My wife and I work freelance and run a business from home. What this means is that there are occasionally cash flow issues: we are sometimes owed money and temporarily strapped for cash. My accountant says this is typical of many small businesses. But what concerns me is feeding the family. We’re five. And the kids are teens. So yeah. They eat. A lot.
Some years back when things were rather lean, I looked at how we spent money, and what I discovered was that our single biggest expense was grocery shopping. This part of our relatively flexible budget was the only place where I could save money—or at least tweak it to benefit from smarter grocery shopping.
We have four grocery stores near the house: Publix, Trader Joe’s Walmart and Costco. My research showed me not everything in any of these stores is necessarily cheaper than in the others. What was very clear was that shopping at Walmart and Costco was not necessarily going to save me a ton of money, as I initially thought. Instead, I had to pick and choose items from each store in order to gain the most savings.
I am not a coupon guy. I just don’t have the time and mental bandwidth to focus on searching and clipping 50 cents worth of savings for items I might or might not use. So instead, within the course of a week, I focused on finding out what was cheaper where. This wasn’t as easy as I envisioned, because the price of meat and vegetables is always changing.
So, after some trial and error testing, here’s what I settled on to save on groceries. I hope it helps:
Also read: Protecting your money and credit in midlife
- Buy some basics at Costco: My sister-in-law started me on the Costco thing. And it’s working out okay as long as I keep my head down in the store. At Costco I buy bread, olive oil, toilet paper, powdered chocolate milk and a few other ‘necessities’, like salad greens. I avoid prepped foods, frozen foods and impulse shopping. As a matter of fact, I’m in and out of Costco in ten minutes since I know what I need in advance.
- Take advantage of the two-for-one deals at Publix: Every Thursday, Publix, the supermarket chain in Florida, changes its sale items. The biggest savings are on the BOGO sales. I go online and see where the savings are and make a list. I only buy items we normally consume in the house. Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean I need to buy it. I buy from the deli whatever ham and cheese are on special. Same goes for meat and fish. Fresh fruit and vegetables at Publix are expensive, but I do check out their BOGO at the frozen vegetable section. What’s great about this is that I can stock up. I also buy rice, pasta, coffee and other dry non-perishables when they’re on sale and stock up double or triple when they’re two-for-one. So, say, a pack of pasta is regularly $1.89, and at two-for-one, it’s 95 cents a pack. Or even if there’s no BOGO you get some pretty decent savings. Say a 10oz pack of Bustelo coffee that’s usually between $3.00 and 3.49 at Walmart or Publix is sometimes $2.00 at Publix, (listed as 2 for $4.00). It’s not BOGO, and you don’t have to buy two, but it’s great savings. And we drink a lot of coffee!
- Shop for veggies and indulgences at Trader Joe’s: With most of my basic foods purchased at Costco and Publix, I swing by Trader Joe’s for some fresh veggies, fruits and a few small indulgences like Manchego cheese, tamales, frozen indian food and snacks. I also save time because I carry a list and don’t stray from it.
Here’s the thing: flexibility is key. A gallon of orange juice might be on sale. It might not be the brand we’re used to but it’s still OJ. Same with pasta and rice. Except for frozen veggies and the few minor indulgences from Trader Joe’s, we rarely buy processed foods, which are more expensive. Whole chickens or chicken thighs are cheaper than white meat and wings. A big pork shoulder is cheaper by the pound and can feed the family for a week!