Why I play The Grocery Game!

For anyone who asks how I have stocked my pantry so quickly and efficiently, or who have asked how I have managed to reel in the raising grocery prices and stay under budget, this post is for you. For those who have seen it and still don’t believe it, this is also for you. For those who I have shown and still are skeptical, this is is especially for you.

My first confession to all of you is that I too was a skeptic. I appreciate those who encouraged me to just go ahead and try it. “What did I have to lose?” Well I could continue to lose my desire to go grocery shopping. I could continue to lose my ability to buy the fun things. I could continue to lose my ability to purchase the occasional steaks for dinner. So THANK YOU!

For the rest of you, this is why *I* play The Grocery Game.

My story is that I was spending more and more and getting less and less. The price of certain food products was increasing and I was skipping other things to make up the difference. I was repeatedly $50-80 over budget (as generous as it was) every week and I was afraid that it was going to get worse.

Where it had previously been that I would have 2-3 boxes of cereal left in pantry at the end of the week, I was now standing at the pantry at the end of the week wondering what the kids would have for their “self serve” breakfast because there was no cereal left. This was often the case with other items. I was getting less and less when I’d go to the grocery store and I was skipping on more and more to make up the difference. My large upright deep freeze was extremely barren and I was struggling with this as it wasn’t just the deep freeze that was getting emptier every week.

I was a total skeptic of anything that swears to save you money. This is especially true if you have to “pay” for it to save money. It is kind of counter intuitive – spend more to save more. I had heard about it a couple of times on morning news shows and I just always dismissed it because of the cost. It couldn’t possibly work. It couldn’t be something I couldn’t do myself. I did know how to cut coupons and I was not afraid to use them after all…I could do it myself.

Fast forward roughly 6 months from the last time I was bombarded on the morning news show about The Grocery Game. It was another week at $80 over budget. I have a very generous grocery budget! With that generous budget I get to cover almost everything “household.” That includes diapers/pull-ups, wipes, paper towels, shampoos and conditions, razors, toilet paper, and all things grocery and everything else in between. So generous was getting tight and it was finally getting to the point that it wasn’t so generous and certainly wasn’t helpful.

So I went looking…

I was talking to a friend online and asked if she knew about it. She did know. She did it. She told me to “just do it.” Still I was skeptical. I went to the website and saw that the TRIAL for The Grocery Game was only $1. What did I have to lose? Absolutely nothing! I mean, I couldn’t even buy a bottle of name brand bottled water or even a Diet Coke for that price anymore. I don’t eat hamburgers so we can ignore the fact that McDonald’s has a good variety on their $1 menu. Let’s get back to what I had to lose, though. I could lose my $1. That isn’t a whole lot considering I was going to have access to “the list” for 4 straight weeks.

I signed up. I purchased my first newspaper for the coupons that weekend. They say you should buy 1 paper for each person you have in your household. I thought that was NUTS! I bought 1 Sunday newspaper. That was it. Nothing more. I didn’t buy more than 1 for several weeks. It was crazy after all. Obviously, I was still not convinced that I would save enough money to make it worth the persistent, weekly financial investment.

I even blogged about my first couple of trips to the store(s). I had a friend who is currently half a world away comment on my blog about how it was wonderful and that she was missing it where she was. I emailed her. I couldn’t believe that someone I knew was doing it. Why don’t people talk about these things? She made me promise to give it at least 3 months. Wait a minute! Slow down! Promise 3 months…a 3 month financial commitment? She said the magic words about how this was how she managed to build up their 1 year of food storage that we are taught about and encouraged to do at church. OK!

I agreed to do it for at least 3 months.

Now, mind you, I wasn’t putting 100% effort into this. I wasted half of the $1 trial. Yes, I said I wasted half of the $1 trial. I even hid it. I didn’t tell Ben that I was doing it. I had some cash in my PayPal account from my digital scrapbooking design efforts and so I used that to pay for it. I used it to pay for the first round of paid list services as well. No sense dragging him into a crazy, radical way to save money on the grocery budget! I think a lot of the reason I wasted much of the first 4 weeks of “the list” was due to the fact that I simply didn’t know where to start. I was stuck. An intelligent mind couldn’t wrap itself around the whole concept of how easy it was if I was willing to do it or that I was paying to save money. I was completely overwhelmed!!!

This is what things looked like after just a couple of weeks of my trial….

{ The big freezer }

The half gallon and gallon milk jugs are frozen water left in there after Hurricane Rita. The same with the 2.5 gallon Ozarka water thing. I figured since I didn’t have anything else in there to really speak of, I should just leave them. The fuller the freezer, the more efficiently it works, right?

{ The Extra Fridge and Freezer Combo }

Yes, it was a mess when I took the picture. It is much more organized on a regular basis these days.

We go through 6 gallons of milk a week, so simply buying all the week’s milk in one trip saves us a ton of money as we don’t go back to the store and get tempted to buy something else.

The all important and essential Diet Coke.

{ The Pantry and Cupboards }

Yes, I have a year’s supply of cake mixes! Yes, I have that much water hidden at the back of my deep pantry shelves. The pet food containers hold bags of: flour, sugar, and cornmeal.

This cabinet (upper) used to be a mix match cupboard of various things before I started playing The Grocery Game. You can see that even now, the food is starting to take over!

This cupboard used to be half full.

This one only had a single shelf of food. The rest was garbage bags, table clothes, paper plates, cups, bowls, etc. The food is starting to take over here too. Before too much longer, I will have to find a place for the other things! The cabinet next to it is full of cookbooks. I am going to have to find me someplace else to put all the cookbooks.

I did it. I started slowly. I started with only 2-3 items a week. I had a LOT of needs for our every day living. I will confess that I was not even UNDER budget for the first 3-4 weeks. The amount I went over budget decreased week after week. That was the hook.

The line…the fact that I was getting a LOT of groceries for the same amount of money I was already spending. Even as the amount I spent went down, I was getting more. I could afford those good things again. I could afford steaks. I could afford fresh fruits and veggies!!! It must be working, right?

The sinker…Ben noticed! Remember, I didn’t tell him right away. I would say within 3 weeks (before I was even under budget), he recognized that I was doing something DIFFERENT! I finally confessed everything to him…

I was bringing in the groceries from the car. Trip after trip after trip after trip. Every trip in from the car with the multiple grocery bags, I would get more of “the look.” You know, that look. The look where they are trying to let you know that they are really concerned…worried. I was getting the look that clearly was accompanied by thoughts along the lines of “you spent 2 weeks worth of your grocery budget in 1 trip” and others along that line. I am piling the stuff on the table, taking it all out of the bags and stacking it up. He joined me beside the table and asked “how much did you spend?” I could honestly say I had only spent around $150!!! I still had some things to go get, but I was only at $150 and my table was COVERED with groceries – cereal, fruits, veggies, meats, crackers, medicines, etc. I TOLD HIM HOW I WAS DOING IT. His response was “if you will continue to do what you’re doing, I’ll continue to pay for it.”

{ What I got that week }

We have not had as much fresh fruits and vegetables as we have since I started playing The Grocery Game. The key now is to make sure we don’t buy more than we will reasonably eat. The kids are loving the fruit and fresh broccoli though.

The next week, I was under budget. Go figure. Now, there are times where I still go over budget. But we’re talking $2 or maybe $20 on occasion, but nothing like $80 week after week.

{ This is what it looked like then }

The reality is that I can go into my pantry at any given time and I do not have to worry about what is going to go into the kids’ lunch boxes. I don’t have to worry about what we’re having for breakfast. I don’t have to worry about what we can have for dinner, I just have to overcome laziness and forgetfulness and take something out of the freezer. I’ve got rib-eye steaks in my freezer. There is a whole brisket, 2 racks of baby-back ribs, 2 whole chickens. The list goes on and on. I literally have to rearrange my cabinets every week to make it fit!!! The challenge is now getting it all put away.

{ Pictures before Hurricane Ike }

When Hurricane Ike rolled through town, this was one area where I was not worried. I knew that even with having 4 extra mouths to feed in the house, we’d be OK. I had stocked up on items that were shelf stable, easy to cook, and that the kids would enjoy. The story was no different than having my nieces and nephew with us most of the summer. It is true, “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:30). Yes, I did go to the stores right before the storm. Mostly for comfort things. It would have been nice to have a few more batteries, I didn’t need them. There were items I bought a few more of, but the truth be told that we did not need them, we could have gotten by with what we had. Even after the storm was over, we were plagued by the lights that would not come back on. Well, we specifically were not. My parents were not so lucky, so we ended up with all their cold stuff in our extra fridge/freezer. We fed 14 people and we all did just fine!

{ Pictures roughly 2 weeks post Hurricane Ike (when the groceries were finally being restocked in stores) }

The best feeling, in my opinion (as humble as it might not be), is to go into the pantry and look and have a plethora of selections. I know that if I get sick and don’t get to the grocery store, we’ll be just fine. We can go a week without a grocery trip except for the essentials like milk and it won’t hurt. At the end of the week, there is still plent of food left in the pantry!

{ Pictures after today’s grocery trip }

What you can’t see in this picture is that there were also 6 gallons of milk and 4 loaves of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Wheat Bread!

I have been doing this for just over a year. Is it worth it? I totally think so. Could I do it myself? Yes, to some degree. I do not think that I could be as efficient as I am with The Grocery Game behind me. I did coupon for a while off and on, but my savings were never as high as they have been while playing the game. To me, the fact that I don’t have a lot of extra time and I don’t have a lot of desire to spend hours matching up things to sales and whatnot, the “list” is priceless.

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