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The Buy Ahead Principle: One of my biggest grocery saving secrets

Allison left the following comment on my picture of this week's $30 shopping trip:

I've
enjoyed reading this blog the past month or so since I've discovered
it, and you've really helped me snag some good deals. And I think it's
neat when you come home from the store with a pile of groceries for
only a few dollars.

But every time I see the picture of your groceries, I wonder
something like, "What is she going to cook for dinner with easy mac,
salad dressing, and jello?"

Is this all the grocery shopping you do? Do you have a garden? Or
raise your own beef? How do you round out your bargain purchases to get
a meal on the table?

One of my biggest secrets for grocery saving success is that I practice the Buy Ahead Principle. What's that, you ask?

Well, basically, other than dairy products and produce, I aim to never pay full price for anything. Instead, I stock up when an item is on sale to tide me over until the next sale. 

For instance, in this shopping trip picture, you'll see that I mainly stocked up on cereal. In fact, I bought 16 boxes of cereal–enough to last us for at least 6 weeks, likely longer. Did we only eat cereal that week? No way! We ate a few boxes of cereal that week and the rest of what we ate mostly came from items I'd stocked up on during previous sales.

You see, because I stock up on items when they are on sale at my target price (providing I can afford it in our budget), my grocery shopping trips will usually look quite strange and will certainly not be the basis for a balanced menu. But you can check out some of our menus here to see that we do eat a fairly balanced diet. Well, at least we're certainly not subsisting on Easy Mac and Jell-O every meal!

How is it that we can eat a fairly balanced diet when I buy such an odd assortment of groceries each week? It's because the bulk of our meals are based upon what we already have in our refrigerator, pantry, and freezer.

To give you an idea of how this works, here's a rundown of our menu this week:

Breakfasts: Cereal or Kashi waffles and fruit (The cereal was from our big stock-up mentioned above, the waffles were purchased two weeks ago at Target for $0.29/box, and the fruit is from what we purchased this week and leftovers from last week.)

Lunches: Sandwiches or leftovers and carrots or fruit (I had lots of bread in the freezer I'd gotten for $0.50/loaf from Aldi last month and the peanut butter was from our pantry. My mom also gave us some extra lunch meat she had leftover from a lunch they served so we've used that, too. The carrots and fruit were purchased this week or leftover from last week's purchases.)

Dinners: We're eating meals from our After-The-Baby Freezer Stash paired with homemade bread from the freezer and frozen veggies from the freezer. All of the items in our After-The-Baby Freezer Stash were purchased within our usual grocery budget over the course of a few weeks' time as I had a little extra wiggle room in the budget or items were on sale.

Snacks: Fruit, cheese, crackers, granola bars, yogurt (The fruit, cheese, crackers, and yogurt were all purchased this week. The granola bars were from the pantry.)

When I plan the menu for the week, I first check out what we already have on hand. This gives me the inspiration for the majority of the menu. I then consult the sales fliers and my coupon box to decide what items are on sale and in-budget that I want (or need) to stock up on. I also add in any specific ingredients I need to round out a recipe or meal I've planned from the freezer and pantry ingredients.

For many people who are used to buying only what groceries you'll use in the next week, the concept of buying ahead can be mind-boggling. However, I highly recommend you at least give it a try as it can save you a great deal of money. In fact, I would estimate that we routinely save at least $30-$50 each week by doing so.

If this is a new concept for you, don't go out and spend $500 tomorrow trying to build up a stockpile. Instead, just designate a small percentage of your grocery budget each week to buying extra of those heavily-discounted items which you know you will use sometime in the next few months.

Slowly
start to build up a stockpile of items you regularly use as you find
them discounted by 50% or more with a sale and coupon. Over time, your
stockpile will grow until you come to a point where you can begin to
pretty much only buy items which are at rock-bottom prices, in addition to produce and perishable items.

Just by adopting the Buy Ahead Principle, you will see a significant savings in your grocery bill. And you'll likely be shopping less and eating better than ever before!

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86 Comments

  • Indymoney says:

    Great writing!! Thanks a lot. But how do you stock up the bread? Can we keep it in the freezer?

    *********************
    Money Saving Mom here: Yes, I pretty much store all of my bread in the freezer unless it’s just fresh from the oven!

  • Kristen says:

    Thank you for that. I had the same thought! Still trying to get our budget for groceries down — we have a family of 5 – two adults, a six year old, 2 year old and 11 month old. I am starting to get a good little stockpile, and have a deep freeze – so it’s possible down the road! I can’t wait! 🙂

  • Sheri says:

    Thanks for this post. I have been trying to stockpile for awhile and am realizing that the way to get a good stockpile is to get multiple coupon inserts so you can purchase multiples. I am wondering how many inserts you get and then how do you find the time to organize them all? I have been using your coupon box method, which I love, but I find it difficult when I have more than 1 set of coupons to organize.
    Thanks!

    ********************
    Money Saving Mom here: I actually don’t currently purchase any inserts. {*Gasp!*} I have a few friends who share their extra coupons with me, I print off all the great internet printables, and I pick up a stack of inserts from the recycling bin every few weeks. I’ve found that this has been plenty to keep us well-stocked with enough groceries for ourselves, for hospitality, and to share with others.

    (There are quite a few ideas for accumulating a nice stash of coupons inexpensively here: http://moneysavingmom.typepad.com/money_saving_mom/2008/03/how-to-accumula.html)

    I organize my coupons in my spare time–on Sunday afternoons when we’re at family gatherings, while I’m on the phone (which is not too often nowadays!), or any other extra moments I have when my mind might be busy but my hands are free. By working on them in little snippets of time a few times per week, I find they stay fairly organized and manageable. But then I also usually sit down and spend about 20-30 minutes planning my shopping trip and menu and getting my coupon box all in order the day of or the day before we head to the store.

  • Helen says:

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been getting similar questions on my blog and really couldn’t have answered it any better. I’ll be pointing people here on Saturday 🙂

  • zombiemommy says:

    I do the same thing! I buy a quarter of a grass fed cow for about 3.00 a pound every couple of months. I also get my whole chickens once a month for 1.99 a pound (nearly organic) ordered through the meat manager at Kroger (and use a$1.00 coupon). I found at Harry’s grass fed cheese this week, for a LOW price of 2.99 a pound. So I bought 7lbs and vacuumed sealed them (this is cheaper than regular price Kroger cheese). We eat about 1.5-2lbs a week. I buy organic bread on dollar Mondays at the bread store (Flowers company) once every 2 weeks, I just stock up and freeze most of them. If you know what you buy every month (just keep your receipts for a month and spot the trends), you can figure out what you need to keep an eye for sales.
    I even know which grocery stores tend to mark down their organic dairy products (Tuesdays near my house) and go there and just freeze what I can’t use (however whipping cream and half and half do not freeze well, but you can bring them back to life in the mixer if you are only going to use them to make icecream). Thanks Moneysaving mom, I was just talking to my sister today how she will really see the savings if she will just 4-10 of an item she buys weekly anyways when it goes on deep sale.

  • Chrissy says:

    Well said! It’s so funny when my husband helps me put away groceries after I come home from a stocking-up with coupons trip – he maks the funniest faces as if to say “What in the world are we going to do with two dozen boxes of cereal, 12 bottles of barbeque sauce, 6 tubs of sour cream, and nineteen packages of Crystal Light???” He doesn’t complain when he sees the savings though, or when the items I stock up on that week include icecream or chocolate. 🙂

  • Vanessa says:

    This is how we shop and plan meals! Now that I have built a stockpile we could probably go months without HAVING to go grocery shopping!

  • Susan Wright says:

    This comment goes to Sheri… I buy up to 10 papers if the coupons are good so I can stock up on items! Collate them before you cut so you only have to cut once and get 10 coupons. Just be very careful to line then up good because stores don’t take them if you cut the expiration date off! I try to get my papers Sat. in the early edition because I don’t shop on Sunday. On Sunday evening it is my goal to have them all cut and filed because it does get overwhelming if you have piles of coupons to attend to! My baby is 5 months old and I am finally caught up and my coupon box is in tip top shape!

  • MaryEllen @ The Deal Scoop says:

    I have had cashiers look at me like I’m crazy for buying 70 pounds of meat at a time. I wish more people would understand how much money they could save if they would take advantage of great sales and stock up!

  • gina says:

    I managed to score Kellogg’s Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes & Rice Krispies for 50-cents/box at WalMart last week. I had printed a ton of the $1.00 coupons when they were on coupons.com and held on to them. Those 3 cereals were on sale for $1.50/box. I almost squealed! Okay, I didn’t almost…I DID squeal! I bought 10 boxes of cereal in one trip. I was so excited and laughed to myself, “This is a Crystal kind of shopping trip.” LOL (I spent way over $40 but I buy the bulk of my groceries and home items once a month)

  • Katie @cold noodles says:

    We always store our bread in the freezer. An upright big freezer is HUGE saver. Except for milk and produce, we don’t buy anything weekly. Right now we’re on a once-a-month Walmart plan supplemented by a twice-a-month Schawn’s delivery. No, not every meal is planned 30 days in advance but I keep a running list of what’s available in the freezer and I can decide the night before what I want to use the next day or so. Breakfasts and lunches here are pretty boring which saves on the budget too.

  • Lauren says:

    This is great, thanks for sharing.

    Occasionally you mention “target” prices for things. Would you be able (sometime in the future, i realize you’re busy!) to share what your target prices are for certain items? It would be a great help for me (and i’m sure others) to realize when I should buy a product, or if I should wait until it’s cheaper. Thanks!!

  • april says:

    what does everyone do about toliet paper, paper towels, dish detergent, and laundry detergent?? I am new to all of this and am doing very well but am still stumped at where and how to buy these products. HELP!!

  • Amanda says:

    I would also love to hear what your target prices are.

  • Alicia says:

    I try to use the stuff that I buy in many different ways, for instance I make Apple Raisin Bran Muffins (reciepe at my blog http://www.aliciacutts2.blogspot.com) with raisin bran and then freeze them. I also just made Frozen Pizza Bagles (reciepe at my other blog http://www.thecheapskatemom.blogspot.com) with the many bagels I just bought.

    Get creative with your ingredients. You don’t have to just eat the same stuff in the same way every time.

    The freezer is your friend. You can freeze anything and I mean anything! If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have 7 packages of hot dogs just waiting for a rainy day (or I guess I should say a sunny day).

  • Erika says:

    Heh…since discovering how great coupons are I am constantly stockpiling when things are free. If someone is blown away by your little pile of Easy Mac, Crystal, they’d be blown away by the 35 packs of it that I got for free by stacking those Target coupons with the B1G1 coupons. I had friends print them off and went and got TONS!

    No, we are not living on Easy Mac, for those of you who are reading this googly eyed and disgusted. That’s enough Easy Mac to last my family six months. But, it won’t go bad and will save me tons of money because I won’t have to pick it up later.

    Right now I just wish that I could invest in more shelving for my house! I’ve gotten so much for free or close to lately that my pantry shelf is overflowing (my house was designed by people who went for prettiness before function…we have NO closets except in the bedrooms). But, I don’t have to pick up lots of stuff for a long time. And THAT is wonderfull…especially if you are in a situation like me where your husband works construction and currently he’s working very very little because his company didn’t get any bids so far for the rest of the year. It allows you to live on less money every week and sure does help improve your standard of living overall :-).

  • ~J&Z's mommy says:

    Thanks, I was so wondering the same thing!!!

  • Rachel says:

    Thanks for this post but I have three questions/comments:

    1. I live in a TINY apartment and barely have enough room for the regular groceries I buy. How can I make this system work when I don’t have the room to stockpile?

    2. Where can I get good coupons? I’ve bought newspapers the last couple of weeks and have been really disappointed with the coupons there–never anything I would buy even if it was on sale.

    3. I work 40-50 hours a week and don’t have time to drive to two or three different stores every Saturday to get great deals. Is there a way to get all these deals at one store without getting ripped off? I typically find the best deals at Walmart, but they don’t usually run deals or blow-out sales like the local stores do.

  • SarahJane says:

    Chrissy –
    My husband makes faces too. He even went so far as to ask me to stop couponing (Italian salad dressing was the last straw!). I just couldn’t help myself last week though.Thankfully he was all smiles with the deodorant and sunblock we picked up.

  • Lisa says:

    I love “grocery shopping in my garage”! I have an extra pantry that I keep pretty stocked with my deals and steals. My favorite thing is when someone says “we are out of” or “we need more” and I have it right at my fingertips!!! Thanks for all the wonderful advice!!

  • Susan Wright says:

    Rachel
    1. get risers (plastic cones to elevate and make more storage space) for your beds and use the tops of your closets there is storage to be found in every home.. be creative.
    2. preview the coupons before you buy papers.. look at them then decide if they are right for you. they have been weak lately but usually only one coupon used pays for the cost of the paper! contact the companies of products you do use. tell them how they are your favorite and request coupons.
    3. Walmart matches any advertised sales price so bring the ads with you and voila instant sales all in one spot!

  • Sara says:

    If you have the cashflow to do it, changing from a buy-as-you-need-it approach to a stockpile approach does take a little frontloading of cash. I paid some more than usual for the first month that I started stockpiling this year. After a month, I slowly worked my grocery bill down to half of what it originally was and will probably never have to go back to the buy-as-we-need it approach (or my old grocery budget!). I have 60+ meals available in my fridge, freezer and pantry.

  • Kim says:

    Yes, this is a great tip! I was at Fred Meyer today, and they had split chicken breasts on sale for $1.28 per pound. However, when I went to get one package, they had marked them down to .76 per pound! I bought four packages and am cooking them up to put in the freezer right now.

  • jeniece says:

    I have been reading this blog for about a year, and I understand your philosophy about stockpiling, but the thing I still wonder about are the things that I never see on clearance or for free. Like cake flour, or olive oil, or salmon. I enjoy some gourmet cooking and sometimes I need ingredients that are just NOT on the coupon list. Do you honestly never buy shredded coconut, or real vanilla, etc……

  • JvW says:

    I used to spend $75-$100 a week on groceries. Now I do this and spend $35-$50 instead. I still get some treats and special foods, but I find that there are more deals than room in the freezer & cabinets!

    Rachel – I don’t get the paper, but my Mom saves her coupons for me, and I print coupons online. Recently, the online coupons have been much better than the inserts anyway, and they are free!

  • Tiffany says:

    Jeniece,
    Couponing and stockpiling enables me to buy gourmet items I might not normally could have afforded.
    If it just doesn’t work for you, it just doesn’t work.

  • Rebecca R says:

    Dear Lauren,
    Hello! I make my own laundry soap (recipe on my blog and I think here somewhere as well.) It costs about $7 to make 5-6 gallons. This lasts me months. Plus I am not buying plastic laundry soap bottles, I reuse old ones.
    I don’t use paper towels, I use dish towels and rags, they work better and save me so much money.
    For toilet paper I buy a case of Sevength Generation online from amazon (I get free shipping.) Buying in bulk gete me free shipping and the tp is usually less than in store. Plus it is recycled which helps me not causing more trees to get cut down.
    I also make my own dish soap. I buy a bar of colgate all purpose cleaning soap in dish soap isle, I grate and cook with water. I only use about 1/4 of bar at a time. Then I pour mixture into old dish soap container. The bar of soap is about $1 in stores.
    I also make my own hand soap this way with my favorite bar soap (one bar of soap goes along way.)

    Moneysavingmom thanks for all the tips. I love your blog

  • Natalie says:

    Yup, this is my main savings strategy. This especially works for items that never have coupons.. stock up on the good store sales prices for things I commonly use (and I definitely know the prices since I use them all the time). I don’t go to every store every week, I probably only go to most stores 1-2 times per month when the sales are for things I use. Then, I menu-plan and “shop” from my stockpile each week rounding it out with dairy and produce as needed. I know that everything in my pantry stockpile was purchased for a low price and I never buy anything thats not on sale!

  • jessica says:

    I have been doing my shopping the same way as you for several years.

    To the person with limited storage: I lived in a studio apartment in Chicago for 3 years. You can put your bed on risers and store food under there. You can line walls of closets with shelves as well.

    To the person asking about ingredients that never go on sale: buying things like bbq sauce for $.04 and getting free noodles and whatnot allows you the room in your budget to get those occasional finer ingredients to make a special meal. However, if your entire cooking regimen involves expensive ingredients, then groceries may not be the part of your budget that is the best for finding ways to save. Maybe you would do better to have lower housing, transportation or other costs.

  • Jenny says:

    I used to spend $130 a week on groceries/toiletries/cleaning products…until I found this site and a couple of others. It took me about one month of spending around $80 each week to stockpile enough items that I now only spend around $40 to $60. I have 2 in diapers so I think that is pretty good! I do think that I am going to have to invest in an extra freezer, because my freezer/fridge just won’t allow me to stockpile as much as we use in 6 weeks time. Any ideas on how to get a really good deal on a freezer and what brands might be good?

    April, I have found as far as your cleaning products and toiletries, you can usually do best by “rolling” your store credits at CVS and Walgreens. Occasionally they will have good deals on Toilet paper and paper towels as well.

  • Jennifer Wood says:

    Stockpiling is where it’s at! I have saved so much by doing this and also keeping my eye out for blinkie and tearpad coupons whenever I am in a grocery store. Thanks for the these great tips and others that you give under the “Start Here” heading. They’ve helped me a lot.

  • shari says:

    great post a good place 4 multiples is coupon clippers

  • Julie says:

    If anyone is in Eugene … http://eugene.craigslist.org/zip/1204111014.html free coupons

  • Carrie says:

    is there a reason you pick 50% or more off as your target price?

  • Christina @ Northern Cheapskate says:

    This is a very smart way to shop! And it is especially useful when you live in the country and things like snowstorms may prevent you from going to the store.

    The key to making this system work is to know what you have, know what you need, and be willing to abandon brand loyalty.

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this post! I’ve always wondered how it’s done. 🙂

  • Cindy says:

    Stcck piling is a really hard for beginers to get the concept of. I teach coupon classes and we spend alot of time going over why it is important to stock pile. I used to spend about $150 dollars a week on food. I now spend around $40 and we eat really good healty meals. Before my pantry was empty even at $150 a week. Now my pantry is full. If you save money on the items you can this allows you to splurge on the items you want that you can not find a good deal on. Some times you just have to pay full price on the items you want and that’s okay.

  • Alicia says:

    It will take time to build a ‘successful’ stockpile. I always recommend to my students that they cut their grocery bill in other ways, such as by menu planning or sale shopping and leave some wiggle room in the budget to start stockpiling. Eventually, your stockpile will take over and you will buy fewer and fewer groceries.

    The trick to Stockpile Cooking is to use your stockpile wisely. Be creative! Everyone laughed at me when I bought 100 cans of Rotels. I use them instead of diced tomatoes now. They are so much better in chilis, tacos, chimichangas, and whatever else you can think of.

    I always advise checking out a pantry or stockpile cooking site, such as http://www.stockpilecooking.com to get some creative recipes for items you may have stockpiled.

  • Melissa says:

    I also have a tiny home (1300 sq ft) and 4 children, 2 adults. We have no storage, so I bought these wire cubes from Target and made a shelf of sorts in our garage where our overflow goes. I also carved out some space in our closet (we only have 2 closets in our home), and store things there. Storage can be a huge hassle if you’re in a small space, but you can get creative!

    Crystal – I was wondering what your percentage is of your budget that you spend on groceries? We aim for about 10%, but I was wondering what your percentage is. Thanks!
    Melissa

  • Christy Carden says:

    Rachel–I am right there with you! I just started trying to coupon seriously, but I work full-time and have a 2 year old. There are things that I’d rather do with my 2-year old than put him in a grocery buggy every afternoon, evening, and weekend! My husband works odd hours so it is not always possible to run out after bedtime or weekend naps plus I have to do more work (a teacher always brings work home), clean, and cook (I do a lot of crock-pot and casseroles the night before to keep sanity in the evenings) after bed and during weekend naps—so let’s just say I cannot go to a bunch of stores every week!

    Here is what I am trying: I pass CVS everyday on my way home from work and sometimes pass it even more than once in a day if we go to the Y or church so I have started CVSing. I got about $20 in ECB last week but don’t see too many deals to roll them over to this week, but I am going to try to go tomorrow and roll over a few (they don’t expire for a while, so hopefully better sales will come along). My husband and I tag-team what we call our BIG grocery shopping every other week when he gets paid. Right now we go to Sams and Publix. I have started to get serious about combining coupons and sales at Publix. I know from this blog that we can stockpile a lot for cheaper than Sam’s prices so I am hoping to gradually begin to pick up less and less at Sams, but we are on a family member’s business membership and don’t pay a membership fee and some things are just so cheap there so we’ll see. Once I get good at this, I am going to start trying to stop at Piggly Wiggly and shop their deals once a week because I pass it on the way home from the Y and sometimes run in if we are out of milk or bananas or something like that! Then I may try to phase in Walgreens because hubby passes it everyday on his way to work so I’m going to try to get him to go in with my prepared list and coupons even though he still can’t figure out why I bought toothpaste and tampons at CVS last week when I didn’t “need” them–I tried to explain that it was the same thing as buying the 4 pack of toothpaste at Sams but even better because they paid for themselves with ECBs that I will be able to roll over. Then I think I will be at my limit even if I am above $30 a week because I do want family time and my precious exercise time. AND I will always be mainly a Publix shopper–it’s clean, the people are informative and friendly, they have everything we buy (some local stores aren’t well stocked). A lot of people say Publix is too expensive, but not if you shop the deals. Oh, I have also started buying $20 worth of produce at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays because it across the street from the Y and has very good prices.

    So I guess what I am trying to say is phase in a bit at a time and know when you have reached a limit so it does not take too much time away from other things!

    Also have the space issue–small townhome, closets all filled with outgrown baby clothes and baby stuff awaiting a future child. Pantry already full with 40 lb. of dog food in container, crock-pot, blender, etc. and staples we buy at Sams. We are thinking about putting the place on the market so we have to declutter big time, so not really sure where I am going to stockpile everything. No space for another refrigerator/freezer which we desperately need. Freezer is always full! etc.!

    Whew–didn’t mean to be so long, just wanted to let you know others are right there with you! 🙂

  • Ann says:

    I also am wondering what your target prices are, specifially, on Toilet paper. I just can’t use generic tp. And I think that under 50 cents a roll is good for Charmin, but with the double rolls vs. the regular rolls, I find it confusing.

  • Shelley says:

    Jeniece – not sure if you are in an area where Meijer is or not, but they often put their store brand pure vanilla on sale for 30 or 50% off, which is when I then stockpile real vanilla. Or check Aldi and Save a Lot prices for pure vanilla, if memory serves correct Aldi’s pure vanilla was very cheap last time I looked.

    I agree, sometimes internet coupons are much better than the inserts. Having friends save their left over coupons for you is a good way to get a nice stash, often times you’ll have plenty that you still want even after a friend or family member goes through them.

    Crystal – awesome blog!

  • Michelle H. says:

    I’m a stockpiler, too, and buying on sale has saved a lot of money over the years.

    My baby is only 10 weeks old, but today I bought diapers in 4 different sizes. I lucked out and Kroger was putting the mega packs on the mark down table when I walked in today. Huggies and Pampers were half price, and I had a fistful of Huggies coupons to use. Bought 8 bags of diapers in sizes 3-6, and the average price was 11 cents each. He’s only in a 2 now, but they’re in the closet for when he needs them. I refuse to pay full price for something you use once and throw away! : )

  • Michelle H. says:

    Sorry, should have read they were 11 cents per diaper.

  • WilliamB says:

    jeniece – I found this hard to believe, but even the gurus at Cooks’ Illustrated say that most of the time even they can’t tell the difference between real vanilla and artificial. The exceptions are vanilla sauce & some ice creams. So there’s some savings there.

    Flour tends to go on sale around Thanksgiving and Christmas but cake flour less commonly. I guess the next question is, how much do you need cake flour as opposed to regular flour?

    I find that oils – including olive – and many dried ingredients are less expensive at Asian and Latin markets.

  • Jennifer says:

    I started to type out a comment earlier but got interrupted and never finished, but it’s along the same lines as Jeniece. I have been following for about 10 months now and have managed to make a huge dent in our “old” grocery budget. However, I am also an experimental cook who loves to try new things, especially fish and ethnic dishes. We eat fish at least three meals a week (including lunches i.e. tuna) and fresh fish is rarely on “good” sale, and never free. We also love Indian, Thai and Chinese, all of which I cook from scratch. I’ve always admired your honesty, as well as the fact that you repeatedly (and sincerely) say “what we do doesn’t work for everyone” – so I am also wondering, do you “miss” variety, and as Jeniece asked, never buy something that isn’t on super-sale or free?

  • The Deal Diva says:

    This is so true! I always wonder what others in line at the grocery store think about me when I come through. For instance, tonight, I bought 10 boxes of mac & cheese, 2 boxes of Capri Sun, 2 gallons of milk, and 8 bottles of V8 Splash. The V8 Splash was on sale for $1.99 (a great deal in our area), and I paid for 5 for the mac & cheese. The other items were all free after coupons. So, my end total was very small, and I saved over $20. The man behind me in line was a little shocked – not sure whether that shock was over how much I saved, or over the odd combination of items I was buying! LOL!

  • Mommy Kennedy says:

    Great explaination. Thanks for a great post. I will be sending my readers your way to read too.

  • Kristen says:

    Jeneice – have you tried making your own vanilla? My mom bought me a vanilla kit for Christmas (three real vanilla beans) and a vanilla bottle — then I just picked up a bottle of vodka, added the sliced beans, put it in a dark place for 4-6 mos. Then as you use it, you add vodka to what you’ve taken out and it lasts 7 years. Significantly cheaper overall than the $14/4 oz. of real vanilla that Penzey’s/Williams Sonoma, etc. charge — and you still get the REAL thing! 🙂 My vanilla just “finished” and it’s been great! 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    This was a great post Crystal! Thanks for sharing more detail on your shopping and coupon strategy!

  • Laura says:

    So glad to see this post! I’m so inspired!! Thanks!

  • Jennifer says:

    Woo hoo! Congrats to you. Look what I just found:

    http://www.thestate.com/166/story/811117.html

  • Jennifer says:

    Jeneice–I am also a creative cook, and some of the items you named are harder to find low-cost. But it’s not impossible. If you sign up for the Penzey’s catalog you will get coupons for free spices 5-6 times per year. The idea about making vanilla is good, or another idea is to ask someone who is visiting Mexico to bring you some–it’s much cheaper there. Stores that sell the items you are looking for will inevitably mark them down, just keep looking–I just got shredded coconut for 50 cents at Kroger, and believe it or not I got 5 quarts of olive oil for about $1 apiece at a local gourmet store. Buy specialty baking items in November and December for the best prices–flour can be frozen, good chocolate will keep–I buy enough for 6 months or a year. When you get coupons for free groceries at the checkout or occasionally in the paper or in the mail, give yourself permission to use them for items that you wouldn’t buy otherwise. Finally, pray that God will help you find great deals!

  • Michelle H. says:

    In regard to the discussion about not finding bargain priced fish and cake flour: I figure the money I save on the things I CAN get good deals on makes up for the things I can’t. Getting cereal for $1/box after sale and coupon frees up at least $2 each to put toward other items.

    Great discussion!

  • Erika says:

    To the person who was wondering about the real vanilla vs. artificial…try Costco or Sam’s Club or whoever you have local that sells bulk. I buy mine there and there is SIGNIFICANT savings from buying at the grocery store. Same with things like cake flour and such. If you put it in five gallon buckets it’ll last for a long time.

    I love to cook and how I handle the cost of meat and other things that I can’t find coupons on is this. I plan about two meals a week where I can get creative and try something new and I check my circular to see what is on sale first before I plan those meals. Usually chicken, or fish, or something good is at least SOMEWHAT cheaper than normal and I pick that up and plan meals around that. When I can, which isn’t often anymore with my kids being so young and our budget being so very very tight, is that I go to Costco and buy bulk meat and cut up my own steaks and stuff and put it in the freezer (I buy the good stuff when I go there too because it is still DIRT cheap compared to the regular stores and it lasts for a while). Once you Food Saver it (which I recommend buying one of these to EVERYONE) the meat is good for two years in your freezer before you have to worry about freezer burn (like it ever lasts that long anyway). This is an excellent way to save money on meat if you can afford it.

    As for the person with limited space, I have been there trust me. My husband and I lived in an apartment that was about 400 square feet for the first 5 years of our marriage and my husband is a huge accumulator of books, comic books, guns and other hobbies that take up space; and I love to cook and growing up in Maine where we were all waiting for the blizzard of ’34 to hit again, I was a natural stockpiler of food. I found that you can find storage ANYWHERE! Stack rubbermaid containers wherever you can, the tough totes are great and hold just about anything and you can fit them in the corner of your bathroom. You can hold up end tables (the collapsible ones) with pretty darn near anything and once you throw a table cloth over it you’d never know the difference. I used rubbermaid drawers to hold toiletries by our toilet in the bathroom, put risers on the bed, put shelves up in our closet wherever I could fit them, put up a shelf above our fridge, etc. I found that the small block freezers fit in very tight areas very well. I put ours below our coat rack at the bottom of the stairs in our apartment and it fit perfectly…leaving just enough room to open the lid and still look decent.

    Believe it or not the apartment didn’t look at all bad (I’m pretty picky about how my house looks). My father-in-law was in shock for weeks when we moved out of our tiny little apartment and it took us literally a week to move all the stuff out. Trust me, if you want the things to fit, it will fit ;-).

  • Nicole says:

    Great post! I have been doing this since March and have kind of gotten a good stockpile going and am now really starting to see the savings! Even in No. Cal. where there are no double coupons and we are just getting some CVS I have been able to seriously reduced my grocery and household expenditures by at least half and am looking forward to going even lower in the future.

    But take it slow! It took me a long time to get my trips organized and I still haven’t mastered the rolling deals. But last week at Walgreen’s the lady behind me after seeing all the stuff I got for $17 and I had a gift card to boot was like “Wow! That is amazing!” . ..

    For vanilla try costco. Their big bottle lasts me several months (I bake a lot) and is a good value. You will after awhile have extra money for treats!

    For price information, I just started keeping a price book . . . a journal I write down the sale, my coupon and the rewards . .. takes a few minutes but helps me see where the best prices are!

  • jessica says:

    I also wanted to add to the person who said she can’t shop more than one store per week because she works full time.

    I also work full time and I ride the bus to work, so I am gone 7am-530pm M-F in order to work an 8 hour day. I have a 2yo DD, and I also have a part time freelance writing job that I do from home. I also do other housework and have hobbies. Really, you can price match or plan trips into your route. I usually shop at two stores and then once every 3 months or so I go to SAM’s club.

    But it all depends on your priorities. Maybe grocery savings are not where your priorities are- maybe you would do better saving in other areas of your budget.

  • Tracy says:

    Rachel:

    When we lived in a small apartment I stored linen and towels in decorative boxes and wooden chests (all bought cheaply or picked up for free) and I used the laundry closet as a pantry.

    Stocking up on items when they are selling cheaply is one of the only ways I manage to keep my grocery bills low. In South Africa there are no coupons so getting items for free is unheard of and using the sales is almost the only way to significantly reduce costs at the till.

    I have a policy of never buying meat, toiletries, cleaning products, petfood, spreads, rice, flour, hot beverages or baking supplies at full price. I only buy seasonal fruit and veggies that generally are low in cost and I’ll stock up on large bags of onions, tomatoes and potatoes when they are selling at a good price. The only thing here that seldom is reduced is milk and butter, but even cheese and yogurt comes on sale at least once a month.

    My children and husband know that if the open the last bottle or jar of something from the pantry (eg ketchup, peanut butter) they have to write the item onto the grocery list. This give me at least a month to find that item selling cheaply (it takes about a month for us to work our way through any jar or nottle of something).

    I spend less than half than most of our friends on groceries and that includes feeding 16 pets and pool maintenance chemicals!

  • M Johnson says:

    I would LOVE to have your target prices too! I have a partial one in my mind for certain products, but it is nowhere near complete. I’d love to see how in line my target prices are with yours. Please do a post on that!!! 🙂

    P.S. I love your site!!! I’m obsessed about checking it 🙂

  • Julie says:

    Crystal, I have been following your post for about a year now, and have learned so much from you! I have been stockpiling for a while now and have quite a nice “stash”. My husband actually built me some additional shelves in the basement! For those of you who want to try stockpiling and don’t know about rock bottom prices, check out “thegrocerygame.com” A friend of mine introduced me to that about 6 months ago. It continues to amaze me. The woman organizes by stores and comes up with a weekly deal list. She lets you know what is free with coupons, what is the rock bottom price and when to stock up on things, and also what is a good deal only if you need it. I have used her method to stock up for the past 3-4 months and have saved a great deal of money. To try it out, she offers an unlimited number of stores for four weeks for only $1. After that, it is $10 for eight weeks for the first store and $5 for any additional store. I only use it for the two grocery stores in my area (not CVS, Walgreens, etc) as those are always able to be found for free elsewhere. We were hesitant to try it and spend the money at first but we have found that it is well worth the money, and we save much more than it costs. Plus, someone else does all the work for me… I just print out the list of what I need, gather up my coupons, and go! Hope this helps someone. If anyone does sign up and uses me as a referral, I would get credit and after 3 people sign up, I would get a free month! I hope this helps someone out there – it sure did me! Blessings. (dobro1203-cpn@yahoo.com)

  • Dionne Merriott says:

    Good explaination of stockpiling, Crystal. Do you have a certain day of the week that you allocate the grocery money each week? Also, do you go to the stores in a certain order? Although I have some stockpiled, I want to be sure that I have enough money in the grocery envelope to get what we need to feed four hungry kids and not just have plenty of toothpaste.

  • Shelly says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I am working on building up my stockpile, and I am just wondering how long it takes to get to the point where you are just buying things are rock bottom prices and shopping in your pantry?

  • Jaden says:

    This was a WONDERFUL post, Crystal. Thanks so much! I have been really psyched lately to have begun stocking up on things. We had to turn our hutch into a makeshift pantry to hold all the cereal I got on that same deal you had mentioned 🙂 I really need to get a freezer, though, so I can start doing the same thing with meat and bread more!

  • Kelly S. says:

    You talk a lot about your “target” prices for items, can you share those with us? I know we’ll have toa adjust according to the area we live in b/c food does not cost the same everywhere…but I often have a hard time knowing what I should pay for items. – Thanks!

  • Betsy Negley says:

    What does your pantry space look like? I have one 3 shelf cabinet, a refrigerator/freezer and a small chest freezer. With a family of 5 (including a 14 yo boy) I would love to do stockpile shopping, but we just dont have the space to store large quantities of items.

  • Megan says:

    I love stockpiling! But we live in a “junior” 1-bedroom apartment and I have very little space to put my extra finds. Any advice for stockpiling in a confined space? I want to save $, but don’t want to risk being buried alive under bottles of salad dressing either!

  • Shelly says:

    I have been doing this since the beginning of the year and I think you either ‘get’ it or you don’t. For the people who are concerned about saving money while still wanting to buy expensive things I think the question is really, why do you want to save money? What is your goal? Our goal is to pay off our house in three years. We are already debt free (following the Dave Ramsey plan, modified). So for us, eating a few ‘boring’ meals here or there is very much worth obtaining our goal. We still try to eat healthy and I do believe that there are ways to save on gourmet/expensive foods (Costco for us). If you want to continue eating a certain way because it works for you then, by all means, keep on the same path. But if you have a financial goal you’re trying to reach, you will possibly need to change your habits a bit.

  • Melanie says:

    And don’t forget, the “buy ahead” principle can be applied to other areas of your life, too, most notably for me – clothing for the kids! I try to find stuff at end-of-season clearances in the next sizes for my kids and go ahead and buy them up and put them in the back of the closet for next year. You can save *tons* of money that way!

  • BeachyMum says:

    Exactly what we started doing four months ago ~ stockpiling ~ and it has been a *tremendous* blessing financially. I am an avid cook and thought that coupons were only for ‘junk’ food but was dead wrong. Indeed, there are no coupons for the farmer’s market in the Sunday paper…but after 2-3 weeks of committed couponing you realize what there *is* and what you’ve been missing!!

    This week I spent $8 on groceries…I have stockpiled to such a degree that I simply didn’t need a thing, only some fresh broccoli and tomatoes. So, there was no guilt when I took the kids to Bruster’s yesterday for the ‘start of summer’ and spent $10 on ice cream (my local Bruster’s wasn’t doing the kids’ free cone special).

    Groceries in my area of Florida are notoriously expensive, but between the Grocery Game website (great for those trying to figure out stockpiling), excellent blogs such as this one and real knowledge of your own market’s prices you can save a small fortune on household shopping. I have enough toilet paper to last until Christmas + cleaning products for the next year or two…all quality brands that were free or under $1. Enough diapers to last for 6 mos or so, thanks to the infamous $5 Huggies coupon + great CVS rewards deal….etc, etc, etc.

    As for the question about freezers, I *strongly* recommend the GE frost-free upright model ~ I purchased with savings from stockpiling ~ the thought of defrosting a deep-freeze with three young children (and another on the way) was inconceivable. 😉

    LOVE this blog!

  • Anne says:

    Jeneice- I have some ingredients that I just don’t scrimp on, like vanilla. The real stuff is cheap at TJ Maxx or Ross or Marshall’s sometimes. However, I usually buy it at Costco or Sam’s. It’s SO cheap there right now- about 5 dollars for a huge bottle- and I’m sure you know someone with a membership if you don’t have one, or they occasionally offer free one day memberships.

    For cake flour- I only use it for a few really special cakes but you can sub all purpose with the right ratios (Dorie Greenspan says to reduce 2 tablespoons per cup).

    I agree that the best thing to do is to cut costs where you can and use some of what you save for what you wont’ compromise on (like Heinz ketchup at our house!)

  • Brooke says:

    I, too, was a little concerned about the items on the table each month. Some deals we just skip all together (Easy Mac does me no good without a microwave), and I do get a little frustrated because I live in No. California and the deals are not quite the same as in other parts of the country. I’ve lived all over the country and even though CA grows most of the food and ships it to MI, for example, it is still cheaper in MI than in CA. Go figure.

    Anyway, even without double coupons and totally avoiding Wal-mart (they’re just horrible here), and with Targets nearby that don’t offer the same deals as you all have and that are willing to throw down fists over coupon legalize, we feed 7 people on about $450 a month (just food). I think that’s really good. We eat a lot of fresh produce and I bake from scratch. I shop almost exclusively at Winco and Walgreen’s and the Farmer’s Market. Now that Winco is taking IP, it’s been really great! They have great (unadvertised) sales and the bulk section is a life-saver for spices and baking items.

    You can only do what you can do for your family. I just can’t dedicate the time and energy of me and my brood of small kidlets to traipsing all over town. Simplify and realize this is one part of your life.

    Thanks, Moneysavingmom for everything! I’ve learned a lot from you…

  • Ellen says:

    Very good post. We’re a family of 6 and are trying to begin stockpiling. Question: how many months does it take before you can begin to see the true savings? I know buying produce/dairy/perishables will always be a weekly thing for us but the frozen/canned/boxed stuff and all the toiletries can really save a lot of $ once our stockpile gets to a ‘good’ point. Just wondering when that would be. (only doing this coupon thing for 2 months so far)

  • Sarah says:

    I thought I remember you saying at one time that you do buy your eggs, milk and some of your meat from a local farm. Or maybe I’m just confusing your blog with another one:) I would also love to see a list of your target prices.
    Thanks for a great site!

  • Dana says:

    I do the same thing, I use coupons, matched with sales to stock pile as much as I can as cheap as I can. My grocerys don’t make alot of sense at first glance either but in the long run those savings really add up.

    I think the funniest look I ever got from my husband was when he helped me unload the groceries one day and I had bags and bags and bags of shampoo and conditioner, a total of 38 bottles, my husband said we can’t possibly need this much shampoo and conditioner, I said to him No not all at once but with my coupons and the sale I only spent .35 on each bottle, We haven’t had to buy shampoo or conditioner in such a long time and .35 each is just too good to pass up, besides its not like its going to go bad!!!

  • fairy dust says:

    I’d just like to add that sometimes getting extra newspapers to grab the extra inserts seems like quite a bit of extra money and extra paper that doesn’t get used, so I’ve switched to a coupon clipping service (www.mycouponhunter.com). There are others out there, but Virginia – the owner – is wonderful to work with and has eliminated any required minimum. So when I read here on the blogs about the upcoming weekend inserts, if I see any great coupons that’ll work for me, I email Virginia and she looks out for those and emails me back when she’s listed them. I order, they come within a week and I can use them that week on the big grocery store sales.

    My stockpiling isn’t terribly well organized yet, but I’m getting into the swing of it after reading all the great posts on this blog, and have at least amassed enough dish soap and high-end cat food to last into the next millenium – LOL!

  • nina says:

    For those that are asking about spices… If there is a Penzey’s near you (mine is 2 blocks away), then you should subscribe to the free catalog. Each month they have a coupon on the front for a free jar of something. For May it was fresh ground pepper. I have tried several spices this way.

  • jennifer says:

    Rachel – you can probably store more than you think!! Take a typical 36 inch high bathroom cabinet. If you cabinet is full of bottles and containers that are only 8-12 inches high there is TONS of wasted space above that. By some space saving shelves to put inthose cabinets for storing extra tolietries, laundry detergents, cleaning supplies, etc. Also – removing unneccesary packaging will help a lot. Take the tubes out of the boxes. Take the cookies out of the colorful box. The bags inside the boxes are usually only half the volume of the box itself. Clip the bags (or use a ziploc) and toss them all in a clear easy access tub or container in the pantry. I have a tub/basket that I presort my kid’s snacks in. I take all the granola bars, dried fruit, etc. and dump the individual servings into one tub. It saves so much space and then they can reach in and get their own when it is snack time! I do the same thing in the fridge. I have all the fruit cups, yougurts, applesauce, juice boxes, etc. in one fridge drawer and the kids just grab it and go!

  • Susan says:

    Hi!
    I have a question about coupon inserts. I’ve read here that you and some others pick up coupon inserts at the recycling bin. Where is this? The only one I know of around my area (Greenville, SC) is parked in the Wal Mart parking lot. And it states there is a $1000 fine for removing anything from it. I am currently buying 6-8 papers a week, but would love to pick them up for free.

  • becalive says:

    its a small victory, but I am beaming I got 4 boxes of tissues for .55 yesterday. Its a small but significant start.

    I have a request, prehaps you could do a post on obtaining bulk meat and a listing of some places. I am reading the comments above and I am amazed and somewhat jealous that there are people able to get grass fed meat for $3lb. In there area I live in, in OH the cheapest I have found is $5.5lb.

  • becky says:

    where do you get all your coupons?

  • Lisa says:

    A few times on your blog I’ve heard you mention your “target price” for certain items. Do you have a list of these target prices or are they just in your head? Many times I see things on sale and just don’t haven’t been shopping on my own long enough to know whether or not its a good deal. I’m sure the target price fluctuate a little with the economy, but just curious as to some of your target prices for basic things. Might be a good post!! 😉

    Thanks!!

  • The Prudent Homemaker says:

    Jenince

    I have real vanilla on my shelf–three large bottles of it. I buy it at Sam’s Club (it’s not much more there than the artifical vanilla). It’s a good-sized bottle and one bottle can last me a while, even though I use it a lot. Cake flour cshould last 6 months to a year if you keep it cool. Salmon can be kept in the freezer, though some people keep the canned varities. I keep a lot of things on my shelves so that I can make a large variety of things.

    If you use artichoke hearts, you can keep those on your shelf. If you use dutch-processed cocoa, keep that on your shelf. Stock up on what works for you.

  • The Prudent Homemaker says:

    For those who are trying to figure out target prices, make a price book so that you can know what your lowest prices should be.

    http://theprudenthomemaker.com/pricebook.aspx

  • Alicia says:

    If you are looking for a deep freezer, your first stop should be Craig’s list or similar classifieds. You can get a used one for free or very cheap. We got our dishwasher on craigslist for free because someone was redoing their kitchen in stainless steel and we were happy with their old white one. My first rule of cheap shopping is: I try first to get it for free or really cheap used, then if I can’t, I go retail and get it on the best sale or discount I can. This applies to clothes, furniture, tools, appliances, cars, toys, etc. Not usually food, free or cheap–yes. Used–no. 🙂

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