Thursday, September 3, 2009

Buying More = Paying Less?

One of the primary ways I have been able to slash our grocery bill so much (usually to about $10/month or less) is by employing the "buy low, stock up" method. This requires a slight shift in the mindset that most people probably have when shopping for grocery and household items. The way most people shop (including myself, up until a little over a year ago) is to buy what they need for the immediate future, then buy more when they run out. However, drastically reducing your grocery bills requires that you buy when the price is low, even though you may not need a particular item right then.

The basic idea behind the "stock up" method is that you wait for rock-bottom prices, and then you buy as much as you estimate you will need until the next rock-bottom deal rolls around. Deals come and go in cycles, and they roll around on almost everything eventually - the key is taking advantage of them when they do.

Let's take a look at how this actually plays out and how it can save you big bucks. Imagine that you find a great deal on spaghetti sauce, and your final cost after coupons (and maybe a Register Reward or ECB deal at Walgreens or CVS) is $.40/jar. That's a pretty good price for spaghetti sauce, so you buy 6 jars. Without coupons or a sale, you would have probably paid two to three dollars each, so getting them for $.40 each is a steal! You got 6 jars for approximately the same amount of money that you would have normally paid for one - a difference of about $10! However, if you only buy one jar, your supply probably won't last long enough to tide you over until the next deal, and you'll end up paying a much higher price when you need more in a few weeks. You see, by buying more when the price was low, you actually saved money. Now imagine doing that not just with spaghetti sauce, but with almost all your groceries, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and other household items. The savings will really start to add up quickly!

After you shop with this "price-based" method for a while (vs. solely needs-based, "buy it when you need it"), you'll build up a pretty good supply of many items. Having this stash will most definitely save you money, but it also provides other benefits as well. For one, it greatly reduces the number of times that you run out of something and have to go out at the last minute to get it. No more 10:00 p.m. trips to the store for toothpaste! It also makes it much easier to give to others. If you know of a need, it's so easy to just grab a bag, go to your closet, and fill it with extra toothpaste, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc., from your stash; there's no need for an extra trip to the store or worrying that there isn't room in the budget.

Your stash also serves as a sort of emergency fund. Many people (especially if you're Dave Ramsey fans) build up an emergency fund of cash that is readily available in the event of a catastrophe or job loss. If someone in your family is injured, becomes seriously ill, or loses a job, you may not have extra money or time to shop; if you have an "emergency fund" of food and household supplies, you can use that to get you through the rough spots.

Now, I will say that building good supplies of everything does take time. My experience was that stockpiles of certain items, like shampoo and toothpaste, seemed to grow almost overnight (and for free or better!), while other items, like canned veggies and fruit, were much harder to find good deals on.

It also takes time to figure out what good "stock up" prices are. I keep a sort of mental pricebook in my head, and I find that even now, I'm constantly changing it. What I thought were good stock-up prices a year ago, I would never pay now. At the same time, I have passed on deals because I thought something better would surely come along, and later regretted it because it turned out that the price on that particular item actually doesn't get much lower. It is definitely an ongoing process, with some trial and error. And, stock-up prices will be different for different people, depending partly on where you live and what stores you have. Personally, I don't pay anything for spaghetti sauce anymore because I'm pretty sure that at some point, Jewel will have a deal when it will be free. But if you don't have a Jewel, you may never find it for free, and the $.40/jar price in my example above is indeed an amazing deal.

One last thing that will make it much easier for you to build up supplies of things you will use is if you are willing to be brand-flexible. If you are truly and completely brand-loyal to certain things, the deals on your particular preferred brand may not roll around as often as you need the item. For instance, in over a year of heavy-duty couponing, I have never seen a deal that will net free Head & Shoulders shampoo, so if you're 100% committed to that particular brand (or another brand that never seems to get the best deals), you will likely end up spending more money. Fortunately for me, my husband is perfectly happy with his free Gillette shampoo.

Once you start shopping with the "buy low, stock up" method, I would also warn against the tendency to cross the line into hoarding. I recommend trying to figure out how quickly your household goes through various products, and then "stock up" by buying what you will need to get through to the next great deal. If you end up with 50 bottles of shampoo in your closet, that's probably taking it too far, and it's time to give some away.

Building up your stash will take some time - it takes time to figure out how quickly you go through things and to watch the sale cycles to know how often different deals do roll around, but you will catch on! When I started using coupons and and shopping like this, I never imagined that we would be able to reduce our expenses by so much. Believe me, if we can do it, so can you!


  1. You only spend $10 a month on groceries!!! Did I read this right! You are incredible. Fun reading your blog :)

    Katie Riley

  2. Melissa,
    Have you "talked" to anyone online who shops for groceries at a Hyvee or Dillons (Kroger)? I've been looking for coupon matches for these stores, but so far haven't found any. I think you're doing a great job and have just started to get into this myself. I'm doing well at saving on toiletries, but the groceries have been a bit more challenging... Thanks!

  3. Katie - Yeah, that is about what we usually spend. Glad you like the blog!

    Alison - I checked your Dillons ad, and it looks a lot like our Kroger ad, so I might be able to start posting something about that. We just haven't had any really great deals at Kroger recently, so I haven't posted anything about them yet. Sorry, I haven't really seen much about Hyvee. I'll let you know if I do, though!