You now know the regular prices, you created a menu, you know that buying local save money, you know what stores you will go to, and you know what items will be on sale. The next step is to make a grocery list.
Go through the recipes you will need to complete the menu that you created in step #2. As you build your grocery list, consider some of the tips that I offered in Create a Useful Menu. I recently checked the links in all the steps of my 10-Step Supermarket Combination Technique to make sure all links still launched the pages in the article. I found some links that no longer worked. So, I researched to find other websites to replace the defunct links and I found a really neat website: The Balance. One article is: cheap foods that last longer. The Balance also provides information regarding storage and cooking times. I am only listing foods that I use regarding reducing my cholesterol. The author has other foods as well. The fact that the foods listed in the article last a long time never crossed my mind. I had a win/win situation and didn’t even know it!
- Potatoes can last 4-6 months: Learn How to Store Potatoes
- Beans/Legumes can be stored for several years: How to Store Dried Beans and Conversions and Measurements
- Apples: How to Store Apples for Winter (I do this all year round)
Carrots: Number 6 in The Balance article. I stopped using “baby carrots” and switched to cutting the carrots myself. My mandoline has a “waffle” slicer. I also have a spiralizer so I can make pretty spiralized carrot salads and to put finishing touches on dinner plates. However, even if you cut whole carrots to make carrot sticks or slices, you still pay less than buying “baby carrots”. “Baby Carrots” do not grow that way. Have you ever noticed that the carrots in those packages are all the exact same size and shape?!
- Oats: different varieties of oats have different expiration dates.
- Flour: Not one of my new “lifestyle change ingredients”. However, because I replace half of the flour in recipes with oats (ground in my food processor to make oat flour), I no longer use flour as fast as I did previously. I was told to put flour in the freezer for three weeks and then transfer to storage containers. Because I have a 16-foot cubic freezer, I never take the flour out of my freezer and just measure the flour as I need it and return the flour to my freezer. The Balance details how to transfer the flour for storage outside the freezer.
The reason I mention all of the above is you can buy larger quantities of items that last a long time, when those items are on sale.
The tips below are my own, from Choose My Plate, and AARP:
Organize Your Game Plan
- Your Menu is Only a Guide: If sales are running for foods that you really like, then shuffle the dinners on your menu to the following week or 2 weeks later.
- Cross Off Ingredients that You Have at Home: After reviewing the weekly sales circulars and deciding which meals you will serve, you will need the recipes so you know what ingredients you will need. Before you head out to the different stores, take a trip through your pantry, kitchen cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer and cross off items on your grocery list that you already have.
- Can you use those frozen leftovers that you have stashed in re-sealable bags when you were not going to have a LEFTOVER night? You can make all sorts of recipes with those little bits of frozen veggies, meats, etc. such as vegetable soups, stews, and broths. If you want to add substance to the veggies soups, make minestrone and add pasta. Make it into a full meal by adding any type of roll. Want to make those rolls snazzier? Slice the roll, butter it, sprinkle garlic granules and Parmesan cheese on it and pop it under the broiler for 5-10 minutes. Voilà! A cheap, healthy, easy-to-make dinner and you most likely only need to buy rolls. You can take it one step farther and make a side salad.
- There are all sorts of ways to use leftovers. In fact, I intentionally cook so that I will have leftovers. Not only does that save time, but it also saves money. One recipe might call for half a green pepper or 6 ounces of ricotta cheese and you have a 12-ounce container, etc. If there are no other plans for that green pepper (or other ingredient), many times, I double the recipe and freeze the extra meal.
- Organize your grocery list by PRODUCE, DAIRY, FREEZER, MEAT, and MISC. (the 5 major categories in which most supermarkets are organized with miscellaneous being the shelves). If you go to a butcher, you only need to focus on the MEAT section.
When your grocery list is ready, it is time to go to the different stores. If you use a variety of stores, you can take a different route home from work several nights to accommodate the different stores.
Since supermarkets will usually play a large part of completing your grocery list, I want to focus this next section on just grocery stores and supermarkets.
Save More at the Store
Before Leaving Home
- Upload eCoupons and cut out matching coupons for items on your grocery list. Make sure the credit card you will use (1) pays the most points for groceries and (2) is registered with the store’s loyalty program. Many times, stores connect their programs to the credit card(s) you use.
- Bring coupons that you have for different stores because some stores will match their competitors’ coupons. Ask at customer service. If they do, you just saved yourself a trip.
- Cannot find the coupon you need to stock up on some items? Use one of the coupon websites that you are registered with to notify you when coupons that you do want/need.
- Eat something before going to any store that sells food. You will be less likely to fall prey to impulse buying or sales gimmicks.
- Keep in mind that price matching is becoming more popular. If one store has the most products at the best price, but another store has a better price for just a few items, highlight those products on your grocery list. When you get to the store, ask at the customer service if they will match the price of the store with a lower price. You will need a flyer for the competitor’s prices; however, many stores will match the price of their competitors in order to keep you in their store.
- NOTE: Healthy foods usually cost less than processed foods. Pay yourself and do the prep yourself.
- Bring your own bags: Canvas or other heavy-duty bags can withstand the weight of groceries that are put in the bags at checkout. When I travel, like most other people, I love souvenirs that remind me of my vacations. In fact, all of my large, heavy-duty reusable bags are from different vacations. Some festivals and arts & crafts events also have heavy-duty tote bags.
- NOTE: to keep my reusable bags clean, I store bags inside one of my large souvenir bags and then in my trunk. Doing that keeps them away from dust and dirt that magically appears in most trunks. Also, once a month, I turn the bags inside out and wipe them with a vinegar/water solution. Vinegar kills germs. Keep in mind that juices from meat packages drip in the bags, the frost from frozen foods melts and if the bags with groceries stay in your trunk any length of time, mold could form. Vinegar kills the mold.
Be Smart When You Fill Your Cart
- Learn the layout of the store. Have you ever noticed that many stores are laid out in similar fashions such as fresh produce is on the opposite side of the store from dairy products? And, dairy products are almost never located near the baking items? That is not done by accident. They do that because most recipes include dairy products such as milk, eggs, butter and also flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, etc. The only way for customers to get those dairy items and baking items is to walk past many sales displays. Management knows that the more time you spend in a store frequently increases the amount of money they spend. That is also the primary reason why stores occasionally shift the location of items in their stores. By doing that, they once again force customers to spend more time in their store as they find the new location of items they need. However, they can only change the location of items on their display shelves because their refrigerated and freezer areas cannot be moved.
- If you know where the products are that you will need to fill your grocery list, you can make a bee-line from dairy to the baking items section or the condiments section and ignore the endcap sales displays. By doing that, you will be less tempted to buy anything that is not on your grocery list
- When supermarkets shift their stock, the only items you will need to find are those on their display shelves. The refrigerated/frozen items will not move.
- Ever noticed those endcap sales? The shelves at the end of the aisles cannot be increased. Subliminally customers know that. The hope is that you will look at the advertising and not the real prices.
- Other times when manufacturers provide sales to supermarkets, those items can be spotlighted by putting them at the end of aisles.
- Always shop the center aisles first and then the areas with dairy products and meats. If you get meats and dairy items when you first enter the store, those items will be un-refrigerated longer.
- Supermarket managers know that customers are typically conditioned to believe sales such as “buy 1, get 1 free” and 10 for $10 sales. Managers know that you are conditioned into thinking that if you see “great deals” like buy 1 get 1 or 10 for $10, that there will be many other sales throughout the store.
- Beat that by knowing the regular prices and making sure that those 10 for $10 sale items really do sell for more than $1 regularly. I discovered that many times, the items in that type of sale are the normal price. And, sometimes the items normally sell for less than $1.
- Same with Mix & Match 10 for $10 sales. Before you buy any item in that sale, make sure that the regular price for the items regularly are more than $1. Otherwise, it is not a good deal
- Finally, supermarket managers know that people are conditioned to automatically get 10 items when the sale is “10 for $10”. However, if the price is really a good deal, but you do not need 10 of any item, you should be able to get fewer than 10 items. It should be noted on a sales tag near that item as well as in their weekly sales circular. Most of the time you can do that.
- Stick to your list! If you do not need any items in any of the aisles, do not go down those aisles.
- Reduced for Quick Sale Items: many stores slash the price of products that are very close to the “best if sold by” date and create a display. The only “catch” to this is, you must use those food items immediately. If necessary, shuffle your menu so you can use the items that are normally cut 50 to 75 percent.
NOTE: When I create my grocery list from the different recipes, I color the ingredients from each recipe different colors. I do that because when I arrange the items in the different categories, if any product shows up 3-4 times, I know to shuffle a different recipe on my menu to accommodate the “quick sale items”.
Below is an example of one of my grocery lists
- TIP: if produce price is marked EACH, get the largest one that you can get. If the price is PER POUND, only get the amount that you need.
- Look high and low. Keep in mind that the cheapest items are always located very high and very low. Stores want the items that cost the most to be at your eye level.
- Brand name products: Remember to check full price brand name items when there are store items on sale. Many times, when you match a coupon to a regularly priced brand name product, the coupon may make that item even lower than the sale items.
- Front or back? If you will use an item within the next 2-3 days, get products from the front of the shelf. If you will not be using the products immediately, get the products from the back. Shelves are always re-stocked by putting newest products in the back so that older items are sold first.
- Rainchecks: If a product is listed on sale but no products are available, ask for a raincheck. Most stores will provide them. With a raincheck, you can return to the store some other time to get the item that was on sale. Look for the expiration date on the raincheck to be sure you use it in time.
- Convenience costs money. Someone has to pay the staff that cut fruits & veggies so the store can sell them pre-cut and ready-to-use. Pay yourself by cutting the produce yourself.
- Family packs, even if you live by yourself. Many times, family packs will be cheaper than individual packs. When you get home, divide the products into individual serving sizes and freeze them. Remember to label the packages so you use them in appropriate safety timelines.
- Cheaper cuts of meat can be as tender as the more expensive cuts. You only need to cook them slowly (in a crock pot) or in a pressure cooker.
- Whole chickens are always cheaper than packages of chicken parts (legs, wings, thighs, breasts). At this point, you will need to decide if price or convenience is more important to you.
- Nuts are extremely high in omega-3 oils. Nuts are also very expensive. To prevent nuts from going rancid, store them in your freezer rather than in your pantry or cupboards. Use them directly from your freezer.
- Grated Cheese versus Blocks of Cheese: Grated cheese costs much more than blocks of cheese, no matter what kind of cheese it is: cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, etc. Buy blocks of cheese and grate it yourself. Fresh soft cheese has a shorter shelf life than blocks of hard cheese.
- In addition to being cheaper, whole blocks will remain fresher longer. If you do not have a grater, cut the block of cheese into cubes and store the cubes in parchment paper (rather than resealable bags). When you need the cheese, pop a cube in your food processor.
- Toss the rind from Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago into the freezer and use it for soups and stews to add another layer of flavor.
- Check the Bulk Bins. Many times, dried legumes of all kinds, oats, cereals, cornmeal, spices, etc. will be cheaper when sold by bulk.
- Buy Small Amounts Frequently: Only buy the produce that you know you will use over the next 2-3 days, especially if you buy the produce at grocery stores and supermarkets.
- Do not Buy More than You Need: Only buy the produce that you know you will use over the next 2-3 days, especially if you buy the produce at grocery stores and supermarkets.
- Store brand. Many store brands are manufactured in the same facility and with the same formulas as name-brand products. The only differences are the price and packaging. I am not talking about generic products. Some supermarkets manufacture their own products.
TAKE ACTION #1: Create your 2-week grocery list. If you need help, see Create a Useful Menu. I hyperlink the recipe to each entry on my menu to make it easy to make my grocery list.
#2: Prove it to yourself: Buy one 8-ounce package of whole carrots and also one package of “baby carrots”. When you get home, slice the whole carrots or waffle cut or French-cut them, or any shape that floats your boat. You can use a mandoline (photo on the right if you do not know what one is), knife, or grater. Then compare the amount of sliced carrots that you have with the amount of “baby carrots”. The perk is that “baby carrots” have a very short shelf life. They get slimy very quickly.
#3: Post a form outside your refrigerator door. As you and family members use the last of an item or notice that the item is almost empty, add the item to the list. If someone in your family wants to have something special for a meal, have them add that info to the list so you can build their meal into your menu. If it is a hit, add it to your menu. Name the dinner item after the family member who suggested the meal and have some fun with it (e.g., Jeanne’s McMuffins).
#4: Set a timer and time yourself so that you know how long it takes to slice one cucumber or one carrot or slice a stalk of celery or slice a green pepper. You can use all of the above as snacks so the food will not go to waste.
- Weigh your end result. Then compare the price per ounce the items you cut with the price of ready-to-serve or pre-cut carrots, cucumbers, celery, and green peppers. Which way is the better deal? Equally as important: how much is your time worth?