Friday, February 11, 2011

How I Can Shop So Frugal-ly

(Please sing the title of this post to the tune of "that you and I should get along so aw-ful-ly," part of the lyrics to "People Are People"  by Depeche Mode. In large part because I used to regularly annoy my sister by chanting those lyrics to her and creating a 1980s earworm. She can thank me later.)

I'm in a season right now of not doing as much grocery shopping as I have been -- truly, constant subzero temperatures make it unpleasant to contemplate getting out of the car any more often than necessary, and nearly frozen fingers have a hard time flipping through coupons. This has given me time to think about why, in "normal" seasons of life, it currently works for me to do the things I do (soundtrack here: The Temptations) -- grocery-shopping-wise, anyway.

First of all, my overall grocery shopping strategy for the past couple of years has been the "stockpiling" method, in which you purchase items at a low price, based on the store flyers' loss leaders and coupon matchups for sale items, and plan your menus based upon what you acquire/have on hand as a result. It's a method that's been discussed fairly frequently in the blogosphere, so I won't go into great detail. If you want a quick summary, check out this post from Get Rich Slowly; if you want a more in-depth tutorial, read this 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series from MoneySavingMom.

I will, however, make a couple of quick notes on this: shopping this way "forces" you to eat more seasonally, since the produce that is actually in season is much less expensively priced. This ties in nicely with a conscious seasonality, which is one of my broader life goals anyway. Also, the resources I use for coupon matchups are the coupon database from -- a free resource, and the oft-referred-to Grocery Game doesn't even index the stores in my area* -- and -- which is relatively local to me, and does provide detailed listings of sales and coupon matchups for my regular grocery stores.

Two key words in that preceding paragraph describe my grocery shopping strategy: "local" and "stores." I am lucky that local, for me, is the Twin Cities, Minnesota, area. This means that it's a major metro area, with a lot of stores, including at least one that does coupon doubling (on certain days, with certain rules, yadda, yadda). That means I have a lot of choice about where I spend my grocery dollars.

I'm also lucky that no one in my immediate, living-in-my-house family, has any food restrictions that require the purchase of more expensive food. It's only when we're feeding extended family that we have to worry about whether this particular "modified food starch" might be code for gluten-ous wheat, or whether something  has been "prepped in a plant that also processes peanuts."

So, I have choices in what and where I purchase. Not only that, but I have choices within choices -- that don't require additional trips out of my way. On my way to or from work, I (can) go by two different CVS locations, three Walgreens, and locations of both of the mainstream grocery stores -- including the coupon-doubling one -- that I shop at. This is lucky because a) I'm not using any extra gas, b) I can take advantage of various stores' savings programs, and c) the Walgreens two blocks from my house has horrid pharmacy service.

I am also lucky in that the Twin Cities area has two major newspapers -- which means two sources of Sunday coupon inserts. We subscribe to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, but also purchase the Sunday (St. Paul) Pioneer Press, which means I generally have two copies of that week's SmartSource, RedPlum, sometimes Procter & Gamble, etc., inserts -- not to mention the ability to print coupons from websites. (And heck, no, I don't clip all those coupons -- I just file the dated inserts in sheet protectors in a binder, and clip when needed according to the weekly coupon/sale matchups from the aforementioned sites.)

So, my current ability for frugal shopping essentially boils down to what used to be the mantra for the real estate industry (you know, before "foreclosure" and "short sale"): "location, location, location." I'm lucky that way.

*(or at least it didn't when I checked into it a couple of years ago)

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