Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Shopping List Can Beat Up Your Shopping List!

Over the last few years I've had the same request from friends and coworkers as soon as they hear my grocery shopping weekly budget is only $60.  They all want to see my reciepts.  Well, reciepts are one thing but I think the far more important piece of paper I can show you is the list I make. 

Big Daddy and I had an (almost) teenaged wedding, and after awhile the old folks did indeed wish us well.  Young as we were, we made a lot of mistakes.  The first was putting Palmolive in the dishwasher the very first night we moved into our first apartment after our honeyoon.  (Side note: bubbles and Little Mama do not mix well.  I have filled MANY rooms thanks to my habit of abusing Mr Bubble.)  That mistake was bad, but one of the most harmful to our newly-joined checking account was this item:

Now, the list items are CLEARLY all essentials, there's no problem there.  The real issue is the lack of forethought into the shopping venture.  This isn't even the shopping list of a woman with a meal plan, it certainly isn't the list of a woman with a shopping budget!

THIS is the list of a woman with a shopping budget!

Behold, my actual, honest-to-God shopping list for this very week.  Every single penny of my budget is accounted for.  Inlaid formulas calculate every item's tax, coupon savings, everything.  The budget is split into my 5 main food categories so that I am sure I am buying balanced.  As you can see, I will be getting approximately 32 pounds of produce, 6 pounds of meat, 4 gallons of milk, a pound of natural cheese, a dozen eggs, 2 loaves of bread, a pound of honey, a pound of butter, and 4 pounds of rice for just shy of $60.  That includes tax, and a whopping 5 coupons.  Not bad, eh?

Every single Wednesday when the loss leaders arrive in my mailbox I clear out the spreadsheet from last week, get out my lovely pink coupon folio and sit down at the kitchen table to plan my budget.  I go through and find all the items in every loss leader that is tasty-looking and under my budget limits ($2/pound for meats, $1/pound for produce, a minimum of 50% off any non-essential processed items, cheapest available for staples like milk, flour, honey, etc.) and load them into the spreadsheet.  Once they are in I am able to delete and add as needed, change quantities to take full advantage of sales, and add coupons in.  

A bonus to the spreadsheet is the ability to price-match in the stores  For example, if I go to Aldi first to picck up the milk advertised in the loss-leader and notice a non-advertised price on strawberries that beats the advertised Kroger price, I will buy those strawberries right there in the Aldi.  Often I have come home having spent less that I originally budgeted this way. 

I still use the old piece of paper on the fridge to list staples we are out of and a few special requests from Big Daddy, but they get transferred onto the spreadsheet come Wednesday. 

Is the spreadsheet more work than slapping a quickie list on a cutie-pie paper list?  Yes indeedy.  Will you ever leave the grocery store having gone over budget or without an essential? NO YOU WILL NOT!  This spreadsheet took some time to set up, but it has saved me SO much money and time!  Give it a try for a month and see if you ever go back!

Happy penny pinching!

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Must Be the Introduction to the Opposite Sketches!*

How many of you heard that story about the woman who planned her family's meals a year in advance as a way to take control of her family's finances?  Well, if you haven't, then here is the story.  Basically, this woman started planning every meal for every day of the year as a way to save money.  It's the old "make a shopping list based on what you will cook this week" theory, only on crack.  People assumed I loved this story.  It flooded my email inbox and my Facebook wall. 

Watch out now, cause Little Mama is about to BLOW YOUR MINDS!
Are you ready?


The exception of course is holiday meals, 'cause if I ever set a Thanksgiving table without turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish and fried apples, Big Daddy would consider it grounds for divorce.

Here's the thing, I tried that "shop to cook" theory years ago, but it simply is too constricting.  I like to cook on a whim, I want to open the pantry and be creative.  I want to be able to change plans when Big Daddy comes home late or that dead mouse the dog dragged in after lunch killed my appetite for meat.  I found that what looked good on paper on Sunday very, very often did not feel good on Thursday.  I felt like I was trapped.  I can't imagine that what looked good on paper in January will still feel great in sun-soaked July.

Far-planning meals deprives you the opportunity to try new dishes out, or new ingredients you find on a shelf at a rock-bottom price.  In order to stay frugal, you stick with the few ingredients you know will be cost-effective.  Basically, you are eating the same boring stuff all the time. 
The year-long meal plan lady said that she used to do a lot of compulsive shopping and wasting of food, and that they ate out a lot.  Certainly, making a meal plan is a good way to get some control, I'm just saying, it shouldn't end there.  Shopping to the meal-plan is a lot like hard-core dieting, for most people it works only until the novelty wears off, then you fall off he wagon.

So what do I do?  I shop to stock rather than shop to cook.  I buy balanced, a fifth of my budget in the dairy, a fifth on meats, a fifth on vegetables, a fifth on fruit, and a fifth on staples and convienience foods.  I buy what's in season, what I can get on deep sale using coupons and loss-leaders, and what is unexpectedly at a discount in the store.  I stock up on whatever is cheapest that week, and keep my mind open.  MOST IMPORTANTLY, I KEEP MY PANTRY, FRIDGE, AND FREEZER STOCKED AT ALL TIMES!  A couple of times a week I will poke around and see what's there, and I come up with meals.  It also ensures that I use up all the leftovers.  After all, the second rule fo tightwadery is

Thou Shalt Not Waste Anything, EVER!

After shopping to stock for awhile, you start realizing that you don't need meal plans, you have complete control of your kitchen and you already know what is in there!  You don't need a piece of paper to tell you what to cook, because you have enough practice cooking you can just go in there and whip something up.

This is not a new concept, it is what our foremothers did when they came across this country!  Trips to town for staples were few and far between, milk and eggs depended on who was having babies, and meat depended on what got shot on the way home.  You kept the larder and the pantry stocked because it was senseless not to (what if a blizzard hit?  Can't run out for that one can of cream of mushroom you forgot to pick up!) and you cooked what you had.  Creativity and practice saved the day adn fed our families. 

Reclaim your heritage!  Shop to Stock and throw away all the meal-plans!  You'll thank me, I promise!

Lord, I'm getting all worked up over here!  Time for a White Russian and a nap!

*you 80's babies know what I'm talking about, but for those poor souls unfamiliar with Moose, Alasdair and Alannis before she was ironic, check this out, ay?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Mama Told Me, You'd Better Shop Around!

Well, Momma was right.  Call her up, tell her she was right and you should have listened.  It'll make her day.  If y'all get nothing else from this blog, get this

The First Rule of Tightwadery:


Focus on what I said now, you need to actually KNOW for actual FACT how much that kumquat costs at at least one other store if you want to get the best deal.  Don't assume that just because you're buying a kumquat at Walmart you are getting the best deal.  Also don't assume that because the store is having a GIANT KUMQUAT SALE! that you are getting the best deal in town.  In both of these cases, you probably are not.

I know what you're thinking, "Little Mama, does that mean I have to go drive all over creation checking prices?  Cause I just don't need to save a few cents on a kumquat that bad!"  Well, let me reassure you.  Yes, you DO need to save a few cents on a kumquat if you can, that is the whole point of tightwadery, and no, you do not need to drive all over creation.  Let me introduce you to the LOSS LEADER!


I will almost bet you have one of these in your house right now.  Probably in a BIG stack of newspapers and junkmail.  Haven't ever looked at one? Here's why you should.

"Loss Leader": Sale ads sent out weekly by most grocery stores in junk mail packets and/or newspapers advertising weekly specials, including DEEPLY DISCOUNTED PRODUCT THE STORE IS OFFERING AT A LOSS TO LEAD YOU INTO THE STORE!!!!

That's right, the grocery stores sell a few things every single week at such a discount they lose money on it just to tempt you into the store.  And they advertise them.  And send the ads, with prices, straight to your house.  For free.  They are also available online at the grocery store websites! Comparison shopping on your couch, in your jammies with a White Russian.  HOORAY for technology!

How to save money on your groceries?

ONLY BUY LOSS LEADERS!  Stock up when it's on sale, never pay full price again.  But more on that later.

***CAUTION!*** not all loss leaders are alike!  Also, not all products in the loss leader are great deals!  Case in point, this week's best seasonal Loss Leader


My city happens to bless me with six (6!) major grocery stores within a few miles.  Every one of them is offering srrawberries as a front-page deal on their loss-leaders. I only pay $1 per pound for any produce. Strawberries are a good deal for about two weeks a year where I live.  Let's see if I can buy some this week:
Fiesta -                                                                  Kroger -
DOUBLE my budget!                                            Better, but not really.
Albertsons:                                                              Aldi:
2lbs for $3=1lb for $1.50 NOPE!                           $1.49 a pound.  Nyet.

Tom Thumb:                                                       Sprouts:
$1.47/pound.  NO NO NO!!                             $.99lb.  DING DING DING!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! 

Important to note here, the "value" store here is actually charging the most, and the "Boutique" stores are offering the lowest prices!  This proves my point:

Never ever assume you know the price based on a store's reputation!

So go grab that pile of junkmail and filter through it, you might just be surprised.

More loss-leader treasures later!  Until then, happy penny-pinching!