, for instance, if I were to get meat first followed by produce, dairy, oils, nuts, and snacks, I would be zig-zagging across they store in an illogical patern that would undoubtedly have me forgetting something on my list.  Because I use the strategy of planning my trip before I set foot in the store though, I don’t have to worry about ruining my budget. Sure, I run across the occasional deal that isn’t “on the list”, but as a family, we’re pretty good about to the strategies that help us accomplish our goals.

I get that my strategies won’t work for everyone, but I thought I’d share a different perspective that might help folks who haven’t thought about grocery shopping in such a methodical way.

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