I used to be a "cherry picker" shopper. Back in the days before kids, I'd search the sale flyers for the best deals, then drop by a store on my way home from work. Or I'd shop at three or four stores on Saturday morning. Because, you know, it didn't take that long! Yes, indeed, that was before children.
After Jonathan was born, I kept shopping that way. Only now I didn't have a car most days during the week, so all the shopping happened on Saturday. And it took twice as long. Which meant that weekends always felt rushed and too full and with too little time to be with my husband and just enjoy being a family. To be honest, I hated doing it that way, but I didn't see a way around it. I just couldn't justify paying $1.89 for the celery at Vons when it was on sale for 99 cents at Albertsons that week. Not on our limited budget, anyway.
Then came Thomas. Amazingly, I think I've actually learned something about accepting my limitations. :) Because a few weeks before Thomas arrived, I spent some serious thinking time considering how I was going to handle grocery shopping with two kids and a car only on Monday, Thursday, and weekends. On the one hand, our budget is just as limited as it has been for the last two years. On the other hand, the reality is that I can't shop at Sam's Club, Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons, AND the Ranch Market just to stretch our dollars as far as possible. I hear that hospital bills for the certifiably insane are pretty steep. :)
Our solution, so far, is a good one. We found an online discount broker for newspapers, and bought a year's subscription of weekend papers for 99 cents a week. The paper is a nice side effect - we bought it for the Sunday coupon inserts. Then I signed up for The Grocery Game. For $1.25 a week, I get a list of everything that is on a good sale at Vons, along with the coupon that I ought to combine with it to get an even better price. Each item is color coded to tell me if it is a decent price, a good ("stock-up") price, or if the item will be free with the coupon.
I love it.
The time saved is tremendous. No clipping tons of coupons and trying to keep them all straight and match them up with sales. No guessing if today is the best day to use the coupon, or should I save it until next week? I clip only the coupons that I'm planning to use that week, and I know that I'm using them at the best time. I'm only going to two stores: Vons and Sam's Club. And an unexpected but lovely benefit? I know the store layout. Before I used to get frustrated looking for items and backtracking through stores, because Vons and Ralphs and Albertsons were all laid out just a bit differently. But now, with just one store, I can put my coupons in order, start at one end and finish at the other, and never backtrack at all. This is a beautiful thing, particularly when you have a crying infant and frustrated toddler in your cart along with the food!
In terms of time and sanity saved, this has been a good choice. And as for the budget? I think we're coming out just about even, or a little ahead. The paper and the grocery game subscription are budget additions. Also, produce costs quite a bit more at Sams and Vons than it does at the Ranch Market. But knowing when to stock up on yogurt so you get it for free, and toilet paper so it costs 19 cents, is a pretty significant savings. I'm not doing a week to week break-down of cost (it would take too much time!) but I do intend to take a look at our grocery spending each month and make sure that we're doing ok. So far we're coming out a tad ahead.
You do have to be careful not to buy something just because you have a coupon. Because, you know, there are coupons for a lot of things that you don't need! I do a mental check three times: once when I cut the coupons, once when I walk in the store and put them in aisle order, and once when I'm putting my items on the counter to check out. If I wouldn't normally put it on my list without a coupon, it shouldn't be in my bag on the way out the door. Exceptions to that are when it is free or something we'll use/enjoy for less than $1. For example, this week I bought Quaker Granola Bites (a snack food) for 25 cents. Normally that would not have been on my list, but a whole box of snacks for less than the cost of a candy bar? That is worth it to me.
Yesterday's trip to Vons (a small stop-in, since we did a full grocery run last week) resulted in this receipt:
Original total: $13.39
Club savings: - $3.42
Coupon savings: - $7.69
Total paid: $2.28
So: A discounted Sunday paper, a Grocery Game subscription, and only shopping at one main grocery store. It works for me!
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