Savvy Grocery Secrets (and a Few Sins)

First, thank you all for your support in the wake of my humiliating dessert social defeat. Your kindness and understanding ensures that I will continue my struggle to bring cake joy to future generations. :)

In my coupon rant last week, I mentioned that one family buys a dozen copies of the newspaper to get extra coupons and that if I did that, it would cost $24, which is almost equal to my average weekly grocery bill. The way I worded it was misleading and a teensy bit wrong. I should have emphasized the almost part, and I should have used the word budget instead of bill. My weekly grocery budget is $25-30. My actual grocery bill averages $30-35, and sometimes goes a bit higher, especially if I buy the ingredients for HOMEMADE dessert for 40 people.

I have no idea what anyone else spends on groceries, but Debby thought my numbers (misleading/erroneous as they were) were worthy of their own post. And what Debby wants, Debby gets—so here I am with today’s topic. :)

Before I begin, a few caveats:

  • I want to stress that I may be unemployed self-employed, but I am not poor. I budget because I need to be mindful of finances, not because I don’t have any. While there’s certainly no disgrace in being poor, my shopping with an eye on budget is hugely different than for the millions of people who don’t have the luxuries of choice, abundance, and mobility that I have. I am blessed with options , and I wanted to both acknowledge and honor that.
  • Another thing to mention is that I eat out at least 2 or 3 times each week—sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on my schedule. Those costs aren’t part of my grocery budget. I count those as entertainment! : )
  • I’m shopping for one—one who doesn’t especially enjoy cooking on an everyday basis and is quite content to eat the same things, day in and day out. As a result, my shopping experience is somewhat “streamlined.”

Also, before we get to my shopping strategies, I probably should tell you what I eat. Prepare to be bored.

CAMMY’S TYPICAL MENU PLAN
Breakfast: My morning usually starts at 5 a.m. so I eat two breakfasts. I’ll have something like yogurt & fruit early, and then eggs & toast or oats with peanut butter mid-morning. Or a pear and cashews, which is what I ate today for breakfast #2. (No idea why; it just sounded good.)

Lunch: I’m a kid at heart, so lunch for me is usually a sandwich (turkey or PB, if I didn’t have that with breakfast) and X something, were X equals fruit and/or pickles and/or carrots and/or chips & salsa. Or I’ll make a tuna salad to enjoy with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.

Dinner: Meat & salad & sometimes a starchy veggie or potato or rice (or lately—pasta plus!), depending on choices from earlier in the day. I use my slow cooker A LOT and have a standard rotation of barbecued chicken, Mexican chicken, and lean beef or turkey taco filling stored in individual servings in my freezer. Every now and then I go wild and mix something else into the line-up. Last week it was “Chicken Parmesan”, which looked a lot like the barbecued chicken except I used marinara and black olives instead of barbecue sauce, and I sprinkled Mozzarella on top before I served it. Which, now that I think about it, probably wouldn’t hurt the barbecued chicken either.

Snacks: More boredom. Yogurt, nuts, popcorn, chocolate bites (Hershey’s Kisses or Nuggets, Dove Bliss minis, etc.), or dry cereal. With, of course, the occasional fro-yo or ice cream or local bakery sweet treat tossed in for variety and soul soothing.

And that’s a peek at my general eats. I do veer off track now and then to experiment or celebrate something special, but that’s the overall plan I go by. Now let’s “go buy”. (hee-hee!)

CAMMY’S GROCERY SHOPPING STRATEGIES

Draw your lines in the sand. What are your nutritional goals? What are your monetary limits? What will you sacrifice and what will you hold to firmly? (Two-thirds of my budget goes for meat/protein, fruits, and veggies—those are my absolutes. I’ll compromise a little on yogurt brands, but not to the point of buying the 5/$1 “dessert yogurts”. And so on. )

Know the prices of standard menu items. Then you can compare to sales prices or other products for good values.

Know the sales habits of your grocery store(s) of choice. Sales tend to run in cycles and knowing that one of your “absolutes” goes on sale every 6, 8, or 12 weeks helps you know when and how much to buy.

Take advantage of store loyalty cards/programs or register on the store website.
Some people view loyalty cards as a violation of privacy, but for me, they’re an opportunity to receive special coupons and offers based on what I usually buy. For example, I rarely pay for carrots, because Kroger always includes a coupon for a free bag in a monthly coupon mailing. I’ve received other store coupons for fresh meat and produce. As an addtional benefit, I occasionally receive requests to participate in store surveys in which I give my opinion on the issues that are important to me, like pricing, availability, and product placement. They need to hear from us!

Focus on buying food, not products. Not always possible, but if most of your purchases are for fresh, real food vs. boxes, cans, and bags, you’ll get more value for your money (real food provides greater satiety) and you’ll be better nourished. As a general rule, I don’t buy “diet-y” products like 100-calorie snacks or frozen meals or bars or other convenience products. When I first started my tippy-toe ways, I certainly did (and I still will if I something intriguing catches my eye and I happen to have a coupon), and they were a good way to transition to healthier eating. But when I think about value, both financial and nutritional, other foods make more sense. (And cents!) Your mileage may vary.

Fear not, the store brand! Kroger peanut butter (on sale now for $1.79) has two ingredients: peanuts and salt. Their rolled oats have one ingredient: 100% whole grain rolled oats. They’re $1.59 at regular price, but frequently go on sale. Kroger-brand greek yogurt doesn’t have as “clean” a label as Oikos or Fage, but it’s much better than other yogurt choices and at savings of nearly $1 per serving, a compromise I’ll sometimes make.

Shop the clearance aisle/bins and learn the general pattern of when your store puts items there. I used to think these were items that were at or near their expiration dates, but quite often, they’ve just got a surplus or are expecting new shipments. On Mondays and Thursdays, my local Kroger marks down produce. (For someone who eats salad almost every day and lives less than a half-mile from the store, this is huge!) At least twice a month, they mark down the surplus “good yogurts”, and every now and then, they’ll have something interesting in the packaged product markdowns. Last week, they had Balance Bars for $0.49, about half off their normal sale price. Those aren’t part of my standard fare, but I like to keep a few on hand for “emergencies.”

Grow your own. I’m no gardener, but I’m giving it a whirl again this year with cucumbers and two types of tomatoes. I would quite happily eat a cucumber and a tomato every day, but at the current prices, that would cost about $10/week. Not happening. I’m hopeful for more productive plants this year and some nice savings to add to it.

As you can see, neither my menu nor my shopping habits are perfect, but the good news is that perfection isn’t a goal of mine. (I gave it up with the “diet-y” foods.) My main goal is to be mindful of both my nutritional goals and my current lack of income and to find the happiest middle ground I can.

Any shopping tips of your own to add? Feel free to shout ‘em out!

Oh, and this week’s homage to Makeover Monday:
Eggmania! – Learn why I love eggs so much.

Flip-flops Flop – They’re cute, but they’re not so great for our feet.



13 thoughts on “Savvy Grocery Secrets (and a Few Sins)

  1. I’m glad someone asked the question about your incredibly LOW grocery bill. I spend $20 per week just on Greek yogurt (about $7), organic spinach ($6.50), bananas ($2), and rice milk ($3.39). There’s no way I could get everything else for $15. You’ve got a great system going there. Congratulations.

  2. My grocery bills can be quite high because I buy antibiotic, hormone free meat which is pricey. I buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. I don’t eat a lot of grain, but when I do buy bread it is expensive because I buy gluten free products. I know I am very blessed not to have to worry about what I spend.

  3. Thanks for sharing your shopping secrets, Cammy. I’d love to go shopping with you some time and see you in action. Hope your tomato/cucumber garden is well underway. I bought a patio tomato plant last week and am checking daily to see if the flowers are starting to turn to little green tomatoes. I love “real” homegrown tomatoes.

    Have a great week.

  4. I like Focus on buying food, not products and grow your own the best.
    Those are so important.
    I got a few good ideas from you here. Thanks.

  5. Cammy! :)

    Wow! I wish I could have your grocery budget. Being prepared is so important! As well as not shopping on an empty stomach! :)

    Can’t wait to get into a house so that we have some sun and I can have a garden!

  6. I could’ve written this – you and I have a lot in common. One thing that I’ve found useful is grocery shopping early in the morning (if you have the luxury of doing so). The store is clean, clerks are fresh and more helpful plus my Kroger does a huge shore-wide markdown around 9:30 or so every morning to move stuff from the day before or to make room for new stock. It’s a bargain bonanza!

    BTW, I’m enjoying shopping at some of the Kroger affiliates while in Colorado. We bought groceries at King Sooper’s while in Colorado Springs and City Market here in Durango. Both are unique, but still feel very comfortable and familiar. Continuing to accrue those gas points ain’t bad either!!!

  7. I love this and need this as I think we ALLL need to be mindful of finances :)

    my poor husband doesnt love grocery shopping with me—but youll have that.

  8. Wow, Cammy, thanks for writing this! The truth is, I just don ‘t know how much I spend, but with retirement looming, I better figure it out soon! I think I shop pretty much like you describe. The main thing I do wrong is to buy too much food.

    And, I have your mexican chicken bookmarked. Sounds absolutely delicious. I especially like that the beans are mashed. For some reason I find them much more palatable that way.

  9. Like you Cammy, I start early so I have mind of 2 breakfasts too & I am also a fairly boring eater meaning what I eat is not exciting to others. 😉 I don’t really eat out at all though…..

    I loved reading this anyway & seeing what you do!!!

  10. Cammy, I’m amazed at your ability to keep your nutrition level high and your grocery bill low. I think convenience plays a big part, obviously – and knowing what goes on sale/clearance and when. My father used to drive right past a Kroger on his way home from work every day and always knew when things were marked down. Our family of 7 ate quite well on a blue-collar worker’s salary because of things like that. It can totally be done with a little effort. Thank you for sharing this valuable info.

  11. Aren’t slow cookers the best? I just used mine today and set it on “warm” to heat up our dinner while I was at work so I wouldn’t have to wait the 20 minutes it would take to heat it up on the stove when I got home. teehee

  12. This was a very interesting post! I struggle when it is just me home alone and I don’t have others to cook for. I am a bit like you that I can eat the same thing for a couple of meals and not be bothered by it. Big batch cooking gives me leftovers and I love them!

    I try to be frugal about grocery shopping for the basics. Why spend more money than I have to? I do buy some luxury type items in the food department that are not “needed” but rather wanted! I love food, cooking and trying new things in the kitchen which requires specialty items and sometimes unusual ingredients! It is so much fun and I guess it’s part of my entertainment and a hobby!

  13. Wonderful post. I knew and do much of that, but sometimes I rush. And that Kroger discount bin … that’s where I get stuck with the pies, cakes and breads. They’ve recently started putting their discounted gluten-free in that section too so I can’t avoid it (my kid is gf).

    Thanks for writing. Vee at http://veegettinghealthy.blogspot.com

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