Today’s post is timely as I’m about to go grocery shopping.
So you’ve whittled down your fixed expenses as much as you can. The next thing you can do is try to pare down the cost of your consumables.
Again, there are a few options to consider. If we were going full frugal, the obvious answer would be to move close to where you work/play, so that you can walk/bike everywhere and have no need for a car. The occasional times you would use one could be fulfilled by a car sharing service or a rental agency. In large cities like ours, public transit is also an option.
This is impractical and undesirable for us. Given that we both grew up in a rural area, we wanted to provide that opportunity for our kids. At least we didn’t buy a new build and are filling existing housing!
When I used to work downtown, I was a bus girl through and through. Fighting against traffic and for parking spaces? No thank you. We’re only 5 minutes away from a large transit hub, and by 2023 (I think!) it will be serviced by the LRT.
If the hours were more convenient, there is also a rural route that goes right past my house. That being said, it is incompatible with bus times and daycare drop-offs/pick-ups.
My current work location is slightly awkward to get to by bus, and easy to get to by car. (For bussing, I either have to bus and walk 15 minutes or transfer to an infrequent route to drop me off nearby). The cost of parking is half the current cost of a transit pass. It’s also super easy to get to my kids if they need me to come pick them up. So for now, I drive.
Location, location, location.
If you have to drive, it’s best to consider what kind of ride to purchase. My first car was a huge 1994 Buick Roadmaster – the Queen Mary. It wasn’t too bad because it was an occasional vehicle. When we were looking for our SUV (which has been traded in for a minivan!), gas mileage was a huge consideration for us.
One way I try to save on filling up my tank is to check out (and report on) current gas prices using the GasBuddy app. You get points for reporting on prices and completing challenges, which can then be exchanged for entries into a draw to win a $100 gas card. If you’re out riding, why not?
I should probably be responsible and say do not GasBuddy and drive. It’s illegal as it is distracted driving, and therefore dangerous. *cough*
I have noticed that the gas station closest to where we live is generally less expensive than those in nearby Orléans, where the various gas stations often have price wars with each other.
I would also recommend signing up for loyalty cards. In our case, we don’t use our PetroCanada card as much because they are consistently more expensive than other stations. The only time it becomes worthwhile is when we get a $0.10/L coupon card from our oil changes. I mostly fill up at Mr. Gas because of the proximity, the price is generally the lowest, and they have a decent cashback program. If Mr. Gas shows to be more expensive for whatever reason, I will use Refuel because of the PC Points you can earn while filling up.
Ah yes. The bread and butter of my post. I didn’t think my gas section would be so wordy!
Preparation is key for grocery shopping; without it, you will end up spending more than you want, and likely wasting food.
Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self
We have a large freezer, and a decent pantry. Last year, we organized our pantry to be able to easily see what we have on hand and what we might need to buy. This has helped us to avoid filling up on pasta and sauce, Cheerios, and rice when we already had plenty.
I also like to clean out my fridge before I go out (or get hubby to do it while I am out 😉 ). It’s not so much that I enjoy the task as it is that I like having room to store my new groceries without having to play Tetris or worry about the science experiment brewing in the bottom right hand corner infecting my shiny new produce.
Plan for success!
One big thing that I do is plan out my meals for the week.
Hubs is a pretty easygoing guy, so it would drive me nuts to come home and ask him what he wanted for dinner, only to have him reply “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?” Just thinking about it makes me want to pull out my hair!
We also have kids that have particular tastes. They get an input in terms of meals and sides; this minimizes dinnertime whining. We also get to choose a couple of meals that we want to try or haven’t had in a while, and everybody is generally happy.
The other benefit is that you’re not buying stuff “just in case” you have a craving for it, you only buy exactly what you need.
Make your list, check it twice
With those meals in mind, and remembering staples for breakfast and school/work lunches, I can compile my grocery list.
Now, some people do this step first, as they let the flyers tell them what meals they will make this week. I do it slightly differently because we are dealing with a few dietary restrictions and I am a pretty big fan of price-matching.
There’s the old-school way to go shopping – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! What my folks do is have my mom go through the flyers to write down what she want to buy at each store. My dad will then go out – keeping in mind which stores have days for senior discounts – and purchase his groceries accordingly.
Me? I have a little less patience for shopping around. What I do have is a smartphone and a little app called Flipp. This little thing has changed my life! You punch in your postal code, which will allow you to load up all of the flyers for your area. I will then input all of the items I want to purchase and it pulls up any flyers where they might be on sale.
In order to take advantage of this, I then go to one of my local price-match-friendly stores: Wal-Mart, No Frills or Real Canadian Superstore.
We don’t typically shop at Wal-Mart. If you ever want to hear a good rant, have Hubby explain why he hates Wal-Mart. Or how Paw Patrol makes no sense. Either one will be highly entertaining!
No Frills is a decent option, but I have found that, while certain items are cheaper (I think the formula I use for Rosebud was $1 cheaper there than at other Loblaw-family stores), some of the food (meat, produce) was not as nice, and the selection was more limited. For example, my kids (and who am I kidding? My husband too!) are pretty much mice if you look at the amount of cheese they eat. So, I like to price match the large Kraft or Black Diamond cheese bars. At No Frills, the only brands available are no name and Armstrong, which are more expensive than the sale price on the brand names.
My store of choice is therefore Real Canadian Superstore – or, as my son calls it, the “Super Duper Computer Store!”
We rarely go to Food Basics, Metro or Sobeys because their prices are not competitive on the items we like to buy, and when they are, we can price match them at RCSS. We also like the PC Points program, which is more profitable (for us) compared to other incentives like Air Miles.
Know your prices!
Once you go through this process a few times, you get to know what is a good deal versus a premium price, and this helps you to make informed decisions as to when to stock up and when to just buy enough to get you through the week.
But what about Costco?
Costco is a whole other beast. We had a Costco membership at our old house because it was walking distance, and we had a lot more disposable income. My neighbour and I would walk there with our babies for fun.
When we moved out here, it wasn’t super convenient for us to get to so we did without for a few years.
We started up just recently, and I think it will be worthwhile to examine the pros and cons at a later date.
With Costco, it’s important to know your prices, so if you are on the fence and don’t know that part yet, I would really learn your prices, otherwise you will be likely to overspend.
The first time we went to Costco after we obtained our membership (March?), I was super nerdy and sat down to calculate the price per 100g for each item we purchased.
What it comes down to is this: if you don’t look at the sale prices, Costco will usually beat the grocery stores.
If you are like me and price match, you will do better on many items.
That being said, quality is another thing to consider. I find the Black Diamond cheese tastes so much fresher – like the Thornloe cheese we used to get back home when I was a kid – at Costco compared to the grocery store. Tortilla wraps from RCSS are like cardboard to me, but are actually palatable and taste fresh when they come from Costco. Last week, I wanted to save money by buying the cheaper RCSS strawberries (I saved $1). They went bad right away while Costco’s strawberries last us for a long time. I ended up throwing a bunch of them in the compost when for that extra dollar, we could have finished them all.
If you want to go next level frugal
You could try to eat out your pantry and freezer for the week or the month. The idea is to only eat what you already have on hand to come up with random and surprising meals. Personally, I need to have fresh produce in my life or else my bowels go bananas.*
* More than you ever needed to know about me, part 1.
What are some of your favourite grocery money-saving tips?