Grocery Geek: Staying Away from the Sales

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Staying away from the stores — and yes, even the sales, is a great way to save money.

As I mentioned earlier this week, there’s not much that we “needed” from the store: Milk, kosher salt, and flour were top on my list. I knew we’d want some more fruit, and incidentals popped up.

While there were some interesting items in the sale ads, I chose not to “go grocery shopping” this week. I didn’t do a big trip and that saved us some cash this week. Having a week off from the produce box helped, too.

I did end up in or by a number of other stores during the week, though, so that’s when I picked up the above listed items. Flour at Walmart while I was there for other reasons. Kosher salt at Target. And milk at Trader Joe’s since we were right across the street. Hubs picked up some salsa fixings and rootbeer float stuff one night, but other than that, restraint was the name of the game.

Shopping the sales is a great way to save money — as is staying away from them.

We ended up spending $32.79 this week on those miscellaneous items.

Grocery Spending MTD = $258

In order to “make do,” I baked bread every day using the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Method. That was a high point as everyone loves it and it is so easy! We enjoyed cookies from the freezer and meals at home most days.

However, we were short on some of the things that make lunchtimes easier: individual yogurts, cheese, sandwich fixings, etc. As a result, I didn’t pack hubby very good lunches this week and he ended up going out more during the week. So, I need to find that happy balance between saving money and having convenience items on hand. I sense a trip to Trader Joe’s and/or Costco in my future.

Maybe I better take a calculator with me?

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  1. how do you pay for your groceries? I usually use my credit card – which I pay off every month but earn cash back for charges – or debit card. It’s just so convenient. However, I’ve been told that using actual cash makes one much more aware of how much money is being spent. Whether you took your $800 goal (perhaps subtracting the amount of the produce box since that is probably on an auto-pay system) and only did grocery shopping with that cash, or even just the $xx amount you want to spend on those convenience items, I bet that would sharply increase your attention to detail. Nobody wants to get to the register and not have enough money for what was just rung up!

    While I haven’t done this with cash, I have done it with a maximum amount able to spend. Rather than use a calculator, it was a fun “price is right” game for the kids: who is closest to the actual amount spent? No calculators allowed. They add up the purchase prices as it is put into the cart. It gets tricky when you realize you spent too much and have to put something back (preferably before reaching the register) but it is fun to see who is closest to the final total. It also helped teach the value of a budget.

    • @Sandi, we currently pay “cash” usually via debit card. I think you make a great suggestion for going back to my old ways of doing that. When our budget was really tight, I shopped with a calculator and greenbacks. Will definitely keep that in mind!

  2. Fellow grocery geek that I am, I’ve actually spent time thinking about your recent food budget woes. I know some people suggested shopping monthly and you seemed hesitant at the idea since your family goes through so much food (understandable!). Perhaps, instead, you could shop bi-weekly? I’ve done this before and it still does save money.

    And as far as the individual yogurts, maybe you could buy some small Tupperware containers and make your own small yogurts, since the large tubs are more economical? I’ve also done this and it works well. If you buy plain yogurt, you could mix fruit and sweetener in at once, in the blender or food processor.

    • @Emily, just to add to Emily’s great comment……I buy the big tub of plain organic yogurt and stir in a few spoons of homemade jam to sweeten and flavor.

    • @Emily, you know, I totally would if folks LIKED the large containers. Only me and the littles like it. The bigger folks don’t care for it. And we’re really picky about yogurt. Yogurt and coffee.

      • @Jessica, Have you tried making your own (using whole milk)? It is really good – so much tastier than the store bought stuff. It seems daunting to learn, but most of the time is “hands off” with yogurt. If you have picky yogurt eaters, it might be worth a try…

        • @Alison, you are probably the 10th person to suggest it. I’m considering it. We are very picky about the texture, so I’m skeptical. But, we’ll see…

      • @Jessica, we buy a very particular yogurt (Zoi Greek) in the “vanilla” flavor, in large containers, and then customize it with jams and fruit bits and such. The texture is very smooth, not grainy–BIG deal to me! Getting the brand you like best in the large containers, and portioning to the smaller containers (we like half-pint canning jars for the durable, screw-on lid and glass) would save over individuals.

        I’ll also tend to plan dinner with lunch portions in mind, and package “to go” packs as we’re cleaning up after dinner (or, slice sandwich meat, mix up some chicken salad, etc for sandwiches the next day.)

  3. I have issues overspending on sale items! Great tips and something I need to keep in mind.

  4. I second the thought about the larger tubs of yogurt. Especially when you find them on sale at Sprouts or Target! I sometimes buy the plain one and sweeten it with my own honey. It would be cheaper to buy the vanilla. Then you can add your own fruit to it or sometimes just offer the vanilla with some homemade granola toppings ( I just buy a little bit of the granola on sale at Sprouts). We put nuts or even dried fruit in it sometimes. Now, that is my favorite snack to take to work. When you add your own fruit it tastes so much better but I know it could add to the cost if you spend too much on fruit. I have even added bananas to it. By the way, Ralphs has bananas on sale for 49 cents per pound this week so that would be the way to go this week even though you just said you were trying to stay out of the stores!

  5. have you tried making your own yogurt?? I did it for awhile until my kids burned out on it. I was using a crockpot…I’m sure google could help. It was just a gallon of milk, yogurt cultures and time.

    I pick up the yogurts on sale and freeze them. You might be able to freeze homemade yogurt as well.

    • @Jane, I should probably try it at least once, but we are really picky about yogurt. One of our vices, I suppose. 😉

      • @Jessica, I’m picky about yogurt too, preferring very smooth, very thick Greek style yogurt over most everything else. I make homemade yogurt with 2% milk and let the finished yogurt drain through a cheesecloth lined sieve for at least 2 hours. Great results and ‘way less expensive than what I pay for Greek style yogurt at the store. I use the drained whey in place of buttermilk in my recipes so that saves us money too. 🙂

  6. This morning I had to put in Overtime at work so I sent hubs to Target and Sam’s without me. He had sticker shock over the price of hamburger and chicken, but came home with ribs and boston butts! (Also, rub, charcoal and lighter fluid!!!!!) I won’t be doing that again 🙂
    He did get the bags of apples, clementines, onions, potatoes, and oranges as well as the eggs and milk. Guess I won’t trade him in this week.

    • @Harriet, there’s a cost and benefit to everything, isn’t there?

    • @Harriet, I’ve had similar experiences with my husband spending so much more than I would, and also not being aware of or interested in buying the healthier option. I guess it’s a guy thing in some ways–got the item, check it off the list, done. On the other hand, it has taught me to loosen up a bit because he might be onto something in terms of us enjoying something as a family, or he might be telling me I need to hear what he wants more than I am.

  7. Yogurt is a hard one for us too. I have fallen in love with Fage Greek yogurt, but I haven’t even asked my husband to try it because he’s pretty set in his ways about sweet yogurt. I’ve had success sharing it with my 4YO if I put honey in it. Also, maple syrup is amazingly good in it. My only thing is that I won’t buy yogurt with high fructose corn syrup or preservatives. I’ve seriously thought about making my own yogurt using a yogurt maker since they’re not expensive. In fact, I got this idea, as well as my new Fage addiction, after reading that book you recommended–French Women Don’t Get Fat. 🙂

    My MIL told me how when she was a SAHM (she had 10 kids), she budgeted everything using envelopes of cash, rather than using checks since this was before debit cards. So when the cash was gone, the spending was over. Make do. I’ve always thought that would probably work, but I’ve never tried it.

    Like you suggest above, I once heard someone say that one of the best ways to save money is not to go shopping. I’ve always remembered that because the temptations and rationalizations that come from seeing things are powerfully persuasive. If I stay home more, I spend less. It’s so simple and obvious. I think the context was more about buying clothes and such–don’t go stroll around the mall or wherever just looking since looking will likely lead to buying. Same thing could apply to groceries though.

  8. I’m trying to feed our family of four on $400 this month and blogging about it. I have found, 14 days in, that NOT going shopping is key. I am addicted to good deals! lol. It has been an eye opening experience. I’m so used to checking all the circulars and getting the “good deals” each week that I forget that I don’t HAVE to go shopping if there is already food in the house. Thanks for this post, Jessica. It is a good reminder…because if most people are like me, they aren’t just getting the “good deals”…they are picking up a few other things as well. Today is day 14 and I’m at $210 for the month! $190 left! I will make it! Thanks for your great blog.

  9. the KEY to great homemade yogurt is straining it when it’s done culturing! We’re picky about our yogurt here too and zoi greek is the best! When the yogurt is done culturing line a large strainer (or 2) with coffee filters or paper towels and pour in your yogurt. Put the strainer over a large bowl or pan for about 6-8 hrs in the fridge. Some of the whey will fall away and the yogurt will thicken significantly. Then just carefully scoop out of the strainer into your storage containers and voila! Yummy! You won’t get as much volume but the taste and texture are WAY BETTER!

  10. I take a calculator, cash for my groceries, and a list. The calculator is a great reminder to stay on task. I pick up far fewer extras if I keep a running total as I shop.

  11. I agree that staying out of the stores is a great way to save money. I’m often tempted for a good deal, but if I can remind myself of what I already have (making that item a “want” and not a “need”) I’m less tempted to go out and buy it. Thanks for sharing!

  12. With so many things coming up that costing us money. I need to watch our spending. This week wasn’t good with going out of town and me working five days this week. Everything went out the door. So this is my plan I have the weekend off so Saturday I going to inventory what I have plan meals around what I have make menu for the next week. After church on sunday I will go to grocery store and that will be it for the rest of the week. I will be deep cleaning my house next week so I don’t have time to run to the store for this or that.

  13. Making your own yogurt is easy. Google tutorials are way more complicated than needs be, I put a half gallon of milk in the croc pot for about 3 hours, let it cool till you can stick your finger in it for 10 seconds, then add two tablespoons of starter ( store bought yogurt with live active culture) then I put the crockpot in the oven with the light on overnight and in the morning you have yogurt. I don’t usually strain it because we use it for smoothies, but if you like Greek yogurt then you would need to strain it. The best thing about it is there are no chemicals, sweeteners or preservatives. Our yogurt lasts for about two weeks.

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