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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When I go grocery shopping, I bring 2 things

I bring my calculator.

And I bring my list, which has 2 parts. The first part of my list has the items that I know are on sale and I want to buy.

The second part of my list has the items that I am looking for, but do not know the store price on yet. Next to each item, I write down a price point at which I am willing to make the purchase -- if the store price meets or beats this price, a lot like putting in a buy-order for a stock, "buy at xx $".

So, for instance, my list this week looked like this:

milk, $2.00 or less per gallon
maxipads <$3.79/48 ct
salt <50 cents/26 oz container
decaf coffee <$4.50/lb
chocolate chips <$1.89/12-oz bag
marshmallows <$1.60/lb
pinto beans <45 cents/lb
peanut butter <$1.25/lb
eggs <$1.25/dozen
shortening <$1.56/lb
meat: beef, not ground <$2.79/lb, whole chicken <88cents/lb, leg quarters <50cents/lb

I determine this price that I'm willing to pay, based on past purchases (through receipts or my grocery journal), or through searching online shopping venues that I would realistically buy this item, if I can't find it on sale. Cash & Carry has a search feature, which brings up the item and it's price. As Cash & Carry is one of my fall-back places to shop, I go with their prices on many items that I buy. I also buy many items at Dollar Tree, and feel I'm getting a pretty good deal, most of the time. So, I sometimes use their $1 price on items for my price point to beat.

Having this price point to beat, all written down, makes the shopping experience easier for me. After about 15-20 minutes of being in the store, my mind begins to feel the fatigue, and I find it difficult to accurately make calculations and decisions. I call it "shopper's confusion". Once shopper's confusion sets in, I am apt to make all kinds of mistakes in my calculations. So I simplify my task as much as I can, ahead of time.

There I am, standing in the aisle at the grocery store, calculator in hand, and figuring price per unit and comparing to my list price. If you happen upon me, I'll try not to block the whole aisle, promise!

Even with my low grocery budget, I still find items to buy that save me 10 to 15%, by using this shopping method.

Yesterday, I did my once-per-month Senior Discount Shopping Day at Fred Meyer. It's a 10% discount on house-brand products. I had been preparing my list, for this once-per-month opportunity for the last several weeks, writing things down as I thought of them.

I've been looking for marshmallows, for roasting at summertime cook-outs. I have been happy enough to buy marshmallows at Dollar Tree, in a 10-oz. bag for $1. I was looking to find marshmallows for less than $1.60/lb (sometimes marshmallows are sold in 10-oz bags and sometimes in 16-oz bags, here). The house-brand ones were on sale (not advertised in the flyer), for $1.50/16-oz bag. As a house-brand, I would also save 10% off that sale price, bringing my cost to $1.35 per 16-oz bag, 25 cents less than Dollar Tree's price per pound on marshmallows. I bought 4 bags, which at our current rate of cook-outs, will last 12 weeks, with once per week cook-outs in summer.

I saved 22% over what I was prepared to spend for this item. All because I put a few minutes into figuring out my list and the price I was looking to beat. I had similar success with a couple of other items on my list, as well -- shortening (for pie crusts), decaf coffee, eggs, maxis, and calcium supplements. I didn't find favorable prices on chocolate chips, salt, pinto beans, peanut butter or meat. I'll keep looking for those items.

With whittling down some of our grocery spending, I'm hoping to free up more of the budget for splurges, like meat and possibly seafood.

Do you make a list before shopping for groceries? What information do you write down on your list? Do you ever write reminders to use coupons? Do you write down prices that you're willing to pay for specific items? Do you carry a price-book when you shop? Can you remember a time when you never made a list, but just wandered the aisles "seeing what looks good"? I do. That's how I began my grocery shopping when we first got married. Now that just seems insane to me, to not plan ahead what I will buy.


  1. Lili,
    I'm having trouble reading your whole entry each day due to a large photo near the bottom of the post. It has a big bag of onions and several boxes and big bag of brown rice--the photo covers the post.

    Once again, our local store has 10 lb bags of chicken quarters on sale for $3.90 a bag but the problem is that they are frozen solid! I really don't want to thaw and cook 10 lbs. right away but I also know that thawing and refreezing chicken is a no-no. This is the second time this spring I had to "pass" on an excellent chicken price. Makes me mad.


    1. Hi Alice,
      that photo must be popping out, but not pulling back to size, on your browser. On my browser, it will shrink to fit, after stretching out for a second.I will see what I can do.

      As for the chicken quarters, I just was writing something up about those. Maybe my thinking will put this into perspective for you, as it did for me. This is how I saw a purchase like that -- a 10-lb bag of hindquarters that is frozen in one block is not too great of a stretch from 2 whole chickens, and is half the size of a whole turkey. I am happy to cook whole chickens, even 2 at a time, or whole turkeys, in exchange for the great savings on meat.

      If saving 40 cents per pound, over the best price I can find on whole chickens, multiplied by 10 lbs, for a $4 savings, means that I have to do a major chicken cooking on a Saturday afternoon, then I have that $4 to spend some place else. It's an exchange of time and effort, for dollars, in my mind. It is work, but for the savings, I think worth it. I do a lot of other frugal things that don't yield a $4 savings.

      And the work itself, is work that I would eventually have to do anyway. If the quarters were IQF, then I'd be cooking them all up, too, just one piece at a time. This way, I am doing a lot of prep work in advance, but then have pre-cooked meat in the freezer, like making my own convenience meat items.

      And FYI -- I just bought a 40-lb case of chicken hindquarters, packaged in 4 10-lb bags, like as you described, frozen blocks of chicken. I was able to take a mallet and break off 3 hindquarters yesterday. With my son's or husband's help, I should be able to break up the remaining large chunk in that first bag, into 2 cooking portions.

      The 3 hindquarters that I baked are enough meat for 2 "meat" dinners and 1 soup dinner. This will give us 3 chicken meals per week, for 12 weeks straight.

    2. Alice,
      can you tell me if that photo is any better? I did some adjusting.

    3. Yes, the picture is now completely on the left side and it doesn't interfere with the post anymore. Thanks.


    4. Thank you -- for letting me know, Alice!!

  2. I have a master list and I highlight the items I want to purchase from Meijer (our main grocery store) versus Aldi. I generally know where my better pricing comes from but I check the ads to compare. I put food items on the left, non-food items on the right. I admire your technique of putting price points down. Great idea!

    I keep a master list of kid's clothing which I have in storage (for my kids to grow into) and of items I need--when I am out and about, I keep an eye open for good prices on the items I need to purchase. It isn't foolproof (especially since sizing can vary!) but it does help me keep clothing expenditures under control.

    1. Hi Kris,
      your clothing inventory work is way more organized than I ever was! Good job! That must keep you from duplicating purchases, or from not realizing you had a need, until the last minute and then had to make a purchase at a higher price.

      Your master list for groceries sounds very thorough. You know what you often are needing, and where to buy the items. It sounds like it works well for you!

    2. The problem I run into with clothing is that sizing isn't consistent. Sometimes I have ended up with too many of an item because of the way the clothing fits, sometimes with not enough ...

  3. Hi Lili,
    That is a great idea putting your price points right on your list for each item, I neve thought of that.
    I almost always make a list, I go through the store flyers & make my last based on that & then I go though my coupons & add & delete items based on the coupons & sale prices. We have about 7 stores within 5 mies of our house so some weeks I am at many stores depending on how the sales are & other weeks may only hit one or two stores. I have really been lucky with getting marked down meat the last couple of weeks. Today I got 2 one pound packages of ground sausage for $1.00 each, I was thrilled, not something we normally use but for that price we will! I actually browned them up to put in meat sauce for spaghetti & froze them so when we want spaghetti we have a couple packs of pre browned sausage to make quick meals.
    I have never used a price book but I probably should. I'm usually pretty good at remembering though.
    I think I have always used a list as far as I can remember, when I was a kid my mom taught me all about coupons & list making.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      What score on the ground sausage you bought! Those are exciting moments, aren't they? (I'm easy to entertain, can you tell?)

      It sounds like you have a good system in place for grocery shopping. I'm sure that it really pays off in keeping grocery spending low. My weeks can go similarly to yours, in that I may mot even go to a grocery store some weeks, if there isn't anything that looks like a good buy. Then another week, I may find myself going to several stores.

      Good job on all your planning/couponing!

  4. Safeway has milk on sale for 1.99 a gallon. limit 2 with coupon

    1. Thank you for this. I'll add, Fred Meyer has milk on sale for 99 cents a half-gallon, limit 6, with in-ad coupon, through Saturday.

      If I can squeeze a couple more gallons into the freezer, I'll run by Safeway this weekend, as they're just up the street from us.

  5. Oh how we miss Fred Meyer's. We lived in Portland, OR for almost 3 years back in the 80s. We hardly see a senior discount for food here. McDonald's senior coffee is enjoyed now and then as a treat.

    I carry a "unit price" point with me at all times. It tells me a stock up price based on the best sales price the last time I bought the item. If I find a cheaper price, I will correct my spreadsheet. I also calculate the unit price, after tax. The reason is I use coupons, and tax is charged on the coupon discount. This may sound tedious, but since I've been tracking our food expenses closely on spreadsheet, it is not more effort to jot down the size of the item purchased next to the price paid after tax. Then I do a little math and divide the price by qty. This way, I have my own unit price for comparison between Costco and Sam's (same brand item may not be sold in the same quantity), and between warehouse and retail grocery store after coupons and tax, and I know the absolute rock bottom price of all three sources. From that, I will decide if a sale is worth stocking up. The problem is prices are forever changing, so my spreadsheet needs at least a monthly updating and reprinting. I have noticed just by the scratch marks on my current month's unit price sheet that Costco prices have trended down for some items: olive oil, soy milk, rice, cottage cheese, but egg prices have gone up.

    I tend to stock up too much when a sale hits. That has to be worked on. You seem very cognizant of sale cycles and how much is consumed at your household. I don't think I have ever tracked usage.

    I also really overdid May spending this past week and weekend. If I was careful I know I could have spent only $350 - 375, but letting the purse strings out here and there has cost us, $501.18 w/$150 spent on the last week. Some good finds with coupon and a lunch and dinner out did our budget in. I could have denied ourselves.


    1. Hi YHF,
      The fluctuating prices on many items has made it difficult for me to keep my records on prices up-to-date, too. I'm not completely sure if I'm getting the lowest price or not, these days. So, I am also having to mentally "allow" myself to get a "good enough" price on many items.

      The sales cycles at Cash & Carry are super predictable, so that makes it easy for me to calculate. Regular grocery stores seem to have changed-up their marketing in the last year and a half, making it much more difficult to predict when they'll put something on sale, even with predictable events, like holidays.

      Maybe what you spent in the last week of May will actually become a good share of June's supplies? And then you won't need to buy as much this month?

      Wishing you continued success with this!

  6. While I'm careful with my shopping, I don't worry about it as much as I used to. I used to have a price point for everything we bought frequently, and wouldn't go over it. After I developed my price points, I carried them in my head and didn't write them down. (I was younger then.)

    And to tell you the truth, I don't search all of the ads all of the time. My sisters and the people I work with do that and I just listen to them talk about what's on sale and follow that. Because they all shop at different stores and look for different things, it works pretty well. :)

    But the key is the list. Without it, I will forget something that I will have to buy later at a higher price.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Oh, how very handy! I do have a couple of friends with whom I exchange grocery tips. That's how I "found" the most recent produce/ethnic market, where I bought all of those Red Delicious apples. And the other evening, a few of my more frugal friends were over making chive blossom vinegar with me, and afterwards we got to talking about various coupons and "senior" deals. It's nice to have people like-minded with whom to talk these things over.

      I totally agree on having a list. My memory is not as good as it once was, and if I don't write it down, I most definitely will forget!

  7. Senior discount? Can you get a senior discount when you're under 40? At least you look like you're under 40! LOL!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Bless you! I should probably update that photo. It's a couple of years out of date (more wrinkles and sags).
      I'm 55, and that means some stores give me a senior discount. I'm not at all too proud to accept a discount like that! I'm counting down the years till my husband is 60, then he "gets" to come shopping with me at the fabric store (for that senior discount).

  8. I would never have guessed! You are certainly aging gracefully. I've been able to use senior discounts at Joann's for almost 3 years now, as well as other stores. Do the math and you'll know my age. LOL

    1. Oh, thank you, Linda. But like I said, maybe I should update that photo. Reminds me of our very gray-haired pastor. He writes an article for the local paper about once every 3 or 4 months. Anyway, the photo that the paper has on file is of him with very black hair. It's one of those funny things that after a while, you wonder why bother changing it?!

      Use every discount you can qualify for! As soon as my husband turned 50, we applied for AARP for the discount on motels when we travel. And the very month that I qualified for Fred Meyer's senior discount, I was there bright and early to collect my savings.

      We're all living so much longer, these days, that 50 or 60-something really doesn't seem that old any more. And I kind of like the wisdom that I've acquired with aging. ;-)


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