Living Frugal with Food: Part III (grocery shopping)

Getting started in

Before I had a budget and cut coupons, I would go to the grocery store and spend a ton of money. I’d grab a cart, fill it up, and check out. My average grocery bill would be $120 each time. For just one store. I actually went to a couple stores each week. When it was time to take the trash out, I would toss about 50% of what I had just bought earlier that week. Tossing spoiled food and money at the same time. Not very frugal.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is going into a grocery store without a list or a budget.  In Part I, we established why a budget is important and how you can scale back on your grocery bill. In Part II, we covered the role coupons play in your quest to save money. It’s great to have a budget and a folder full of coupons. However, if you don’t know how to use coupons wisely, your budget and coupon-collecting work is all a waste of time. You may end up spending even more money in the long run.

Store Sales

The key to saving money at the grocery store is matching sale items with coupons. You want to buy an item both when it goes on sale and when you have a coupon. The idea is to create a stock pile of that item. This means you buy however much you think your family will need for the next six to eight weeks. Six to eight weeks is typically how long it takes for an item to go on sale again. I keep track of how often items go on sale, so I know what my “buy” price is. This is when the item goes on sale at its lowest possible price. This is how I  know it’s time to buy. You’ll then have a stockpile of items until your buy price comes around again. This is the reason we buy so many newspapers. We have enough coupons to support our buy price. Keep in mind, there is a huge difference between having a stockpile and hoarding products. Only buy what you and your family are going to need. Don’t clear the shelf just because you can.

Here’s a good example from this week’s Safeway ad. Contadina tomato paste is on sale for $0.99. This is an ok deal. However, if you use a coupon for $0.75 off three cans, then you can get a better deal at $0.74 a can. For example:

Contadina Tomato Paste $.99
Use $.75/1 printable
Final Price: $2.22 for 3, or $.74 each

Now the Contadina tomato paste might be at your buy price. If it is, this is a good time to buy enough to last you until the next sale.

“Shop” from your pantry

I have created a nice stockpile of items in my pantry. These are the items I use the most. Pasta, soup base, mayo, salad dressings, butter, cheese, and chicken. I like to know that at any time, I can use the items from my pantry if I have the basics on hand. Now when I go to the store, I’ll mostly be buying fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and any other protein. This is how my grocery bill has dropped by 60%. I’m not buying unnecessary products and wasting food.

Meal Planning

Once you know what’s on sale and what you have in your pantry, it’s easy to create a meal plan for the week. This will also help you when it comes time to go to the store. We use e-mealz for most of our meal planning. Not only do they create the meal plans, but they also provide a grocery list for you. This really makes grocery shopping easy when you can shop from your pantry first, then head to the store. I substitute items on my e-mealz with sale items and things I have a lot of in my pantry. This way, items won’t expire and I won’t be tossing away money.


I have a few favorite brands. There are some things, like mayo, where I have single brand that I always prefer to buy. However, I’ll be flexible on other items like cereal, canned tomatoes, or cheese if I have coupons for those items. There are times when store brands can be even less than a name brand with a coupon. Make sure you are paying attention to the shelf price so you don’t over spend on an item.

Store Rewards

Here a few things to look out for when shopping with Rewards programs. Something I learned early: you don’t need to buy all ten when it’s a 10 for $10 promo. You’ll still get that price even if you buy two of those items. I learned the hard way, I now have 10 boxes of Rice-A-Roni in my pantry, and I don’t even use it very often. Also, there may be a required spending amount when using store coupons. For instance, you can get an item for free, but you may have to spend $50 first. Read the fine print and know the store coupon policy.

Personal Note

I tend to avoid overly processed and convenient foods. Buying processed foods gets expensive, even if you have coupons. Plus, there are other health costs to eating processed food than just the financial costs. The smart way to save money is to cook freshly prepared foods at home. Take an extra few minutes and try to recreate your own versions of those convenient frozen or boxed foods. This is going to save you a ton of money, and it can be a healthy alternative for your family. You’ll also find that making your own version takes the same amount of time as preparing the frozen version. Planing ahead and shopping smarter will help you save. Eating healthy options will help you live longer. What’s better than saving and living longer?

Grocery shopping can be a lot of fun. It’s always exciting to see how much money I am going to save at the register.

*photo by thisisbossi on flickr.

About Frugal Day

Frugal Day is a place to share the ideas, coupons, and deals that make it easy to live and shop responsibly. I love to save, and I believe that …

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