One woman's adventures in cooking for her Dutch-American family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Staple List

One of the best ideas I've come across as we've tried to get a handle on our spending is the idea of a staple list. I've also heard them called stock lists. The basic idea is that you made a note of how much you spend for items you buy often. If you shop at a couple of different places, it's quite eye-opening to learn how prices vary from store to store.

My actual list is five pages long. A bit overboard, I realize know, but part of my process. I have every item I stock (or have stocked in the last year or so) in my pantry, frig, freezer or chest freezer on the list.

How I Got Started:
  1. I made a spread sheet with my week's shopping list and made columns for the stores we tended to visit. In our case, that means Giant Eagle (a local chain), Acme (another local chain), Beillers (a farmer's market-meets-Horrocks store for my Michigan friends), Target and Sam's Club. We originally had a few other local stores, but it became clear very quickly that their prices were way more than we wanted to spend, so we stopped going to those places.
  2. As I shopped, I noted the cost of each item. Usually I go with a price per pound for veggies or bulk items, and price for average jar size (with weight noted) on other things.
  3. We spent maybe 3-4 months doing this. Not doing anything different, just adding to our list and shopping wherever it was convenient to shop that week, and noting prices.
  4. As the list grew, I started grouping items in categories: Produce, Dairy, Meat and Bulk first (because those are the items I buy every week), as well as Frozen, Packaged, and Home Goods.
  5. After several months, we started to see where it made sense to shop.
What I Learned:
  1. Produce and bulk items are MUCH cheaper (and fresher...and local) at Beiller, so we always start there. In fact, making that little switch cut our weekly bill almost in half!
  2. Even with coupons, Target tends to be cheaper for cereal and bread, so we usually get those when we get our household items, which are also cheapest there.
  3. Giant Eagle and Acme have the best loss leader prices on the few packaged items we still buy, so we usually make a quick trip there most weeks as well. If we run out of time, that's the first place we drop.
  4. After I had a general idea of the regular price of an item, I started tracking the lowest sale price I found
  5. It took probably 6-8 months to build up my pantry to the point where I have pretty much anything I need to make any meal I want...with the exception of fresh produce or dairy.
  6. Once my pantry was filled to satisfaction, I've made it my goal to only stock up when an item is on sale.
  7. We're very fortunate to live close to Amish country, where it's easy to buy locally grown food. We found a place to buy meat in bulk, so now we have locally grown, hormone-free meat for the price of that stuff you buy in the grocery store.
  8. A chest freezer (or even a separate freezer) is a great help in lowering your grocery bill.
  9. Meal planning is the single best way to make sure I buy what I need when I need it.
Does anyone else keep track of prices? Any tips you'd like to share?

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