Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How I Plan My Weekly Shopping Trip, Part Two: My Shopping List

Yesterday, I shared how I used to "plan" my shopping and why it wasn't working for me.

Today I'm getting into the nitty-gritty of how (and why!) I plan the way I do.  I hope you find this interesting and maybe even inspirational!

These days my shopping has gotten simpler and more complicated at the same time.  I am bringing home a lot of food for much less money, and my planning doesn't take all that much time.

Last year I started keeping my shopping list in Excel and eventually migrated it to a spreadsheet on Google Drive (after the 1st time that I forgot to print the list before I left my house). We're down to just 2 kids at home, and thankfully they're my most assiduous kids so they rarely forget to tell me that we need something... they're also used to the fact that nowadays I only shop on Wednesdays so forgetting to let me know that we need something means that they'll have to wait until the following Wednesday for me to get it.  Amazingly, everyone has adapted to the once- a-week shopping strategy very well.

I also migrated my pricebook to Google Drive. This way, it's accessible to me from anywhere.

This is a screenshot of part of my Pricebook.  I used to track the sales prices and sales end dates in it, but I don't anymore since I only shop once a week anyway.
At the same time, I decided to really stick to my grocery budget this time and eventually decided to even slash my budget. Grocery shopping is the one area where most everyone overspends, and also the one area where you can also achieve the most savings.

I had been telling myself that even though 4 of our kids had left the house, I still had to spend the same amount on food because food prices were going up. And they were!  But I was just being lazy, at the same time as I was spinning my wheels trying to get to all the great deals advertised by the best coupon bloggers.

I'm also infamously forgetful, so I decided to write down everything: not only what I needed but also the price I expected to pay, as well as every coupon and rebates that I would use, and total everything up IN ADVANCE in order to ensure that I would hit my budgeted amount or lower.

I also decided to keep track of the food separately from the toiletries (we rarely buy any these days because we have a large stockpile), the cleaning products (I don't like cleaning... hahaha, but seriously, I don't buy a lot of the cleaning products that people buy so I save money that way), and the cat litter.  The cat food is prescription food and has to be bought at our vet's so it has its own line in our budget.

Here is what my shopping list looks like.  I'm showing you only 3 segments because they're the most representative, but I shop at Save A Lot, CVS, Target, Aldi, Dollar Tree, Publix and Walgreens for my groceries and they each have their own section on my list.

First off, I have 2 tabs: One for "This Week" and one for "Next Week".  This allows me to plan ahead. Since I usually do all my shopping on Wednesdays only, "This Week", for me, always means the upcoming Wednesday.  "Next Week" means Wednesday after next.  On Thursdays, I rename the tabs: "Next Week" becomes "This Week" and the old "This Week" gets zeroed out and renamed "Next Week".

Here is the Aldi section just because it's the one at the top.  I hope that you can see a larger version of it if you double-click on it... otherwise you won't really understand what I'm doing!

Obviously the coupons, Cartwheel and Redcard section is greyed out for Aldi because it's not applicable to that store.  One of the perks of shopping at Aldi is that you get low prices but also that you don't have to fuss with coupons.  That used to irk me because I really like using coupons, but once I realized that I could get most of what I needed at Aldi, cheaper than Publix and without having to use coupons, I was hooked. Of course, if I can get a better deal somewhere else with a coupon, I will buy that item (and even stock up!) at that other store, which is why this list is even more important...

Here is the Target section:

And here is the section that I always refer to, all the way at the bottom:

As you can see, I have divided each store's shopping list into "Food" and "Non Food" expenses.  My goal for each week this month is to spend only $50 on food.  I don't have a budget for the "Non Food" expenses since the only items I buy in this category are usually cat litter, toilet paper, dishwasher or dishwashing liquid and some toiletries when we do run out or there's a money maker out there. But I still total them out to get an idea of how much I'm spending.  Believe me, seeing the big picture in writing does wonders for helping me stick to my list as close as possible!

So as I start a new week's shopping list (I add to the list every day, as I come across things we need or deals that have come up), I add the items that I buy every week: bread, yogurt, bananas, things like this.  I usually buy those at Save A Lot or Aldi as they are consistently the cheapest.  Milk and eggs might be purchased at CVS or Walgreens if they're running a special. I'll add them to the Aldi section but move them to CVS or Walgreens as the ads get published on Sundays.

As you may know, I monitor couponing blogs (IHeartPublix, SouthernSavers, TotallyTarget, CouponersUnited, CouponPro are some of the blogs that I follow on Feedly).

Those bloggers do a wonderful job of obtaining ad previews and matching the sales with available coupons. They also post as soon as they are aware of a coupon and usually indicate either the name and date of the coupon insert (although they are regional differences in coupons and also how coupons are handled so you might not get the exact same deals. For instance, Florida doesn't have double coupons so we don't get those extreme couponing deals), or give the link for the coupon (in exchange of you using their link, they get a kickback from the coupon company).

I'm not going to lie: if a link is a Coupons.com link, I won't use the blogger's link.  I will do a Swagbucks search for Swagbucks coupons (might as well try to earn some SB getting to their coupon site!) and print the coupon from there (thus earning 10 SB for each redeemed coupon). I will also mark those coupons with an "SB" so I know to give those coupons a priority if I end up with several coupons for the same item from various websites (it happens a lot for cereals).  I want to try and use the "SB" coupons as much as possible.

Anyhoo, if a blogger puts out an alert for a great deal on an item that I know I will use, I first investigate to see if my own deal will be as good: Did their deal include doubled coupons? Did it include an Ibotta rebate? (I don't get double coupons and I don't use Ibotta). I check my pricebook, check if I have the coupons/rebates they're referring to, check if I'll be shopping prior to the deal expiring.  If it looks like a go, I add the deal to my shopping list.  Understand that my shopping list is fluid... it can get changed until the last minute!  Many times I added deals to my list only to take them off later because I wanted to stock up on a better item that came along (say, chicken breasts at $1.59/lb) but didn't want to go over the $50 budget. I'm not trying to spend as little as possible, I'm trying to stick to my $50 weekly budget.  Obviously, if your goal is to stay out of debt and reduce your groceries expenses as much as possible, your priority might be to get as close as possible to zero dollars spent per week!

If I'm not sure of the price, I'll italicize it.  This lets me know to be super vigilant in the store because if the price is that or lower, I might not want to buy the item, regardless of the deal. For instance, Southern Savers puts out an Aldi weekly ad preview on Mondays but Aldi's produce deals are very regional and I won't know for sure what my own area's pricing will be until Wednesday morning when Aldi publishes their weekly ad online. So on Mondays I add the produce that I might buy and put the price in italics. Then, when I confirm the price on Wednesday mornings before leaving, I either take off the italics and change the quantities, or delete it if a better deal might be found at Save A Lot or I decide not to purchase that item at that price.

For Publix, there are so many deals in their ad every week, that I keep a "Publix wish list" in a notepad document on my desktop. Every Monday, Michele from I Heart Publix posts the weekly ad preview with coupons. I look at it, and only copy into my Notepad document those items that I would definitely use and that are at stocking-up price.  Then, once I'm done with my shopping list for Save A Lot and Aldi, I go back to my Publix Wishlist document and truly decide what I'm going to buy, based on the coupon availability and how much money I have left to spend that week. Many times, I decide to just not buy much of anything.  Gone are the days when I had 20+ bottles of Ken's salad dressing in my pantry!  You need to recognize that those sales are cyclical... they come back at regular intervals!  If you miss a cycle, it'll be back in a few short weeks.

This is a partial list of Publix sales through 4/4  - I look through the weekly sales ad preview post from IHeartPublix and only
copy and paste those deals that I *might* be interested in. Then when I work on my actual shopping list, I look at that Notepad document again and see if I have money left to spend, if anything is cheaper at Publix (after sale and coupons) than at Aldi/Save A Lot/Target/CVS and then decide what/if I'll buy from Publix that week.

So I've added the name of the item, quantity that I want, price per unit... now it's time to add the coupons.  I have different columns for store and manufacturer coupons.  I input the coupon values as a negative value so they get deducted from the totals columns.  If I'm using 2 $0.50 coupons, I'll input "-$1.00".  If I'm planning on using a digital coupon, I made a note next to the name of the items so I don't forget to get my app scanned or input my home phone number at checkout.

If I'm adding items to my Target shopping list, I always check my Target app for whatever digital coupons I might have and also the Cartwheel app.  I love that app because I can change my Cartwheel offers right in the store if I see something on clearance that I decide to buy and it also has a Cartwheel offer.  It's very versatile, unlike rebate apps where you have to chose in advance which offer you might want to redeem (I'm looking at you, SavingStar/Upromise!).  If an item has a Cartwheel offer, I put down the percentage in the Cartwheel column.  The way I have set it up, the spreadsheet calculates the amount to be deducted and my total cost after all coupons and discounts.

You don't need a smartphone to use the Target Cartwheel program. You can sign up on their website, add the offers that you want from your computer and print your barcode.  You only need to print it ONCE.  As you change the offers in your Cartwheel, the bar code remains the same.  I printed mine over a year ago and I still use the same printout.  Yes, I could get them to scan the bar code on my phone, but sometimes there's a glitch and I can't access the Cartwheel app so I prefer showing them the printed bar code.

To the right side of the Total at Checkout column, are the various rebate/Customer Loyalty programs that I use.  Those columns are to remind me that I will be needing to claim a rebate or that I should make sure that Extracare bucks or Register Rewards will print at checkout.

Here is my CVS section.  I added a line to reflect which ECBs I expect to redeem that week:

In this instance, I bought 6 boxes of Special K at $2.50 a box and redeemed (6) $0.50 coupons (so total of $3.00 in manufacturer coupons) for a Total at Register of $12.  However, I also had a CVS coupon for $5/$15.  I could have entered it as a store coupon for $5, but for some reason I decided to enter is at a $5 ECB redemption. In this instance, it really doesn't matter as long as I remember to redeem everything AND IN THE RIGHT ORDER (i.e. hand the $5/$15 coupon first and then the manufacturer coupons).  My Total at Register thus ended up being $7.00

(Side note: I don't account for sales tax on this shopping list. Some items might be taxed at 7%, most notably snacks and prepared foods, and then also non-food items. I've decided not to be too anal at this point! Since the very vast majority of the foods that I buy are non taxable, I decided to forego this.)

Here is my Walgreens section.  I had to do this since their coupon rules are so INANE.  For instance, just by typing up the explanation for this screenshot, I realize that I would have had a problem at the register because I was buying 2 boxes of cereal with (2) $0.75 manufacturer coupons and also redeeming a $2.50 Register Reward.  Walgreens will not allow you to redeem more coupons+ RR than the number of items you're buying (Walgreens coupons don't count) so in this instance I was buying 2 items but redeeming 3 "coupons".  I had to add a 3rd item to my list in order to be able to use the Register Reward... I had the choice between a $0.49 candy bar or a $0.50 can of chicken broth (well, $0.50 after in-ad Walgreens coupon which I clipped digitally and which doesn't "count" for this particular situation).  The candy bar was taxable and, frankly, I could eat less chocolate (!) whereas the can of chicken broth wasn't taxable and I can always use chicken broth. Note that at the far right, I noted that I should get 1,000 Balance Reward points for my purchase of the 2 boxes of cereal. I will know to check my receipt for this before I leave the store.

So as I add items to my list, I check my running total at the bottom. I tried not to get too close to $50 because last minute deals appear in stores: meat on clearance, unadvertised specials, etc.  However, I'm not in debt and my actual budgeted amount in my official budget is $100 a week. So if I go over $50, I really don't sweat it.

For this reason, you won't see me in the store with my calculator anymore.  I print the list before I leave and I have a pen on me at all times. I cross out items as I put them in my cart, and try very hard to stick to my list.  If I notice a price had gone up or down, I either snap a photo of the price tag with my phone or write down the new price on the list, and then I change my pricebook when I get home.

Scribbled on list from last week
Speaking of printing the list... if you're like me and you shop at a lot of stores, this list can be long (albeit long with empty rows) and print over several pages. (But, Nathalie, you say, why do you print it since you have a Smartphone and it's on Google Drive? Well, because my iPhone 4 has a comparatively small screen and my eyesight is pretty bad. Plus, I like crossing off items from my list with a pen. The Google Drive aspect of it is a "what if" precaution as in "what if I leave and forgot my list?" or "what if I'm close to a store on a different day than Wednesday and decide to do my shopping then?".  I would still be able to see what I was planning on buying.  My coupon organizer comes with me everywhere even if I think I won't need it, so I'm almost always ready to shop!)

Anyway, back to printing the list: I use the "hide/unhide rows" functionality quite a bit.  Instead of deleting empty rows, I hide them. It makes the list shorter and I don't have to recopy the formulas next time I use that specific list and I'm adding more items. I also hide the store sections if I won't be going to that store during a specific week (for instance I don't go to Dollar Tree every week).  I strive to print my list over 2 pages, double-sided (so 1 sheet of paper). I use the print preview function to make sure that it will fit that way. If not, I tweak the rows until it does :)

Next time I post in this series, I will explain how I organize my coupons.  Lastly, I will explain how I keep track of my grocery expenses for the month and if I feel up to the task, I will try to explain how I use Excel to plan our family budget 1 to 2 years out.

How do you organize your shopping list?  Do you write it down? Keep it in the computer? Use an app? Or do you tend to just fly by the seam of your pants?

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