12/8/14

Christmas buying guide: Chef’s Knives

We’ve had a couple of requests for our thoughts on chef’s knives as Christmas gifts this year.

HenckelsOur friend Gary asks:

A friend wants a really nice 8″ Henckel Chef knife. What do you recommend and how much? I would say something in the $50-100 range.

Hey Bro,

I took a look on Amazon, which will likely be the best deal, and found you a couple of options, which I added to our store.

The first (and more expensive) is the Pro-S series ($129.00), which is the same one I have. 18 years and going strong.
 


The second, is a less expensive option ($54.95), but still a very good knife for the average home user.

The only real difference she would find would likely be the the Pro-S has a little better balance, is a little heavier (a good thing), and probably holds an edge a bit longer.

On sale and free shipping on either.

Both good knives.


SimplySmartDinnerPlans friend, Lisa asks:

Hi Chef Perry, my husband has asked for a knife set for Christmas. I am looking at Wusthof or Henckel brands. Do you have any advice? I like the idea of sticking with about $200 but willing to go up to $400 if convinced it was really worth it.

Thank you :) – Lisa

Lisa,

Thanks for asking!

I’ll admit, up front, that I am a completely biased Henckel man, who was raised by a biased Henckel man, who was ALSO raised by a biased Henckel man, lol.

Both dad and granddad were professionals and, while they might be swayed on their religion, they were steadfast and puritanical in their knife faith.

Me, I’m not as much a disciple, as I’m inexperienced in other brands. I grew up using my father’s knives and he bought me my Henckel’s as a wedding present. They’ve been flawless for (almost) 18 years, so I’ve seen no reason to experiment.

This is the set I have.

I realize that this is the high-end of your budget, but, as my dad liked to say, “Buying your knives is like getting married, you only want to do it once.”

‘Course – he was also divorced three time…so…lol.

As to the knives you listed:

41KHL6MChbL._SL210_Wusthof (normally $299, but on sale at Amazon right now for $125) – Good price (maybe too good), I like that they are high-carbon stainless.

I’ve added these to the hautemealz e-store, just in case.

BTW, in my not-so-humble opinions, “steak knives” are for bad restaurants…cook the steak right, and all you need is a standard dinner knife. Don’t waste the extra money buying a knife set with a much of serrated steak knives.

Spend it on this book, instead…

Personally, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to own good knives, unless they’ve read this book.

Okay, so sorry for the long winded answer, asking a cook about knives is kinda like asking a hunter about his scars…you’re opening Pandora’s box, lol.

If you decide to go with any of the knives above, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d consider buying them through our Amazon store…the price is the same.

Thanks!

– Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com

05/5/14

Choosing a New Grill: How Much Grill Do You Need?

Summer’s coming….and that means grill season! Father’s Day cookouts, graduation parties, 4th of July shindigs…the good weather/good food list goes on and on!

If you’re looking for your first grill, a new grill for a new space, or it’s just time to replace ol’ faithful… make sure you’re investing in a grill that will make your time outdoors a bit more memorable.

In a good way.

Finding the right grill for your particular lifestyle can be a challenge and there are many options to choose from. With so many choices out there it can be tough to narrow down your search and, before you know it, you’re staring blankly at your 200th website, in a full-blown Google-coma.

Never fear…if you keep a few simple things in mind, both the process of shopping for and buying your next grill should be much easier.

If I could only have one grill, year-around, I would go with propane. You can use wood pellets, chips, or chunks to get that smoke flavor, and, for the typical backyard griller, the conveniences all fall on the side of gas.

Most grills fall into one of three price ranges: 

Entry-level Grills:

These grills are your basic work-horse. One or two burners, a grate, and a lid. Cost is reasonable, starting at around a hundred, and moving up into the three-hundred-dollar range. In this class you’re not likely to find a lot of bells and whistles like rotisseries, or off-set burners. If you’re an occasional griller, single or with a small family, this is probably a good place to start.

Inexpensive doesn’t mean you want to buy junk. I’m a big believer in the “wiggle test”. Place you hand at one corner of the grill and give it a gentle shake. If there’s a lot of shimmyin’ and shakin’ going on… it’s probably not very well built, and you might want to keep looking.

Mid-level Grills:

These are a bit more expensive, but offer more features than the entry-level gas grill. Prices from three hundred fifty to around a thousand dollars. In this range you’re starting to look at long-term grills, built to withstand heavier use, and including multi-control burners and some of those “convenience features” we just talked about.

This type of grill will typically handle anything that the griller of a medium to large family is going to throw at it.

Deluxe Grills:

The cream of the crop! Starting at around fifteen-hundred, and going up, and up, and up.

These high-end grills often feature big BTU ratings (BTU stands for British thermal unit, which indicates the amount of gas that a grill is able to burn, which corresponds to how much heat it can put out), enough cooking space to feed the whole team, and enough high-tech hardware to launch the space-shuttle. If you like to throw parties, and do some high-volume grilling…and you’ve got the swag, well…life is short!

One guy’s opinion…I’ve owned a LOT of grills over the years, and when it comes to gas grills it’s always best in the long run to choose an established manufacturer in order to get a quality product. This is one of those cases where you really do get what you pay for.

Enjoy!

Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans

04/24/12

To Market! To Market!

My good friend, hautemealer, and foodie extraordinaire, Di Anderson, is small market/local market guru (some might say it’s an obsession, but not me – I want  her to keep writing for us…) Just yesterday she was taunting me with fresh, locally grown asparagus from her neighborhood produce stand…and, yes, I’m going to have to go get some!

So, here’s an article that Di was kind enough to put together especially for hautemealz.com, on making the most of your local Saturday Markets…

Continue reading

04/18/12

Grocery Home Delivery

Here at hautemealz.com, our favorite thing is to test new recipes, plan weekly menus, and assemble aisle-by-aisle shopping lists for you. Heck, we do pretty much everything but the shopping and cooking!

So…how about if we help you with that pesky grocery shopping, too?

For the past month or so, we’ve been testing some “grocery home delivery” options, and it looks like the best balance we’ve found between cost, food quality, and ease of use is Safeway.com. (Note: we are not affiliated or in any type of partnership with Safeway or any store, and we tested these services without any discounts or incentives that are not available to any other user of these services.)

We were a little skeptical at first, but we found that between the time and fuel savings, and the lesser temptation to “impulse buy”, the cost was pretty comparable with our regular trips to our local Winco. Impulse buying, by the way, doesn’t just mean Twinkies and Cheeze Doodles…that 6lb pork roast that was on a great sale, but wasn’t part of your menu plan (and then sits in the freezer for three months) is also an impulse buy, as it’s not part of your budgeted, pre-planned shopping.

It’s not hard to walk out of a well-stocked grocery store with a $20, $40, even $60 in unplanned “too-good-to-pass-up” deals…trust me, I know!

(Oh, and if, like me, you tend to get twitchy in crowded places…well, you can decide what that’s worth to you, as well, lol!)

One thing that we like about this particular service is the “Express List” feature. Instead of manually entering each ingredient on your shopping list, you can “copy and paste” a single column list directly into the Express List window, and the software will bring up each item in order, so you can choose the brand and/or quantity you want!

“But wait!” You say, “My hautemealz.com grocery list doesn’t come in a single column!”

No worries! From now on, you’re going to notice another page immediately following your regular grocery list. This page will be a single column list of the ingredients you’ll need to order that week, that you can…wait for it…cut and paste into the “Express List” window!

Once you’ve done that, you can use the standard hautemealz.com grocery list as a reference for entering the quantities you need to order.

If you don’t have an account already, you can search your zip-code, and create an account at this link. (If Safeway doesn’t deliver to your area, check out the list of alternative vendors at the bottom of this post.) 

Don’t worry about memorizing these instructions, the beginning of each Express List will include the following:

Safeway.com Express List

Once you have set up an online account:

  1. http://www.safeway.com
  2. Grocery Delivery
  3. Click on the “Express List” Tab
  4. Paste this list into the box
  5. Click “Save and Find”
  6. Select your quantities.

Here are some additional notes that we pulled from the Safeway Delivery page:

A $49.00 minimum purchase amount is required on your final receipt to process and deliver your order.

Fees range from $3.95 to $12.95 depending on time slot (1-Hour, 2-Hour, or 4-Hour delivery windows) and order size (>$150 or <$150) as detailed below.

There are three main ways to shop at Safeway.com:

1) Shop by Aisle: You can browse our entire online store through the virtual “aisles”, which are organized similar to the aisles in your local store.

2) Shopping History: All the items that you have purchased using your Club Card, whether in-store or online are saved in your Shopping History. You can easily add the items that you want from your Shopping History to your cart.

3) Express List: Enter the names of the products that you want to buy into the express shopping list. Our search feature will find the best matching products for you.

You can indicate product specifications (such as “green bananas”, “firm tomatoes”, “thick cut deli meat” etc.) using the “Request to your Personal Shopper” feature. We will make every possible effort to meet your expectation.

The site states, “Customer Satisfaction is our top priority. If you are not completely satisfied with a product you have purchased, we will refund or credit its full value.”

Home delivery is typically free with your first order, and there’s often a “free delivery” offer for the purchase of specific grocery items.

As always, if you have any questions, just let us know, and we’ll do our best to track down an answer for you!

– Perry

PS – If you don’t live in a Safeway.com delivery area…or you just want to shop around, here’s a list of grocery delivery services that cover additional cities and states:

AcmeMarkets.com – Delivers to areas of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Also offers pick-up at their facilities.

Albertsons.com – Currently only offers delivery in eight areas, with home delivery for $9.95 or the option to shop online and then pick-up at a store for $4.95.

Amazon Fresh – For those of you in the Seattle-area, Amazon will delivery a full-range of groceries, including bakery items, frozen goods and more.

BigAppleGrocer.net – Delivers groceries to Manhattan and Hudson county, New Jersey.

BlueRibbonFoods.com – Delivers by truck to the southeast United States, specializing in beef, pork, seafood and more.

Citarella.com – Well-known seller of gourmet foods in New York City, now offering home delivery in the region.

FreshDirect.com – Serves the New York City metro area, focusing heavily on fresh foods like seafood and meats, as well as general items. Delivers and also allows you to pick-up from their facility.

GopherGrocery.com – Home delivery of groceries to certain zip codes in Minnesota.

HomeShop – Operated by Kroger’s, HomeShop delivers to several cities in Colorado.

MaxDelivery.com – Delivery to a large portion of Manhattan, most deliveries within an hour and they will also bring you DVDs as well as groceries.

OneClickGrocery.com – Delivers to universities in New York and Connecticut. Delivery is free, but if you miss your window, there is a $15 re-delivery fee.

Peapod.com – One of the oldest online grocery stores, offers services in eleven metropolitan areas of the USA.

RocheBros.com – A full-line grocery store servicing the Boston, MA area.

Safeway.com – The Safeway grocery store chain offers delivery from their physical retail shops.

Schnucks.com – Delivery to a large portion of the state of Missouri.

SimonDelivers.com – Offers full grocery shopping to areas surrounding Minneapolis, MN.

UrbanGrocery.com – Deliveries of goods from Magruder’s to the Washington D.C. area.

YourGrocer.com – Is warehouse style shopping delivered to your house in portions of New York City and Connecticut.

04/16/12

Coupons – Easy – Easier – Easiest!

Today, we’re privileged to have as our guest blogger, Marlyn Ferguson, Founder/Creator of the Strategic Shopping Network!

Coupons – Easy – Easier – Easiest!

Using Coupons Is Easy

We are all busy.  And we all want to save money.  But we want to save time too.  Many people commit to using coupons as a New Year’s Resolution and stop soon after as life begins to happen.  The Strategic Shopping Network wants to make your life easier while saving by using coupons.

Here are some ways to make using coupons – easy – easier and easiest for you and your family.

Easy

1. Take Baby Steps.  We don’t have to do it all at once.  Every saving is a small victory.  If we try to do it all at once AND maintain all of our other responsibilities, using coupons can become overwhelming.

2. We recommend beginning to use coupons in one store.  I personally started with CVS.  I found the CVS staff to be very helpful and their promotions were clear and simple to use.  Some people like to start with one grocery store.  That’s a good idea as well.  The decision on how to get started will be based on what works best for you and your family.

3. Pick and choose the sales you want to focus on.  It’s not a race.  Or in this case, perhaps slow and steady wins the race.  Because it’s easy to ‘burn out’ and not use coupons at all.  We don’t have to  take advantage of EVERY sale in the store.  Just choose one or two and then shop normally for the rest.  We can build our savings over time – it’s all good!

Easier

1.  Invest in an Accordion File.  They sell for about $10.   This is the most important step toward realizing big savings at the grocery and drug stores.  And it can’t get any easier to use.  You will probably save whatever you spend on the accordion file after one shopping trip.

2.  Each week, save the weekly inserts from your local newspaper by date in your accordion file.    And now you’re done for the week if you’d like.  That’s really all you need to do.  You can clip, sort and file coupons in a notebook, but I have found the notebook method for organizing coupons to be too time consuming.  If it works for you – that’s great.  But I have trouble keeping up with it.  So, I just sort the coupons in my accordion file by week, and they are ready for me when I prepare for my shopping trips.

3.  Someday in the not too distant future this process may all be digital.  You’ll be able to go online and load the coupons you want to your phone and/or your store card.  That will simplify things even further.

Easiest

1. Choose a web site with match ups to follow.  Of course we hope your choice will be the Strategic Shopping Network, but let’s face it, we can’t possibly cover every store, so if you find that your favorite store is covered elsewhere, follow the site that works for you.  (If we don’t cover your store, we hope you’ll visit us for entertainment, retail, travel savings and lots of freebies/free events that are featured on the SSNW.)

2. Preparing in advance makes a shopping trip easiest.  Before you shop – check out the web site you follow.  It will tell you what’s on sale and break down the coupons for you. Use the site to make your shopping list and pull the coupons you need for that week.  This process will take about 15 – 30 minutes, but will save time and money in the store.

3. Spend less time in the store.  When you’ve prepared your list and coupons in advance, a shopping trip takes less time.  We have shopped a store sale in 15 minutes.  Once you are familiar with the store and you know what you will be buying, the rest is easy.

Today, Everyone Needs to Shop Strategically – We’re Here to Help!

Everything has changed. Most of us learned how to shop and budget in times of great prosperity but the world as we knew it looks completely different today.

Many people have faced periods of unemployment in the past several years.  Those who kept their jobs found that they were required to work twice as hard for less money AND face the daily fear of losing their jobs as layoffs plague businesses.

So many organizations have changed as they struggle to stay afloat.  In many cases it has become increasingly dehumanizing to work in our corporate culture today, knowing that – as they say on one of my favorite shows, Dance Moms ’everyone is replaceable!’

And we found that we wanted to find a way to help.  So we created the Strategic Shopping Network, a platform to help our readers become more strategic about how they shop.  After all, we work a lot harder for our money, today – we should be more  strategic about how we spend it, don’t you think?

We help sharp shoppers stay on point…here’s how:

  • We help our readers save money at the grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, retail stores, on travel, entertainment and even at the gas station.  And our site is FREE and always will be!
  • We showcase opportunities to have fun – in many cases for free. (With an emphasis on the Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C. Markets)
  • We stay on top of current trends and information and keep our readers in the know – especially as related to shopping and saving money.
  • When you become a Strategic Shopping Network Reader (Did we mention that it’s free?), you are not alone anymore! We are creating a community of Strategic Shoppers who share information and help one another.

Visit us often at www.strategicshoppingnetwork.com!

About Me

What to write about Marlyn…hmmm. I’ve been described by many as a little bit larger than life, and I love to learn new things. One of my most recent projects has been to learn to shop strategically, so that we can stretch our dollars. I’m happy to be able to share this with you!

My background is in marketing and entrepreneurship, so I’m combining all of my skills and background to bring you the best of Strategic Shopping! Have no fear – we will take the Baby Steps to Big Savings, together!

03/7/12

Can I afford to eat healthy?

Michelle contacted me online, with some concerns about staying within her budget while trying to eat healthier.

A recent trip to the grocery store had left her a little breathless…and led to the ensuing conversation…

Hi Perry, I’ve been reading these articles on how to start eating healthy. Pretty much all of them say to shop the perimeter of the store. I decided to take it for a spin and see how it went by just walking around and comparing prices.

My results: Holy Cow! I will be broke in one week!

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can achieve eating healthier, feed my family, and still have any money left? –M

————–

Hi Michelle! Forgive me for answering your question with a questions, but what store are you going to? That makes a huge difference. My local Winco is easily 1/2 the price of our Albertsons, and about 1/3 of Haggen. It also has a lot to do with how you cook, and how you organize your weekly menu to use bulk items, seasonal sales, and family-packs.

There’s an article I posted a while back, with many of these tips, in more detail – “Confessions of a Grocery Ninja.”

If you don’t mind sharing your ballpark grocery budget, I can give you some more detailed healthy shopping tips. I have some general tips, here, on some seasonal sales items to watch for this month, as well. – P

————–

Thank you very much for the links! I will be using those as a starter point.

I’ve been going mostly to Walmart until they get our local Publix Supermarket back up.

I have to admit, I’m horrible at planning and usually wing it when it comes to meals. I am in the process of learning (not very well I might add) how to plan for the week. I try to set aside $100-$150 a week for groceries though if my husband goes with me, he usually stocks the buggy full of snack food and not actually anything I can cook, so I have to go back to the store again.

Any tips would be appreciated and I will definitely check out those links more thoroughly.

Thanks again! – M

————–

Excellent! Okay, so if your local Walmart’s prices there are anything like they are here in Oregon, you should have no trouble eating healthy, or at least, healthier, on $150/week.

Also, it’s very hard to comparison shop between stores, if you don’t have a grocery plan. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s a good deal, intuitively, and what isn’t, in a couple of months.

So…

1. You gotta have a plan. Going shopping without a plan (and a list) will add anywhere from 25% – 100% to your grocery receipt. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, download one of the sample menu from our site, it’s free, and includes complete week of dinner menus and an itemized grocery list.

To save even more, go up one level (if there are two of you, shop for 4 serving, if 4, shop for 6 serving), as it will give you great leftovers for lunch the next day, WAY cheaper that buying additional lunch groceries. We offer menus in all three, but I think the samples are all 4-serving.

2. Eat a healthy meal, right before you go to the store (never, never shop hungry), and budget one “freebie” that’s not on the list, but looks good to you.

Two reasons: 1-Deprivation sucks, and even a semi-healthy goodie to reward your sticking to the plan, it better than the eventual binge. 2-You might trade that 1 freebie a half dozen times as you go through the store, but whatever you end up with…you’re REALLY going to enjoy.

It’s pretty amazing, actually, what happens when you have to trade a whole bunch of “good” for a little bit of “the best.”

3. Unless it would drive you absolutely barking mad, don’t plan something completely different every night. If you look at the sample menu, you’ll see that we pick a “main protein” say, boneless chicken breasts, or boneless picnic pork ribs, ground turkey, etc, and we use that ingredient in 3-4 (very different) recipes over the course of the week. This allows you to save a LOT of $$$ by buying your most expensive ingredient (the meat) in bulk or “family packs”.

Then, fill in the other three days with meats that are on sale, or in the markdown bin. Recipes are much more versatile than people think. Ground beef can almost always be swapped out for ground pork, or turkey. Most chicken recipes work just as well with a white-fleshed fish (and vice versa).

Don’t be afraid to ask your butcher when the best time to hit the markdown bin is, and what to watch for, either. He WANTS to sell off all that stuff, and often, in our ‘TV dinner world” appreciates someone acknowledging his expertise.

Also, don’t be afraid that meat. Typically, being in the markdown bin has nothing to do with food age, and everything to do with a big new meat order coming in, and no where for him to put it.

Just take a look at it and make sure it still looks good. Remember what Tommy Smothers said, “Red meat isn’t bad for you. Now, “blue-green” meat? THAT’S bad for you!”

4.  Go shopping when hubby can’t, period (but bring him home 1 favorite snack, too). You’re trying to steer this ship in a new direction, and the last thing you need, no matter how much ya love the guy, is a saboteur aboard when you’re stocking the galley!

5. (RE: budgeting) Photocopy your receipts, and use a highlighter to mark the items that pretty typically end up in your cart. Next week, if you try a different store, you can take that receipt with you, and quickly compare prices.

Okay, that’s a quick overview of what we try to teach our subscribers. If you have any more questions, keep ’em coming! – P

————–

Thanks a million for the rundown, and I will definitely not be taking my hubby from now on!

I jumped over to your site after I read your links. You do great work. Very informative and easy to understand for cooking challenged people as myself.

I will definitely be coming back again and again to your site. (Not meaning to sound stalker-ish, lol)

-Michelle

Newly informed and ready to take a whack at planning meals the right way!

————–

Michelle, you can do it! Let us know how your next trip goes!

-Perry

01/26/12

Confessions of a Grocery Ninja


CONFESSIONS OF A GROCERY NINJA
“How to slice $250 off your monthly food budget!”

In tight economic times like these, we’re all trying to trim our budgets the best we can.

It’s estimated that 38% of the average American’s budget is spent on housing, another 19% on transportation, and a whopping 15% is spent on food.

According to the US Census Bureau, our average household income is $50,233* which breaks down to $7,534 per year, or $628.00 per month.

Yawn-fest…right? Hang with me, and we might be able to shave a couple of hundred dollars off your monthly food bill!

Did that wake you up?

So, looking at the big three, we can try to cut back on our driving, we can give the bank a call and see if they’ll reduce our mortgage payment (good luck with that), or call our landlord and ask that the rent be lowered… or we can focus on the 15% that we shell out every month for grub.

One great way to do this is to buy in bulk.

Now, when I say bulk, I’m not talking about those fifty-pound bags of macaroni at your local warehouse store. Yes, these are often (though not always) a good deal, but the cost of buying so much of one item, at one time, takes a big bite out of the monthly food budget. It’s hard to save money at the warehouse and still have some variety in your menu.

Who wants to eat macaroni every night for a month?

Let me suggest an alternative to carbohydrate overdose, and incorporate into your savvy shopping arsenal yet another weapon. Become a grocery Ninja!

 

A grocery Ninja knows how to shop, when to shop, and where to shop. They prepare, have a plan, and get away with the loot. Anyone can wander into the local store, fill up a cart, and slap down a credit card, and hope the budget will stretch, but a grocery Ninja never has to live on ramen for the last week of the month.

MY KITCHEN Outreach ProgramBy the way, if you’re enjoying this recipe, please subscribe to our free newsletter! We’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each Friday. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids.

 

 HOW TO SHOP

Most of us know that you should never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry (of course, most of us know we should exercise every day, too!) In addition, I like to hit the stores knowing what items are a bargain, and with a list of exactly what I’m looking for.

I’m also a big believer in going with “cash-in-hand.” No checkbook, no credit cards, no temptation. When the budget is gone, the shopping is over.

My requirements for the best place to shop is a store that has a good, stable variety of items, isn’t too crowded, and has excellent prices. Most of the time, the best of these “excellent prices” are found in a generous bulk food section.

That said, never assume (we all know what that does) that just because it’s a bulk food, it’s the best buy. An example:

I was at my favorite store recently, and I found that life-saving-staple-of-parents-everywhere, goldfish crackers, in a bin for $3.95 per pound. I quickly loaded up a bag and went on with my shopping, smug in my own frugality. Until, that is, I came to the crackers aisle. The pre-packaged tub (2.1lbs) of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers was selling for $6.98…almost a dollar less!

Outrage!

Needless to say, we wheeled right back to the bulk section and, risking the wrath of store security, dumped the bag back into the bin.

Now how to you keep track of these bargains? As someone who often forgets my own phone number, the only way I can hope to remember what bulk food prices are better than packaged, and what packaged items are on sale elsewhere, is to carry a notebook.

In this notebook I have some paper for jotting down notes, a pocket for local ads and those great recipe cards they give away at the store, my “staples” price list of the foods I always buy, and, of course…my grocery list.

Make it a black notebook…you’re a Ninja, after all!

Tip #1: If you’re wondering where the heck you’re going to store all this bulk food, I have a great, green, and best of all…FREE…suggestion. Take a look at this link for how find a place to store all that rice and beans, and reduce your recycling at the same time!

WHEN TO SHOP

Create a plan that keeps you out of traffic, away from the crowds, and home with your family during “quality time.”

Shopping at a big grocery store, especially one with discount prices, can be like driving in L.A. traffic. Being a claustrophobic shopper of better-than-average size, sanity required that I get creative. Let me ask you three questions –

Q: Who shops for groceries after 4:00pm, and on weekends?
A: A LOT of people!

Q: Who shops for groceries between 8:00am and 4:00pm on weekdays?
A: Stay at home parents, people with unusual work schedules, and retirees (trust me, you don’t want to go mano-a-mano with a sixty-five year old grandma over the last jar of spaghetti sauce.)

Q: Who shops for groceries between 8:00pm and 8:00am?
A: Almost nobody!…

Terry, (my shopping buddy) and I have made a ritual out of getting up at 5:00am and meeting (with the required mini-van) to hit the store. We grab some coffee, cruise the wide-open freeway, and park right up front in the nearly empty lot.

It’s also a great time to talk…no one has ever called our cell-phones at 5:15 in the morning.

We do this every two weeks, sipping our lattes, and dodging pallet-drivers. Then, once the groceries are loaded up, we swing through and grab breakfast off a dollar-menu and head home. In and out in less than an hour, we make our escape under the cover of darkness…a couple of shopping Ninjas!

Sometimes, Terry will even get up early and make us a to-go breakfast before we meet, because he likes to cook, and, well…he’s crazy.

Tip #2: Find a shopping buddy. Let’s face it, grocery shopping isn’t exactly the pinnacle of excitement! But, like most things, it’s a lot more fun when you have a friend along. If you do an early morning, or late night plan, you have a much better chance of finding someone who can make their schedule fit yours.

If you both have a suitable vehicle, take turns driving and save some gas. Also, two heads are always better than one. I’ve been amazed at the number of times that my shopping buddy has peeked in my cart and said, “Oh, I saw a better deal on aisle…”

If five in the morning is a little to much to ask of you (or your spouse), I’ve found that the stores are nearly as deserted and easy to navigate after 8:00pm as well. Another side benefit of the early/late plan is that, as five in the morning my stomach hasn’t woken up yet, and by nine at night I’ve already eaten dinner. This means less impulse shopping!

So, now that we know how to shop, and when to shop, let’s get to the real “meat and potatoes” (pun intended) of this article, let’s look at…

WHERE TO SHOP

Let’s face it, there are grocery stores and there are grocery stores. Some offer ten gallon jugs of olive oil, some offer a selection of wines that require a second mortgage, and some offer a great variety of bulk and packaged foods at significant savings.

Take a look in your local Yellow Pages, any stores that end in “CO”, “DEPOT”, or “OUTLET” are usually worth checking out.

Again, the focus of this article is on bulk food shopping. My local “CO” store is Winco, which has a great, six-aisle, bulk food section containing everything from Jasmine rice, to fresh Kalamata olives, to Gummy-Bears.

In general, you can expect to save at least 30% on basic staples like flour, cereals, and pastas, and as much as 60% on mixes, snack foods, and pet foods. I won’t even tell you how much you’ll save on spices, you wouldn’t believe me.

Make a list of your top 10 (or 20, or 30) food staples. Find a store with a good selection of bulk foods and jot down the prices for each. Now, compare those with what your paying, brand-name or generic, at your regular grocery store.

Here’s my list of 10, taken from my last trip to the store –

Yep, you’re reading that right (I ran the numbers three times, ‘cause I couldn’t believe it myself!) The same bag of groceries I can buy in bulk, would cost more than THREE TIMES as much at my local Albertsons!

By the way, I shop at my “CO” store not only for the great bulk food deals, but because they tend to have great prices on most of my non-bulk items as well. Here’s a quick comparison for when I want my favorite breakfast:

More than a 50% savings!

I’ve found similar savings, at non-sale prices, on meats, dairy, and produce as well.

So, let’s be wary, let’s be OVER conservative and say we can save, on average…only 40% by knowing where to buy…could you use that extra $250.00 per month somewhere else in your budget? I know I sure could.

That’s three grand a year!

All of that to say this: There is no one “best” way to buy. Knowing how to shop, when to shop, and where to shop are just new weapons in your arsenal. Keep clipping those coupons, keep scanning those ads, and above all COMPARE.

Knowledge is power, and that’s the real secret to becoming a grocery Ninja!

Costumes are optional.

Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com