Monday, May 19, 2008

Grocery Challenge - Cutting My Grocery Bill to $50 a Week

After reading the Associated Press story about food stamp recipients struggling to get by on their $300 monthly food allotment and reading about the thrifty exploits of others, I decided to issue myself a money-saving challenge.

Could I cut my grocery bill to $50 a week?

At first, I considered trying to emulate the Money Saving Mom, who spends just $40 a week on groceries. Mind you, she used to spend just $35 a week on groceries before prices went up. That's impressive, and she's been doing this frugal thing a whole lot longer than I have, so I decided to give myself a little wiggle room.

$50 seemed reasonable and do-able if I shopped smartly, combined coupons with rock-bottom sales, leveraged my CVS ExtraCare bucks and Walgreens Register Rewards and planned.

Planning is key to saving money.

I can't emphasize that point enough. If you want to slash your grocery bill, you have to make a list and stick to it. You have to keep track of what you already have in your refrigerator and cupboards, so you're not forced to buy staples and other nonperishable food at full price. You have to take time to clip coupons and to organize them.

Stockpile things you find at a good price.

I've learned from the money-saving masters that savvy shoppers don't wait to buy things when they need them. If they see something at a good price, they'll buy it now in bulk and stockpile it for later. That saves you from having to dash out to buy full-price toilet paper because you've just gone through the last roll.

I have a stash of toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors and razor blades, soap, shampoo and other sundries that I purchased for next to nothing. (In some cases, these items were free after coupons, rebates and CVS Extra Bucks.) So, when I run out of toilet paper, I won't have to buy it at the store. I can pull a pack from my garage and know that I've saved tons of money.

This same principle can work for food. We have an extra refrigerator in our garage (thank you, Grandma, but I'd rather have you around than your refrigerator) and I store frozen meat, pizzas, extra drinks, juice, cheese and other items with a long shelf life in there. I also keep a stockpile of rice, macaroni, cereal and snacks, but we have to be clever about storing those items because we've had a few mice get into our garage!

Shop around.

I'm as time-strapped as anyone. I'm married with a toddler, and I'm self-employed as a freelance writer/public relations professional. (I have a full-time workload, but I squeeze it in during naptime, the two days a week that my son is at mother's morning out, during nana babysitting hours and whatever other free time I can spare.)

I'm telling you all this because I know that the idea of grocery shopping at more than one store probably seems like a colassal time-sucker. But it doesn't have to be. I hit five stores on Sunday in probably less than 90 minutes. And I didn't waste gas either because I've chosen stores that are in a circuit near my house.

I find that I'm more efficient when I shop stores that I know because I don't waste time looking for items.

How do I save time?

I make a list for each store, using the Grocery Game, and parcel out my coupons for each store ahead of time. I take that store's coupon envelope inside and buy only what's on my list. I'm very organized, so I'm in and out quickly. (I do usually check the clearance endcaps to see if there are any deals that are too good to pass up, and I try to pair them with coupons that I already have. Here's another tip: Always take your coupons with you because you never know when you're going to stumble upon a deal.)

Yesterday, I hit five stores, and I spent $43.20. Not bad, though I did make a few mistakes, which I'll outline below. Also, I didn't have to buy much meat or produce because we had a stockpile of fresh and frozen from previous shopping trips.

I'd still like to go to CVS at some point this week, and I'll probably hit the farmer's market on Wednesday or Saturday to buy some tomatoes and other local produce. If I happen to be near another Lowes Foods or Food Lion, I'll probably make a quick stop to pick up a few things that were sold out at my normal stores. Can I do that and still hit my $50 weekly target? Stay tuned...

Meantime, here's what I bought and spent out of pocket at each store.

Food Lion
1.17 pounds ground beef
Glad Simply Steam bags
1 bag frozen shrimp
sour cream (I needed this for a recipe, so I didn't really get it for the best price
Total spent: $14.01

3 boxes of kitchen trash bags
2 bottles liquid fabric softener
2 cans Lysol disinfectant (with free bonus small bottle)
2 Lyol toilet cleaner
1 box dishwasher detergent
1 package Windex wipes
Total spent: $2.38 (I was able to use $20 in Register Rewards and combine coupons to maximize my savings)

Rite Aid
3 bags Chex mix
1 pack Mentos gum
2 boxes Ziploc bags
1 bottle Organix conditioner (Will be free after a mail-in-rebate)
got2B Hair Gel (Will be free after Rite Aid single-check rebate)
got2B mousse (Will be free after Rite Aid single-check rebate)
Adidas body spray (Will be free after Rite Aid single-check rebate)
Total spent: $6.19

Lowes Foods
cilantro (I needed this for a recipe, so I didn't really get it for the best price)
Michelob Ultra lime and cactus beer (couldn't resist because we were having spicy food on Sunday)
2 boxes Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn
2 limes
4-count Hero rolls
2 Knorr side dishes
1 box Suddenly Salad
1 Peroxicare toothpaste
Total spent: $11.86 (I used a bunch of coupons, which doubled, and also had a $2 off your order coupon that I'd saved from a previous shopping trip)

white rice
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 blocks cheese
Total spent: $8.76

Grand Total: $43.20


  1. Planning is the key. Planning is not something I am really good at, and I definitely need lots of practice... But I keep trying. You Can Do It!

  2. i wish i could save like that. but we are a family of 9- some big eaters too- and i live in a rural area that has only 1 store!! so i don't have the choices others do.i spend $100 a week for us and that is without any extras. i bake, grow a garden - which i recently lost the whole thing!-and coupon what i can but......