Dec 17, 2008

Brick #3 - Set some Guidelines

I have to be honest - earlier this year if you had asked me how much I should expect things to cost at the market, my eyes would have glassed over and you probably would have seen smoke billowing from my ears. Sure, I could go back to my receipts and tell you how much I had paid for things....but that's not the same as knowing about what things SHOULD cost me. It's the difference between knowing the face value on a concert ticket and knowing what you paid the scalper :)

Last week I delved into the scary territory of creating a price book. If you found a few extra minutes and got something started, you have a great foundational brick for building awareness of what you should be paying for your grocery items. The one drawback of a price book in the early stages - it's totally reactive. You've already bought the item, and you can't change what you paid if it ends up being a higher price. The good news is, in the long run that price book will be ABSOLUTELY indispensible...but in the meantime, there are things you can do to make the process more proactive and head off spending more than you have to. It will also save you some time when you're scanning those circulars!

3. Set some basic guidelines and limitations for your shopping

Boundaries are a good thing! And in terms of grocery shopping, giving yourself good boundaries will set you up to spend smarter.

* Follow your price book, and figure out what a safe per-unit price is for your area.

I have firm boundaries regarding what I will spend on meat. In my area, I have found that if I am patient, I can get just about any meat for $2 a pound, $1 if it's bone-in chicken. These aren't everyday prices, but if I wait out the sales cycles, these prices come around somewhat regularly. Here's a few examples for you:
**Boneless chicken breasts $1.88/lb**Boneless pork tenderloin (bought in a 10 lb loin, had the store butcher cut into chops) $1.88/lb**Top round london broil $1.79/lb**Bottom round beef roast $2.12/lb (yes this is over $2 but for beef this was close enough!)**Italian sausage $1.99/lb **Ground turkey $1.50/lb **Bone-in split chicken breasts $0.99/lb **Chicken thighs or drumsticks $0.99/lb **Whole chicken $0.79/lb

Because I know what the lowest price is, I can very quickly scan the circulars when they come and not waste time reading every item. I shoot for produce at or close to $1 a pound, though with some items that's just not possible in my area. I won't buy a pre-packaged mix or side dish unless it's $0.50 a box (generally with coupons, but it happens a LOT!) And I won't pay more than $1 for any canned good. Having those "rule of thumb" boundaries saves me time, and when those prices hit I know to stock up! Which brings me to my next boundary:

* Know your eating habits, AND your storage capability.

In the first Brick, I talked a lot about examining your family's regular eating habits. Just as you want to be aware of what you use regularly, to help you shop smarter for the things you use a lot, you also want to be aware of what your regular menus look like - if you see a great sale on pork but your kids won't touch it with a 10 foot pole, it's not worth the plastic it's wrapped in. Dana at The Homesteading Housewife wrote a post about the 21 most common meals in her house - what a great idea! Jot down the things you make ALL the time and use that as a springboard to stock your pantry.

You also want to be keenly aware of what you have room for, and whether you are able to store things properly. Buying 20 pounds of meat is great until you have to fit it in the freezer. In the fridge, items shouldn't be packed in so tight you can barely get to the milk carton - air has to circulate to keep things cool. And if you can't remember whether the soup is in the pantry, the closet, under the beds, or in the doghouse...well you get the picture. Buying smart means buying within your means to pay AND your means to finally:

* Don't be enticed into stocking up when the sale is good, if it will NEVER get used.

My sister in law got carried away one week. She bought 40 yogurts for a ridiculously low price. The problem? She doesn't usually eat yogurt. Choked down every last one of them to justify her purchase, but was that necessary? Of course not - the thrill of the chase and the rush of buying things at a huge discount got the better of her.

I caught myself falling into the same trap - I'd see these crazy deals, and it would physically pain me to pass them up. But if I knew I could never use or find a use for something, what good is spending any money at all on it? I'm going to say this out loud, so brace yourself.

If you can't use it, share it, or donate it, it is OK to pass up a great deal.

Whew. I hope they don't come for me with pitchforks and torches.

Be realistic - certain things are always good for donation even if you don't need them (in fact, Coupon Mom lists charity-worthy items in with the "best deals" for your grocery store), but if you won't need it before your current stockpile runs out you can probably sit out this sale - it will come around again! We get into a hoarding mentality when a deal is really good, but giving in to that particular monster could lead you to have cabinets full of cake mix when your husband is diabetic (nobody I know...really.)

Next week, we're returning to the good ol' days before convenience foods ruled the world - get your frilly apron and your rolling pin ready!

Catch up on past installments of BRICKLAYING here, or under "Quick Links" in my sidebar!

1 comment:

Dana (the Homesteading Housewife) said...

Great post! you have some really wonderful tips here!
I'm interested to see the lists your readers come up with!