How I Grocery Shop

Did you know that second to a mortgage, the average American’s next highest bill is their grocery bill? Crazy-sauce, I know.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, we all need to eat. BUT…did you know that you do NOT have to pay full-price for fresh, quality, healthy, and even organic groceries? Let me show you how easy it is!

First things first…

Why I don’t believe in couponing:

We’ve all heard of Extreme Couponing. Where you see happy people walk into a grocery store and 45 seconds of TV magic later, come out with $800 of groceries for $0.14. It might look fine and well, but they don’t paint a clear picture of the investment couponing requires. I have done lots of research on couponing, including attending classes. Here are the reasons why I don’t believe in couponing, even on a casual level:

  • Takes too much time. Not only the several hours it takes collecting and clipping the coupons and comparing them to current store deals, but it can double your time in the grocery store too.
  • Limits what you’re able to buy. Sure, I might be able to get 16 boxes of tampons for free this week…but what if I really need celery and italian seasoning?
  • Coupons are typically for processed pantry foods. The most expensive items in your cart food-wise are typically meat, produce, and dairy. And coupons don’t typically cover many, if any, of those.

Now, let’s be fair here, I know many people love couponing and consider it a hobby and well worth their time. In that case I say go for it! But I will argue until the day I die that it’s not the quickest, cheapest, nor healthiest way to shop for your family.

You can pay 1/2 price for quality, healthy groceries without clipping a single coupon.

And it’s actually quite simple.

Here’s how:

Step 1: Before you shop…

  • You first need to know how much you should be spending on groceries per month. The quick and easy explanation is $100 per person, per month. This includes anything you can get at a typical grocery store – food and produce, on down to basic cleaning supplies, pharmacy goods, baby items, and even pet food. I bet you have a million questions, so see this post that will explain everything in detail.

  • Next, you need a method to track your grocery budget. My simple no-fail trick? Track your budget weekly instead of monthly! For my family of 5 I get $500/month. Broken down that’s $125/week on a 4-week month. See the video above for a detailed explanation on this. I believe in buying everything with an electronic card instead of cash, debit or credit is fine based on your level of self-control. Just don’t use cash, because tracking cash is a nightmare. See more on why and how we use credit cards, and check out the video below.

  • Lastly, and this is my #1 single most important trick on the whole planet of grocery-ness…ONLY GO SHOPPING 1X PER WEEK. NO MATTER WHAT. If you follow no other rules, follow this one. Plan ahead, make it count, and then never step food back in the store for 6 days or the wrath of Jordan will come through this computer screen and will spank you! Use Sunday to plan your meals for the week, planning your meals first around what you have in your fridge/pantry/freezer, and second what’s on sale (more about this below), then choose a day to go shopping. If you run out of milk, send your spouse. If they will walk out with more than 1 gallon of milk only, borrow some from a neighbor. Keep powdered milk on-hand. Eat toast instead of cereal. But do NOT step foot back in that store! Why? Because that one gallon of milk will cost you $50 in things you suddenly “need to have”! Just trust me on this one. 6 days is not that long, you can do it!
  • Decide what you need. I recommend keeping a grocery list of things you need in your phone  because we are never without our phones.  I separate my list by the two stores I shop at (Walmart and Costco – more on Costco at the bottom) and the things I typically buy there. Basic rule of smart grocery shopping, never go to the store without a list!!
  • Look at what’s on sale. This is the crutch of this whole operation! All you need to do is be aware of what the good deals are for the week, and buy those! How do you know? Two ways:
    • Check the junk mail ads. I used to do it and it takes a little time, but works fine. Take the ads for the stores you like to shop at, and focus on the front and back pages mostly. Check out the deals and prices and circle or take note of what the good deals are that week, and stock up on them.
    • Use DealsToMeals. I HIGHLY recommend this method, vs looking at the ads. It’s the coolest website that I discovered years ago. She takes the ads from the stores in your state (nation-wide and expanding daily), puts all the weekly deals in a spreadsheet, and flags the best deals for you! It’s SO SIMPLE! That way you just scan the list, look at all the flagged deals, add what you need to your shopping list with one click, print it out, and go shopping (more on that in a sec)! If it’s not flagged, ignore it and wait – there is no need to buy things full-price…no coupons needed! The site costs under $5/month, you’ll make that back in cheese in your first 5 minutes in the store, I promise.
  • Plan your meals. Deals to Meals actually makes a weekly meal plan for you (main, sides AND dessert for 5 days of the week. Yeah, totally amazing) based on whats on sale! Otherwise just make your list around what’s on sale and what you have on-hand that you need to use up. Making a meal plan BEFORE shopping is key, so you know what you need to pick up to complete any recipes/meals.

Step 2: Get shopping!

Now that you have your shopping budget, list, and meal plan, hit the store! I recommend taking your shopping list and hitting the nearest Walmart so you can get all the best prices at one stop by price-matching! (more in a sec). If you DON’T have a Walmart close buy just choose the store with the best deals and shop there that week. 

How to Price-Match:

  • If you prefer to take the ads with you and not use D2M, simply circle the items you want so you can find them easily. It still helps to make a list so you don’t miss anything.
  • Wal-mart will match store-brand to store-brand. So if Western Family milk is on sale, you can match the Great Value brand at Walmart. It doesn’t explain this in detail in their policy, but I’ve asked multiple checkers and they all said that’s how they do it. Each checker is different and their ad-match policy is a little ambiguous, so just be sure to ask them what they will allow. But you will find the best deals on the store-brand items most of the time.
  • Bring a pack of post-its, or blank stickers or labels. I like to use those little circle yard sale stickers. As you add something to your cart, write the price-matched price on the sticker and stick it right on the product. That way your checker will know exactly what is being matched and what isn’t, which reduces the chance of error AND makes your checker love you :). My recommendation? Do NOT use a sharpie to write the price on the product. If you write it, you’re committed to it! I am known for putting things back once at the register, or deciding to pass on something if I am unable to price-match it for some reason. Don’t commit to the product until you BUY it!
  • If something is an amazing deal don’t just buy one…buy many. Stock up!! Check out my FOOD posts for ideas on how to store food. Stick within your budget, but be sure to grab extras, especially pantry items like baking and canned goods. This will build you a nice stockpile in no time, so you can “shop” your own house instead of the store on weeks that you are tight budget-wise. See my price-matching posts for ideas on how I do this. 
  • Make sure the ounces match. If a 16oz box of pasta is on sale at one store, make sure you are grabbing a 16 ounce box at Walmart. Likewise, if the ad is for price per EACH (i.e. per orange), don’t try to match price per POUND (i.e. per pound of oranges). It needs to be the same unit of measurement.
  • I used to start with the home goods section first and end with produce so the heaviest stuff (shampoo, baby food, diapers) is on the bottom of my cart.  I now hit the produce, dairy, and meat  sections first. It started that way because they were closest to the store entrance at the Walmart I shop at. But now, it’s more because that’s where the most savings are, the healthiest items are, and I tend to spend a little more time in those sections. I lose steam after 30-40 minutes of shopping and tend to skip things at the bottom of my list. I’d rather skip chips and deodorant than the awesome produce/meat/dairy deals that week.
  • Get familiar with Walmart’s Ad-Match policy before you go, just so you’re clear on everything.

Step 3: Time to check out

This can be nerve-wracking. Here are my tips for a smooth and easy checkout:
  • Choose your checker wisely. I hate, hate, hate to say this…but I have found the most “easy-going” checker to be the youngest male possible. Second option, youngest female available. Third choice, just choose someone that looks friendly (literally look for someone smiling!) so you won’t feel too intimidated when you’re price matching!
  • Be super friendly. Strike up a conversation. Ask them about themselves. Comment on the weather. Compliment their hair. It always helps when you are friendly, even if seemingly nothing comes from it.
  • Be assertive; don’t be timid! Here’s what I do:
    • I place my items on the belt and try to save my price-matching items for the end, if possible. I do this to make it easier on the checker (though, they all say it really makes no difference) but mainly so I can watch closely to make sure they get the pricing right.
    • Now, many Walmart checkers are trained to say “Do you have any ad-matching today?” before they even ring you up. If they don’t, I say, “I have a bunch of price-matching. Should I just put it all at the end?” They usually will say it doesn’t matter, so the real purpose is to prep them that it’s coming (just in case you get a cranky checker).
    • When it’s time for a price-matched item all you have to say is, “This is $0.49 at Smiths”…”These are $1.00/lb at Safeway…” You don’t technically have to show them an ad, all you have to do is name the price. This is where the stickers come in handy, because they can ring you up just as quickly as they would otherwise by glancing at the price you wrote on the sticker.
  • It never hurts to ask. Ever.
    • I mentioned to a friend one day in passing that I price-matched a 10lb bag of potatoes for $1. My friend was at Wal Mart one day, remembered my awesome price-matching deal, and simply mentioned to the cashier, “My friend got this bag at a different store for $1″ (she didn’t even know which store I price-matched from!). The checker gave her the $1 price, no questions asked. Never hurts to ask. Ever.
    • A different friend of mine found an amazing deal on diapers at Fred Meyer. Utah doesn’t have Fred Meyers, but we printed out the ad (from online), took it to Wal Mart, had to fight for it a little, but got the deal. Never hurts to ask. Ever.
    • Before I knew their policy, I tried price-matching 9lb of oranges for $0.99, but Wal Mart only sold their oranges priced per each. They weren’t going to let me match them, but I said, “I didn’t know that was your policy. Will you just let me do it this one time, please?” And they let me. Never hurts to ask. Ever.
  • Got coupons? Use them!
    • If you are a couponer, this is the best way to save the ULTIMATE amount of money. Price match, THEN apply the coupon. You’ll get even more savings that way!

Problem solving:

If you should run into any problems, here’s what I suggest:
They say you have to have the ad with you:
That’s baloney. They say directly on their national advertising “Price-match guarantee…no ad needed.” See their official policy HERE. If they say “You have to have the ads”, say “Not according to your policy, so I didn’t bring them. Sorry. Now, this is $0.49 at Smiths this week…” and move on. Be bold, be assertive. If they hassle you more, ask for a manager, or simply get out of line and go to a new checker. But fight back, the customer is always right!
They won’t let you price-match something:
This happens occasionally.
  • If oranges are on sale at a different store for $0.33/lb but they are $0.50 each at Wal Mart, they won’t let you price-match that. You can only price-match the oranges at Wal Mart if they are also sold by the pound.
If they challenge price-matching something that you feel should be price-matched, simply ask for a manager. Fight for what’s yours! (In a firm, but KIND way, of course :))
Other concerns:
“What if they don’t believe me?” “What if they get mad that I don’t have the ads?” “What if I hold up the line and make people mad?” “What if they don’t let me price-match this?”
My answer to all those concerns and more?
…..SO WHAT?!
  • Don’t feel bad about getting a good deal.I promise, Wal Mart is NOT losing money by doing this.
  • Don’t feel bad about holding up the line. Be courteous first and foremost, but take your time; don’t rush. If it takes 5 or 10 minutes longer to check out, people can move to a different line if they are in a rush. Be courteous and let someone ahead of you that only has 2 or 3 items, but otherwise, that’s the name of the game. You have every right to price-match and check out just like everyone else.
  • Don’t be afraid to question the checker or ask for a manager if they try to stop you from matching something. They won’t be offended or lose sleep over it, I promise. They are just trying to do their job, so certainly be kind and respect that, but also fight for what is rightfully yours.
  • Don’t get discouraged. First of all, this is way easier than it sounds in this post, I promise. You just need to try it. However, if your shopping trip doesn’t go as planned for whatever reason, contact me and I’ll help you through it the next time. :)  (see below)

 

And there you have it! It’s so easy, and you save so much money! Check out THESE posts for examples on how I (and others) have saved tons of money by price-matching, and THESE for deal shopping.

I also found THIS great article with 50 easy ways to save money on groceries, check it out.

Here’s a great question I got recently:
Hi Jordan! First I have to say I love this post… I read it and have been price matching ever since and saving a little more each time. I do have a question that I was wondering if you could clarify for me… if you can’t, that is fine too since I wasn’t exactly sure what this manager was trying to say. Here’s my scenario from my local WalMart last week: 
A local grocer had Miracle Whip 30 oz jars BOGO Free. In doing my other shopping, I decided to pick these up from WalMart instead of the local store. The ad specifically stated “save $4.99″, which is in line with WM’s ad match policy. My WM sells this product for $2.98 each. The customer service manager that was called over during my check-out said that I would get these as BOGO Free but would scan them at the price of the other store. When I asked for more clarification, this manager started mumbling and playing around with the computer and never did give me a good answer. I then just asked her to remove the items from my receipt and didn’t purchase them. 

Do you know if this manager would have scanned one of these items up at $4.99 and the second would have been free… or would they have scanned both in at $2.98 then given me a discount of $4.99 off the total? Like I said, I never did understand what this manager was trying to say, so I’m not sure what their “correct” way of handling this would be. I plan to call my local store and ask for clarification so that I know how to handle this the next time I go in, but thought I would run it past you too. Thanks in advance if you are able to answer this at all. -Chriss
Chriss – First of all, I’m so happy that you’ve been price matching, I hope it’s been saving you tons! As for your question…all I have to say is, EVERY WALMART IS DIFFERENT, and more importantly, every checker is different. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but it is. There is a Neighborhood Walmart by me that is super super super laid back. They will let me price-match anything, and I mean anything. They say outright “we are really flexible here so it’s no problem” when I ask them about something that I figure they won’t match for whatever reason. That being said, there are likewise Walmarts that are much stricter and don’t love price-matching as much, or simply do things differently. So if you end up having a weird experience then try again. Don’t let one certain checker or store keep you from price-matching. It’s their POLICY; it’s a huge part of their business model. They make plenty of money from price-matching items, otherwise they wouldn’t do it! Ok, now that that is out of the way…
In this case, it seems like the other store jacked up their price to $4.99/jar and was selling them BOGO, making them $2.50/jar, which is $0.48 less. They should’ve given you the jar for $2.50 each.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned…
Price-matching takes some quick (and sometimes complicated) mental math…which some checkers are not comfortable doing. I know that I personally am TERRIBLE at mental math. Here’s what I recommend: keep a calculator (you should have one on your phone) handy and do that math for them. Just say, “Smiths has these for BOGO at $4.99, so I did the math and it looks like it should be price-matched at 2 jars for $4.99 making them $2.50 each, does that sound right?”
Always ask them to verify, but do the math for them. You will have much more luck in getting correct price-matching. Also, buy some of those blank round garage sale stickers and stick the price-matched price to your items to keep things easier for you and the checker.
So, try again! Don’t let that stop you, and yes, you should’ve been able to match that just fine. :)
Jordan

Good luck, and enjoy the savings!

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**Note: I respect anyone who choose to coupon! I think it’s a great way to save money, and I understand  that it’s a hobby for some people, and I know plenty of people who really enjoy it. My method is built to support couponers, but also to create an option for those, like myself, who choose not to coupon.