Saturday, March 20, 2010

My meal-planning and grocery shopping method...

I did my grocery shopping yesterday, and it turned out to be a great week for saving!  My total, before my Kroger Plus Card savings and coupons, was $100.04.  My total after coupons and sales?


This was including value packs of chicken, shrimp, and lean ground beef.  

I've really become a believer in saving money with coupons and sales.  It takes a little time, but it saves us hundreds of dollars a month, and that's money Micah and I definitely need. 

I'm definitely not an expert, but I thought I'd go through my process with you and show you how the magic works.  

1.  Newspaper 

I subscribe to the Houston Chronicle.  

I have never been a newspaper kind of girl, but when I decided I wanted to start couponing, I realized that I didn't want to have to run to the store every Sunday to pick up a paper.  So I went ahead and subscribed, and even though I spend $52 a year to have it delivered every week, the savings more than make up for that.  Heck, I almost saved that much this week alone!

So every week, I go through the coupon inserts in the paper, clip the ones I might even remotely use, and file them in my handy-dandy coupon binder (made from a cheap accordion file Micah had laying around).  Then I go through the binder once a month or so to clean it out and get rid of expired coupons.

(Ignore my ugly hand in the picture... it wouldn't stand up on its own.)

2. Printable Coupons and Other Deals

Then, I try and keep up with the printable coupons that come out throughout the week.  I generally use Money Saving Mom and My Litter - both post great deals and links to great printable coupons.  Money Saving Mom is based out of Ohio, and My Litter is based out of Houston, so both are useful for different purposes.  My Litter often posts great deals around town - free movie tickets or free restaurant deals.  For my Dallas friends, check out My Dallas Mommy for Dallas-specific deals.

Also check out  It's an easy site to use, and you don't have to sign up for anything. :)

The first time you try to print a coupon off the web, you'll probably be prompted to install a "coupon printer." Don't be alarmed.  It's not spyware or anything like that.  I think it's just necessary to print the barcodes.  It doesn't take long at all, and it won't take up a lot of space on your computer.

I generally print two of each coupon (that's usually the limit for each computer).  And just like the newspaper coupons, I file them away in the appropriate section in my binder.

3. Sale Papers/Meal Planning 

Sale Papers 
The sale papers for the grocery stores in Houston generally come out on Wednesdays (except for CVS and Walgreens).  Somehow, they just get delivered to our mailbox.  I'm not sure how that happened, but I'm sure that if you're not getting them now, you can sign up on each store's website to have it delivered to you at no cost.  

I generally only shop at Kroger, but occasionally there will be an awesome deal at Randall's or HEB that I just can't pass up.

I just keep them sitting on my desk until Friday.  That's when I do my meal planning and grocery shopping for the week. 

Menu Planning 
On Friday, I sit down and start meal planning.  I usually look at which meats and vegetables are on sale at Kroger and go from there.  I start a list for the grocery store and a menu.

For instance, this week, Kroger had shrimp and chicken breast on sale.  I had been wanting to try Pioneer Woman's Penne A La Betsy, which called for shrimp, so I added that meal to my menu and shrimp to my list.  Then, I thought that I needed to throw something healthy in the mix with all that heavy cream and butter, so I added grilled chicken salad to my menu for the week, as well as the chicken to my list.

So that's sort of the logic - what's on sale, and what can I make with that?

At that point, I go back to Money Saving Mom and My Litter (and sometimes other sites) to check out the coupon match-ups.  They'll list the things that are on sale at each store, and show you which coupons you can pair with the sales to generate awesome savings - including links to printable coupons you may have missed!  My Litter also has an incredible new feature - a coupon database! You can search the database for any product, and it'll pop up with any coupons that are available and where you can find them.

These deals may also lead to items for the menu.  Like this week, I saw that Kroger had the Hormel Refrigerated Entrees on sale - buy one get one free.  The matchup listed a $1/1 printable coupon, so that means that I could print two coupons, and after the sale, I could get two Hormel Entrees for very cheap.  So I added Hormel Beef Roast Au Jus (which is SO delicious) and some homemade macaroni and cheese to my menu.

I also try to remember which high-value coupons I have in my binder, so I can make my own deals when the websites miss them.  Like this week, I knew I had two $1.5o/1 Oscar Meyer Bacon coupons.  Kroger had them on sale for $2.99, so each package ended up being $1.49 - a great price for bacon! Then I decided that I could make BLT's one night this week and added that to the menu.

Sometimes I just get a craving for something that may not be on sale.  And in that case, I just bite the bullet and pay full-price for the ingredients I need.  But I do try to plan around sales - especially when they're great like this week!

Target Prices 
I'm discovering as I shop more that I'm developing a target price for each thing I buy - a number I don't like to go over.  

For example, for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, it's $1.99/pound.  Kroger and other stores often put chicken on sale as low as $1.65/pound, so when it goes on sale, I stock up.  That way, I don't have to pay $2.50/pound when I need it in a week or two.

Stock-Up Items 
After I make my menu for the week, I check for things that are at a super-low price that I may need to stock up on.  

Like this week, as a part of a Kroger Promotion, Micah's favorite Aquafresh Extreme Clean toothpaste was on sale for $1.99.  I had a $1/1 Aquafresh coupon, so the toothpaste ended up being only $.99.  That's actually more than I'd like to spend on toothpaste (because you can often get it for free or almost-free at CVS or Walgreens), but Micah's very particular about his toothpaste, and I often have to pay full-price for it.  So $.99 was a great deal.

 4.  Go Shopping!!

And that's basically it!

It sounds like a lot, but I honestly don't spend more than 2-3 hours per week on everything.  I was definitely slower at first, but I'm finally getting the hang of it.  And at this point in my life, the time is worth the savings.  Ask me in a few years, when I'm attempting to juggle kids and a career, and I may have a different answer. :)

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