We were not couponing or shopping the ads. We were just shopping. When you just mindlessly put things in the cart, even if you have a list, it is easy to rack up a huge bill at the check out. Even easier since we are a gluten-free household and gluten-free convenience foods can be super spendy.
We decided to repent of our grocery mindlessness and sat down to have a meeting about our grocery list. Everyone always says you should plan your meals around the grocery ads, so that is what we set out to do. We gathered up the ads and sat down to make our grocery list together, determined to cut our spending in half if we possibly could.
But as we started looking through the ads, we realized that we had absolutely no idea what a good price was for anything! There were a handful of things that we purchase often that we thought we might know the regular price for, but mostly we were clueless.
"Is $2.79 a pound better than what we can get at WalMart?"
"I have no idea!"
"What about $1.05 for a can of the spaghetti sauce we always buy?"
"I think it's around that price at WalMart, but I'm not sure..."
That's basically how our conversation went the entire 45 minutes we perused the ads and made our list. No wonder we had been overspending so much of our grocery budget—we were completely and utterly lost!
In the end, we wrote down all the products from the ads that we thought were good prices and that we had planned into our menu and started at WalMart. We figured that we would write down the prices of everything we buy regularly at WalMart (best every day value, usually) and if that price was cheaper, we'd buy it there. Otherwise, we'd buy it at the other stores for the ad price.
Surprisingly, not everything in the ads was lower than the WalMart price. Even things that seemed to us like a really great deal were often cheaper at WalMart. Still, many things were a much better deal at the other grocery stores so we were able to save quite a bit by using the ads.
Since then, we have kept a careful log of how much we normally pay for things so we are able to actually recognize a good deal for what it is. After four weeks of painstakingly combing through the ads and building our menus as cheaply as possible, I'm happy to say that we've cut our grocery budget down considerably.
What we learned:
We learned that if you aren't keeping a grocery price log, you need to. I've heard of people doing it, but now I understand why! It's really difficult to memorize the prices of everything you buy on a regular basis, but if you have it written down you will know what is a good price and what isn't.
You will also know when prices rise permanently—which they unfortunately do—and be able to adjust your expectations accordingly. And I've found that I'm much more in tune to prices now by doing this. Instead of just grabbing a can off of the shelf, I make sure I'm getting the best deal I can, and I'm often surprised that the can I chose is not the one with the best price!
In May, we spent a horrifying $1,192.92 on groceries for our (gluten-free) family of 5. We budgeted $800.00 towards groceries that month, so we spent almost 150% of our budget.
I'd hang my head in shame, but I am no longer ashamed because wait until you hear what we've spent for June!
You guys, that is less than half of what we spent in May. And we did it without using any coupons (I hate coupon clipping, and most of what you can get with coupons does not fit within our gluten-free lifestyle anyway). We simply became aware of regular prices and created our meals around what was on sale.
Edited: While we generally just go to the other two stores if they have better deals, you can also rely on the Walmart Savings Catcher app to catch those prices for you. I use the app on top of going to the other stores, because it catches ads from stores that are too far for me to bother with. I am not a fan of doing the ad matching in Walmart because they can be pretty picky about how much things match, they won't do meat, and their produce is not very good anyway!
We have also been following my friend Hilary's advice to only buy what we need. You can read her blog post here: How to Save Money on Groceries—The Dummy Edition
Those two strategies together have saved us hundreds of dollars this month, and will continue to do so. Think of how much money we'll save in a year!
All because we know what a good price is now, thanks to our little price notebook.
Knowing the price points is just the beginning of saving money at the grocery store. If you are really interested in learning all the tips and tricks to becoming a grocery savings master, check out Grocery University—an e-course by Crystal Paine over at Money Saving Mom.
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