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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop at More Than One Store (Part 3)

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Taking all the information you gathered by scouting out your local stores and making a price book, it’s time to make your game plan for shopping at more than one store. Here’s what I’d suggest:

1) Consider How Much Time You Have to Invest

Time is money. So if it’s scarce for you, don’t expect that you’ll be able to spend six hours grocery shopping each week. That’s just not feasible or realistic.

I’d suggest that you be willing to set aside at least two hours each week if you want to see fairly significant savings. Invest 30 minutes in planning and clipping/organizing coupons and an hour and a half in shopping. In that timeframe, you should be able to plan your shopping trips and shop at one to three stores. It might sound unrealistic right now, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

But I Don’t Have Two Hours to Spend!

Maybe you don’t. But how important is saving money to you? Is it worth giving up time spend watching TV or working on a hobby? Look at your schedule and see if there is something you regularly do each week that you’d be willing give up in order to save money. You might find that clipping coupons and reducing your grocery budget can become a fun hobby in and of itself. And it’s one of the best hobbies ever because it doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money. Plus, it greatly benefits your family!

If you have more than two hours to invest per week, you can tailor your plan accordingly. Perhaps you have time to hit four or five stores, instead of two. Or maybe you have time to research more deals and clip more coupons. Do what works for you. However, don’t overdo!

2) Rotate the Stores You Shop At

When the weekly sales change in your area, sit down and quickly scan the grocery store fliers (most larger chains offer their fliers online), your price book, and your coupons, and decide which stores are running the best sales. Keep in mind what your schedule is for the week and what areas of town you’ll already be in. Based upon which stores have the best deals and what your schedule looks like for the week, plan your shopping trip accordingly.

I rarely shop at more than three stores in a week. A more normal week would include a stop at either Aldi or Dillons (a Kroger affiliate) and a stop at the health food store to look for mark-downs.

However, I rotate the stores very frequently depending upon the sales and what coupons I have. I usually go to a local store once a month when they have their Double Dollar coupon event, and then I go to Target once every 4-6 weeks, Walgreens and Walmart once or twice a quarter, Sam’s Club once or twice a year, and a Bulk Foods Store once every four to six months. On occasion, I’ll also pop into the dollar store.

So in a six month time period, I’ve likely shopped at nine to ten different stores–but I never shop at all of them in the same week, or even in the same month!

That’s the beauty of shopping at more than one store. You don’t have to shop at five stores each week, or even more than one. But you can rotate which stores you shop at every week in order to get the best deals and lowest prices.

3) Don’t Feel Obligated to Hit Every Deal

I think one of the biggest mistakes new couponers make is that they discover this world of paying pennies on the dollar and get so excited about all the money they are saving, that they go a little overboard. Pretty soon, they are completely burnt out and go back to spending large amounts at the grocery store each week.

The better approach is to take it slow. Pick and choose the best deals to do and don’t worry about hitting the others. There will always be another sale on milk and cereal or whatever else it is that seems like such a great deal at the time. Pace yourself and you’ll find that you enjoy it a lot more.

In addition, realize that it’s okay to step back and take a break every now and then. Sometimes, I’ll shelve my coupon box for a week–or even a month!–and just do my shopping at Aldi. Or even skip shopping and eat from the pantry that week. Maybe I didn’t get the rock bottom prices that week or miss out on some stellar deal, but over the course of the year, it’s much more money-saving and sanity-saving to pace myself.

How much time do you spend on bargain-shopping and coupon-clipping each week? Tell us in the comments because I’m very curious to know!

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  • Becca says:

    I haven’t used coupons in a while (save for a $6 off $30 total purchase at Fresh & Easy) because it seems they are always for the brand name products, but it’s still cheaper to buy the store brand, even after the coupon. I don’t know of any stores that double anymore, besides Ralphs, but that’s only up to $1 (ie $0.55 off doubles to $1 off).

    I regularly shop at Walmart (bread – $2.07 for extra fiber whole grain, & non food items), Smart & Final, and Fresh & Easy. At first i thought Fresh & Easy was going to be pricier like Trader Joe’s, but the prices are low, esp when they have a sale ($1.97/lb chicken breasts, 2/$3 half-gallon orange juice). For many items, they are on par with Smart & Final, but i don’t have to buy in bulk. I love how simple, green, and “local” the store is.

    Also, i rarely buy fresh produce anymore because i always let it go bad. I buy a lot of frozen now: $1/lb and no more finding bags of brown juice in the produce drawers of the fridge. And with just two of us, I have to actively make sure we finish a gallon of milk before it goes bad.

    I’m happy to report that while looking back at a rough draft of a budget from six months ago, that I have brought my grocery spending down from $250/mo to $150/mo. It is still too high for two people, but i’m glad to know i’ve made such progress. It’s encouraging, because i thought i was stagnant and that there was no hope. So i encourage people to keep some sort of record of past spending to compare and track savings. It really helps to keep from stressing, but i feel this is the only category i can control. I’ve virtually eliminated eating out and “fellowship food” (eating at church, after church, etc) has stayed the same.

  • Becca says:

    Oh, and i wanted to ask: you say you only go to Sam’s Club once or twice a year. Do the savings still make the membership fee worth it? I have a few friends who are Costco members, and sometimes there are prices i’m really jealous of, but most of the time i feel i can find a better deal at Smart & Final (no memberships) and save that annual fee and space in my cupboards since S&F “bulk” is small in comparison.

    • Lisa says:

      On my Sam’s renewal they offered me a $10 gift card. You can put a second person on your card, so I split the fee with a relative. (You just tell them their name at customer service or enter it online and they go to Sam’s to pick up their card.) It was $35 – $10 gc = $25 and we split that. They usually have summer only memberships at a discount price too. Maybe you could look into one of those this summer?
      If you go to the site, click on “click and pull” pick the store closest to you, you can look at their prices online. My favorites there are trash bags, bastmati rice, canned fruit, alcohol swabs, frozen fruit for smoothies, cheeze-it snack sized bags, boxed juice, boxed chocolate milk and ham. (I have the meat dept slice the ham.)

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