Friday, June 1, 2012

The Grocery List

Grocery lists are the key to saving money on groceries. They make you think about what you're buying, rather than just walking into the store and grabbing whatever catches your eye.
Just FYI: Everything here is in Canadian dollars, bought at a Canadian grocery store. If you're in the United States, you can probably find lower prices and spend less than my $400 a month!
I admit it, I have tried and failed to make a good grocery list multiple times. The problem was that in order to make a grocery list I needed a meal plan, and meal plans just weren't working for me. I'm not the type of person who plans out the meals for the week and eats what's scheduled for that day... I'm the type of person that comes home planning to cook a chicken and then suddenly decides to make pasta instead.

So this month I tried something different. Instead of a calendar, I made a chart. It has four columns: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks, and a row for every day of the month (the chart in the picture is cut off). Then I wrote in all the meals I normally make, repeating our favorites to fill in all the blanks. When I put two whole chickens in the "Dinner" column, I put two chicken sandwich days in the "lunch" column to use up the leftovers. I looked in our freezer and discovered a pile of ground beef, so I added pot stickers, lasagna, shepherd's pie and tacos to the list. I picked up my grocery store's flyer and discovered a 3/$5 sale on cookies, so they went in the "Snack" column.

When I was done I had breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for every day of the month planned with no dates attached, so I could buy all the ingredients (or at least the ones that wouldn't go bad before I used them) and make whatever I felt like on any given day... then my husband gave me a reality check ("4 weeks of groceries in one day?") and I split the list in half.

Then all I had to do was make up a grocery list for everything we didn't already have in the house. I added notes about sales so I'd remember to look for them and made a note to buy the bigger package of certain things that will be needed again later. Unless there's an amazing sale, the bigger package will almost always give you more for your money, so if it's something that won't go bad or that can be frozen to use later, get the bigger package... and if you're lucky enough to find that amazing sale and the smaller package is cheaper, get more than one!
For example, today I got the biggest bag of flour they had. Not only will it last me for months, but I saved close to $10 by not buying multiple smaller packages. However, the sale on instant mac and cheese made the single boxes cheaper than the individual boxes in the 12 pack, so I got a lot of individual boxes instead of the 12 pack I normally buy.
Once you have a list, it's about getting the best deal for the items on that list. I don't have the will power to be a couponer (you know, with the research and coupon printing and clipping and organized binder...), but if I see a coupon for something we normally buy anyways, I'll grab it. I also don't drive around to multiple stores, it's a waste of time and gas. Pick one store and get all your groceries there. If you can get toilet paper, laundry detergent and other household essentials there too, do it. The more things you can get in one place for a decent price, the better. It may not be the best price in the city, but it's not worth another $2 in gas to drive across town for milk that's $0.50 cheaper.

What you will find me doing is standing in an aisle squinting at the teeny tiny writing on the price tags. They all have writing, usually in the bottom right corner, that tells you a unit price or a price per 100ml or another unit of measurement. Normally the same unit will be used on similar products, making it easy to compare and figure out which product will give you the most for your money.

I've found that this is a trick not many people know about, and it really does help save money. As I mentioned before, you'll find that most of the time the larger package saves you money in the long run (assuming it's something you'll actually use up). However, it doesn't work for things like laundry or dishwasher detergent.
For example, today I got a 1L bottle of laundry detergent for $4.99. Usually I get a 2L bottle for about $6. The tags showed price per 100ml, which would lead you to believe that the 2L bottle was the better deal... but that 2L bottle says it's good for 40 loads and the 1L one says 50 loads, making the smaller bottle the better deal.
Today we managed to do 2 weeks worth of groceries and basic household stuff (toilet paper, laundry detergent, ect.) for about $170, though some of the things we bought will last us longer than 2 weeks. By the end of the two weeks, that number will be up to about $200 because we'll have to buy some more milk, bread and eggs... but believe me, without the list that number would have been much bigger!

My next task will be to make a spreadsheet to record prices of items.That way when I make a grocery list I can price it, and when I see a sale in a flyer I can see how good a sale it is. If you go to more than one grocery store, you might want to make one to compare prices so you can decide where to shop on your next trip. I only go to one store (the others are too far away), so that doesn't matter to me, but I do want to record the prices.

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