Checklist for your List!

For details on how I make my own grocery list each week, click here.

1. Keep a list on or near the fridge. Add to it throughout the week when you run out of something, or when you’re nearly out of something.
2. Check the grocery ad for your preferred store for current sales. Let the sales choose your proteins and veggies, and build meals around those.
3. Write out your working Meal Plan for the week.
4. Cross-check your needed items and sale items with coupons. Use this site, your grocer’s website, and any catalina coupons you may have received at the register.
5. Be sure you aren’t missing any items or ingredients in the following categories:
* Dinner meals
* Lunches
* Breakfast
* Easy Snacks
* Household
* Special occasion
6. Finalize list by writing in coupons and prices. Add items for a preliminary total for your trip.
7. Gather, cut, and clip necessary coupons. Don’t forget your list and coupons when you head out the door!

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Making your Grocery List

I wanted to share a post on how I plan my grocery trip every week. I’ve shared how I shop when I am on a stricter budget than normal, but I also wanted to share how I usually do things, in case it helps anyone to try it this way. It may seem like a lot of information, but the general point is this: Putting a lot of thought and planning into your list earns you flexibility and time when it comes to meals.
At the end I’ve listed everything in numerical checklist-type-fashion for ease of use. 😉

Firstly: I keep one of those magnetized lists on my fridge. Throughout the week I will add to this – it’s where I jot down what we have run out of, or are low on, and will need to purchase right away. You could call these things immediate NEEDS. They are generally things we use every week like bananas, milk, butter, eggs; and other items we might not need to purchase every week, but will nevertheless NEED, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or a necessary pantry item I ran out of (spices, flour, ketchup, etc.).

Then, a day or two before my planned shopping, I check the weekly ad for sales. With my fridge checklist nearby, I start a new list based on the ad – what’s on sale that I should stock up on? A few things about this list:
* Are there crossover items (items on my NEEDS checklist that are also on sale)? I check for coupons and then add all these items to the new list – whether on sale or not.
* I write things in order of department. I shop from BACK of the store to the FRONT, because most of the cold things are at the front of the store.
* If a sale item is limited to a particular size or brand, I always write that to help me identify it in the aisles.
* I write small and leave room next to each item to write down if I have a coupon, and if so where to find it. This way I don’t forget to cut and/or pack the paper coupons, or forget to scan them at the register. I use Meijer mPerks and the Coupon Lookup site for these.
* I also leave room in the right margin to write the cost, if I need to stick to a particular budget.
* I can then add up the amounts in the margin and get an approximate and preliminary total for my trip.

After I have or while I am perusing the ad, I turn over my list and make a meal plan for the week. I don’t do this until AFTER I look at the ad, because I usually build my meals around protein, and I base my proteins on what’s on sale that week. As I meal plan, I figure out if I need to add anything to my list that are necessary ingredients for those meals, and add them to my list.

Then I’ll go back one more time to make sure I have not forgotten anything. If I’m over my budget, I’ll see if there’s anything I can postpone purchasing.

Here are some categories I check off in deciding what to buy each week:
* Checklist needs, as explained above
* Enough proteins, veggies, and starches for dinners for the week
* Lunch staples – bread, PB&J, etc. Tortillas are also a staple in our house as they are so good for repurposing leftovers.
* Breakfast foods – In our house we rotate cereal, waffles, toast, eggs, and sometimes pancakes and crepes. Other times baked goods like apple cinnamon muffins and banana cookies!
* Pantry replenishment – anything on my needs list, but also includes my preferred OHI; for example, spinach, tomatoes, avocado(!) that I like to have around.
* Easy to grab snacks – this used to mean granola bars and fruit snacks for the kids; now I’ve tried to switch more to fresh fruit and veggies. The ones that are the most mommy-friendly are ones they can eat without any prep (except the original wash of course): grapes, apples, bananas, strawberries. Also good are yogurt and cheese. Sometimes I’ll buy cucumber, wash and cut it, and store it in a bag in the snack drawer in the fridge for the kids to grab easily. These snacks are great for mid-day when I might be prepping for dinner or finally eating my own lunch, and can’t or don’t want to be interrupted! 😉
* Household Items – cleaning, seasonal, essentials (like light bulbs!), home or garden (lawn bags, etc.)
* Special occasion – Cards or gifts for birthdays, showers, weddings; celebratory and also sympathy occasions

Does that seem like a really long drawn out process? It doesn’t actually take me so long anymore, because I can breeze through all these steps really quickly now that I’ve been doing it for so long. I also don’t always do a perfectly detailed Meal Plan every week – that’s the benefit of learning to cook using your OHI. All you have to do is choose proteins and veggies, then replenish your starches, spices, and pantry items. As long as you have a basic idea of the meal plan for each day, you can easily adjust based on what you have on hand. You can adjust this process to fit your needs and lifestyle. If you aren’t as concerned about cost, you save yourself time on coupons and can focus more on trying new recipes. If cost is more of an issue, you have the opportunity to flex your creativity muscle by using cheaper ingredients in new and interesting ways.

Click HERE for a step-by-step checklist to make your own organized, thoughtful shopping list!

Quick Tip: Price Comparison in Store

Being thrifty sometimes means simply paying attention to labels in store,  particularly in the produce section.

Today I had garlic on my list, but I only needed a small head as I still have some at home. I started to grab a small one, as they are usually priced per pound.
That is, until I noticed the signage :

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2/$1 means no matter what size, it’s going to be the same price. I put back the small one and grabbed a bigger one.

Similarly, there was a pre-packaged 4-pack of kiwis for $2.50. The a la carte kiwis were 4/$2. I don’t always have time to do this, but out of curiosity I put 4 in a bag and weighed them. They came in JUST under 1lb. There’s a $.50 savings right there. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you pay attention to each item on your list this way, you can see big savings in the long run!

Maximize your Potential Savings

A few years ago, a friend told me about a concept called “Super Couponing”. The lady who started it lived right in our area, had a free blog, and held free seminars in which she taught how to coupon. I looked into it and tried it, and LOVED it. It is a totally different way of shopping, but if you’re looking to maximize your savings, it definitely works. (Click for Supercouponing and Jill Cataldo’s blog.)

At least a month ago (before we really started going healthier), I received this alert from Meijer:
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This alert is referring to catalinas – the coupons which print at the register. These particular coupons can be used as money off your total basket; you can apply it to anything. What makes them even more awesome is that you can use as many as you want on an order; potentially, if you had enough of these, you could use them to pay for your entire shopping cart (except for tax, I think).
Here’s another example so you have an idea:
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When you follow the requirements on the alert, you will get a catalina for the amount specified. Around the same time, I also received these catalina coupons:
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Now here’s the thing: I could have used these right away, seeing as I would already be “double-dipping” by using the coupons AND receiving money back. But if they’re not on sale, Tombstone can be up to $5 a pop. I usually don’t buy them unless they’re around the $2.50-3.50 mark. Especially since we’ve been eating healthier, I don’t want to expend extra money that could be going towards healthier items. But everything in moderation still applies, and these are good to have on hand in an emergency, or if I’m running behind, and cheaper and quicker than Delivery or Take out pizza.

Here comes the strategy: I wait as long as possible (until the week of expiration) to see if they will go on sale, and then I use everything all at once. Usually it pays off.

Like… This week! I’ve been watching the ad and they haven’t been on sale the past several weeks, but this week they are 3 for $10.

So I will purchase 5 Tombstone pizzas for $16.65 total. After my $2.50 coupon, I will pay $14.15 and get $3 back to use on my next order. That’s like getting 5 Tombstone pizzas for $11.15, or $2.23 each. Not bad at all!!

So you see, it’s true: Good things come to those who wait!

Click here for current national catalina offers.

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Meijer mPerks (couponing)

Awhile back, Meijer rolled out a new program called ‘mPerks’. At first many of us were not sure about it because it consisted mainly of coupons on store brand products, and not all of them were very desirable. Fast forward about a year, and it has progressed A TON. Not only are there great store coupons on produce and store brand items, but there are also manufacturer coupons. These are similar to what you would get out of the newspaper or printables online, but they connect to your mPerks account. You use your phone number and a pin number to log in. You load coupons to your account, enter your phone number at the register, and BAM! Instant savings!

The reason I wanted to highlight the mPerks today is to tell you about their Rewards program. I love it. They give you 3-4 options in 2-3 categories. You choose which option you’d like to work towards, and once you’ve fulfilled the requirement, you get $x off your entire basket.
For example:
One category I had three options: Spend $20 in skin care, get $X off. Spend $30 in hair care, get $8 off. Spend $30 in health products, get $8 off. This is a tough one as I really don’t spend much in any of these categories at Meijer. (I get most of my skin care/hair care online from Artistry and Satinique.)
They also have pharmacy rewards and Baby rewards (For the Baby rewards, every $100 you spend you get $10 off! Wish they would’ve started this 6 months earlier, it would’ve been a HUGE money saver for us!)

But in one of the categories there was this option:
“Spend $60 in produce, get $8 off.”
Great for us right now as we’ve been eating up the produce around here with the Hubs’ weight loss goals!! (By the way, he’s lost over 9 lbs in 2 weeks. SO proud of him!)
Your purchases are cumulative, and usually they go an entire calendar month. So, new options become available the 1st of each month and all your purchases (yes separate transactions!) count towards fulfilling that $60 requirement. You can track how much you’ve spent and how far you have to go by logging into your mPerks account online – or checking it on their app!

Now! Once you’ve fulfilled the total required amount, you get a “Special Offer” in your mPerks. You can clip the $x off your total basket coupon. At the store when you begin your transaction and put in your mPerks number and PIN, a screen pops up asking, “Would you like to use $x off your basket now?” Hit YES!!! And then a beautiful thing happens: YOU SCAN ITEMS AND YOUR TOTAL STAYS $0!!! Woo hoo!! 🙂
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If you have a Meijer nearby and haven’t checked the mPerks out yet, I recommend registering here. Have fun saving!!!