Shop weekly, but think monthly, in terms of grocery bills
Most Americans receive money for our living expenses once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month.
How does this payday or public assistance schedule translate to grocery spending?
There’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to support the theory that people load up the shopping carts on payday or food stamp day.
What I recommend instead is: shop weekly, but think monthly, in terms of your food, cleaning supplies, and personal care product purchases.
The reason I say shop weekly is that the sales do vary from week to week. You want the flexibility in your actual spending throughout the month to take advantage of those sales when they happen.
The reason I say think monthly on overall spending is you often have to buy more than a week’s worth of product in order to get the best price.
And while it’s fair to say the number and selection for any one week’s of Sunday newspaper coupons can be a hit and miss, there is a good variety of coupons over the course of any given month.
Exhibit: My shopping trip at Meijer in Monroe, Mich., this morning.
The total was $83.45, which is higher than usual for me. A trip to Meijer would normally be in the $40 to $50 range because I tend to split up my shopping throughout the week at whatever stores have good sales or match up with other errands. Our food-related grocery bills are about $375 a month for two adults.
But there are specific purchases that skewed my shopping cart total high today.
One involves two big packages of toilet paper.
One week’s worth of toilet paper for two adults is about four rolls. Have you ever tried to buy just four rolls at one time? It’s hard to find even generic regular toilet paper at $1 for a four-pack these days.
But when you decide to get the bigger packages, you will pay less in the long run. I paid total $12.94 (that’s including $1 off coupon) for 24 “double rolls.” While that’s not a really terrific sale, it’s better than the smaller packages. I did the math when I was in the aisle.
I also spent $17.99 for a box of 32 hamburger patties. This will make 16 meals for us, or 8 to 10 meals if we have company. That’s 56 cents a burger patty. Even at four burger patties per meal, that works out cheaper than I could buy a 3-pound roll of ground beef.
This long-range thinking for meal plans and family needs is one of the details that derails families whose finances are the tightest.
Let’s say you have $50 in your wallet, but there is a long list of items your household has run out of or will need this week.
Would you buy several weeks of toilet paper at one time, or just one week’s worth?
Would you buy that mega box of burgers, or would you pick up the 3-pound roll of ground beef instead?
I understand why a shopper wants to divide a limited grocery budget in as many directions as possible. It’s stressful to hear a constant litany from other family members along the lines of: “we’re out of laundry soap,” “we’re out of cereal,” and “we’re out of milk.”
But I can tell you from experience that will not stretch one’s money as far as possible. If your money is that tight this week, will the finances really be any better next week, or two weeks from now?
Do your grocery budget and family a favor, and start adding one purchase a week that is more long-range than short-term. Bonus points if you buy a product your family uses on a regular basis on the cheap with coupons or drugstore promotions a week or two before you run out.
You may not notice a difference in your grocery inventory at home during the first two or three weeks of thinking long range. But you will eventually notice a smaller list of critical needs showing up on your shopping list on a frequent basis.
And then it will be easy enough to designate a portion of your limited funds to buy a bulk box of meat or a summer’s worth of paper products all at one time.