My Story: The Secret to Grocery Shopping Success

contributed by Lisa

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I thought you might be interested in my "system" for grocery shopping. I have five kids, three in diapers, and I homeschool so we are all home for snacks and lunches everyday.The keys to my success are my price box, my list, and my grocery ads! I very often shop with five small children (all under age six) and found I just couldn't juggle lists, menus, a price book, grocery ads, and a calculator, so I combined them.

The first thing I do is shop at our local Wal-Mart Supercenter, because they match all competitor ads. There are five other major grocery chains in my area, so I can get the best prices and loss leaders without visiting six different places. Check around and call local grocery stores to see if they will match prices. Wal-Mart doesn't match "buy one get one free" offers, however, so I might visit another chain store if they are having a big sale.

Then I purchased a plastic recipe box and a pack of index cards. I made my own coupon box by writing categories at the top of the card. I file the coupons behind the card. It doubles as a price book, as I write down relevant pricing information on the card itself. I can add categories easily by simply adding another card. I also have a category for "store coupons" for all those percentage off coupons for places like linen stores, thrift stores, etc. that I get in the mail or weekend ads.

Then I have several cards at the back where I listed different types of meat, such as pork, chicken breast, ground beef, etc. I listed on the card my family's favorite recipes using that type of meat. For instance, my ground beef card lists spaghetti, lasagna, tacos, etc. That way, if there is a terrific sale on pork chops, I have an instant list of recipes, so I can pick up any additional ingredients. Whenever I cut out a recipe to try out of the newspaper or a magazine, I file it in the appropriate category. By doing this, I have a list of all of the things I need to try it.

My other "big secret" is my grocery list. I only make my list after reviewing the weekly ads. I fold a piece of paper in quarters, making a total of eight sections, front and back. I label the sections according to my list (pantry, produce, cold, etc.), but I also have a "menu" section, which lists the meals I plan to make. Planning a menu before you shop is key! The menu section is important to fully take advantage of sales. If I see that stir fry is on the menu, and the store is running a sale on bok choy instead of green cabbage, I know I can easily switch. If the menu lists sauerkraut, I know that bok choy just isn't going to work.

I also list, next to the item, any price matches I need and which store ad it is in. This is only relevant if there is a grocery store that will match competitor's prices. When I purchase an item that I need price-matched, I circle it on my list, and I have all the information I need to give the cashier right in front of me.

Another section I label "other store." Here I list things I might buy at my warehouse store or discount store. That way, if it is cheaper at the grocery store I am shopping at, I can pick it up for the cheapest price. I spend about half an hour planning my list and menu and about 20 to 30 minutes a week with my coupons. I regularly save 30 to 40% off my grocery bill, so I consider it a good return on investment, especially when I consider the time saved daily by knowing what we are going to have for dinner and by having all of the ingredients on hand.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it by

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  • Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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