I'm not a rigid 'This is the formula and it must always be obeyed' kind of girl, but I do have a vague plan that guides me. Let's face it, a great deal of life is spent preparing food, shopping for food, sitting in the restaurant eating the food, or just thinking about the food. (I'm getting a little hungry.) Anything that takes a chunk of our time deserves a little planning on our part. It's no scientifically proven method, but it's what works for me.
- Know what you're eating the day, or even week, before. That's where the menu planning comes in. Some people will tell you to plan around grocery store sales and make your menus for the week according to what they're offering. That is probably best if you don't have much freezer space. She who purchased the great white whale of freezers has plenty of room. I look in my freezer and plan menus around what needs using.
- Know what you're paying. What's a good price for the things you like? When something is on sale, I'll stock up. When I'm looking at a sale paper, I'm checking prices on staples I keep on hand (like Birds Eye Steam Fresh veggies, when they hit $1 each I buy a lot...they're the closest tasting to fresh I've found) or things that are our personal favorites (like cereal...I'm not paying over $2.50 for a box of any cereal, so I watch carefully and stock up on sales since everyone has a different one they like...I'm a Blueberry Mini Wheat girl).
- On-line ease. Grocery stores almost always have a website that gives their weekly ad. You can compare stores from home, most even have a list feature that lets you click on the things you want and print out a grocery list. You can see what you're getting and often how much the items cost. Drug stores also offer groceries and can sometimes be the cheapest ticket in town on things like milk. A great place to check out for every conceivable weekly flyer is http://www.sundaysavers.com/ There are some great websites that help you save tons on groceries. I will admit, I often forget to use them, but those who are faithful at doing so say they make a tremendous difference. One that is particularly helpful for my area is http://southernsavers.com/ I know there are probably many more out there and is probably one for your part of the world as well.
- Buy it big. I don't like to make zillions of trips to the store, the fewer the better. The things I use most, like flour and sugar, toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, I like to buy in bulk. In our area we have Sam's, some of you have Costco. I have found them to be a great resource for some things. You just have to know what you would normally pay, like we've said before, and if it's the same or less, it's worth your time and gas not to keep making trips. We built a wall of shelves in our laundry room to house these sorts of things. I buy flour in 25 lb bags and giant bags of rice. To keep them fresh I purchased those big containers you can get at home improvement stores that contractors use for paint. It holds them both perfectly. One day I'll get around to painting them or covering them so they're not bright orange, but for now I'll take practicality over prettiness. I've also found these places to be best for prices on milk and spices. Amish groceries are wonderful resources for bulk items if you have access to them. They carry just about everything in bulk. I get to one about twice a year and stock up on big bags of pudding mix, shaped pasta, and chocolate chips.
- Buy it fresh. Eat it or 'put it up'. If possible, fresh is best. And the best in fresh is straight from the farmer. I really don't buy much produce from the grocery store. The best resources are farmers markets, flea markets (that's right), and the farmers themselves. Look in your phone book under farming or produce and give them a call. Many will sell to the public after they've shipped orders or offer culls (those not "pretty" enough for the store). Remember the 50 lbs of carrots I got last summer? There are all kinds of great places waiting to be discovered right around you.
Those are a few of the tips that I can think of. What about you, do you have any great grocery shopping ideas?