Grocery Shopping

This is an article I wrote back in 2000. It’s kind of interesting to read it and see what has changed, but most hasn’t.  We were a family of six in 2000, with my youngest son being less than a year old. Now there are only four of us, and he’s 10½!  Smaller changes are the we don’t eat the same thing for breakfast or lunch every day anymore, and I avoid buying pre-made anything (if I can’t pronounce an ingredient, I don’t want to serve it to my family).

A lot of it still holds true, though, so I thought I’d post it.

Grocery shopping on a budget

Mar 08 ’00

I can usually buy two weeks of groceries for my family for $80-90 a week. A friend asked me how I do it.

Making a Menu Plan
First off, I sit down and make a list. I start with a menu for the next two weeks. It’s very key to me to try to go shopping as infrequently as possible, since I’m very susceptible to impulse buying. So I do two weeks at a time (shop once per payday). I make my menu plan by thinking about what sounds good, asking the kids what they want to eat (Doodle *always* says “Chicken nuggets!”), and looking over a list I keep of simple/quick/cheap meals. I also look at the store sale flyer if I have one, so I can take advantage of store specials. I could buy stuff to make everything from scratch and in theory save more money, but I’ll end up not cooking and buying fast food, which with a family of 6 is NOT cheap at all. I usually only do this for dinners, as we have basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day (cereal and milk for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and chips for lunch).

Making a Grocery List
After making a menu plan, I make my grocery list. I group everything according to location in the store. I go through the menu and list everything I need to make the meals. I do this relatively quickly and not too neatly, as it’s really a rough draft of my grocery list. Then I go through the cupboards and cross out anything on my grocery list that I already have, and add staples that I need, as well as breakfast and lunch items. Once I’ve done this, I make my “final copy” grocery list. I again keep things grouped according to store location, and include a copy of the menu on the list, so that if the store is out of an item I can remove all the associated foods from my cart, too.

I make sure I don’t go to the store hungry, and I make sure I’m not rushed. I don’t bring the kids. I do bring my list and a pen of a different color to mark off items as I put them in my cart. I have to do this, because if I forget, say, tomato sauce, when I go back later in the week to buy tomato sauce, I’ll also buy a magazine, a bag of cookies, a baby toy and a hair brush. I said I was susceptible to impulse buying! <g>

While at the store, if I see a great buy on something I use a lot, I’ll stock up if the money’s there. Part of this is being aware what really is and what isn’t a good deal. I have an extra fridge on my enclosed porch, so now I can stock up on cold and frozen food, too, which helps a lot.

I used to estimate each item’s cost and get a total estimate before leaving for the store. I still do this sometimes when I’m really on a tight budget. Then while shopping, I’ll keep two boxes on the list, one for “less than estimated” and one for “more than estimated” – so I can keep track of how close to estimated I am. If I get way over, I’ll cut back further. If I’m way under, I can allow myself a treat or buy a little more of some staple.

Buying Generic
I do buy store brand for some items, but not for others. You just basically have to experiment and see what works for you. I hate generic dish detergent, but I buy a store brand laundry detergent that is $2.50 for a big bottle, and it gets our clothes clean with no fragrances (which is very important to me – laundry fragrances make me ill). I buy store brand medicines a lot, after comparing ingredients. I won’t buy store brand toilet paper. I’ll buy store brand canned veggies for a casserole, and use name brand for serving as a side dish.

Shopping Around
I’ll stop at Walmart and Sam’s Club to see what they’ve got before going to the grocery store. A lot of times Walmart’s little food area has a lot of the canned food I want for about half the price of what they have at the grocery store. The bulk sizes at Sam’s Club are fine for my family, so I don’t have a problem buying there, but if your family is smaller, you might end up wasting more than you use. Walmart usually has much better prices on non-food items such as dish soap, toilet paper, etc. than the grocery stores.

I have friends who shop at several different grocery stores to hit all the sales, and that seems to work for them, but for me it doesn’t pay for my time. When I’ve tried that, I’ve usually spent an extra couple of hours to save a couple of bucks.

If I’m careful and don’t impulse-buy, I can grocery shop for my family of 6 for $80-90 a paycheck (2 weeks). We eat well, and don’t feel deprived, and I’d rather spend the money I save on other fun stuff.

Picking Your Fish

I love to eat fish, and all but one of my kids love fish, too. My favorite fish is orange roughy. A few months ago, I was talking to a friend and mentioned that I was making orange roughy for dinner. She told me that orange roughy are overfished and close to being on the endangered list.

I knew of a couple other varieties of fish that I don’t buy because of those kinds of issues, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed – how am I supposed to remember what’s okay to buy and what isn’t while I’m in the grocery store?

I started googling and found this site: Seafood Watch

Not only do they have a searchable index of fish, so you can see if your favorite seafood is sustainable, but they also have a free printable little guide that will fit in your purse, wallet, or coupon organizer. It lists “Best Choices”, “Good Alternatives”, and fish to “Avoid”, as well as a quick explanation of why your fish choices matter. I keep one in my purse, and one next to the desk where I do my menu planning each week.

There is an added benefit that most (but certainly not all) of the sustainable fish are a lot less expensive than the ones on the “avoid” list.

Linked to: Works for Me Wednesday – go check it out for a HUGE selection of  tips from lots of bloggers!

One Run Purple Racehorse

When I’m running out of the house for a gallon of milk and eggs and one of my kids says, “Oh, Mom, we also need peanut butter,” they are used to me responding with “One run purple racehorse…”

My ex-father-in-law taught me this memory trick over 20 years ago, and I still use it almost daily. He told me he learned it at a Dale Carnegie workshop, and I believe him, but any search I come up with on the web doesn’t mention purple racehorses, so I’m going to tell you the way I do it.

I think the easiest way to tell it would be by example. Let’s say you have to run for the store for five items, and you don’t want to make a written list for just five items. Those items are eggs, milk, toilet paper, ground beef, and laundry detergent.  The first thing you have to do is link each item with its number on the list.  First, we have one, which rhymes with run, so we picture a purple racehorse. You want to picture something kind of outrageous, so it’ll stick in your memory (you also want to keep the base memory, or “peg”, in this case the purple racehorse, the same every time you use the method). Make it vivid and with movement and sound, if you can. Now picture that purple race with eggs. Maybe it’s running on eggs, making a mess as its hooves hit the eggs and yolk and white splatter everywhere. Hear the pounding of the hooves almost, but not quite, drowning out the crack of the egg shells. Got a good visual? Good.

Now we’ll move on to number two. Two rhymes with zoo, so we’ll picture a bunch of monkeys. The second item on our list is milk, so we’ll picture the monkeys playing with gallons of milk. They are throwing them around their monkey cage, and some are breaking open, spilling milk everywhere! Take a second to implant this in your memory, and move on.

Three rhymes with tree. Now, I picture a big, picturesque apple tree sort of tree, but you could use a Christmas tree if you prefer. I would picture the tree as if someone had TP’d it, even wrapping the trunk with it. It’s almost completely covered with toilet paper, with just a few bits of green peeking out here and there. And now that is set in my memory.

Four rhymes with door, and I picture a big, rough-hewn dungeon door, although any door that is distinct enough for you would work. Now I visualize the ground beef getting stuck in the door, and oozing out underneath. It’s really yucky, but I’m not going to forget it!

Five rhymes with hive, so I visualize a bunch of bees flying, each carrying the item in question (unless the item itself suggests some other action than carrying).  In this case, I picture them carrying big ol’ jugs of laundry detergent, and I hear them buzzing with the strain, their little cartoon-like bee faces turning red.

Now, the cool part of this is it takes just a few minutes to permanently memorize the rhyming “peg” for the number. After that, you can use this any time, anywhere, and it only takes as long as it takes to list the items to memorize them. And it works in both directions – if you asked me, “What number was toilet paper?” I’d immediately picture the tp wrapped around the tree and know it was number three. If you said, “What was number 2?” those monkeys come immediately to mind and I know that #2 is milk.

Here are the rest of the numbers, up to 9. I know it can be done up to 21, but I never learned past 9, and honestly, if I need to remember 10 things, it’s time to get out an index card and write them down.

One: run: purple racehorse

Two: zoo: a bunch of monkeys

Three: tree

Four: door

Five: hive: a bunch of bees

Six: Stick: a big, sticky stick

Seven: Heaven: golden stairs and pearly gates

Eight: Gate: a rusty, squeaky gate

Nine: wine: a romantic table setting

I hope this trick helps someone else. It’s been an absolute wonder in my life, and it really works for me.

This post is linked to:  Works for Me Wednesday