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Groceries

I have always been leary of the Costco’s and Sam’s Clubs of the world. Something always seems off to me when you have to pay to get in the door and then pay to get the stuff. Same thing with cover charges at a bar. I am here so I am going to be buying stuff, why are you taking my money just to get in. This doesn’t mean that the concept is off, just the execution. I am a firm believer in buying in bulk, I just don’t think warehouse stores are necessarily the best places to stock up.

Buying in bulk is a great way to cut your costs on both the food you eat and the gas it takes to get to the grocery store. I think the last time I bought chicken at the store was over 3 weeks ago, I still have around 10 lbs in my freezer though. Now I understand that is a lot of chicken but we pretty much only eat white meat around here so we are going to use it. I did not buy any of that meat from a bulk food store though. It was all purchased “fresh” from my local grocery store. Not those giant bags of frozen brick chicken breasts, but actual “fresh” packages of chicken breasts.

Buying meat in bulk is almost always best done when the meat is on sale. The big box stores don’t ever put it on sale so you have to watch the local grocery store. I buy whole chickens at .79 lb and boneless, skinless chicken breasts at $1.79 per lb. I wait and watch for them to go on sale and when they do I stock up. So while the packages themselves are not bulk the amount of meat I pick up usually is. This is a great way to maximize your grocery budget without paying Costco type fees.

In the interest of full grocery disclosure, I am a paying member of Sam’s club because there are certain things you can find cheaper, and that work great bought in bulk. We usually stock up on dry goods like spaghetti, paper towels, toilet paper, and other easily stored products. When you can pick up a ton them at once you usually save money so it is worth it.

The key to buying anything in bulk is being able to compare it’s base unit price to what you typically see when shopping. The only way to do that is if you keep a detailed journal of what you spend on groceries. The easiest way to keep up with these price swings is to start  a price book. By using a price book you will be able to identify when a sale really is a good deal or when the chain/bulk store is just pulling your leg. More often than not you may find the sale price at the chain store beats what you can get paying the “discounted” rate at the bulk store.

Photo: (David)

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If you’re old enough to remember the 1980’s, then you’re probably old enough to remember a time when the Pepsi challenge was a prevalent marketing strategy. The idea behind the Pepsi challenge was that a Pepsi representative would set up at a shopping center or grocery store and provide samples of both Pepsi and its leading competitor, Coca Cola. A customer would sip each one and without knowing which one they were drinking, would comment on the beverage that tasted better. After years of running this campaign, it was determined that Pepsi was the clear favorite among American consumers and even till this day, Pepsi uses that information to their advantage.

Ultimately, Pepsi was offering you the option to buy what tasted the best, period. Not which bottle looks cooler, not which name sounds more recognizable and certainly not the one that gave you quantity over quality. These days, consumers don’t often buy the product that is simply the best for their needs. When it comes time to buy the Coca Cola or just “cola”, Kellogg’s or store-brand cereal, or even the BMW or the KIA, consumers put too much weight on the name of the product and not enough weight on the quality of the product.

It’s no secret that I like to save money at the grocery store, but even I fell into the trap of always buying name brand products in lieu of their generic counterparts. Strangely enough, my mind tells me that the products are well worth the extra cost, even though I have rarely ever tried the generic version. Because I am always looking for a good way to save a few bucks here and there, I decided that I would start buying generic products when the price was right and test them out myself. If the product tasted terrible or was unsatisfactory in any way, I would stick to the name brand version. However, if I couldn’t tell the difference, or hopefully it tasted better, I would stick with it and save pennies on the dollar every week, which would eventually add up to a nice chunk of change at the end of the year.

I started with cereals, then moved on to soups, canned vegetables, cookies and worked all the way up the frozen foods section. Why spend $4 per half gallon on Breyer’s ice cream when I could spend $3.29 on the Winn-Dixie version? After a few months of trying the generic version of almost every product I usually buy, I was pleasantly surprised at how many tasted just as good if not better. Sure there were a few that were downright uneatable, but the experiment had definitely worked in my favor. A few quick calculations showed that I saved around $7 per grocery store visit, which would save me hundreds of dollars each year. Pretty sweet.

But just as there were positives to this idea, there’s one glaring negative that really wasn’t that big of a deal to me but may be for some. Status and success in this world of ours is generally defined by our possessions, so in essence, the more cash, the more flash. The reason that the banker drives the Mercedes and not the Jeep has little to do with the overall performance and features of the car, as I’m sure you can find almost any feature in any model these days and more to do with the name brand itself. Let’s be real here people, if I were going to trust my money to an accountant, would I want him driving a low-end automobile, or a high-end automobile? Sounds a little conceited but it is what it is.

So when I would entertain friends and family and they wanted a Dr. Pepper, I would hand them a Dr. Chek. When they wanted Tostitos and Salsa, I would hand them a bag that said “Corn Chips” and the generic version of Salsa. Immediately the conclusion was drawn that I’m struggling to make ends meet and I can’t afford the good stuff and no matter how hard I tried to convince them that this, in fact, was the good stuff, it didn’t matter.

You won’t find me wearing designer jeans, shirts or shoes because I’m always the guy with the Target dress shirts for $9.99 and the discounted sneakers for $19.99 but I NEVER let price get in the way of quality or comfort. Buying generic at the grocery store, clothing store, furniture store, car dealership and plenty of other places can save you hundreds if not thousands every year. Give it a shot and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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One of the biggest budget busters in our house has to be the grocery budget. With one more child on the way our expenses are certain to increase, here are five free surefire ways to save money at the grocery store:

Create a Menu Plan

At the end of each week create a menu for the following week, or two. List out the meals you plan to make that week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having a defined menu plan ensures you are not guessing when you make your List. You can also use the plan to maximize your use of ingredients, like Beer Butt Chicken one day, then chicken casserole with leftover chicken the next.

Bring a List

Don’t go to the store without a plan of attack. Based on the menu plan you created you should be able to build a list of all of the ingredients you need for each meal, add to that the various staples you always seem to need and you have your list. Stick to the list when you are in the store don’t venture off into the electronics department either, if it isn’t on the list don’t get it.

Shop Alone

It sounds like a strange way to save but trust me it works. I spend at least 50% more on groceries when my wife goes shopping with me. She will even tell you that if she is going with me we are not going to stay under budget. Having other people, adult or adolescent, around while shopping adds another level of potential distraction and temptation. Go it alone and you will notice a difference.

Buy Generic

There really is not that big of a difference between most store brand and name brand foods. Try various generic products where you would normally buy name brand. You will find some are not going to work but most of them will. Try discount stores like Aldi as well, they specialize in generic and I have found their quality is actually a little better than Walmarts Great Value Brand.

Price Match

I don’t like to drive all over town so I do most of my shopping at Walmart. The problem is they don’t usually have the best prices on meats because they don’t run sales like Kroger or Food City.  Walmart, however, has the low price guarantee and will match any competitors advertised price for the same product.  All I do is bring the ad that shows Tyson chicken for $1.99 lb and when I check out I tell the cashier I want to price match. After a confused look and a manager later I end up paying the sale price at Walmart. Saving on Gas and time.

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Bonus Tip

I don’t know why I didn’t make this a 6 tip post, I left off using a Price Book to track grocery store price trends. If you haven’t read my post on using a Price Book yet then check it out as the Bonus Tip.

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