Groceries Can be Budget Busters!
Grocery budgeting is a challenging area for many household budgets, often costing much more than what was estimated, or robbing money from other important budget categories. Believe me, our family has experienced this challenge like many of you.
Why is grocery spending so difficult to mange? Perhaps it’s the lack of time available to plan for a shopping trip or the potential for impulsive purchases while at the store. Or, it could be the fluctuation in prices depending on the season and economy. There are also some months when families require more food, household products, or other items because of unique circumstances. For one or all of these reasons you may have wrestled with grocery expenses at one time or another. Perhaps it’s busted your budget!
The Answer to Saving Money on Groceries
After venting some frustration a few years ago in a financial small group study class at church, our friends told us our answer to saving money and getting our grocery budget back under control was something called The Grocery Game. They told us how they were able to save hundreds of dollars per month on their grocery expenses, but also have more groceries available to them than they had ever had in the past.
So you can imagine our interest and excitement when hearing about their experience with The Grocery Game! And excited we were when our family started seeing anywhere from 30 – 50% savings on each trip to the grocery store. We were amazed at the quantity of items we were able to get for the price. Both our pantry and freezer became stocked full of items. Personally, we hadn’t come across anything that changed the way our family shopped and saved money on groceries like The Grocery Game.
Because of this reason, and knowing many others face grocery spending challenges, I thought it would be helpful to share more about the game and our experience with it with this guide.
A Short Disclaimer
I don’t work for The Grocery Game company, however, the Grocery Game is an affiliate partner of One Money Design. I’m writing this guide for the purpose of sharing and helping you avoid a grocery budget bust! However, I do receive a small commission if you sign up for the game through a link or banner on this post.
There is a lot of information on the Grocery Game website you should review before playing. You’ll find some, but not all of this information in this guide. Keep in mind, the guide definitely shouldn’t replace reading the instructions and other information on the Grocery Game website if you do decide to play.
While we found success in playing the game, but I can’t necessarily promise the exact same results for you. It does require a time investment and some hard work, but it can be done by anyone. So, I ask that you please consider this guide as a review of our personal experience and not necessarily a promise to you of any kind.
Now, on with the guide to playing The Grocery Game!
Requirements for Playing
The requirements for playing the game are quite simple. Perhaps the thought of doing some of the below tasks aren’t too attractive, but we’ve found it is well worth it to gain control of our grocery budget and see the 50% savings we get on each trip to the store.
- Must be willing to clip and organize coupons. I’ll talk more on this later because The Grocery Game helps provide you a lot of guidance in this area. But, at the end of the day, you still have to pull out the scissors and clip the coupons from the ads.
- You have to forget what you know about grocery shopping and be willing to pass on sale items you see in the store. Trust the list that is produced by the game and don’t deviate from it.
- You must invest in a 2-3 copies of your Sunday paper each week to get coupons.
- You need to find room in your house or pantry to stockpile grocery store items.
- You need to invest the time to review the grocery lists generated by the game and prepare for your shopping trip.
How Much Time Does it Require to Play?
All of this may seem like a big time investment. However, once you have your process down, it really shouldn’t take you more than an hour and a half each week. Considering the amount of time available in each week and over the weekend, an hour is a minimal investment of time to save big money. But to make sure you’re convinced, I’ve broken out about how much time we spend each week preparing:
- Clip coupons: 30 minutes
- Identify items on The Grocery Game list you want to purchase: 15 minutes
- Pull coupons: 30 – 45 minutes (depending on how many stores you’re shopping at). It could be more if you shop at 3 or more stores.
What’s the Secret Formula of The Grocery Game?
According to the Grocery Game experts, supermarkets put items on sale based on categorical sales trends. In other words, only certain items or categories are on sale each week. However, each sales category typically goes on sale for 3 weeks at a time.
If you conduct need based shopping (go to the store when you need an item), like most people, you will buy some items on sale, but most of the items you buy will be overpriced. Even some of the items you find on-sale may be overpriced. Obviously, the majority of items bought are not on sale and the price difference does add up over time.
The Grocery Game introduces an investing concept when grocery shopping. Since most categories go on sale for 3 weeks at a time, the key to winning at the grocery game is to invest in these items while they are on sale at their lowest price. Investing is purchasing more of these items than you need.
In other words, you stockpile enough of the item to carry you through until the next time the item goes on sale again. The grocery store sales typically cycle through all of the categories in a 12 week period and then start over again. So, your Grocery Game stockpile should be fully stocked in about 3 months of playing.
Tip from The Grocery Game Website -
Sales Cycles – Begin to keep track of how often each item cycles through its “Rock Bottom Sales” and “Phantom Sales”. How much is that item when it is priced at rock bottom? There are a number of ways to track sales cycles. The most obvious way is just to have a conceptual awareness of the cycles. Another way is to build an actual database.
How Do You Know which Items to Purchase?
You might say all of the above sounds easy enough, but how do you know which items to purchase at their cheapest prices and the right time to purchase those items? I can just see some of you analytical types (like me) with your spreadsheet or database and trying to track the sales trends. This could be monumental effort that takes many hours each week.
Well, we’re certainly not marketing experts, so we don’t have a clue when items are going to be on sale.
So, we leave it up to the Grocery Game experts and this is where their grocery lists are so valuable. They generate a weekly list, called Teri’s List (Teri is the founder), which tells us the items on sale at their cheapest prices.
Teri’s List is a weekly publication of the lowest-priced products at your supermarket or drugstore matched with manufacturers’ coupons and specials – advertised and unadvertised. Teri does all the hard work and research, and presents it to you in a straightforward format.
Each list provides items in 3 different colors:
- Black items are on sale but not at the cheapest price. We select these items from the list only if we truly need them.
- Blue items are on sale and at the cheapest possible prices. If we don’t have enough of these items to carry us through to the next sales cycle, we purchase more of them.
- Green items are FREE (not pictured). They become free when a coupon is used in combination with the sales prices. We make sure we take advantage of any free items which we use.
Thoughts on Couponing
So, not only does Teri’s list tell you which items are on sale at their cheapest prices, the list also tells you which manufacturer, or store coupon to use to maximize your savings.
You may have avoided cutting coupons in the past because of the work involved. But, don’t worry. The Grocery Game makes cutting coupons much easier, in my opinion.
Most coupons are used when people need to purchase something. So, if that item isn’t on sale, you don’t maximize your savings. You can count on blue items on the Grocery Game list being at their cheapest price and with a coupon the price becomes even better.
I’ll talk more about couponing later by providing you a couple of different methods to use for cutting and filing them. We’ve used both methods and either one works just fine.
Tip from The Grocery Game Website -
Rock Bottom Sales vs. Phantom Sales – Just because an item is on sale and you have a coupon, doesn’t mean it is time to use the coupon. In fact, most often, it is the wrong time! Lurking on every aisle and in every ad are the dreaded “Phantom Sales”, which are sales that are not at their lowest prices for those particular items. Nearly every item from the manufacturer runs through several “Phantom Sales” before it reaches a “Rock Bottom Sale”. This is where knowing when to stockpile with that coupon can save you loads of dough at the check out!
How Much of Each Item Should You Purchase?
Given it takes 12 weeks for the supermarkets to cycle through all of the categories you want to buy enough to last you for approximately a 3 month period. For example, if paper towels are listed as a blue item you will want to purchase enough paper towels to last 3 months. Yes, 3 months because you’re buying those paper towels at the cheapest possible price. If you wait until you need those paper towels and make a quick run to the store to purchase them you’ll most likely be paying the regular and more expensive price.
Steps to Play The Grocery Game
Now that you’re familiar with the ideas behind The Grocery Game, I’ll walk you through step by step how we play the game each week to maximize our savings.
- Each week we go to the supermarket and buy 2-3 newspapers to get 2-3 sets of manufacturer coupons. I’ve heard of some people buying 4 and some just buying 1. To initially build your stockpile, you’ll want to make sure you can buy at least 3 months worth of the item on sale, so the more coupons the better.
- Once we pull out the manufacture coupons from the sales ads sections, we clip the coupons we think we’ll use for our family (see coupon tips section for more information)
- We log onto The Grocery Game website and retrieve the new list for our stores (we currently shop at two stores).
- Once we open the list we sort it by color so that we can see all of the blue items grouped together. Remember, the blue items are on sale at the cheapest possible prices.
- We review the blue items on the list (best prices) and select the items that you use or would buy.
- We then sort the list again to only show only the items we have selected and print it.
- Once printed, we review the list and find which items require manufacturer coupons. At this point, we pull all the coupons we need for the shopping trip. Remember, if you’ve been purchasing 3 papers, you’ll have 3 coupons per item. So, you can buy 3 times whatever the amount the list tells you to buy! Again, this approach helps you build your stockpile much quicker.
- Take your coupons and list, go grocery shopping and save money!
10 Tips Critical for Success
After playing The Grocery Game now for a few years, we’ve found some things are just critical for success in saving time and money. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind. If you’re reading this and you also play, I’d be interested in including your ideas. Again, just send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can get started now. Don’t wait until you have a coupon inventory built up. Some of the items on the list are for the current week’s ads, so there is no reason to wait.
- Don’t try to stock pile more than 3 months worth of items. Before I knew this important rule we had enough shampoo to last a year.
- Find a coupon clipping and file system that works best for you so that you’re not spending too much time clipping and organizing coupons. See my coupon section below.
- The lists are typically generated on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Sales typically end when the stores close on Tuesday (except for CVS and possibly a few others). We’ve found it easiest to get our list and coupons together and go shopping on Sunday or Monday, so that we’re not in a rush.
- Don’t get too excited and buy things you wouldn’t normally eat or use. A great deal may be tempting, but it’s not worth the money if you’re not going to use it.
- Related to number one, you can start playing the game any time, but to have all the coupons that are on the list, you’ll usually need around 3 months worth of coupon ads in your file. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long and you’re saving money while you build up your coupon inventory.
- You can pick one store for your list or multiple stores. We’ve found more than two stores will require a lot more time and energy each week. It just depends on how many lists you want to manage.
- Get a rain check. You can get a rain check for items on sale but not available. Just get the rain check and return the following week to buy it at the sales price.
- When getting started, read up on The Grocery Game message board. You can learn a lot about stockpiling from others who’ve found success at the game.
- Play consistently. As you play the game each week and build your stockpile, your trips to the grocery store should require you spending a lot less money than the trips you make today.
Important Couponing Tips
There are typically two pretty good methods to consider when cutting and organizing coupons. First, you can file the coupon ads and cut the coupons only when you need them. Remember, the Grocery Game list will tell you which ad by type and date to find the coupons. Or second, you can cut all the coupons out of the ads and file them by category.
Find the method that works best for you, but once you start playing you’ll want to pick the approach that saves you the most time.
Just remember, the Grocery Game is a tremendous help with clipping coupons. If you don’t play the game, you have to figure out which items you’re going to purchase at the store for the current week and search your coupon organizer to see if you have a matching coupon.
Or, you might identify which items are on sale based on looking through the Grocery ads and then again, searching in your coupon organizer to see if you have a coupon that will compliment the sale.
Either way, you may be using a coupon, but you still may not be purchasing the item at its cheapest price.
Couponing sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, it is unless you have someone tell you which coupons to use for items that are already on sale at the cheapest prices. Not being coupon clipping experts, we want to do what is easiest and painless as possible.
Create a Coupon Ad Insert File System
Keep all of the coupon ads from each Sunday paper and write the date on the front of them with a pen. File them away in hanging file folders in your storage file. Within each hanging file folder you should have the coupon ads organized week.
When the weekly grocery list is produced by The Grocery Game, select the items you want to buy from the list. Then proceed to finding the appropriate coupons in your coupon file. Again, the Grocery Game list tells you which ad by type and week to find your coupons.
Does this approach work? Yes, it does. It’s helpful because you don’t have to clip all the coupons when you first receive them in the Sunday paper and then file them by category.
You choose the items you want and only clip those coupons.
But sometimes the challenging part of this approach comes with looking through the ads to find the coupons. Even though The Grocery Game tells you the insert to find the coupon we sometimes made multiple passes through the pages to find the right one. The more coupons we had to search for, the longer it took; especially if we can’t find a coupon on the initial pass.
Also, you’ll be buying more than one Sunday paper and will have multiple sets of coupon ads. For example, you’ll have to clip the paper towels coupon out of each copy of that particular ad. With 3-4 ads this can get quite time consuming.
Create a Coupon Binder System
The coupon binder is another approach I’ve found in some recent research. We’ve actually just started using this approach.
I came across a coupon binder video from KingdomFirstMom.com. She provides a tour of the binder and tells us how it’s organized.
As you can see from the video, rather than immediately filing the ads away in a monthly file, she first clips the coupons from the ads and then files them by category in her binder.
Yes, you have to look through the ads and clip the coupons when you receive them, but the end result is having all of your like items together neatly organized and ready when you’re ready to find them.
Tip: I recently learned a tip if you have multiple copies of the same ad. Just pull the pages apart and stack them on top of each other. When you clip, you’ll actually clip out the same coupon for as many copies of the ad as you have. It works great if you’re using this approach!
By following this approach, you search for the coupon by category and item in your file. Personally, I think this approach may produce a more organized end result and might allow you to take advantage of more than one coupon per product from past ads that haven’t expired.
My advice: experiment with both approaches and find the one that is easiest for you and will save you the most time.
Pros and Cons of Playing The Grocery Game
In summary there are some pros and cons of playing the game you should keep in mind. Certainly, these will differ by person, or from whom you speak with about the game.
- Obviously, you can save money on your grocery bill!!!
- A wider variety of food. We’ve found we are able to buy different brands of items we use as well as try new items by playing.
- Convenience of a stockpile. Once you have a stockpile built up, you can pull items from your stockpile versus having to make short quick trips to the grocery store. Doing this each week simply wiped out our grocery budget and was inconvenient too!
- You’re forced to cut back on eating out. You certainly wouldn’t want to waste all of those groceries at home, would you?
- Not only do you purchase groceries, but also household, toiletry and medical products. Keep in mind, the list works for a wide variety of items at major grocery stores and pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.
- It takes approximately 3 months to build a good stockpile. Patience is a virtue!
- It takes time to clip coupons.
- You have to learn a new system, although, it doesn’t take very long to pick up on how it works. Hopefully, with this guide I’ve made it easier for you.
- You have to find a place to put all the groceries. Although, this con has some positive implications, you still have to find or make room for storage space for a lot of grocery items.
- There is a cost each month (see below), although, it’s not very much.
- While you will save money on the items you purchase, we’ve found there is still an initial spend or investment to stockpile. It will differ for everyone. But keep in mind you can go at your own pace. If you only have a certain amount to spend each month you can build your stockpile with the money you have available to you.
Which Stores are on the Lists & How Much Does it Cost to Play?
Before signing up for the Grocery Game you can search for stores based on your zip code to see which ones are available. You can choose one or even more stores to maximize your savings.
How much does a membership cost? Here are the costs according to the Grocery Game website at the time of writing this guide:
The cost for a 1 store membership is $10 every 8 weeks. That works out to about $1.25 per week. A 2 store membership is $15 every 8 weeks; a 3 store membership is $20 every 8 weeks and so on.
You can see that it’s quite inexpensive to play which makes this game a no-brainer. But if you’re not sure about it, you can do a free trial for 28 days. Just know you’ll become a member at the end of the 28 days, so you’ll need to cancel if you don’t want to continue your membership.
How Do You Sign Up to Play?
If you’re interested in signing up to start playing The Grocery Game it’s an easy process. Just enter your zip code to find out what store lists are available in your area. Select the lists that you want to use.
Remember the more stores you choose, the cheaper it becomes to pay. But don’t get too excited. We’ve found it best to start out with 1-2 stores first because more can be quite overwhelming with shopping trips and time to prepare.
As I mentioned in the beginning, we’re not experts at playing the game. Many of you reading this guide might be much more experienced and have plenty of tips and tricks to offer other readers that you didn’t find included here.
That being said, I’d like to continue to make updates to this post based on the feedback we receive. If you feel like you have some important information to include, please let us know about it in the comments!
Good luck with saving money on your groceries!