My mother created a grocery spreadsheet on her computer. She spent time every other week going through her list on the computer and marking down everything we needed to buy. She wrote items in short hand to save space and time. She did not coupon or shop sales. She loves getting everything in one store and getting it done efficiently. My mother is a goal oriented shopper.
Then I come along, and I am a little of both mother and grandmother. My shopping methods have changed throughout the years. I am certain most woman find that to be the case. When it was just me and my husband, we often got groceries together and there was not the concern for budget and time or even nutrition that children bring into the picture. Now that I have four children, time, budget, and nutrition have become the basis of my meal planning, grocery lists, and shopping trips. I also consider the stress factor. Taking four children in and out of a car, missing nap times, or being gone during lunch, all play a role. So I try to keep life simple, and as stress free as possible. I keep our errands down to one or two stops, and no more. I often plan to buy or bring a snack for the children to eat in the car as we journey. (Note: I plan the treats, we don’t get to the store and beg for this and that. We either already have something in the car, or I told them they could pick out a pretzel at Lidl or get a box of goldfish crackers at Aldi). I also combine shopping trips on days we are already doing something like a doctor’s appointment. That saves us the hassle of going out more than once a week. We don’t get fast-food lunches while out. That is costly. If I know we are not going to make it home by lunch, I pack them something. They love it, and so do I.
In our era of technology, shopping itself is undergoing a transition from my mother and grandmother’s generations. Online shopping and smartphones both play a huge role in my shopping lists and purchases. I find I can easily check out deals from various stores with the store apps. I also can see if an online order would be advantageous.
In our current location, I have found Aldi generally has the best quality for the best prices ON FOOD. I also like the fact that the store is small, and I can get through it quickly with my cart loaded with children. We also have Lidl and Walmart where I seek out deals. Target and CVS also come into play and I typically get PAPER GOOD, DIAPERS, and WASHING SUPPLIES from those two stores.
How I make a Grocery List
I use the Walmart grocery pick-up app. Many Walmart stores offer free pick-up. By using the grocery app, I can create a list and use it to quickly compare prices at other stores.
A day or two before we get groceries, I browse ads from local grocery stores, in particular, Aldi and Lidl. Aldi and Lidl have comparable prices, but Aldi is far superior in quality. Lidl however does come up with some surprisingly good produce and meat deals. So I watch them both. I will plan my shopping trip by going to the store that has the best deals for the weekend. On a rare occasion that may include a couple of stores, usually one to get the majority of groceries and another to run in and stock up on a Coupons? particular deal.
Using my Walmart list, I shop through Aldi. Since the Walmart app lists a price for each item, I can see my shopping total and easily compare between Walmart and any other store. For instance, I can see that a gallon of whole milk is $3.29 at Walmart, while I am at Aldi, they are selling a gallon of milk for $2.98. So, I pick up the milk at Aldi for $2.98, and delete it from my Walmart list. Sometimes an item is cheaper at Walmart than Aldi. For instance, a pound of butter is about $2.50 at Aldi, however, if I purchase the two pack at Walmart the butter is only $1.99 a pound. So I leave that on my list and will get it at Walmart. Whatever is left at the end of my trip to Aldi, I get at Walmart. I will either send my order to our Wal-Mart pick-up store and go pick it up at a later date, or run by a store and get those items that day. It depends on the day.
Coupons? I don’t clip coupons anymore. I used to be an avid coupon shopper, but coupons seem to continually decrease in value. I also kept finding that I would get the paper only to clip out one coupon. I simply don’t most items promoted on coupons. I don’t purchase many cleaning products, I don’t buy a lot of prepared food, and name brands are still more costly than generic even with a coupon added. Besides, Aldi doesn’t accept coupons, and I like the simplicity of that. I do use coupon on apps like Target and Lidl. This past week Lidl had a coupon for a pound of pure maple syrup at 50% off. Target has a cartwheel feature on their store app, they also have coupons that can be printed. CVS and Walgreens also have apps with coupons. CVS allows me to send coupons to my store card.
My shopping rules:
- Don’t by name brand items-generally I have found various store brands to be equal in quality and much more reasonable in price than a name brand. The white kitchen trash bags in Target’s Up and Up brand are superior in quality to the similar versions in Glad or Hefty. Most of the food we eat is created from a staple product in my kitchen. It is economical and healthy.
- Stick to Staples. Like my mini wardrobe, staple items in the kitchen are the building blocks for any meal. I can create a lot more variety with a box of macaroni or a package of jasmine rice than I can with a box of mac’n cheese and seasoned rice. I can do anything with a whole chicken, Asian, Mexican, Roasting, Soup, Strogenoff, Thai, African, Sweet and Sour…but a pre-seasoned or rotisserie chicken is what is it…nothing more.
- If something is added to the list, take something off the list. I have a budget for the month for groceries. I divide that amount up per week, and stick to it. Generally, my goal is to even purchase items below my weekly allotment, because I know there will always be an item I run out of before expected to purchase it. Like milk, tissues, diapers, or dish soap. In an effort to keep myself under the grocery bill allotment for the week, I do not buy items that are not on my list. This works great if my children ask me if they can pick up a box of cereal or something else that catches their eye. I just tell them “it is not on the list.” For some reason, that works. If it is not on the list, we don’t buy it. I do give myself room for a few exceptions though. If there is an item I choose to purchase that is not on my list, I substitute it for an item on my list. For instance, if I get to the store and find the peaches are at an amazing price and they look fabulous, I will pick up peaches, and remove the apples from my list. It doesn’t always work out that the items are of equal value, but I do my best to keep my budget balance, by allowing little room for a drastic price change.
- Remove any non-essentials from the list before going shopping. I often create a list of all the items we need on my Wal-Mart list. Then as I shop, I ask myself if it is something we can live without for another week, or it is something we need now? It is amazing how many items are either luxury items and can wait…especially if it is the end of the month when my grocery well is about dry. I will even pass up sales of items I do not truly need. It is cheaper not to buy at all than to buy an item on sale.
- Don’t habitually make-unplanned shopping trips. Those spur of the moment trips to the store, even to grab one needed item. They not only take valuable time, but always cost more than a planned trip. For instance, if I need a gallon of milk, and I run into a store, I am often going to choose a store that is an easy in and out, and will pay more for that gallon of milk than is reasonable. I inevitably will be lured into purchasing a couple other items on my way through the store. Even if those extra items are on sale, that trip still cost me more than it should have. So, planning is essential to avoid spur of the moment excursions to the store. I need to know how much milk we go through in a week so I can get it at once and not have to run out before my scheduled shopping trip to get more. Menu planning, grocery planning, and a little time spent in knowing where the best prices can be found are essential to a good grocery trip. Yesterday was Wednesday, I usually get groceries toward the end of each week, but we had simply run out of milk. I either purchased too little or we used more than expected, so I needed to get more milk. Instead of just running out to get milk, I planned my entire shopping trip early. We got everything we would need for the next week and a half.
- Know prices. I pay attention to prices. I know the prices of staples our family uses. When we moved from the mid-west to the east, I immediately knew my groceries would cost more here, because the milk at Aldi cost more in The South than in the Mid-West. It is hard to know a good deal on apples if I don’t even know the regular price per pound. So, I have a mental idea of prices and can spot a good deal when I see one, not just because a grocery store tells me it is a good deal either. What might be a good deal at one store, might be the regular price at another store.
- Easy on the meat. Meat and cheese are generally some of the most expensive grocery items. I generally purchase meat that is under a dollar a pound. To do that, I wait for sales, and usually only buy certain cuts or uncut meat like whole birds. Whole Chickens are .89 a pound at our Aldi. And who says turkey has to wait until Thanksgiving? A turkey can be priced below a dollar a pound and be a great poultry buy. Often there are sales on chicken breasts, legs, and thighs and when they dip below a dollar a pound, I stock up. I do splurge on beef and buy organic ground beef from Aldi (I have my reasons). I try to make the ground beef last a month or more and use ground turkey for most of our ground meat needs. I generally save the beef for company.
- I do the Prep myself. I do not buy foods that have been cut, shredded, or prepared for me. Not only do I find those items to be low quality, but more expensive as well. For instance, pre-shredded cheese might be convenient, but it lacks the creaminess of the cheese I shred myself. I find it to be dry, and it is coated with cornstarch to prevent it sticking in the bag. It doesn’t cook up or melt the same as the cheese I shred myself. I can buy a 32 ounce block of cheese for $7 and shred it my food processor when we get home. It is far cheaper and tastier than the pre-shredded cheese. The same thought goes for produce and meat. Produce looses nutrients when it is cut as well, so I am doing my family a favor by cutting it as we need it. I do not buy the little carrots pre-cut. Not only are they serious choking hazards, but far more expensive than a pound of organic carrots for .99. I can cut them into sticks myself.
And that is pretty much my philosophy and methods of getting food and essentials for our home. I imagine it will change through time. And I also don’t believe it is the best method for everyone. My grandmother would find my method of shopping very unsuitable for one person. And larger family may find buying bulk foods from Costco or Sams to be the most effective method of getting groceries. I do hold to the fact that planning is essential for any effective shopping trip and I also believe, no matter the size of the grocery budget, we are to be wise stewards. A large or non-existent grocery budget does not permit us Christians the freedom to spend carelessly. We are also held accountable for our time. I don’t believe we should over-obsess in the process of getting groceries. It can become materialism if we are obsessed with the best deals and always printing coupons. So, again, moderation is essential to biblical living.