Simple Stewardship

Tips for Searching the Grocery Ads

Grocery shopping is simple, but when you’re trying to save every penny, it can feel overwhelming. I remember wandering the store in the beginning of my marriage on a near-nightly basis buying each ingredient for the meal I’d be making that night. It wasn’t until after my couponing journey that I realized how much I was probably overpaying for my groceries. Not only was I buying processed junk that is way more expensive than making things yourself (not to mention full of random, unnecessary ingredients), I paid no mind to how much things cost from day to day – I just paid what the shelf said. Since beginning my grocery stewardship journey, I’ve discovered that you could be paying double from one day to the next!

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So, in an effort to help you save as I’m learning to do, I’ve put together a few tips for getting the most of your time spent hunting through the ads. Now, you can use this to price match at Walmart, or you can use it to make several trips to local stores. I do both, regularly! Though, I typically try to buy my meat and produce at Kroger or Market Street where it tends to be fresher and higher quality – but I’ve also bought meat at Walmart more times than I can count and it’s great, too!

Tip #1 – Know Your Local Stores

In my area, we have three major grocery chains where people do their shopping – Kroger, Tom Thumb, and Albertson’s. We also have our big box stores (Walmart and Target), and the discount stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General), Health Food Stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) and pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens). All of  these places sell groceries. You should also be aware of the smaller stores in your area, though. Just a little bit of driving (sometimes just a street over from where I’m already traveling on a daily basis), and I am not far from an Aldi, an Elrod’s, a Carnival, a Sack N Save, and a Fiesta. These would probably never become my main store, but for a good enough deal, I would definitely make the trip – so I don’t feel bad price matching these stores. Not to mention, they run some amazing sales on name brand groceries. It’s definitely worth a little extra searching to find out what your local stores are, and what their sales are for a given week!

Tip #2 – Know Your Pantry

Every family has different ‘staples’ – things they use for almost everything. This is something that was brought to my attention during the year we stayed at my in-laws’ house. I would search high and low for beans, corn, and tomato sauce and find myself faced with cans of soup, spinach, and boxed potatoes. All fine foods, but not the stuff I was used to cooking with! It was a great lesson to learn, though, because I was trying to learn what our family’s staple foods were, and this definitely brought it to light. What your family regularly uses will likely be different from what my family uses, but shopping and ad-browsing will be infinitely easier as you gain an idea of what that is.
Another way in which you need to ‘know your pantry’ is to have a pretty good idea of how much of a given thing you have, and how much you’ll probably need in a month’s time. A whole month? Yes. That brings me to tip 3!

Tip #3 – Sales are cyclical, so you’ll usually get the best price on your groceries by buying a bunch at once, then waiting and buying again when they are cheap. There are four types of prices for any product – an ‘everyday’ price, a ‘good’ price, a ‘bad’ price, and a ‘stock up’ price. There’s a standard or everyday price for just about everything you buy, and you want to try to buy it for less than that. So, a good price is less than everyday, and a ‘stock up’ price is when the price is considerably less than everyday.

Tip #4 – Just because the product is listed in the ad at a certain price does not mean that it is a good price. This kind of goes along with knowing the prices on products, but I’ve seen so many ads with a huge photo of an item advertised for up to $1 more than the everyday price. I can’t overstate the importance of being generally aware of prices for things (the Cheapster app is great for this, and it’s the most intuitive and inclusive app I’ve found! If you find something better, let me know!). At least be aware of what you pay for your staples. Know that the going price for milk is $2, and eggs are .10/ea, and a family size box of cereal should never be more than $3. (The prices are different for different areas, but this is basically true for my area.) It will make everything easier!

Tip #5 – Check Online Ads

I used to receive the paper and I thought that was the only way to get the weekly grocery ads. Then, I decided to check online – and I’m so glad I did! For one, I can sit down and look at everything in one sitting. I also don’t have to try to juggle a piece of paper that’s 3x the width of me just to see how much meat costs. I have a list of the links to local ads, and I just click through. As an added bonus, I can click on most ads and have it email me my list with prices! Then I can just compile the lists together and put them in whatever medium I’m using that week for my list (though I’ve been enjoying the use of Reminders for this, because it’s shared with my husband and we can both shop that way.) Another great thing about online ads is that I can see what prices are at multiple stores! I walked into the Albertson’s near my daughter’s school once and found the ground beef there to be on a better sale than at the Albertson’s near my house where I had seen the paper ad! It’s usually pretty similar, but it can’t hurt to look.

Tip #6 – Know when to shop

In my area, Grocery store ads for most stores go Wednesday-Tuesday. Big Box stores, Pharmacies, etc. run their ads are good Sunday-Saturday. This is important to know, because the ground beef might be $4.19/lb. today, and $1.97/lb. tomorrow! If we ‘need’ something and it’s a Tuesday and there are no good prices on it – I’ll wait it out a day and see what changes. That’s my personal preference – we’re pretty good at throwing together a meal out of what’s in the pantry in a pinch… even if that means breakfast for dinner AGAIN (which is super cheap and the kids absolutely love, anyway.) So, there isn’t a specific day to shop, but being aware of the timelines of ads in your area is certainly helpful.

Tip #7 – Some weeks are duds

Sometimes you’ll look through all the ads and there won’t be good prices on anything. Other weeks, you’ll have a page-long list at every store. I’m sure there’s some marketing ploy here, but the point is – don’t worry about it. It’s still worth the look. Some grocery stores are typically more expensive than others, but it’s still worth a peek at the ad because there are occasional surprises. I had nearly written off one store because their advertised prices are always higher than everyone else’s – till one week all their produce was $1/lb. less than the other major stores!

Tip #8 – Be like Santa. {{Make a List & Check it Twice!}}

Lists are your friends. Make a list of what you need and a list of what’s on sale. If you see that potatoes are extra crazy cheap this week, it might be worth adjusting your meal plan to take advantage of that! If you absolutely need ground beef this week and no one has it on a good sale, still put it on the list – just don’t buy more than you need. Compile the needs and the sale lists – with prices and quantities – into one list before you go to the store. I made one that fit my needs and laminated it to take to the store with me each week. Just like my meal plan, I fill it out with a wet erase marker and reuse!

Tip #9 – Don’t Stress

This all might sound like it’s going to take forever – and it might, the first week or two (if forever is like, an hour.) But as you get used to it, it will take less and less time. I used to get headaches looking at the ads and feeling ignorant of what I was looking for and I don’t want that to happen to you. Just look at them. Absorb what you can. It’s a process, and it is worth it, so just breathe through it and you’ll get there. (Gosh, I could be describing parenting, labor, marriage – basically anything there…)

Tip #10 – Use Whatever Resources Work for You

I have read countless blogs and articles telling you what you must use to be effective – and that’s just plain silly. The reason my tips are fairly general is because this is something I think is best figured out on your own to an extent. I can tell you what I use and love, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. If you hate technology, you probably aren’t downloading an app. If you hate paper, you’ll probably never pick up a physical ad. Make the process bend to you. There is no exact science – and the more you adapt it to fit your needs, the more stress-free your money-saving efforts will be 🙂

Happy Shopping!

Do you have a certain strategy when you hunt through the ads?

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