Thursday, April 22, 2010

Questions Answered: Planning Ahead

An Email I recently received from my brother.--Hope you don't mind my sharing, bro :)
If you have a question you think I might be able to answer drop me a line at danidooley(at)yahoo(dot)com.
I have a question. I feel like it is impossible to be a good shopper in R---. A-- and I have tried, but have seen little effect. The problem with R--- is that there are only two grocery stores and so there's no real competition. Prices in here are just not that great. So we drive 20 minutes to WinCo in I----, which has much better prices, but still not the deals that you are able to find in the Tacoma area. Partially it's because the stores around here don't have coupons, they just have "sales" (not really sales, I've learned, just good advertising).

Do you think there's anything we can do or are we just in a bad place? We comparison shop between the different stores for the lowest prices and print some manufacturer's coupons. Is there anything more that you think we could do? I'm sure this wouldn't be on the top of your list of preferred activities in I--, but maybe we can find some time to stop in at the grocery store while you're here and you can give us pointers?

I also must thank you and your grocery price index. Two weeks ago A--- looked at your grocery price index before shopping. At Winco we looked for cereals below .10 cents/oz. We found that several of the bagged cereals were .08 cents/oz, so we bought the ones that looked the best. The next day I was driving past Albertsons and they had a big sign that said "Quaker 5 for 5," so I went inside and checked out the deal that they had. While my mind was thinking, "Wow, that's only $1 per box," I realized that even though they were only $1 each, they still would cost .12 cents/oz. Although that's not a bad deal, we liked our .08 cents/oz cereal better!

Love you Dani!
Dear J

Grocery shopping would be fine when I visit. I'm kinda weird--I like comparing stores in different parts of the country. I thought it was so crazy that in Dacia's Walmart in South Carolina they had all of one aisle dedicated to pickles!!!!

As for your shopping dilemma--I looked up grocerys in R--- and it looks like you have an Albertsons and a Broulins (?), several Walgreens and a Walmart. Is that right? That should be enough to get some good deals. Especially Albertsons. I really like Albertsons and their sales are regional so they won't be affected by local supply and demand (same goes for Walmart and Walgreens)

I'm guessing, and I apologize if I'm wrong, that your problem is not "not having good sales" but rather not having the background of a personal price index and not having all the skills necessary in the planning ahead department. Ouch, I hope that wasn't mean, but it's not your fault--coupon shopping is a slowly acquired skill. It takes lots of practice and, heck, I still screw up all the time!

You've got my price list. Here is another one that is very useful from my new favorite website Now I suggest that you take these two lists, a highlighter, a pen and a piece of paper to the table and sit down to do some comparing. Highlight the items on the lists that you use in your household. Transcribe these items to your piece of paper with the corresponding prices. You have just started your own price lists. Now brainstorm all the other items that you use regularly (even if you only buy it every 3-4months it is still purchased regularly!). Write these items on your list too. If you know what price you usually pay for these items write that down too. Your price list is going to be a work in progress. Compare your price list to sales weekly to see if prices go down below what you have on your list. Write the sale prices down and continue tracking them over a few months time. Pretty soon you will start to notice a pattern of lowest, highest and decent prices emerge.

Now is a good time to also consider how brand loyal you are. Today I was in the Fred Meyer purchasing peanut butter. The store brand was on coupon sale for $1. It's sale price without coupon was $1.99, the Skippy peanut butter right next to it cost $3.29 and the Jif on the other side cost $3.99! As I was pulling away from the peanut butter a lady walked up and was comparing the different sizes and costs. She picked up a tub of Skippy. I offered her an extra coupon I had for the Freddy's peanut butter but she turned it down. She turned down $2.29 in savings because of the brand she wanted! The sad thing is not too long ago Skippy was on sale for $1.50/jar and there were manufacturers coupons for .50 off one jar. If she'd planned ahead and was watching prices she would have known to stock up back then. She could have bought 3 times as much of her favorite peanut butter then for the same price she paid today. How brand loyal are you? Are you willing to pay more because you didn't plan ahead OR will you substitute OR will you carefully track your favorite brand items on a price list?

When I talk about planning ahead I mean more than just tracking prices with your own price index. To optimize your grocery budget you need to watch the sales, purchase only those things that are competitive prices according to your price index and plan meals strictly according to those things you purchase and have on hand from previous week's purchases. I have talked about this extensively in my Grocery Shopping 101 series of posts on the blog. I know you are already familiar with this stuff. I also know that it sounds really overwhelming at first. Try taking it one step at a time. Decide to shop only one store at first. Only compare prices at that store. Only make shopping lists for that store. You may not be getting ALL the best prices in town but you will be getting better prices than you used to, when you were going into stores with a shopping list without having looked at the sales flyers.

As you shop this one store and stock up on items when they are on sale you will notice that you have a lot of "extra" stuff hanging around. I just told you about the 10 jars of peanut butter I purchased today and the Skippy that was on sale a while back. Both times I purchased as much as I could because it was a great price. I won't purchase it again until it is on sale for a great price again. In the meantime I've got all the peanut butter I need until that next great sale hits. I do this with EVERYTHING. When toothpaste is a great price I buy as many as I can. When canned peaches are on sale I load up on them. Same for meats, yogurts, cereals, pasta sauce, pasta, rice, flour, sugar, EVERYTHING! This is called stockpiling. Stockpiling allows me to go certain periods of time without purchasing items thus avoiding paying full price for them. I have not done a post strictly focused on stockpiling because it seems pretty straightforward to me; I suppose I could do one in the future if you have more questions about it.

These rules apply to personal care items too. You don't want to find out you've run out of shaving cream while in the shower. You don't want to run out of toilet paper. You don't want to lose your deodorant at the gym and not have a back up at home. Plan ahead and stockpile when it's on sale.

The last bit of planning ahead you need to do before going to the grocery store is menu planning. PLAN YOUR MENUS ACCORDING TO THE SALES BEFORE GOING TO THE STORE! Think about what's in your pantry, freezer, refrig and what's on your list when you plan your menu. Plan your menu to use up all perishables ASAP. Plan your menu with balanced healthy meals. Plan your menus to use what's in your pantry and freezer before using what's on your list. The reason why I suggest you plan your menu before shopping even though you are "only" buying sale items is because sometimes you will need a few extras. If you are having Tacos on Tuesday and you can't stand to eat a taco without sour cream but there isn't any in the refrig--put it on your list. If you are having Roasted Chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans for dinner on Saturday but you just ran out of salt--put it on your list. If you purchased a ton of cold cereal when it was practically free 3 weeks ago but you've just run out and you don't have any eggs, oatmeal or cream of wheat left in your stockpile either--nothing to eat for breakfast!--put it on your list. Worse than spending too much at the grocery store is eating something you don't like (no sour cream, no salt), not eating at all (no breakfast items) AND going back to the store again and again and again because you need, and forgot, one more thing, again.

I hope this helps a little bit. I'd be glad to coach you anytime on specifics. email or phone or in person when I get to R---.

Love you!

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