Thursday, April 11, 2013

100 ways to save on groceries, part 2

11. Know your prices.  At first, you may actually want to keep a price book where you keep track of both the regular price and the best sale price at each of your favorite stores for each of your favorite items.  It's a lot of information to keep track of, but if you don't know the  prices, you won't know whether you're saving. After a while, you will just *know* which sales are rock bottom sales and which aren't.

12.  When something is on "sale," but isn't a rock bottom sale, buy a few of them if you need them, so that you won't have to pay full price, but don't go crazy.  When it is at its lowest price, buy enough to get you through to the next sale this good . . . which could be six months to a year away. (Within reason.  If you have the money and storage space to do this.)

13.  Learn the sales cycles.  Certain items are on sale at certain times of year.  Barbecue items, for example, tend to go on sale at the beginning of the summer and cereal in the fall.  If you can buy enough during these sales periods to get you through the year, you will save a ton.  Most stores also have a 12 week sale cycle.  There will be some kind of sale on a particular item every 3 months or so.

14. Consider shopping at more than one store if you have time.  Most areas have a cheaper and a more expensive grocery store.  The more expensive store will tend to have better loss leaders and promotions, while the other store will have cheaper everyday prices.  If you just buy the sale items at the expensive store, and everything else at the cheaper store, you will save a lot of money.

15.  Try a discount store. Stores like Aldi, Bottom Dollar, or Save-a-lot can save you a bunch of money, particularly on items that don't tend to have coupons, like produce and milk.

16.  Try a warehouse store.  Some items are considerably cheaper at a warehouse store, like Sam's Club or Costco.  Yeast, spices, meat, and bread products come to mind.  Just make sure you know your prices (see above) because not everything is cheaper.  And consider whether you're saving enough to cover your membership costs.

17.  Try the drugstore game.  Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS typically have some of the best sale/coupon deals.  Sign up for a membership card at each of them, read a good deal blog (like Money  Saving Mom), and pick up these free or nearly free items every week.

18. Check out Amazon.  With free shipping for subscribe and save products, often you can get a better deal on paper products and certain bulk food items by buying online.

19. Consider buying your cleaning supplies and beauty products at a big box store like Target, but be careful of groceries which are often more expensive, at least than sale prices.

20. Be aware of the coupon policy for each store.  Do they double coupons?  How many of each coupon will they accept?  Can you stack a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon?  (More on coupons next week.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Clean your Finances: You need a budget

I decided that for spring, I would start a new Monday series on some of the basic truths that I have found about personal finance.  So, I'm starting with what I think to be the core of everything: a budget.

You need  a budget.  In some way, shape, or form.  If you want to make any changes or progress to your current financial situation, you need a budget.

Your budget can take a variety of forms, and I've done many (a book, a sheet of paper, a spreadsheet, Quicken), but at it's most essential it is this:

You need to know how much you intend to spend on each of a variety of categories.  Then you need to spend that much, and only that much.

That's it.  There's no other magic than that.  But if you want any control over where your money is going, if you want to have more left at the end of the month, if you want to have more to save or to spend on areas that are important, you need to sit down and pay attention to it.

So, here's the most basic form of a budget.

Make a list of everything you spend money on in a month.  Do this with your bank statement or credit cards if you want.  Make a list of how much you want to spend on each of those categories.  For non-fixed expenses, this can be based on how much you were previously spending, or it can be an adjustment or goal. Make sure this doesn't add up to more than you make in a month.  If it does, adjust something.  If you have money left over, assign it to something (a saving goal, a loan repayment, a service you'd like to add on).

Then, during the month, you have to check in.  Keep a total of how much you've spent in each category.  You can do this every time you spend, or you can update it weekly.   If you overspend a category (which  you really should only do in an emergency!), adjust something else to make up for it.  The money has to come from somewhere.

That's it. That's the whole budget.  There are software solutions that will do some of the heavy lifting for you (Mint, for instance, is free), but you can do the whole thing yourself with a sheet of notebook paper.

Just do it.

Do you have a budget?  How do you keep track of it?  What strategies do you use for budgeting?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

100 Ways to Save Money on Groceries, Part 1

When I ask people what they would like to know about money and saving money, the number one response I get every time is, "How can I save money on groceries?"

The thing about groceries is, they are a variable budget item, and for many people they are the only one.  So, if you can't see a way to save on your fixed expenses and bills (and you can, but I'll save that for another day), you can at least see that you can save on your grocery bill.

I'm not an extreme couponer.  I don't feed my family on $10 a week, like some people do.  I am very conscious of what comes into my house and at what price, though, and so I've started to put together a list of ways that you can save money on groceries, even with rising food prices.

  1. Use a list.  Grocery stores are designed to see you things, and if you don't know what you need before you go, you are likely to impulse buy a lot of things that you definitely don't need.
  2. Shop less often.  Along the same lines as above, the less time you spend in the grocery store, the less money you are likely to spend. Try stretching your weekly grocery trips to 10 days, and eventually to 2 weeks sometimes.
  3. Eat less meat.  Perhaps the most expensive items in most weekly grocery trips is meat, moreso if you are committed to buying good, unprocessed meat.  Try to cut back on the amount of meat that you and your family eat.  You can do this by instituting one meatless night a week, or by cutting back on the meat you use in all your recipes. 
  4. Institute a cheap/easy dinner night.  Consider a weekly sandwich night, breakfast for dinner night, or pasta night (or all of the above).  
  5. Plan your meals around the sales.  While I know it's tempting to plan your meals around whatever your friends just posted to Pinterest, it is much more practical to plan your meals around your grocery store's sale cycle, particularly the meat and produce items.
  6. Stockpile pantry and freezer items.  Get in the habit of buying extra of pantry items when they are on sale.  If you buy two jars of mayonnaise or peanut butter when they are $2 each, you can avoid spending $4 on one  later.  If you stay ahead of your pantry stock, you will eventually get to the point where you are never paying full price for any of these things.
  7. Plan meals from your pantry and freezer.  Before you go to the store, always look at what you have first, and plan your meals around that.  This keeps you from buying ingredients, using them in one recipe, and then letting the rest languish for months or years.
  8. Try to avoid brand loyalty.  Particularly for health and beauty items, if you have at least a few different brands you are willing to use, it's much easier to avoid paying full price.  If you are a dedicated stockpiler (see above), this can be temporary until you have enough of your preferred brand saved to get you to the next sale.
  9. Reconsider convenience items.  I'm not telling you to eliminate them completely.  If they keep you from eating out, they are totally worth it.  But think about how much convenience they offer.  For example, instant oatmeal doesn't cook any quicker than regular quick oats in the microwave, and costs more for way fewer servings.
  10. Avoid food waste.  What are you throwing away every week?  Leftovers?  Rotten produce?  Find a way to repurpose these things or stop buying them.  I buy frozen vegetables now because it's cheaper than throwing fresh produce away.