October 11, 2013

Frugal Friday #8 - Grocery Shopping

After my mortgage payment, my number two monthly expenditure is groceries.  Unlike a mortgage payment, the amount used to buy groceries can be trimmed in the budget. In these days of rising food prices that isn't easy but it can be done.  My sister, Cathy is a master at this and I have adopted one of her tips - buying in bulk.

For example, last week butter was on sale for $1.99 lb.  Usually in this area, it costs $4 to $5.  So when it goes on for less than half price,  I stock up.   The maximum buy was 8 so that's what I got.  You can easily freeze butter and these 8 lbs will get us through most of the winter.

So I have 4 rules for grocery shopping.
  1. Shop the Sales
  2. Plan your Menu
  3. Buy in Bulk
  4. Don't Waste
Shop the Sales

Each weekend, I get the food ads and start circling the items that I would buy.  If I have a coupon too, that's a bonus but in Canada, we don't have the extreme couponing like in the USA.  Our grocery stores don't have coupons in their ads so we can't double up. If I have coupons, I always try to buy the item on sale so I get a better deal.  We also have some grocery stores that will match the price from other stores.  It saves the gas and time of travelling around.

There are some products that don't seem to ever go on sale so for them, I will find the store that has the best regular price.  That is often Costco or Walmart.  I hate shopping at Walmart and do it rarely but will when I have to.

Plan your Menu

I plan my weekly menu based on what is on sale and what I have that is surplus in the pantry or the garden.  I also keep my eye on the freezer and use the food stored there in a timely manner.  My Dad used to say we were having X for dinner because it has been in the freezer too long.  As a kid, I thought that was awful but I understand now what he meant!

This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada so we will be having turkey.  Of course, that also means that there is a second smaller turkey in the freezer because the price is the lowest right now.  I make up a menu for each day but sometimes that changes.  It's really just a guideline.

Buy in Bulk

If an item that I regularly use comes on sale for a good price, I'll buy enough for 2 to 4 months.  It will usually be on sale again before I run out.  Storage is important and I have given over a closet in the basement as a storage pantry.  I'll show it to you when I finally get it cleaned up! 

I also bought an upright freezer so I would have plenty of storage for the goods I freeze. I buy meat/fish/poultry on sale and freeze it.  Some produce from the summer garden also gets stored.  Bags of milk, butter and cheese (which I shred) are bought on sale and frozen for future use.  This really helps keep the grocery bills down.

I do have a Costco membership.  I held out for a long time because everyone I talked to seemed to spend much more money than they would normally.  I didn't think that it would be viable for a small household.  If you buy something in bulk that you cannot possibly use before it gets stale, then you haven't saved money.  Once I went in a couple of times with my sister, I realized that my savings on fish and seafood (which are very expensive at the grocery store) would more than pay for my membership each year.  I also buy some toiletries there and dry goods but mostly meat/fish/poultry and bread.  I can get great savings on all those things and I'm rarely tempted by anything else.  The fruit and vegetables are mostly in packages that are too large to be economical for us unless I can preserve or freeze some.

Don't Waste!

Don't buy more than you can possibly use.  It sounds so simple that it shouldn't even be a rule.  But there are times I can forget so I always try to keep this in mind.  Don't get caught up in the excitement of a sale.  Two dollars for a pound of butter isn't a bargain if you don't use butter.  Buying in bulk doesn't work (especially at a place like Costco) when you have to buy so much that you can't possibly use it before it goes bad.  My biggest waste is getting seduced by gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetables and buying more than I can use in a week.  I really need to rein myself in and that is where the menu comes in.  I'll often just write veg on the menu but my shopping list will have vegetables that are on sale and then maybe just the word veg.  Then I know to buy one vegetable that just looks good at the store and slot it into the menu.  

Another way I prevent waste is to plan based on leftovers.  For example, I'll roast a chicken one night and the next night, I'll make a pasta dish or a salad with chicken in it.  Otherwise, I'll make a chicken pot pie and put it in the freezer for another night.  I always like to have a couple of home prepared meals in the freezer in case I don't feel like cooking one night. That saves money by avoiding last minute takeout meals.

I try to follow these rules and find that I can keep the budget in check this way.  I remember in grade school that we had to do a project where we were given an imaginary family of four and a $20 budget (can you imagine???  Now you're wondering how ancient I am!). We were supposed to use the food ads and make up a menu for the week within the budget.  We also made up a shopping list and included recipes for the menu.  I think that was a very valuable exercise and I hope they still do something like that!  Take care, Jules


  1. Great post and I find that I do many of the same thing. I shop at Costco all the time. I will buy the bread that is 2 for 1 and freeze one loaf to be thawed and used later. We almost always eat lunch from the previous nights leftovers. I also freeze all kinds of fruit for smoothies, as well as fresh spinach and kale. I should use coupons more often but I hate messing with them.

  2. Those are great tips for running a well managed kitchen. By carefully managing my kitchen, I was able to make the transition to organic, cruelty free and fair trade consumerism. I don't spend any more than before because I don't have any waste. What a well written and informative post!

  3. Great ideas Julie. I always check the flyers and circle items like you do. I do a lot of price matching too. I love my upright freezer, so easy to see what is inside. I also use boxes in my freezer (a lot from M&M) and package meats in individual servings. With a marker I write what is inside. They stack so easily and give a bit of extra protection from freezer burn. I'm cooking a turkey right now for dinner tomorrow and then for other meals in the week. I also bought 2 extra turkeys for the upcoming holiday season while they are on good price. I also do a lot of cooking on the weekend when the hydro rates are cheaper, plus cooking in bulk saves electricity. I either freeze some meals or have food for the week. This is something I did when I worked and I still do it now that I'm retired. Have a great weekend.


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