Mastering the Art of Grocery Store Shopping

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Posted 09 Oct 2007 in Soulville

If you are like most people, you weren’t born knowing how to grocery shop. You may not have even paid half attention to what your parents tried to tell you when they toted you along to the store sometimes. The experience of having to do it for yourself (of course after you try to just eat out every night and go broke, or going to get the usual staple items of tuna and ramen and get tired of eating them) can be very frightening. I look forward to my grocery trips, but that’s because over the years I have learned how to do it right and save money! I will assume that everyone already possesses a decent set of pots and pans, spatulas, spoons, measuring cups, measuring spoons, trays, etc in addition to spices and seasonings (basic salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, butter, oil, etc).

Step 1:

The first step in successful grocery shopping is making a list of the things you need and want. One suggestion is to do it by categories of goods – meats, breads/grains, perishables, liquids, sweets, spices/seasonings, fruits, vegetables, dairy, non-food, condiments and sauces, etc. Put each category you choose in a different area of the sheet. It makes it easier to find when you’re moving through the store. It also can give you an idea of what you’re eating more of.

Step 2:

How much do you have to spend? Once you do a lot of shopping you will figure out how much eat item on average costs and that will help you in deciding how much you will spend when you go in and whether an item is overpriced. But no matter what, if you only have $20 to spend on groceries, that’s still $20. How can you best appropriate that money? If you have $20 and need to eat healthy for say four days and there is nothing in your house at the moment, that’s a stretch but don’t reach for the crap stuff immediately (cheap but deadly). You can make it – things that are normally cheaper but healthy are pastas, frozen veggies (cheaper and less salt than a can – it’s the closest to fresh you can get without it being fresh), peanut butter, bags of fruit (instead of individuals this route tends to be cheaper), smaller packages of meat (chicken legs, fish, the occasional turkey legs or even sometimes a roast). But whatever you have, know it and stick to it. When you are making your list and using some of the tools below (coupons, sale papers, etc), write down the prices and see what you can fit in, think about what you just kinda want but don’t nutritionally need, and prepare yourself for the store. As you put something in your basket, write down the cost and make sure you get the most cost efficient item (sometimes the price tag will have a cost per ounce or per pound on it – use this instead of just looking at overall cost) that tastes good to you. If you like Kellogg’s Raisin Bran but don’t like the store brand or Post, buy the Kelloggs cause you’re not gonna eat the other even if it was $2 less.

Step 3:

So you laughed at your mom or that lady in the store for having a zillion coupons for every single item she bought. They are smart – coupons are a manufacturer’s way of getting you to purchase their product but generally make the price of that item drop to the price of the store brand or below (store brand usually is the cheapest price in a store, but not always). Some let you buy two items and get same discounted price on both. Sometimes coupons don’t give you that great a deal. Say if you have a coupon for 35 cents off Stove Top Stuffing making it $1.00, but the store brand that tastes the same is already 85 cents, just buy the store brand. 15 cents may not sound like a lot but do that a few times and it’s over a dollar. A dollar for something else. So don’t be so quick to toss those ads that come to your house, grab the ones you’ll use and toss the rest. Go on the internet and look for particular brand websites – they will have coupons. Look on store websites – they may offer some too. Take your coupons and make sure to mark on your grocery list what items you have coupons for. This way when you are checking out, you remember to pull them out. No money off if you forget them!

Step 4:

The sales papers are a pretty good way to find certain items cheaper than normal – meats, sports drinks, sweets, fruit, etc. Sometimes what is on sale is still more expensive than the store brand or another brand, so don’t just say “well i’ll buy this because it’s on sale”. Write down the sales items but make sure you look at all the prices when you go in, you might find another bargain. Many stores now have their sales papers online each week and let you go on and browse, then print a list of the items you are interested in. Pretty time saving for me anyway. If you are in a town that has multiple stores, check out everyone’s sales papers.

Step 5:

Picking a store can be easy or difficult. One store you may eventually find always has the best cuts of meat at the best price – you may want to stick to them for just that if their other prices stink. You may find that one store has all you need at a price you can afford. That’s good too. If you have a deep freezer or a big freezer and find an item you really like (meat, veggies especially) on big time sale, but as much as you can – frozen items can always be thawed out later to make a great meal. You can also cook these types of items and then freeze to thaw out later for a 10 minute dinner. Choose a store based on convenience, but also look at the quality of items and how clean they keep the store. If there are bugs and rotten veggies and fruits, it’s not a great place to shop.

Step 6:

Sticking to the list is the hardest thing to do. You’ll see your oh so favorite item on the shelf and can’t resist, or think about “oooh i can make this later”. Well come back later if that’s what you want and need and can afford. But if it wasn’t on your list when you went in, it probably isn’t something you are going to use right away and may go to waste or let something else go to waste. Look for what you came for.

Step 7:

Fruits and veggies are fairly hard to buy if you don’t know how to buy. I can’t be the only one who has stood in the store on my cell phone having my mother talk me through buying something. These sites might help:

Step 8:

True it can be good to buy a few more than you need for some items if they are at a price you’re not likely to see again before you go shopping again. But a few items not to do this with are perishables that either do not freeze well or do not thaw well – eggs, milk, bread, etc. No need to overbuy these items – the prices will remain about the same over the course of time or have very minor increases.

Step 9:

Here are some tips about maneuvering around a grocery store. Remember that:

1) Grocery stores are set up to make you buy things you don’t want or need – it’s called marketing

2) The healthier and fresh items are out the outside perimeters of the store. This includes fruits, vegetables, meats, breads, dairy

3) More processed items are on the “innards” of the store – cereals, pastas, candy, canned food, frozen foods

4) Ever notice how in the cereal aisle, the healthy stuff is at your eye level and the sugary stuff is at a kids eye level? This again is marketing – if the kid can see it, they want it and it will somehow end up on the belt at checkout. This also holds true many times for the cost of an item – the higher priced items are usually placed in the easiest place for you to spot them. Look above or below your eye level to find the cheap stuff.

5) Do not pick up anything at the checkout. All of those items – magazines, sodas, candy, etc – is placed there for the impulse shopper. You may think you want it, but it’s generally the items they know people will grab just because they are there.

I hope these 9 steps have helped! Good luck in your grocery shopping! I will be back Thursday with a review of Microsoft Office 2007 then next Thursday with a how-to on Bit-Torrent. Catch ya later!


HarriMac enjoys a well lived life with a large serving of soul. Her special feature, Welcome to Soulville, appears every Thursday. Subscribe to the Welcome to Soulville feed to get new installments in your feed reader.

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