I was talking with a friend on Sunday morning about something related to food prep (I honestly don't remember what it was) when we started talking about how hard it is to stay in budget and how there isn't a "one-stop-shopping store" that meets the needs of a family with limited funds. I regularly shop at six stores - or more accurately, I shop at six types of stores. No, I don't go to them all every week. Actually, some I go to once a month or less depending on my needs. But going to these different types of stores helps me stay within budget and still eat a nutritious variety of meals. Here's what I go to each type of store for:
Kroger/Food Lion: This is my "basic shopping" store. I can get most of my weekly needs at one of these stores. That means I can get my breads, cereals, some produce, some frozen vegetables, and things of that nature here. There isn't as much variety, but overall the prices are lower for the same foods you would get at Harris Teeter or Lowes. I have literally gone to Kroger and Harris Teeter on the same day and seen the exact same product (name brand) sold for $1 more at Harris Teeter. Sure, that's not going to break the budget for that one item, but what about over 20-30 items on a weekly basis? It adds up.
Harris Teeter/Lowes: There are some things you just can't find at Kroger and Lowe's. Like pierogies. You have to go to HT for that. But I do a very limited shopping trip to HT, and it's always for very specific, hard to find items like certain sauces, ethnic foods, and seasonal items. And I stick to just those items when I'm in the store and don't get distracted by the fancier packaging and wider aisles. You pay more for that. A note on Lowes: they regularly double and triple manufacturer's coupons so if you are a coupon clipper, this is a great store to go to for those items.
Sam's Club/BJ's/Costco: Everyone loves to go to a "members only" store and when you look at those big bulk packages you feel like it must just be dripping with savings. It's really not. You must become a very wise consumer when you go to a store like this. Sometimes that big box of cereal is more expensive per ounce than what you find in a regular store. And, there's the psychological effect of "well I got so much so now I can consume it at greater pace." It's only cheaper if you ration it the same way you would a smaller quantity. And if you buy the 3 pounds of lettuce thinking that you'll actually serve your family a salad for the next two weeks, you might find that you served 2 salads and then have to throw away 2.5 pounds of lettuce a month later (I've done this ... several times). But there are some very good benefits of club shopping. Meats are cheaper consistently, and you don't have to wait on a sale price. Diapers - way cheaper. And then there are the other random items you'll find: tortillas (48 count for $2.50 as opposed to Kroger's 20 for $2.15), over the counter medicines, chips, printing pictures, computer ink, and other items. Just be careful tocheck what the price-per-ounce/use/serving is when you buy in bulk and not just be distracted by the huge box.
Big Lots/Aldi's: I probably only shop at one of these stores once a month. But they are a great place to stock up on my husband's after school snacks, dry goods, some canned goods, and Aldi's is a great place to get frozen fruit. It can be hit or miss, but you can save a lot of money by even in-frequent shopping.
Farmer's Market: I LOVE the Farmer's Market. Fresh, seasonal produce straight from a local farm for far cheaper than I could get it at any grocery store. And you have to check out the Farmer's Market Warehouse. It's open on Saturdays and you can get bulk quantities of produce for very little money. I'm talking a dozen green peppers for $3. And there is a great store called the "Berry Patch" in the little shoppes that sells incredibly fresh spices for ridiculously cheap. I purchased cardamon for $1 and it sells at Harris Teeter for $12.
Trader Joe's/Whole Foods: There are some items you just have to go to one of these stores for. And I love Trader Joe's. I don't go as often now because I live farther away, but it's a great little store. TJ's sells mostly organic/local foods at a low price. Pizza dough for 99 cents. A pound of gnocchi for $1.50. And if you're a wine drinker, you'll really want to check it out. They have a fairly decent variety and it's not overly priced. But don't get caught up in the hype and cool designs - it costs more.
If you stayed with me through all that - you're a champion. Or really bored. The last thing I want to share with you about cutting costs and staying in your budget is probably what saves me the most money. Here it is: fight your pride. When you purchase certain items, ask yourself what the real reason is you buy it. Why do you buy the expensive, name brands? Why do you purchase some items at all? If you're trying to stay within a budget and have limited funds, you can't always buy name brands. Nor does wisdom say you should even if you could. Studies have been shown to say that name brands and store brands are comparable in quality and that in taste tests the two are almost always indistinguishable. Now there are some items, where it's just not the same. You'll never see me purchase "Dr. Perky." But I will buy "Puffed Rice Cereal."
It's a long road of budget shopping. Thankfully, I feel like God has given me a lot of grace in this area and I'm quite content. Hopefully this post has been helpful to someone and not just a ridiculously long rambling.