Smudged fingers. Creaky scissors. 5 million apps that all promise the best deals. Driving to four different grocery stores with children in tow. The world of grocery couponing and planning can be a scary place.
Fortunately for frugal shoppers everywhere, most of this hype is unnecessary and heavily stereotyped. Allow me to walk you through some frugal grocery store skills that take no extra time out of your life (well, almost no more time, and time well spent) and ensure you spend only what you have budgeted.
Outline Your Meals
I am not necessarily a meal planner (unless I want Mr. FB to do the cooking that week. In that case I plan the scope fully and inform him it’s in our shared “rabbit hole” of Google Sheets and that he’s the implementor, which he happily accepts most of the time). I am, however, a meal outliner. I start my outline by consulting my fridge, because the things in there are the most perishable. If there is cream that needs to be used, I certainly want to make note that it is a great week for fettuccine alfredo, because cream is amazing. Likewise, I want to prevent fresh fruits and vegetables from going bad in the fridge (that wastes food, and THEN I have to scrub out the fridge - easily my least favorite kitchen chore ever).
After making a list of ingredients that need to be used that week, I consult my freezer and pantry to augment those ingredients. I almost always come up with 2-3 nutritious meals this way (defining nutritious as roughly half vegetable, hitting a decent protein amount, and getting a variety of vitamins in). By using my pantry to augment those fresh ingredients, I also rotate my pantry supply, so I plan to restock what I use.
This isn’t usually enough to get through an entire week, but after going through my pantry I generally feel inspired to make a few other meals. I’ll make a note of the specific ingredients I must have for those meals (if there are any) and a few types of foods that I also want to round out the nutritional value of those meals (“green vegetable” is a fun one that is usually on the list).
Skip the Ads
This one may shock some readers - I do not consult grocery store ads before my visit. My rationale is simple - I like to shop at places that offer their best deals every day, rather than overcharging some days to enable price drop marketing on others. For that, my local Smart FoodService wins hands down. When there is something I need that isn’t there, I a) choose not to need it, or b) sigh, make a list of a few other things they don’t typically have, and drive across town to Winco.
That being said, I do plan on taking advantage of some specials. I will, for example, make a note on my grocery list to check beef, chicken, pork, or legume prices (depending on what I am low on) and plan to purchase if it is under a certain price per pound. I also sometimes write down “canned goods”, meaning that I simply want to round out my pantry and I will happily take whatever is on the best sale (provided it has some nutritional value, so probably not pie filling. Unless it’s a really good sale. Then I might still be persuaded and find myself typing “savory recipes with pie filling” into Google 3 months later). The point is, these are still planned. I don’t wander into the dessert section, happen to notice that Moosetrack ice cream is on sale in a 5 gallon bucket, and choose to succumb and then eat 5 gallons of ice cream in a month (even though I truly love Moosetrack ice cream). Because I have been grocery shopping and comparing prices a long time, I have good intuition for what is a “good” price on something. If you don’t have that intuition, use your smartphone - you can know within a few seconds whether the sale you are looking at is actually a good price for you, or a good price for the provider.
A Word on Loyalty
I am not big on brand loyalty, unless it has to do with the quality of the product. (When it comes to moral concerns about a product, I usually opt to not need that product any more rather than replacing it with a more expensive version). I am somewhat a believer in store loyalty because it is not worth your money, your time, or the wear and tear on your car to drive 10 miles because you could save 2 cents per package on Zesty Herb. That being said, if you have to drive past that particular store 10 miles away and you happen to hear about a mega-sale on chicken broth, I would suggest you stop by. Other than that, it is worth it to simplify your life.
Saving Money After You've Spent It
Rather than couponing prior to spending money, I choose to coupon after using receipt scanning apps. Because my life is simple and my grocery needs are simple, I prefer using FetchRewards. All you have to do is go into the app and take a picture of your receipt before you toss it in the recycling, and you get a magical 25 points per receipt. Eventually, these 25 point increments add up to gift cards that I use to buy Mr. FB nice things for his birthday when I don’t want him to know about them until they’re opened (it’s the FB equivalent to a secret bank account I guess). You can even wait until you are ready to clean out your purse/wallet and submit several receipts in one day (as long as they are within a 2 week period). You can also submit receipts from stores that sell grocery products, even if you did not buy a grocery item in that particular trip (for example, Target or Walmart purchases).
I also use Ibotta occasionally, but their rewards vary more depending on the products on your receipt. If you buy gluten-free or organic, you might get a bigger impact from Ibotta then FetchRewards (although you can scan the same receipt in both places). For simplicity, I downselected to FetchRewards, but maybe you can outfrugal me there.
The Best Way to Save
As in any consumer space, the best way to save is to choose to need less. There are definitely some things we can’t choose - if you have celiac disease, you can’t choose to consume glutinous bread or pasta, you must purchase alternatives (which are typically much more expensive). However, there are plenty of things you can choose not to need. Desserts are not necessary. Soda is not necessary. Alcohol is not necessary. If it is not a major protein source, carb source, or vegetable, it is almost certainly not necessary. While it is certainly fine to indulge, being mindful that your purchase is a privilege and not a right can enhance your experience with that product, and even make you want it less frequently.
What is the most major thing that you realized you didn’t need? How long did you purchase that product before you came to this realization?
I spend most of my spare time playing with spreadsheets, my violin, or planting vegetables in my garden in hopes of bringing new insights into frugal living. Please enjoy, and don't forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter here.
Disclaimer - Mrs. FB is not a financial advisor. Nothing in these articles should be construed as investment or other professional advice, but rather personal opinion. Some links in these posts may be to affiliate sites - no products are advertised through this site that have not been personally used by the FB family unless expressly labeled.