Losing the Grocery Game

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Fred and I are not frugal people. But with this economic “downturn,” or whatever the latest euphemism is for the disaster that is our financial system, we decided that we should do a better job of saving money on groceries–provided, of course that we did not end up with crummy bruised fruit and limp lettuce just because it was on sale.

Our first attempt involved setting a monthly budget for food. After blithely sailing past the limit somewhere in the second week of the month, we were forced to accept that our “budget” was functioning as a testament to our complete lack of thrift or discipline. And so I signed up for The Grocery Game, which promises to lower your food bill by about 60% through clipping coupons and watching sales.

Theoretically, it works like this: For about $1.25 a week, I sign up to receive lists of items that are on sale at the two local stores where I shop. Every Sunday, I pull out the coupons from the Sunday paper. On a specified day of the week, I check the Grocery Game site for the updated list for each stores. The list tells you when items are at rock-bottom sale prices and when to use your coupons. You then visit the store to stock up on things while they’re at the lowest possible price.

Here’s how we’re doing so far:

Week 1, Sunday: I’ve signed up, paid my fee, and read the rules. They note that it takes roughly 12 weeks to get going with their system. On Sunday, Fred and I purchase a copy of The Durham Herald-Sun. I dutifully clip all the coupons and stack them on my desk.

Monday: Pile of coupons stuffed in my purse, I go to print the list at work. (Our printer at home has broken. We hope to buy a new one with the money we save on groceries.) I discover that the coupons on the list are in The New & Observer, not the Herald-Sun. Undaunted, I print the list anyway, selecting items I think I might need.

Saturday: After several failed attempts during the week, we finally make it to the store. I shuffle through lists and coupons, trying to find what I’m supposed to buy. We emerge some two hours later (our visits normally take about one) with $143 worth of groceries–cheaper than usual. We’re on our way.

Week 2, Sunday: We don’t get around to looking for a News & Observer until the evening. They are sold out everywhere. We go to Whole Foods, where we pick up enough food for about two meals for around $120.

Weeks 3 and 4: We travel for the holidays. We eat out a lot.

Week 5: Forget to buy N&O. Another run to Whole Foods.

Week 6: Decide to subscribe to N&O, for an additional $100 a year, to make sure we get coupons. Purchase that Sunday’s edition for $1.50. Re-read directions for list. Discover that we need to go on certain days of the week for rock-bottom sale prices. These days are different for the two stores we frequent. (Note: Whole Foods is not one of those stores.) Realize more planning may be involved than we initially thought.

Week 7: We make it to the store, with the few coupons we’ve been able to accumulate clutched in our hands. Begin to utilize “stockpiling” method (buying lots of items when they’re on sale). Buy 10 jars of salsa and mustard, 10 bags of Starbucks coffee, 10 bags of cat litter, and 10 cans of air freshener. (“We never use air freshener!” Fred exclaims. “That’s because it’s not on sale!” I respond.) At checkout, learn that there are limits on the discounts and that 2 of our groups of 10 won’t get it. Spend $248.

Realize we need shelves to store all this extra food. We’ve been told Costco has great deals on things like this as well as food. Head over to Costco. Purchase membership for $50. Buy set of shelves for $100.

Week 8: Shelves still not set up. N&O subscription has not yet been delivered. Forget to buy paper again. Discover we’ve missed sale days at both stores again this week, which is particularly disappointing since Harris Teeter had Bing cherries. Have dinner consisting of collard greens with salsa, both of which were on sale. Go to Whole Foods and discover whole chickens on sale for 99 cents a pound, not to mention wine. Spend $111.

This week: I travel for work most of the week. Fred will have to live on chicken and salsa.

6 thoughts on “Losing the Grocery Game

  1. Costco is great for bulk.For the absolute basics check out your local Aldi store (www.aldi.com)They score the best for house-brand basic food products in most surveys. We use them occasionally when Sams Club doesn’t have what we need.The stores tend to be located in neighbourhoods going downhill (cheap per-sq foot rental space!) and they are no-frills in nature: leftover boxes instead of bags, rent a cart for 25 cents…but very clean and efficient. They don’t advertise so most Americans have never heard of them.The company was founded by two German POW’s who were grocers before WW2. With lots of time on their hands in a British camp, they worked out the details of the business plan and began recruiting future store managers from the camp population. Legend has it that one of the guards was one of the first UK managers.al

  2. Thanks, Al! I’ll see if Durham has an Aldi’s. The weird thing about Costco was that the toilet paper we bought there turned out to be $2 more expensive (for the same amount) than at Kroger. But that could have been a fluke. There are a couple of local markets that cater to the Latin American population that tend to be cheap too. Maybe we should revisit those.

  3. We get our fresh fish in bulk from the local ethnic market up the street. It’s about 50% cheaper than your average Kroger and tastes great. The fruits and veggies tend to be much cheaper as well and in fairly good shape.al

  4. I have discovered BJ's like Sams and Costco–but they take coupons and offer in store coupons. I got $15 dollars off my bill just for Buying 3 Kraft Items which had Q's from them and I also had them LOL!! (The cheese so to speak was free after all.) Plus the meat price is worth it. Then I just watch Publix for their sale and pick it up if it's a deal. Ex. Fresh Chicken Leg Quarters for .59 that pack feeds all 6 of us and it cost me $3.00! LOL I hate Q'ing but my husbands pay cut was tooooo big for us not to do something. Good Luck!!

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