For this, I owe tons of thanks to destinations like Money Saving Mom and Like Merchant Ships, who have long advocated things like grocery lists and menu planning. This kind of stuff never occurred to me in my early ‘20s, and The Boyfriend and I are much better for it now. We eat like the dickens and haven’t had to sell any major organs to finance peanut butter purchases (lately).
Ah – but before your first Hour begins, a few preliminary steps are necessary. These may seem like a pain in the tuchus now, but they’re vital, and after they’re completed, things will run much smoother.
- Go through your fridge, kitchen cabinets, pantry, and any other food storage areas of your humble abode. Make mental notes of the staples you own, and chuck or donate anything that A) you can’t identify, B) is in an advanced state of decay or mummification, and/or C) is old enough to be carbon dated.
- If you don’t already know, do a quick Google search to find out which two acceptable grocery stores are located nearest to you. Make sure they have online circulars, note which day of the week they come out, and be sure to sign up for any discount cards or rewards programs next time you’re in the store.
- Find some form of coupon source, whether it’s through the Sunday paper or a website (Coupons.com, Smartsource.com, etc.). Many of the online sites require the download of a special printer program, but they’re not terribly invasive.
Once you have these steps accomplished, it’s time to get rolling on your Hour. So, find a quiet spot, plug in your Macbook, jack up your iPod (to 11 of course), and start your timers.
00:00 – 00:15
SCAN THE ONLINE CIRCULARS
In general, a supermarket’s biggest sales are found in its weekly circulars. The most steeply discounted items, called “loss leaders,” usually go for well under the regular price, since they’re used to lure customers into stores. They also tend to include produce, meat, dairy, and staples, which are healthier than processed foods.
Use the first 15 minutes of The Hour to comb each of your two selected circulars, and record sale prices ONLY for items you willingly eat. Look especially for staple items, so you can stockpile. Your list can have any format, but here’s a sample of mine:
Beans (Goya 14 oz cans) – 2/$1
Bread (Arnolds) – 2/$4
Carrots - $0.59/lb
Cereal (Honey Nut Cheerios 17oz) – 2/$5
Chicken (boneless, skinless breast) - $1.99/lb
Flour (Gold Medal 5lb) - $1.99
Mushrooms - $1.50/lb
Cereal (GM 13-17oz) – 4/$6
Grapes - $0.98/lb
Oranges – 10/$2
Red Onions - $0.59/lb
Pasta (Ronzoni 16oz) – 2/$1
Of this list, you may only be in the mood for carrots, chicken, grapes, mushrooms, oranges, and pasta. However, you might also consider buying beans, flour, and cereal, as you’ll probably use them in the future, and it’s rare to see such good prices. (Incidentally, a great side effect of writing all those numbers down: you’ll have a better idea of what food CAN cost versus what it USUALLY costs.)
Oh, and no worries if you prefer to visit one supermarket per week. You’ll generally get better prices if you try two, but with gas costs being what they are …
00:16 – 00:30
CLIP AND ORGANIZE COUPONS
Lotsa bloggers consider coupons a waste of time, as their primary function is to get consumers to purchase goods they wouldn’t have otherwise. Yet, when applied carefully, coupons can be a great boon to one’s savings. The trick is to A) pair them with sales, and B) only clip ‘em for stuff you already use.
For instance, in this week’s Key Food circular, four boxes of GM-brand cereal were being sold for $6, total. I had two coupons for $1 off, meaning my final cost for the whole shebang was $4. They normally would have gone for about $16. Not too shabby, yo.
If you have the time, you might find it useful to gather coupons from the newspaper AND a few websites, of which Coupons.com is particularly good. One caveat, though – if you decide to print them off your computer, make sure your grocery store(s) accept(s) them. One of mine doesn’t. It’s a bummer. (Yeah, I’m talkin’ ta you, KEY FOOD.)
00:31 – 00:45
STEP 3: PLAN A WEEKLY MENU
Based on what’s on sale and what you already have stocked, draw up a menu strategy for the upcoming seven days. It’ll prevent you from ordering out, and give you an idea of exactly how much food you need, keeping waste to a minimum.
This week, since chicken breasts are going for $1.99/lb and mushrooms are $1.50, you might want to make Light Chicken and Mushroom Marsala one night for dinner. For breakfast another day, maybe try French Toast, since you have eggs and syrup, and loaves of bread are on sale for $2. Anything goes, and you can use All Recipes, Epicurious, or Food Network to search for recipes.
When writing it up, your menu can be as simple as this:
B: cereal & fruit
L: PB&J & granola bars
D: Chicken, rice & carrots
Or as complex as this:
B: Me (cereal, soy milk, grapes), TB (cereal, soy milk)
L: Me (leftovers, orange), TB (sandwich, grapes, popcorn)
D: TB & Me (Light Chicken and Mushroom Marsala, rice)
For more examples try here, here, or here.
00:46 – 00:60
STEP 4: CREATE A GROCERY LIST
Finally, the easy part. When you have an idea of what you have, what you need, and what you want to make, it’s time to create a grocery list. It should include the sale items, plus any other ingredients needed, but not much else. Then, go forth and start buyin'. Just remember, STICK TO THE LIST. It’ll keep you from purchasing extraneous, overpriced, last-minute items that your roommate will eat anyway.
And that’s it. Hour’s done. Admittedly, this procedure might take more than 60 minutes the first few weeks. But once you get the knack, it’ll flow like mad. And the savings will be plentiful. Personally, I save more on weekly groceries than either of us make at work in an hour, which makes the process totally worth it.
If anyone decides to try The Hour, I’d love to hear constructive criticism, but in the meantime, readers – any suggestions? Do you see anything I could add? Or anything I could take away for streamlining purposes? The comments are open!