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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Grocery Shopping and "The Game"

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Grocery Shopping and "The Game"

Yes, I am calling grocery shopping a game...a game to get the most stuff for the least money. I started out watching my mother clip coupons here and there on Sundays. Now, she wasn't really into it too much. She just clipped a few coupons of things we regularly buy. Contrast that with the lady I was behind in the checkout yesterday and wow! She pulled out a HUGE billfold, secured with a heavy duty rubberband. I stopped counting coupons sometime after she handed the cashier her first 25. I kid you not! Her final bill for a cart overflowing with groceries was just under $30. So, that got me wondering of did she do that? It also got me thinking, what's the best way to approach shopping to get the most value for my money? I know I'll never be like this lady, but what can I do to make my grocery shopping more successful?

Before you go:

I always start out with a plan. I keep excerpts of recipes in my day planner. Read here how to do that. You'll always know the ingredients and the quantities of your favorite recipes.

Keep track of things you run out of. Keep this list by the refrigerator, and if you run out of an item, immediately write it down. You are most likely not going to remember it, and it will annoy you to no end, when you try to put together a grocery list every time you want to shop.

Clean out your fridge. There's nothing worse than coming home with bags full of cold stuff and nowhere to put the stuff. Get it organized ahead of time.

Make a price book. In the spiral notebook I carry in my purse, I actually have a few pages in the back where I write down the items I usually buy and the best price for that item. I can't commit this stuff to memory. I'm not that smart. I do it in pencil should prices change drastically. Find out more about price books here.

Take this list to the store with you at an off shopping time. Try not to shop after work or during the popular hours on the weekends. Try for early morning, at the crack of dawn, later in the evenings or Sunday morning. Also don't go right at mid month or the end of the month...that's payday for most folks. Stick to your list!

Do check those circulars that come in your mail. These leaflets are one thing you can't opt out of apparently. So, make use of them and scan for items your family uses. I like to look at these things for deals on meat and fish. That way I can buy a slew of it, and then store it in my freezer. You can also get these circulars delivered to your email inbox, if you'd rather look while you're on the computer.

Do take your coupons with you. Don't buy something just because there is a coupon. Use only the coupons for items you purchase regularly. If you want to try something new, it's okay to use the coupon for it...but don't buy multiple new things or else your cart will be full, and you'll wonder why your bill was so high. New products ALWAYS have coupons...just give it a few weeks to show up in your Sunday circulars or check online at coupon sites or the company's website.

Don't go there hungry. No need to explain why.

Shop at the commissary if you can as there are no mark-ups, no sales tax and only a 5% surcharge at check-out. You can save about 30%, and I like that the commissaries carry lots of international fare, such as food from Germany, Japan and Korea. It seems wherever servicemen's wives come from, there is a food section for it! I love at Christmastime when they have all the German baked goods and the Advent calendars with the chocolates! If you are not near a commissary, it is worth it to travel once a month to one and stock up. Bring a cooler if you are getting cold stuff! I used to buy all those frozen drink containers to keep my other things cold. With that being said, it is a myth that commissaries are ALWAYS cheaper. Many times I have gotten better deals locally. You do have to compare prices!

At the store:

Before putting items in your cart, check the price per unit or ounce. Almost all grocery stores have this next to the price, in tiny lettering. You want to compare this with other brands and sizes of the same thing to make sure you are getting the most for your money.

As you put items into your cart, make sure there is a price tag or barcode on the item, especially on fruits or vegetables. I've wasted enough time myself with price checks up at the cashier.

Do try the store brands. Give them at least one chance, and then if you don't like it..say never again. But, how will you know the stuff is or isn't good if you don't at least try it once?

Be aware of the store's marketing gimmicks and tricks. Stores spend MILLIONS of dollars on trying to figure out how your brain works so you can buy more stuff! See the sites below to learn more about it:

If an item is out of stock, it's okay to ask for a raincheck. If the store is having a huge sale on something, and their flyer does not say "while quantities last", ask for a raincheck at checkout. They are obligated to give you that item at that price the next time it comes in.

At the checkout:

Put down the Enquirer and watch the scanner.
You'd be amazed at the mistakes cashiers make and also how things can mis-scan. Barcodes are great, but it's still humans who input the data...and humans make mistakes. Last time I was in a grocery store, the cashier accidently scanned something twice and didn't even notice. It's a good thing I was watching.

Put like items together on the conveyer belt.
This will help tremendously when you get home, when it's time to put your stash away! Put all your fruits and veggies together, your meats together, your pantry items on the belt...together. I like to put the frozen "brick like" items first, then drinks, then meats (all the heavy stuff up front in case the bagger is clueless). Then come the boxed things, toiletry items and last of all, the breakable and squashable items such as eggs and bread.

When you get home:

Get the kids to help you put the dry goods away.
Yet another way to teach them responsibility!

Since you saved money by buying some things in bulk, you are now going to portion down the sizes.
I use heavy duty freezer ziploc bags for this and label each bag with today's date and what's in there. With ground beef, it works really great because you can flatten those packages as flat as a pancake, and they stack so very nicely in the freezer.

With all that being said, I have investigated a few other ideas to save money. I am always trying new and novel things....I sometimes think it is a bad habit of mine, because sometimes, it costs me too much time and money...but I will continue to try things, because...well, I like doing it! I didn't want to end this post without mentioning a few other methods to save money. Let me know if you've tried any of them!

  • The Grocery Game. This is a paid membership site where you use a combination of coupons, sales and "heads up" from people in the know, when to buy a certain item. Members rave about tripling their savings, but you'd better have a place to stockpile these items! Be prepared for oodles of rolls of toilet paper and the like!
  • Coupon Mom. Similar site but free. Get a heads up on sales and coupons!
  • Local food coops. These are becoming more and more popular. The gist of this is that a group of people pool their resources and buy in bulk and directly from the wholesaler or farm. You may also find yourself off-loading a truck or organizing the goods to keep costs down. Many times, the goods are super fresh, organic and of better quality than at the supermarket.
  • Farmer's Markets and local farms. Remember in the old days when you drove along some country road and saw a sign to purchase eggs or vegetables? Well, you can still do this...or go to a "pick your own" farm. This can be a fun family event. I have such good memories of taking my then 4 and 5 year old blueberry picking. Check your newspaper, call your chamber of commerce or check this farm directory or list of farmer's markets.
What do you do to save money on your food bill?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to keep my coupons in the car. I was always forgetting them before! I keep restaurant coupons in there too.

November 7, 2007 at 7:14 PM  

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