Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saving Money ... or trying to!

Today is grocery shopping day ... again!  I am always amazed at how quickly we go through food around here.  It seems that we shop for a month on Saturday and by Monday I'm hearing my 17year old, head in the fridge, saying "I'm hungry mom.  Don't we have any food around here?".
It's really quite exasperating. 
  Now, truthfully, there is food.  It's just not the grab and go sort of food my children would love to see more of around here.  You know; chips, candy, hot pockets, mini-pizzas, etc.  If my kids want pizza, they have to wait for me, or the pizza chef - Night Owl, to knead the dough.  I rarely buy candy because high fructose corn syrup is a definite no-no around here.  Chips are rationed.  I see these foods as empty calories so I don't buy them often.
What can they eat for snacks?  Fruit, veggies, nuts, some of them can have cheese, pb&j is a big hit for those who can eat bread, leftovers, homemade cookies, ... There's really quite a bit of food.  How can I help it if my 17 year old considers an entire box of pasta (that's a pound) mixed with Alfredo sauce  an after school snack?  Or, an entire baking sheet of barbecued wings (made with his own barbecue sauce by the way!) is a bedtime snack?!  This kid is so hungry all the time and even without purchasing junk food, I am spending way more money than I want to at the grocery store.  Jetter and Builder are following closely in his footsteps, so I know there will be no financial relief anytime soon.  With the gluten restrictions, Beany's diet can make things more expensive too (although he is worth every extra cent we have to spend!).
So, the dilemma - how do I feed these precious and very "hungry all the time children" without spending way more than I have budgeted for food?

I do several things that help:
I make up a monthly menu that I stick to as much as possible.

I try to shop once a month for most things to discourage impulse buying.
We don't eat a lot of junk food.
I try to buy fruits and vegetables in season.
I buy large portions of meat and use leftovers for lunches.

I don't clip coupons because I found that many of the coupon items were things I wouldn't normally buy.  So if I save .50 on a box of cereal that I wouldn't have bought in the first place, that's really no savings.

I would like to do a better job at maintaining our garden and preserving what we have grown.
I would like to find a better, less expensive way to buy meat.  I'm looking into the cost difference of buying a side of beef vs. buying the various cuts we eat. 

My current project is to develop and use a price book.  A price book is simply a way to keep track of prices of frequently purchased items.  This link describes  one method of making such a book. This is not a new concept for me.  I've actually been trying to keep a price book effectively for a couple of years.  My problem is that I was using methods that didn't really fit my circumstances.  But after reading Miserly Moms, I decided to give it another try.  So, a little brainstorming and problem solving helped me to come up with my current system.

The first price book I made was a binder style book.  I had created a chart for each item I purchased on a regular basis.  The chart was similar to the one in the link above.  This was all kept in a 3 ring binder.  The binder is supposed to sit, open, on the front of the shopping cart so the shopper can make notes as she goes and easily flip to the correct page to check the prices of an item.  My problem is that this front seat of the shopping cart is rarely empty!  I always have at least one little person with me.  When that little person is a toddler it's even more difficult because they want to "help" and the pages to the price book get ripped out or scribbled on or whatever.  The whole thing became very frustrating.

Price book number two was created on my computer and filed as a document there.  My intention was to fill in the information when I came home from the store.  Then, once it was complete, I would just take it with me to refer to, but not write on.  I thought it would be easy to just use my receipts from each trip to record the information.  Well, as most busy moms know, it's not always easy to find that time to sit down at the computer and fill in a chart right away.  By the time I got to it, I would have a pile of receipts and then I often forget the size of the items and the receipts don't always show that.  So that was slow going and frustrating as well.

So, what exactly did I need?
1~ The price book had to be portable.  I wanted it small enough to fit in my purse.
2~ The price book had to be something hard that I could write on even when a little person was in the front seat of the cart.  (A clip board came to mind, but lose papers wouldn't work.  I'm sure I would lose them.)
3~It had to be organized so I could quickly find an item or jot a price down.  (Quick is vital with toddlers in a grocery store!)
4~ I wanted it to be some sort of notebook with the paper bound into it.  It's too easy to tear the papers from a binder.

So, wanna see what I came up with?

I used a journal style notebook because, in all honesty, I thought it was pretty.  A steno notebook or composition notebook would work just as well though.  The size of all of these is just right to slide into my purse, and because they have a hard binding, I can easily hold them in one hand and jot a note or two while resting it on the edge of the cart (or even my hip).  But, pretty won out so this is what I'm using.

To make it organized, I used a copy of my shopping list.  This is a list of the items I keep stocked in my kitchen or pantry.  It is based on a menu rotation that I created some years ago and still use.  (That took some time, but talk about a time saver!  I highly recommend it!)

The above picture shows a shopping list that has been used already!  You can see I scribble notes, circle certain items and then fold it to fit in my purse.  The items are colored coded according to what store I buy them at. 
In the price book I attached tabs for each division of grocery items.  Since my shopping list is organized in order of my favorite grocery store, this was easy.  (It also streamlines the shopping and makes it easy for my husband or son to find items if they need to go for me.)  So my tabs say things like Dairy, Household Cleaners, Canned Goods, Produce, Meat, etc.

In order to do this, I used a sticky note per category and jotted the items in that category.  Then I counted the number of pages I would need for the category, added a few for new items I might find, and went forward that number of pages before I started the next category.

Then I went through the list again and wrote each item on it's own page or 1/2 page.  My intention is to keep track of the items, making notes on the brand, the size, the price and the store it was purchased. 

Finally, I used a few of the most recent receipts to write in some of the items I had information for.  This will give me a head start.  As I mentioned above though, receipts don't always show all the needed information (like size of the item) so I still have quite a few items to write information for.  This I will do as I purchase those items at the store.

In this example I have written notes for Salsa.  It says "Pace, 38 oz 2 pack, $5.58 from Sam's Club."    These are notes I can jot quickly at the store.  Now, when I'm at a different store and I see that this salsa costs less, I can jot that information down as well.  I can plan my shopping trips so that I'm buying the items at the lower prices.

I stuck some sticky notes to the back cover.  These I will use if I need to jot an occasional note.
Finally, I stuck an envelope to the front cover.  As I mentioned, I don't clip coupons on a regular basis, but occasionally I do see one that I can use.  This will be a way to store them easily.

One thing I will add is that I only shop at 3 grocery stores.  One is a regular grocery "super store", then there is a warehouse store that requires membership, and most recently I found that I can save money on some items from a local GFS.  My husband and I usually go to the warehouse store and GFS once a month.  It's nice to have him help me at these stores because the items are usually heavy!  I try to go to the grocery store once a month as well, but it usually turns into one big trip a month and then smaller trips each week.
I know some people that go to 4 or 5 stores.  But for me, the amount I would spend in gas and time just isn't worth it.

I would love to hear your ideas for saving some money, or things you've done with a price book to make it workable for you!

Oh, and just since he's so darn cute:


Erin said...

He is cute:) How amazing, we shop in nearly the same manner. Although I don't have a price book. A local friend had her dd go to the three supermarkets and do a price comparison of items she used. So I now know which is the cheapest store and just shop at the one place. but like yourself I shop monthly, plan monthly and have an itemized Excel spreadsheet with items and amount columns.

Erin said...

Oh what I do have is a master pantry list taped inside my pantry. I found I hated trying to remember each month how much of an item we always needed. My pantry list is identical to my shopping list but has numbers typed in, ie. sauce 4. So I don't have to think, I just check how much I have and then write how much I need to stock up on.

The Academy of the Good Shepherd said...

I like the pantry list idea Erin. That would save a lot of time when I'm making my shopping list and I would have less chance of forgetting something.

Caroline said...

This is really helpful to see, Becky. Maybe I'll try the price book approach again :). One thing I have learned is that stores have a 12-week cycle for sales, so if you can stock up on non-perishables when the prices dip low, it can save you a lot. I often buy multiples of items on sale and so I have a stockpile at home and I can wait until the next sale cycle.
Do you think the set menu plan makes it harder to take advantage of sales on meat and produce? Or do you plan sort of by type of meal (like a "beef dish with a green vegetable", instead of "stew with broccoli")? I found the first way let me shop sales a little better.

The Academy of the Good Shepherd said...

Thank you Caroline for the 12 week cycle information! I did not know that but will certainly be more aware of when the items I buy go on sale. Hopefully, this is something the price book will help me keep track of.
In answer to your question, I think the menu rotation helps because it is very flexible. I don't have specific recipes that we go through, it is more like categories - "Meat Roast" on Sunday (which could be pork loin, or beef roast, or ham or...) Soup on Monday (meant to use up leftovers from the Sunday roast), Tuesday night is ground beef, Wednesday night is chicken, etc.
So for my shopping list, I don't always have a specific cut of meat listed, I just know I need a roast of some sort, so many pounds of ground beef, so many pounds of chicken (depending on which cuts are on sale) etc. I hope that makes sense. Maybe that's another blog post!

Willa said...

I think you already have most of the ideas I have but I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the post and the baby is really awfully cute!

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