Back in the days when my grocery budget was exceptionally tight and we were really getting on board with the whole Dave Ramsey plan (thank you again Mr. H for getting us started) I was looking for every possible way to get eek just a few more items out of those precious pennies.
I read LOTS of different books on frugality, yes it was a bit of an obsession why do you ask? But Amy Dacyczyn is noted as being THE authority on frugality. Her newsletters from the early 90's were still quite relevant when I read these books in the mid-oughts.
Nana, did you know I still had all of your copies? I really can return them if someone else needs them.
There was a definite theme in what I was reading.
1. Consult the weekly ads.
2. Plan a menu around what's on sale.
3. Buy produce in season and on sale.
4. Eat what you buy (particularly with produce).
5. Cook from scratch--fewer prepared foods.
6. Use coupons wisely--only for things you would buy anyway.
7. Don't be a brand w.... wait, this is a family show... don't be brand specific.
8. Eliminate junk food.
9. Choose less expensive food: meatless meals, go-blind casseroles, oatmeal vs. boxed cereal
You don't know what a go-blind casserole is? That's when you have just a tiny portion of meat and you stretch it into a big pan full of casserole with lots of sauce, veggies and starchiness all things that cost less than the meat. Your family will go blind looking for the meat.
Anyway, I knew and followed most of those so there wasn't that 'next' thing. Then I found it. I read it not once but two or three times (I'm kind of a slow learner).
Make a price book for the items that you commonly buy. The idea is that you will have 20-30 basic items that you buy regularly, maybe as many as 100 or so items.
Clearly everyone's list will be different and even if you choose to buy canned soda (which is better than the vending machine, thanks for reminding me S), you can at least do so with some planning and save money on that item.
Sometimes it's worth writing it down in a little notebook, and others well you'll just 'know' them after a while.
What should go in the notebook? one page for each item, like peanut butter, store name, brand, quantity (oz, lbs, # of items), price, then a calculated price per unit--whatever that is for the item. You'll be able to 'see' on paper which one is the best deal and has the best price.
If you have super stringent criteria, like no high fructose corn syrup in your ketchup, then don't bother to write down any brand you wouldn't buy. But if you don't really want HFC you can write them down and then weigh the cost-benefit of how much you want to save on ketchup vs. how much you don't want to eat HFC. Perhaps other items won't have such a controversial ingredient. :)
We'll take a few examples.
Milk, not every HEB has the same price for milk, but if there is one close to work and a different one close to home the next time you are in there, just swing by and take a look to see if there is a difference in price. My work HEB is about 50 cents more per gallon than the one close to home. You might have a Randall's, Shop n' Save, Mejer or some other store (this blog is a national in its readership I've got to throw them a bone every once and a while) to also throw into the mix. Don't forget about Walmart and Target too.
Canola oil, this is an item I buy regularly, and it also goes on sale regularly too so it's a good idea to stock up on at least six week's worth of supply (maybe 1-2 bottles) so that you have enough to last before the next sale comes around. Then you won't find yourself in a position of needing it and having to pay full price. This is where you start saving money.
Toilet paper, an item that we are very brand specific on (I know it breaks the rules), I calculate the price per roll and stock up when it goes below my target price which is currently $0.51/roll. When Randall's had it on sale last week for $0.48/roll I did stock up. I'm not a hoarder though, so I really won't watch the sales for this item anymore because I have plenty and no where else to put the stuff.
Is it really THAT big of a deal to save a penny or two here or there. Well it depends. You don't want to have to go out of your way to buy this stuff, but if you can watch the ads and only go to that store once a month then maybe that is worth the extra stop, especially if you are saving several dollars over multiple items.
Anyway, if you're looking for that next thing on saving money, this could be the one.
We dropped our groceries down to $450/month in that period. That included one teen-aged boy at the time. So it's like feeding a family of six or twelve. :)