My groceries are killing me: easier ways to shop

by Sarah Winfrey on 6 November 2007 27 comments

I don't know about you, but I hate grocery shopping. I hate it even when I get to shop at fun places, like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. It takes so much time, and I never know if I'm getting a good deal or not, because I'm not organized enough to write down prices. Also, I don't have enough hands to do it while I'm in the store. Lately, I've been investigating some different ways to shop. My requirements are that i still get to do some cooking, that I get to eat relatively fresh ingredients, that I can eat as healthily as I want, and that I don't have to spend very much more than I am now. Here are some grocery shopping alternatives that just might give you the break you need!

Playing The Grocery Game

Where: www.thegrocerygame.com

What: The basic gist of The Grocery Game is that busy shoppers can clip coupons from the Sunday paper, then pay $5 a month to have Teri find out when the best time is to use those coupons to get the best deals. If you buy from Teri's list for 12 weeks, you should have a stockpiled kitchen. Then, you can rebuy things as you use them or as their best price comes around again.

The good: People do save money doing this (Google "grocery game reviews" if you want more details). Many of them save quite a lot. You'll be able to be confident that you are getting the very best prices that you possibly can. In the end, you will save time as well because you'll know where things are in your grocery store and which things you're going after. Eventually, you may even get good enough at the game to play it yourself, without the website to help. Also, a 4-week trial is only $1, so you can jump in and try it.

The bad: The process is time-intensive for the first 12 weekswith all that coupon cutting. Also, you will need storage for all the food you're stockpiling, and you won't get to eat whatever you want until the stockpiling is complete (because you won't necessarily have purchased everything you need for a meal). Specialty items may or may not get listed, and there may not be stores available in some areas.

In the end: I don't think it's for me, at least, not yet. I like too many specialty items, and my main grocery store is not available on their website. It sounds like a good idea, and if I get desperate enough I may try it, but it doesn't seem like the best thing for me right now.

Dream Dinners

Where: www.dreamdinners.com (There are a good number of services like this, but this seems to be the main one in my area. If you want to find a different one in your area, look at the Wikipedia page for Dream Dinners.)

What: You go to their store at a certain time, choose which meals you want and how many servings of each, and assemble all the ingredients for the meal in a tin tray or a plastic bag. You pay based on which meal you selected and how many servings you got. Then, you take the meals home and freeze them until you're ready to eat them. They come with detailed cooking instructions, so you follow those and TA-DA!, impressive meal for family or friends.

The good: At between $2.75 and $3.33 a serving, the meals are definitely reasonable for what you get. You do all the prep work, so it feels like cooking, and you have a relatively healthy, tasty meal at the end of it. The company and people I know who have used it claim that you get quality ingredients for your money and that the meals keep for quite a while in the freezer. If you want to take a meal to someone who needs one or share with friends, the food is right there in your freezer, waiting to be prepared. Also, if you buy more than a certain amount each month, you get a discount.

The bad: You don't get any food to be eaten at other times, so shopping for breakfasts and lunches will still have to be done outside of you Dream Dinners time and money. You have to sign up for a session at the Dream Dinners store, and can be charged to reschedule. While I've read some complaints about how long some of the dinners take to prepare and the quality of ingredients, those seem few and far between (and the people I know who use the service have never made those complaints. Finally, Dream Dinners seems family-oriented so singles or even couples may find that it doesn't work as well for them.

In the end: This is tempting. I always have trouble pulling together meal plans, so the thought of having someone do it for me is awesome! However, the cost of these meals plus the cost of other food for other meals is more than I want to spend on groceries right now, so I'll see if there's another plan.

Getting Groceries Delivered

Where: Many places

What: You choose which items you want from the store's website, schedule a delivery time and place, and by online by credit card. The store delivers your groceries to your home for a (usually) small fee.

The good: You don't have to go to the store. You don't have to spend your time there, and you don't have to try to find out where everything is. You get the same items you would otherwise buy, and so you can eat as you're accustomed. You can also use any coupons, discount cards, etc., that you have for that store.

The bad: You have to pay a fee for the delivery. Usually, you can find coupons online, but that does vary some by store or delivery service. You don't get any special deals, and you still don't always know if you're getting a good deal or not (though you might come to find that out, over time, because you'll always be ordering from the same store).

In the end: This is the option I'm most likely to try. My favorite grocery store doesn't offer this, and that's still disappointing. The fees aren't too bad, though, given the fact that they are running around the store for you and driving the food to your house. People I know who do this love it!

 

Let me know if you've used any of these options and if they've worked for you, or if you have other ideas. I'd love to hear them!

Tagged: Life Hacks, grocery
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Myscha Theriault's picture

The first option sounds similar but a little more labor intensive than the coupon sense program in Arizona. You don't clip there. You just file them until the best time to use them comes up, which the web site service does for you. I was getting ready to leave when they were just getting started, so I didn't end up using them. But my neighbor did and she was RAVING about all the money she was saving. We tend to spend money and save money in very similar ways, so I basically trust her judgement on it. Others might want to check out for themselves.

I've never tried the other two options.

Guest's picture
Rob in Madrid

unfortunatly I get alot of copouns but I haven't been able to figure them all out. I did manage to get 2 for 1 on a large pack of toliet paper. From everything I've read copouning can save you a ton of cash, the reward far outweights the effort. For example Lynnae over over at beingfurgal.net saved $40 on a $100 shopping bill. That's quite an accomlishment.

Guest's picture
Rebecca

For thegrocerygame, you can just put the date on top of the circular, file the whole thing, then pull it out to clip from when/if you need it. I don't use many processed foods, so this is easier for me. Also, check out couponmom.com. It's similar to grocerygame, but free (lots of ads, though, and a lengthy sign up process. Just get through it, it's worth it!). They do different stores, so they may have stores in your area. You could also check out hotcouponworld.com, but they are hard core couponers who get a months worth of groceries for $25, and regularly get everything for free at CVS. You can check it out for tips, at least.

Philip Brewer's picture

For me, which store is "my favorite" has a lot to do with things that mostly don't matter if I'm having my groceries delivered:

  • The store is clean and well-lighted.
  • It's organized so that I can find stuff.
  • The parking lot is easy to get into and out of.

In fact, it might be for the best if a non-favorite store offered delivery. Then I could get staples from them delivered, while continuing to go to my favorite store for things I wanted to pick out myself and fresh stuff that I want to buy the day I'm going to use it.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Rob, it sounds like something like the grocery game might really help you.  I wonder if they have anything where you live?

Rebecca, hotcouponworld.com sounds like an interesting place...defininately checking it out.

Thanks, Philip--you make a good point, and one I hadn't thought of.  It gives me something else to weigh, anyway! 

Guest's picture
Mary

Online shopping, with the supermarkets delivering to your house is really popular in the UK. After the first couple of times it is really quick, and now some supermarkets over here deliver in 1 hour time slots, so you don't even need to be in all evening, and others will deliver it literally to your fridge door.

I did it when I was a student and no-one in my house had a car. It worked out as a really good way to save money, because you weren't tempted so much to make impulse purchases, and you could choose to shop at the cheapest supermarket rather than the closest one. And with delivery at about £5 ($10), split between 4, the savings from not buying any donuts/drinks cans etc. easily saved money.

The bad is that sometimes they give you really naff fresh food, particularly fruit and veg which might be bruised, or just unpleasantly squiggy, so you might have to go shopping separately for that.

Guest's picture
sara

The grocery game is fairly labor intensive, however The payoff is huge- its SO satisfying to get groceries for free or 15- 20 cents a piece while shopping at my favorite Safeway (Philip I totally agree that the store makes a big difference in the shopping experience) I typically sit down for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, review the grocery game, plan meals for the week based on the deals, and then build my grocery list and go shop. This has made the cooking when i get home from work job significantly more doable, since i always have a plan, and always have the ingredients (that I've bought for cheap!). also- the grocery game could still be advantageous even if you aren't clipping coupons, because it tells you which products are currently being sold at their lowest price.

Guest's picture
debbie

Although I do not participate in the grocery game website, I do "play" a savings game with myself. I get the paper everyday, esp. Sun. I cut coupons for products I use or may use and compare all the sale flyers in my area. I manage to spend harly anything on groceries or personal items. Perfect example: today I went to Walgreens. Between their sale, their coupons/rebates and my manufacture coupons, I saved $67. Same thing at Publix. Went grocery shopping and saved $50. I usually save about 50-75% of what I would have spent.I also don't buy alot of processed food, unless you count cereal :). Which by the way, I got 3 boxes of cereal today for $4. The stores here do not double coupons, but if they did, they would have been free. So, do I like shopping, no. But since I make a savings game of it, then, yes, I can deal with it.

Guest's picture

I tried Dream Dinners last year and blogged about it several times. At first, I was quite pleased, but by the end, I felt that only a few of their dishes met our rather high (some might say picky) standards. Still, my brother-in-law, who works long hours and lives alone, found it the quality sufficient for the convenience.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

I LOVE having my groceries delivered!

I do it every 3-4 weeks for a larger shopping. For me, it works out great and I haven't even been clipping coupons so far.

The delivery fee is $10 (no tips allowed) and it seems paltry to me considering the time and grief I save (our local grocery has terrible checkout times). I also do not own a car and so chalk up this expense as lightweight in comparison.

So far, I am getting some great deals. Our grocer is ACME Markets. They make it super easy to find the best deals of the week, using logos to designate these at a glance. I am also able to add list items as I go, as they occur to me, before my order, and store my favorite items, so it never takes more than 30 minutes or so to pull up what I need based on my usuals.

The best thing, though, has been their substitution policy. If they don't have something I want, it gets replaced with something of equal or greater value. This has translated to more ounces of ketchup, etc. for the same price, just because they didn't have the precise size I requested in stock. A couple of times a pricier organic option has been substituted for an out-of-stock request.

I never had the wherewithal to get the 10 for $10 deals when I was hoofing it, but now I do, and our pantry has quickly become well-stocked as a result.

They deliver the items perfectly, specially boxed based on what the item is (frozen separate from produce, etc), and next-day deliveries can be placed as late as 10pm.

I love delivery, and don't understand why anyone bothers to go to the store in person anymore...what a waste of energy, time, and gasoline!

Guest's picture
Noodle

Have you thought about hiring a college student to do your shopping for you? I did it when I was in college, and I loved it. It was easy work, since the woman who hired me gave very detailed lists.

Guest's picture
Olivia

I try to use a price book, or at least keep in mind the best price for frequently used items. As my favorite store is an oddball-you never- know-what-they-may-have kind of place. I take a list and then sort of wing it, stockpile when they have deals, use what I bring home. Since our budget is really tight and I shop with a set amount of cash, we don't overspend.

Guest's picture

I've used the assembly dinner places and blogged about it too...price book...check....coupons and grocery special circulars too...just wrote a blog article on how to shop more efficiently...among other things, is to join a food coop, see http://www.coopdirectory.org/. I investigated one (unfortunately it was a few hours away)...they had a list of items to choose from (mostly fresh veggies, fruits, meats and even milk)...you meet the delivery truck (or go to a warehouse) once or twice a month and pick up your stash. This really cuts down on the time and cartful of stuff you haul out of the grocery store! Most of these coops do require some volunteer time, such as unloading the truck and perhaps a variety of other small tasks, but it is a change of pace and not plain drudgery like going to the grocery store. I tried it once and actually enjoyed it..maybe some other visitors can provide more info on coops.

Oh, and don't forget local farms, farmer's markets and "pick your own" places..anything that will break up the monotony of grocery shopping!

Guest's picture
Brigid

I have one of those assembly kitchens near me and I have been there twice. The quality of the food is so high, and the prices so low, that I don't understand how they make a profit. In less than an hour I can put together six meals, each of which is actually two meals for my family of picky eaters. Most days I fix something from scratch, but if I know I'm going to have a busy day, I thaw out one of those dinners and toss it in the oven as soon as I get in. So it's a healthier, cheaper alternative to take-out.

But here's the best part: I regularly get together with a group of friends on Friday nights, and we have simply incorporated this into our routine. We book a time together, we bring the wine, and the kitchen supplies fairly substantial appetizers. So instead of being a chore, it's part of my social life.

I don't really understand the point of the coupon game. Most coupons appear on the Sunday before the item goes on sale. If you check the circulars, it's not hard to figure out.

My real solution to the shopping problem is that I limit it to Whole Foods once a week. I bring my daughter, and it has become part of our Sunday routine. I prefer WF because it's simply a more pleasant place to shop—better food, more relaxing decor, and there's never a long line at the checkout. My daughter likes to cook and to eat unusual foods, and it's nice together time for us (she's 13, so I take it when I can get it). I stick mostly to basics, but we always treat ourselves to something from the bakery and buy something nice but quick for Sunday dinner (often shrimp or fish), which my husband usually cooks.

Guest's picture
Barbara

I tried getting groceries delivered for a short time so I wouldn't make impulse buys, but I learned quickly that including produce on the list was a bad idea. More often than not, the veggies or fruit that would come with my order wasn't the best quality. Canned good, frozen stuff, milk, etc was all fine, but I found i was going to the store myself to pick out fruits and veggies, for meals. Once i realized I was going to the store once a week anyway, I quit the delivery method. And with a detailed list before I went, I still kept away from impulse buys! Well, maybe not that dark chocolate bar at the checkout...

/Yay grocery lists!

Guest's picture
Jennifer

I get to spend less time at the grocery store since I started online shopping a few months ago. The grocery store most convenient to me has the cereal and potato chips all in the same aisle. Good for their business-- bad for my wallet and my kids' bodies. By avoiding that scenario altogether I avoid the arguments and just get what I need. I spend more time at home with the kids and get my husband to watch them when I go to buy perishables. The only service I have tried is

Guest's picture
Kathryn

I started shopping at ALDI to save money, but I've been amazed at how much time it saves me as well. There is only one brand, and one size, of each type of thing. Once you know the pattern of alignment between what you typically buy and what they typically have got (and once you know the best times of day to shop), you can get through a cart-overflowing megatrip in 30 minutes or less. It's also more efficient to just throw a flat of, say, chili beans in the cart and repeat that process every couple of months when the flat finds itself empty in your pantry, than to spend time before each trip figuring out what you have vs. what you need, and picking up a couple of cans every few weeks.

I think it's unfortunate that a lot of people think of ALDI as "the place where poor people shop" instead of as IKEA for food.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Thank you guys SO MUCH for all the input. It's so nice to know that I'm not alone in my frustration with "normal" grocery shopping.

Guest's picture
Ginger

TheGroceryGame is not free. However you can earn 12 weeks free for every 3 referrals. HotCoupons is run by rabid moderators. I made two posts and got my account deleted for some vague reference to a site that was not even linked or had dot com behind it. I went back and read their TOS and no mention of not mentioning sites but just know it will get you canned there if you do. Best to lurk there IMHO.

With the price of a gallon of gas taking off, groceries are where we can save a fortune. Don't forget to go to manufacturers web sites and sign up for their email list. Usually everyone has at least one coupon posted and when you get their emails you will generally get more coupons. If these reputable companies have a sweepstakes, enter those too. Sometimes going through that process will yield a thank you of a freebie from them or a nice coupon. I set up an email address just for all of my couponing needs, signups, sweeps etc.

And, there is always bulk shopping at one of the warehouse stores for things like flour, sugar, eggs, milk if possible. We get the lowest prices there on all of those basic items. If you can't restrain yourself, warehouse shopping is NOT for you. It is much like being a kid in a candy store for loads of items. But, we have cut tons off the shopping budget by WH shopping, using their grocery, pharmacy and optical shops AND their gasoline pumps.

I don't go to the check out without looking in my cart and asking ...
1 - Do I NEED it?
or
2 - Do I just want it?
If it is only a want, I make myself put those items back. It is almost like paying myself when I put things back.

Happy shopping! Use a list and always use coupons!
Ginger

Guest's picture
Guest

I hate grocery shopping for so many reasons. At one time our oldest loved doing this & was very good sticking to the list/adding what I forgot to write down that we needed. He usually did add on a dark choc bar & coke but it was worth it for me to avoid this task. I only went for really specific things (otc, meat etc). We had an instore charge account there so that made it easy. Some stores you can buy prepaid grocery cards - in our town that is a HUGE fundrasier for many groups (the store give back a certain percentage). So that is on option if you have a driving teen who would love to have a reason to get out of the house. Our 2nd teenager HATED shopping & would rather eat stale cereal then go to the store. I am glad to see the posts about shopping on line. I was just checking that out last week, here they will deliver for $20 or have it ready to be picked up for $10. They have pickup times twice a day M-F. I am seriously considering after reading these posts. It wouldn't bother me to run in for the fruit/produce because that is so close to the entrance that I could be in & out in 20 minutes top. It isn't that the store is far away, I drive by it 5 times a day (can you tell I live in a small rural town?). I just hate the time, the hauling, slooow shoppers, the whole having to be social when I'm really tired & crabby. I have even thought about driving to the next store 25 miles away so I can shop in peace, quiet & anonymously! I know - I am terrible. But we don't buy alot "junk" or processed foods & I do have a fairly standard menu so it should be easy to order on line so I don't get sucked into an hour & half of shopping with a list which if I don't forget is usually only half of the list, the rest being in the pocket of a different jacket! Sorry for the long post. BTW - I just stumbled onto this site & I LOVE IT!

Guest's picture
Amy

If you have one, it is worth exploring. I have often said that Aldi is why I am able to stay home with my children. Their food is so affordable and the quality is on par with any other grocery store. I don't know what I would do without this store and feel very blessed that we have several in our area!

Guest's picture
Tenders

I like this webpage!

Guest's picture

If you want to find a meal assembly place in your neighborhood here's a site where you can search by city or zip code. There are ~1500 of them across the country: www.mealassembly.net.

Guest's picture
Guest

Our town has a program called FareShare sponsered through one of the churches. It is not income based but instead is focused on volunteering. For a voucher stating that you voluntered for 2 hours that month (Church, School, Scouts, coaching or working @ the FairShare) plus a very modest amount you get a food package easily worth 3x what you paid. Our program has different packages, like a grill one in the summer or smaller versions of the regular one for smaller consumers & holiday packages. For example the Thanksgiving one would have almost everything that we might typically buy for that meal. Same for Christmas & Easter. The regular package usually has 4-6 pounds of meat, a bag of potatoes, onions, dried staple items such as pasta, canned goods, rice & then a good amount of fruit & veggies. There is nothing wrong with the food, some of the items are (esp the meat) didn't meet another institution's order specifications, like say X school ordered 4 oz pork patties & instead the company made 4.5 oz patties - this would be a typical item. The canned or non perishable items might be a brand you aren't familiar with but are perfectly good items. The drawbacks are that in this area you do have to order about 2-3 weeks ahead & the day to pickup your food is specific. Anything that I knew we wouldn't eat that was perishable I would ask them to put aside for someone who would use that item & canned goods that went unopened were set aside for scouting for food or other community food pantry drives. In some areas this might be called FareForAll.

Guest's picture
janae

I also am a big fan of Aldi. Since we live in a rural area, I only shop once a month to save on gas. The week I shop, I check store sales online and make my list. On the day I shop, I get out the amount budgeted and bring along my calculator. I get everything first at Aldi, and then I go to the other stores and pick up items on sale and a few things that Aldi doesn't have. I try to make my meals around what is available at their store, though. This took a few months to tweak, but I feel that if anything, we are saving on fuel and I have learned to be creative by making do with what is available in the house instead of making a store run.
Thanks for the article...great topic!

Guest's picture
Guest

Angel Food Ministries has been a life saver for us in the last serveral months. You do not have to qualify for anything and they are all over. Check out their website

http://www.angelfoodministries.com/

Guest's picture
Guest

dealseekingmom.com kinda does the same thing as the grocery game but on a smaller scale and it's free. I check it out a couple of times a week. They list the sales at each store for the week, including places like CVS and Walgreens, and then tell what coupons to use and where to get them so you can score items for free or extremely cheap. You don't have to sign up for anything and then have your contact information passed around.