Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Tips for Saving Green on your Groceries

Before I had kids and a family I was like most people when it came to grocery shopping. I went to the grocery store, put whatever I was craving in the cart, paid for it, and went home... easy-peazy! But then I had kids, and along with everything else, my grocery habits had to change. Not only were there more mouths to feed, but those mouths needed real meals every day and couldn't live on wine and cheese like I did some days. I also didn't have as much money to spend on food since it had to go to plenty of other things. So what did I do, you ask? I learned how make my money go further.

There are lots of different ways to save money at the grocery store but here is how I do it. I suggest doing what I did and hear a few different peoples way's of doing things by reading blogs, watching "Extreme Couponing" (on TLC), and joining some couponing Facebook pages (there seems to be one for every area so find a local one). Then try everything until you find what works for you. This definitely isn't the kind of thing you will master over night. It takes a long time to figure out the sales, collect coupons, and really get the hang of things but the benefits are limitless. I saw one lady on "Extreme Couponing" who got over $1000 worth of groceries for less than $10!!

First thing I do every week before I grocery shop is I take stock of what's in my kitchen. I throw out all of the stuff that's gone bad (which shouldn't be too much if you plan well) and figure out what needs to be used up before it goes bad. By doing this every week I not only keep my fridge clean and organized but I also significantly cut-down on food that gets thrown out. Then I start looking at the flyers. You can collect all the flyers for your local grocery stores or you can download an app that has them all listed. I don't like collecting clutters flyers so I use an app called Flipp. Not only does It have lots of flyers, and not just grocery flyers which is nice because you never know when you'll find weird sales (this week Canadian Tire had crackers on sale... weird!) but there's also a handy shopping list feature so you don't need to grocery shop with scrap paper and a pen , and its got a search feature that lets you search for each item you need. If you live in the US I don't think you will be able to use Flipp but I'm sure there are plenty of great apps for you guys too.

The next thing I look though are my coupons. I have a collection of coupons, but its isn't too big yet because I just started using & collecting them. I try to use coupons on top of sale prices to maximize savings. For example, say an item is normally $3 but when its on sale its only $2. When you use a $1 off coupon your saving 50% instead of 30%, and you're getting it for $1 instead of $2. I always try to get as many coupons as I can for items my family uses (even if its things we only get once in a while, you never know when it will go on sale super cheap and your coupon will make it even cheaper... or free!). It's best to stock up on things when you can get them for really cheap, I try to get enough to last me until that items on sale again (most items at most store are on sale roughly every 6 months). If you are going to use coupons make sure you read them carefully. Its really annoying to get to the cashier and find out the terms of your coupon aren't what you thought and you can't save as much as you expected.

I also look through what I call "money back apps". These are the apps that literally give you money for buying stuff. I use Checkout 51 and Zweet because I find they have the most products that I use but there are others ones you can download from the App Store. These apps both post a list of items each week, on Wednesdays. If you buy any of the listed products you upload your grocery receipt with your camera on your phone and they give you a certain amount of money back for each product. Once you get to $20 or more you can "cash out" and they mail you a cheque. Some items only give you $0.25, but I've also seen some that give you $5 when you buy it. Either way, it all adds up especially if your buying things you would normally buy anyways. If you shop at any Presidents Choice store (Zehrs, Superstore, etc.) you will also want to check your loaded offers on your PC Plus card (don't forget to load your offers every week from the email they send out). Those points add up so quickly too, and they're nice to have if you go over budget a little because of miscalculations or unexpected purchases.

Now that you have an idea of what's on sale, what coupons you have, and what your going to get points or money back for you're ready to make your meal plan. I use a really simple chart with the days I'm shopping for across the top and daily meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) down the side. Fill in your chart with all the great meals you want to cook for the week (or however long your shopping for). Once your meal plan is made make a list of everything you need to buy to make it happen.

Next, I open my app and search for each item and find the cheapest price I can for each item. This is called price matching. You definitely want to make sure that your grocery store allows price matching. In Canada, I know Superstore, Zehrs, Walmart, and Freshco do but I'm sure there are others. You can call your grocery store to find out for sure.

Ok, your list is made and you have the lowest price for each item, now it's a good idea to add everything up and make sure that you are within your budget. This is a very important step because if you are over budget it won't matter how much you've saved. If you do find that you are over your budget make some changes to your grocery list by taking some things out or substituting them for cheaper alternatives. If you are significantly over budget you may want to make some changes to your meal plan. Don't forget to look up any new/different items that you added to your list in your flyers/app so your getting the lowest price for them.

Now its time to go to the store. Be sure to bring your list, your phone or flyers, your coupons (I like to bring all of mine because they still fit in my purse and you never know what you might find when you get there), and your shopping bags. Make sure that when you go grocery shopping you aren't hungry and you are focused on the task at hand. It might sound a little silly but if your hungry or thinking about other things you are more likely to spend extra money. I also try to grocery shop alone. My husband and kids like to add things to the cart and I never have the heart to say no to them (plus the things they add are usually full price and expensive).

I shop at the Superstore and they have a very large discount/marked down section that I find very helpful. Its a good idea to know where these sections are at your store. I just found out that there's another section of marked down toiletries by the washroom (I'm not sure why its there where no one can see it) where I found sunscreen bottles for $1. I find that even the bread and produce that is marked down is still in great condition, especially if its being used very soon or being frozen (I make my own baby food that I freeze).

While your at the grocery store, don't forget to keep your eyes open for coupons on the shelves. Some stores also post all of their coupons in one location at the front. It's still a good idea to keep your eyes open because sometimes you'll find products with additional coupons, or other coupons that are not on the board. Another place to look for coupons is online. If you subscribe to coupon mailing lists or go straight to manufacturers websites you will get lots more coupons, however usually you can usually only get one at a time. One more place I've seen coupons are couponing Facebook pages. Usually on these people are willing to trade close to expiring coupons, or coupons they won't use. As I said you need to collect coupons for a while but also keep an eye on the expiration dates so your not trying to use expired ones. 

Now that you have all your groceries its time to go to the checkout. I recommend getting to know the cashiers at your grocery store because they can be very helpful, or a pain in the @$$. I try to shop at the same time each week and have been known to wait in super long lines just so that I get the cashier I know will help me out. Some benefits to a cashier that knows you is they are more likely to let you know if there's an item you didn't price match that you could get cheaper, combine offers, let you buy more than 1 item with a coupon at a time, and help you bag your groceries... all things I doubt they are supposed to do or that they do for everyone. Plus, it's just good etiquette to be nice to service people...  And all people for that matter!

A word about checking out: be conscious of the other shoppers! We all know how annoying it is to get caught behind the old lady who can't see, is trying to pay for her groceries with change, and is telling her life story in the process (not that I have anything against these practices, it's just annoying when you're in a hurry). It's just as annoying for other shoppers to get stuck behind someone trying to sort out 100 flyers, coupons, and watching every item get scanned in to be sure it's correct. How do I mitigate this annoyance? I find that organization is key here, like always. I put all my marked down stuff (not the stuff on sale but the stuff from the clearance section) on the conveyor belt first, then a space (just enough for the cashier to know we're on to a new section), then the items your price matching, then a space, then everything else. This way the cashier doesn't accidentally scan in stuff you are price matching (which will need to be deleted and re-entered). I also hand the cashier all the items in the order the clippings appear in my app so that I'm not wasting time scrolling around for the item. Then once all your price matching and reduced price items are done the cashier can scan the rest of the stuff while you bag it all. No matter how you do things, the important thing is that you aren't holding everyone else up. The first few weeks of doing all this you might want to grocery shop at a slower time, and let the people behind you know you're price matching and may take a little extra time.
Some stores have a policy called the "Scanning Code of Practice". This handy little rule says that if an item scans for a price higher than the price it says on the shelf you get the item for free... yes, I said F-R-E-E. So, say you are buying an item that is supposed to cost $4.44 and it scans for $6.97 (or whatever), tell the cashier and you will get it for free. This mostly happens on sale items when they haven't been entered into the cashiers system properly and I'm told that Shoppers Drugmart and Freshco are the best places to go because it happens there frequently. I just found out about this little gem and have yet to use it but you better believer I watch everything being scanned in now. It is hard to keep all the prices straight but again it gets easier with practice. Check with your stores customer service desk to find out exactly how your store does things. Some stores policies vary slightly with resect to how many items you are allowed and maximum price of things you can get for free.

Finally, make sure you scan your loyalty card before paying (and if you shop at Superstore remember you get the deal of the week for free if the cashier doesn't ask you if your interested in it), pay for everything, and give yourself a pat on the back: your grocery shopping is done for another week.

It may seem like a lot of work, and it can be, but like anything the more you do it the faster you get. It used to take me 2 hours or more to plan my grocery shopping and now I do it in about 30 minutes. One great way to save time is do some of the steps in your free time the day before: checkout sales (flyers are often previewed a day or 2 before the sales) and cashback apps (remember new offers are posted every Wednesday) the day before, or do everything the night before after the kids go to bed.

Like most things you're going to get out of it what you put in, the more planning you do the more money you will save. So far my record is $60 for a full week of groceries for 5 people, but I know one woman who's grocery bill came to $0.60!!

Have any tips of your own, or any suggestion for ways I can save even more money please comment below and don't forget to follow this blog for more posts like this one! Thanks for reading and have a fantastic day :)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Yay! My first post

Wow! I can not believe I finally got around to starting this blog. This has been on my never-ending list of things to do for a very long time. So long, in fact, that the initial concept wasn't anything like what this has turned out to be. But I'm hoping that my catch-all topic list will keep you guys checking back and reading (or at least looking over) everything I've got to share.

Our Boys last Christmas
Let me back up a little and introduce myself. My name is Jen Levitt. Two years ago my life took a total 360-degree turn and now I find myself trying to figure out how to make it through all of the hurdles each of my new rolls come with. I am now a mom. I have 4 super-fun kids; 1 of them (the youngest) I birthed, and the other 3 I happily choose to love (my way of saying they're my step-kids) who are 15, 7, 6, and 10 months old (so you'll probably find lots of posts about being a mommy and parenting). I am now a wife. My amazing partner's name is Leo. One day I'll tell our story but for now I'll just say that he is the best friend I've ever had and the greatest partner I could ever ask for. Don't get me wrong, he's anything but perfect but he's perfect for me and that's exactly what I need and want (so you'll probably find lots of posts about relationships and marriage). I am now also an aspiring Entrepreneur. I recently graduated from the Architectural Technology program at St. Clair College, in Windsor, Ontario and finally am taking a step back from my 10 year stretch working in the nightclub/bar industry so I can start my own home-based business (so you'll probably find some post sprinkled in here about working at home, starting your own business, and being a working parent).

I'm definitely learning as I go with respect to the new rolls I've taken on as a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, and a general-all-around-responsible adult. I've always had fun with kids but only ever for short times, and always as the fun adult. I never had to discipline any one, or deal with over-tired cranky kids. I never had the responsibility of raising someone instead of just being the fun babysitter that let them stay up 'til mom and dad's head lights told us they'd catch us breaking ALL the rules any second. In fact, as of the day I found out I was pregnant I'd only ever held about a half dozen babies, most of which were my brothers (who were born when I was around 7 years old). Needless to say I've been learning something new everyday, and as far as I can tell everyday that ends with our kids and I alive and smiling is a good day in my books! Before starting this blog I started a Twitter page where I share all of the lessons my kids are teaching me so if your interested in what I'm writing here  you'll probably like what I write there so follow me!

Something else about me that might help shed some light on some of the random topics you'll find here is I am insanely curious. I grew up thinking that to be an adult you had to know everything, and always have the answer to any question. As I grew up I developed a desire to try everything and an insatiable curiosity about the world. Because of this I dabble in a lot of different hobbies. I've always got lots of projects on the go and I'm constantly googleing and researching things. I feel like you can never know enough, and hate the feeling that I get when everyone else knows about something and I'm in the dark. Because of this quirk you'll probably find lots of somewhat random "how-to" posts, or posts about topics that I found interesting, researched, and thought I'd share with you.

Not a great quality picture, but here's Leo and I
when we first started dating a little over 2 years ago.
I'm hoping that with this blog not only will you learn about a bunch of stuff related to parenting and family-life, but that I'll learn some stuff too. The inspiration to write this blog didn't come from a significant interest in writing but instead because I wanted to dabble in something else, and thought that by writing a blog about the things I'm learning I could try something new that would lead to learning more new things. So if you have any odd questions, are curious about something, or have some of your own great tips please feel free to contact me so we can share them with everyone else.

          -Jen Levitt
"...If you think you can, you can
If you think you can't, you can't..."
- Henry Ford