Image from NoScales.com
I'm still going to continue my "How to shop at..." series, but this post was inspired by a group of girls who came through my checkout line a couple nights ago. I think it was their first time shopping on their own. With a buggy full of stuff and her eye on the total at the bottom of the display screen, one of the girls explained, "My budget is $50." What happened, you ask?
Before I tell you what I'm sure you already know, let me explain that this scenario happens all the time. Literally at least once (more like twice) during my cashiering shifts, people come through with a buggy full of stuff and a "budget." Unfailingly, they don't have enough money in their budget to cover what's in the buggy, so they do one of two things: 1) get everything even though they didn't budget enough for it, or 2) put a whole lot of stuff back, often the stuff that just happens to be at the bottom of the buggy (i.e. not really prioritizing what needs to be bought). Option #2 is what these girls did.
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm judging people who do this, because seriously, my m.o. when it came to shopping used to be option #1 up there. I'd say "I'm only going to spend $25", and then I'd walk out having spent $45... or more.
Luckily, with a little thought and foresight (and an attack plan), you can avoid both of those options and walk out having chosen two better ones: 1) sticking to your budget and 2) getting everything you need and maybe some things you want.
This is what I got when I typed in "attack plan" on Google.
Image from China View
- Figure out where to shop. You probably already have a store in mind, based on where your parents shop at home or what's closest to your apartment. If you don't have a store in mind, then just pick one, and if you don't like it this time, pick another one next time.
- Set your budget, and set it in cash. $30 is a good weekly limit for yourself; $25 is even better. Get your wallet and put only that amount in there. Unless you have your own rewards credit card like an American Express cash back card, do not use your card at the grocery store, debit or otherwise. It's too easy to "allow" yourself another $5... or $10... or $25 when you know you have access to your bank account via your card. With cash, you have that much and that's it.
- Get the weekly ad. Go to that store's website and find their circular (weekly ad). Look through all the sales; compare them with coupons if you have any. (I talked about this more extensively in this post.)
- Make a menu (or a rough idea of one) for the week. Some frugal people have menu-planning down to a science ("this is Monday's lunch, this is Monday's dinner, this is Tuesday's lunch..."), but what I do is say "I need enough stuff for lunch all week" (meaning bread and sandwich stuff) and "I need to have a dinner for every night." Use the weekly ad to help plan this. If you see that corn is super cheap right now, use a website like All Recipes to find some recipes using corn.
- Figure out what household and HBA stuff you need. (HBA = healthy and beauty aides.) I'm going to cover frugal HBA shopping in a few posts, but for now, hopefully you've got some coupons for that stuff, because if you don't buy generic, it can be expensive.
- Divide your list into wants and needs. This is the prioritizing I mentioned earlier, so if you do have to put something back, you will know what to take out of your buggy first. (Oreos are always a "want." Do not try to convince yourself otherwise.)
- Lastly, put everything in a reusable bag and head out. You should take your coupon organizer, a copy of the weekly ad (if you have a physical copy), your list, your budgeted amount in cash, and a calculator (meaning your phone unless you want to actually carry around a calculator).
AT THE STORE:
- Stick to your list. Stick to your list, stick to your list, stick to your list.
- Write the price of each item on your list. Weigh your produce and use your calculator to figure out how much it is. Keep a running total as you shop. (If you like to figure in tax, it's 7% for non-food and 3% for food.)
- Look for unadvertised deals. I needed bread last time I shopped, and there was some in the ad advertised for $2. When I got there, I saw that Healthy Life half-loaves were $1. That's what I chose... which brings me to the next point:
- Shop for how much you need. I don't eat a whole loaf of bread in a week, so getting a half loaf was perfect for me. I use this same logic when it comes to buying canned vegetables: the $1 full can size is often cheaper per ounce than the 69 cent half can size, but I don't eat a whole can by myself and I don't want to have to refrigerate all that.
- Don't buy stuff in multipacks, "lunch packs", or 100 calorie packs. You are throwing money away by paying for packaging. Invest in some snack sized Ziploc bags and count out your own portions at home from the big box.
- If you don't have a coupon, you should probably buy generic. Generic toilet paper is not going to kill you. Neither will generic paper towels or generic Cheerios. You might be thinking "but it's not as good! You get what you pay for." It's fine. The generic is usually fine, and if you don't like it, most places will refund your money (some swap out for the brand name). But seriously, let's say your budget is $25 and you need toilet paper and laundry detergent. Buying Cottonelle and Tide? You're likely to spend at least $10 on these two items alone, and that's if you get the small sizes. Or you could spend $4 on generic toilet paper and detergent, which also work just fine.
- When checking out, watch the screen for any discrepancies. Let the cashier know if you think something is the wrong price. At Kroger, we have a scan-rite guarantee, which means if something (under $5) rings up at higher than the shelf tag, you get one of that item free (if it's higher than $5, you get the item at the correct price plus a $5 Kroger gift card).
I know it's a lot of stuff to think about, but by the time you use all of these guidelines once or twice, they will become second nature to you, and you will be able to stick to the budget you have set for yourself.