For all my mom friends who hate going to several stores just to save on groceries, here are some ideas for you.
1) Go to one store a week. You are still shopping once a week and may not get the best deals EVERY week, but if you know which stores are priced the best for certain items, then you know that you are always getting the best deal on certain things. For me, I know that Smith’s has the best prices on dairy, with or without a sale. How do I know that? Because I have looked. Milk on occasion is cheaper at Wal-Mart, but other dairy items are usually not. I also know that Wal-Mart has the best canned goods prices. This goes with the next point.
2) Stock up as much as you can. Especially when you find a good price, buy as much of that item as you can afford and as you have room for, and most importantly, as you can use before it goes bad. If milk ever went down to $1/ gallon, you can bet I would buy 10. Because I spend $10 a trip on milk anyway. (And you can freeze it. I never have, but I would consider it if it was super cheap.)
3) Rotate where you shop. If you only want to go to one store, or only have time for one, just go to one. But make sure it is offering the best deals on the majority of what you will buy. Do not be store loyal. This is the “Grocery Guru’s” plan- he plans his menu and meals around what is on sale. This requires you to be rather flexible, and honestly, I don’t know how he does it. I have listened to his talk show once or twice, but I don’t get it, and I don’t have enough meal ideas built up around whatever is on sale. (Of course, no one says you have to do all the shopping on one day.)
4) Hit multiple stores on multiple days. Let’s say for simplicity’s sake that you have 2 grocery stores that you frequent. The first one saves you on fresh items- milk, dairy products, produce, meat, etc; and the second one saves you on canned goods and whatever processed food you buy. So on week 1, you go to the fresh item store and buy enough goods to get you through the next two weeks. Then on week 2, you go to the canned goods store, and buy enough to get you through the next two weeks. Next week, when you go to the first store, your stock will be gone and it will be time to get more. Obviously, it gets more complicated the more stores you go to. It may not be feasibly to buy enough produce to last 4 weeks if you have 4 stores you visit, but if you can stock up at stores 3 and 4 the first month, then you don’t have to revisit them as often. This is what I try to subscribe to. I end up going to 2 or 3 different stores on the weeks I shop, but to me, it is worth it. Or even easier, go to store one on Monday and store 2 on Thursday or Friday (or whichever days work for you). If your children beg to go “run errand”, this is one way to have 2 errands to run.
5) Keep a price book. When I first heard of this, I got all excited. I suddenly wished I had a palm pilot or pocket pc. (Now thinking about it, Alann has one I may be able to purloin.) There are software programs out there for handheld pcs that promise to do lots of things- keep track of where things are in certain stores, load recipes and create lists from those recipes. You don’t really need it though. All you need is either some paper in a binder, or a notebook, or a computer. Even just thinking about prices makes me better able to spot good ones, but I haven’t gotten around to actually making a book yet. Ok, I made the book, but I haven’t written in it. I also have created the spreadsheet. I haven’t written anything in it either. I always get so excited about these schemes and then drop the follow through. Now, what is the point of a price book? To keep track of prices. That way, you know if Chef Boyardee goes on sale, then it really is a good sale worth stocking up on. For even more convincing, go visit Trent at the Simple Dollar. He is one of my favorite personal finance writers.
6) This idea is also from Trent. He says that if you really don’t want to shop at more than one store, then pick every store you would consider, and shop once there, comparing your most bought items. Then, add up the totals, and shop at the store that is the lowest on your items. This is basically a very simplified price book, and make sure you are noting regular prices, not sale prices. Sales vary. You will miss the super awesome sale on chicken at the other stores, but you can rest assured that you are saving money, having compared the other stores.
I think that is all the advice I have right now. There are tons of books out there on cheap shopping. Some are good, some aren’t. I think you can’t go wrong reading about something if you are interested in it. I can point you in the right direction if you like. I will someday be posting some books that I have read and enjoyed.