Frugal Friday: 4 Simple Ways to Save More at the Grocery Store (Plus a $5 Dinner Give Away)

January 29, 2010 at 8:00 am 11 comments

Frugal Friday LogoI’m excited this week to be participating in my first Life as Mom Frugal Friday. I’ve enjoyed reading about frugal healthy breakfasts, homemade TV dinners, laundry tips, consignment sales, and more and really appreciate the time everyone takes to share their tips and tricks for making the most of their resources. For my first post, I’d like to share four strategies that have really helped me save at the grocery store. Every time I get away from these practices, I notice my weekly and monthly grocery bills rising, so I know that they really do help keep my spending down. And, to say thanks to everyone who is involved with Frugal Friday, I am giving away a copy of Erin Chase’s The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook to go along with my first post (give away details are at the end of the post).

Strategy #1: Make a Plan

The most powerful tool I have in my grocery store savings arsenal is a two-fold plan that includes:

  • My menus for the week, complete with plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve found that taking the time to figure out what my family is going to eat for the next 5-7 days helps me focus my grocery shopping and my cooking efforts. I’m not wandering the store trying to make menu decisions real time which keeps me from either over-buying or forgetting critical ingredients that send me back to the store later in the week. I’m also able to look ahead and see which leftovers can be used for lunches or another dinner so I can be sure to really stretch my dollars and reduce my cooking load. The steak I grill up one night is perfect for sandwiches the next day or later in the week. Chili becomes easy Frito Pies for a fun Friday night dinner.
  • A grocery list organized by store section. I’ve been shopping at the same couple of grocery stores for several years and I know them like the back of my hand. When I organize my grocery lists I group items in the order I’ll come across them in the store. This not only helps me spend less time in the store but I’m less likely to stray “off list” to pick up assorted odds and ends I don’t really need. If you can’t draw a map of your grocery store by memory (and I mean really, it’s odd that I can), make notes next time you go to the store about what’s on each aisle for the next time you put your grocery list together. Also, if you take your family grocery shopping with you, it’s easy to divide and conquer by sending responsible parties off to different parts of the store for items located near one another.

Strategy #2: Build Menus around Sale Items

This is a strategy I wish I’d discovered long before I did – I would have saved so much money. I used to create menus and then see which of my menu items were on sale at the store. Now, I start with what items are on sale and build my menus around those. There’s almost always some form of chicken, beef, and pork on sale, and then on certain weeks, special items like lamb or scallops will be on sale for an extra-special treat for the family. Honestly, starting with what’s on sale also makes planning faster because the main ingredients are chosen for me so I just have to match favorite recipes to go with them.

I used to do my menu planning in a spreadsheet. I’d take over the kitchen table with the sale circular on one side and my computer on the other. Building the plan and the grocery list usually took about an hour or 90 minutes. Recently, I’ve been using a new tool called Food on the Table that’s still in early development to help me with menu planning. It keeps track of the grocery store I go to most and what’s on sale each week. I’ve entered the ingredients for my family’s favorite recipes into the system and the tool helps me match what’s on sale with recipes. Don’t you just love technology?

Strategy #3: Compare Prices by the Ounce, Not By the Package

A few years ago my local grocery store started displaying the per-unit price for items. The unit is typically an ounce although for many meats it’s a pound. I’ve found that while a small package of food will of course be less expensive than a large one, per ounce it may be actually be more expensive. I often buy bigger packages of food that are cheaper by the ounce if they meet the following criteria:

  • I can use the ingredient in many different types of recipes. The more applications something has, the quicker I’ll use it up and justify the large quantity purchase. Dry goods like flour and sugar fall into this category.
  • My family can consume the food before it goes bad. Buying larger quantities doesn’t save me anything if I have to throw the food out before we can eat it all. Before I buy a larger package, I look at expiration dates to be sure that we’ll have time to finish off the package. I also regularly buy larger packages of proteins that freeze well when they are on sale. Beyond freezable foods, cheese, cereal, dried fruit, and salsa all fall into this category.
  • I have a place to store the large package. While I have a reasonably sized pantry, storing larger packages is still an issue. Before I take a bigger package of something home, I think about my storage options and make sure I have a plan for putting it away when I get home. I use the floor of my pantry to store flats of canned fruit, big boxes of cereal, and bags of flour.

Strategy #4: Shop at Off Hours

I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to get in and out of the store quickly. The less time I spend in the store, the less chance there is I’ll spend more than I need to. However, the more people there are in the store, the longer it takes me to get in and out. If at all possible, I try to shop when everyone else doesn’t – early Saturday or Sunday morning works best for me, although I have been known to go to the store on weeknights after little people go to sleep.

I also shop alone because I’m more efficient that way, and I don’t have to have the ongoing discussions about what treat we aren’t getting which invariably come with children in a store. When I’m alone and the store is quiet, I can stay focused on getting just what I need. I can also more easily compare prices and look for unexpected deals. And of course, I never shop hungry. A starving shopper is an over-spending shopper.

Even More Savings with The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook (Give Away Details)

I have to admit I was excited to see that Erin Chase recommends some of the same strategies I do (and of course many more) in her fantastic book dedicated to helping us all save money on our family meals. I love that the first third of her book is devoted to money saving practices that anyone can use to create their own collection of $5 recipes. You can get started with Erin’s wonderful recipes and then adapt your own to the methodology. I’m very much looking forward to trying some of her recipes with their main ingredients come on sale at my local grocery store.

In the mean time, I have an extra copy of her cookbook to give away. It’s my first give away and I’m really excited. Here’s how the giveaway will work:

  • The giveaway lasts from the time of this posting through midnight, CST on Wednesday, February 3, 2010.
  • To enter, share one of your favorite tips for saving money in the comments. Limit one comment per person.
  • For an extra entry each day, tweet about this post and then come back here and include a link to your tweet in a comment. For this entry to count, you must link back to your tweet from the comments. Limit one tweet per person per day.
  • On Thursday, February 4, 2010 I will use to select a winning comment number.
  • I will notify the winner by e-mail to confirm their shipping address, so please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you comment. I will never share your e-mail address with anyone for any reason.
  • The winner has 48 hours from when I sent the e-mail to respond and claim the prize. If I don’t receive a response, I’ll go back to to select another winner.

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas in the comments – I can’t wait to learn more great ways to save money at the grocery store.


Entry filed under: Food Costs and Budgeting, Frugal Friday, Tips & Tricks.

Tips for Organizing and Saving Money on Spices Menu Plan Monday ~ February 1


  • 1. Mary Jo  |  January 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

    One of my favorite ways to save money at our grocery store is by shopping the manager specials/reduced for quick sale. We live in a small town in rural Virginia, and our store has LOTS of organic/all natural products. These are harder to get with coupons, but since it’s a small town, they frequently reduce things for quick sale because they don’t go through products as fast. I stock up on organics when I find them this way. πŸ™‚

  • 2. Mary Jo  |  January 29, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I tweeted πŸ™‚

  • 3. marybeth @  |  January 29, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Always shop the grocery store with ads + coupons, then buy only what we need or can donate! I hate food waste…it breaks my heart πŸ™‚

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    […] and BusinessRelated blog postsmy blog Β» 5 Tips on How to Survive Back-to-School ShoppingFrugal Friday: 4 Simple Ways to Save More at the Grocery Store …How Do You Buy Low Priced Children's Bedroom Furniture That Seems …Bring cash, save money, get […]

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    […] giving away a copy of The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook as part of my first Frugal Friday post. Pop on over to that post to share a tip on how you save money at the grocery store and enter to […]

  • 7. Leah  |  February 1, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Hi, I think I want to come to your house for dinner on Monday, I love Blue cheese on steak and artichokes are my favorite!

    Ok, so 1 thing I do to save money is buy whole chickens when they are either reduced or on sale really cheap (like .69 to .89/lb). I bring them home and cut them up – having a DH who’s a butcher really helps out here – then freezer wrap the different parts for meals at a later date. I also save all the bones and skin and make my own chicken broth. It’s not super creative, but it really helps stretch the meat budget out πŸ™‚ I hope I win, I have been wanting this book for a while now!

  • 8. Mandi  |  February 1, 2010 at 7:12 am

    One of my ways to save money is to purchase food through Angel Food ministries. It’s good quality food for a lot less money than the grocery store.

  • 9. healracmt  |  February 2, 2010 at 2:48 am

    There are a few things I do to save money. Most are what you do already: plan ahead, purchase by the ounce, and buy only what’s on sale. I also will combine coupons with current sales, which saves more money. I particularly like to purchase foods in bulk; after doing math of course. Most times it’s a better deal to purchase bulk items. Getting my spices this way is a huge money saver; about 75% to 90% savings! I also like to go on the stores’ websites and look at their weekly ads. Then I write a grocery list based on what’s on sale.

  • 10. Sheri  |  February 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I try to save money by using coupons and shopping for things in the ads.

    I am very interested in this book.


  • 11. Cecilia  |  February 3, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Right now I am doing pretty good. I don’t owe a cent to anyone for anything. And can buy whatever I like. Even paid cash for my daughters college education.

    But getting to this point wasn’t easy. When I first got married we went on a strict envelope budget. We put exactly what everything cost into individual envelopes. Newspaper, food, gas, spending money etc… We had to account for every penny. (We still write down any cash we spend.) And we also put a set amount into the savings every month after calculating what was left over. No cheating on that one!

    This also taught us that saving money can come pretty easily if you do it right. Winning this book would be nice, but I feel it is more important to motivate folks to get on a good budget and save for a comfy future! This is the time to do it moms! High school and college age kids are expensive!

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