One problem most families face today in trying to take a vacation or cruise is figuring out how to pay for it. Saving for vacation or cruise when a family is living paycheck to paycheck can often be daunting and usually does not happen unless they have a plan for it.
One way our family has found to pay for our vacation or cruise is grocery coupons and stock shopping it is not as crazy as it sounds. I will admit that this takes time and effort, but the pay-off of a week relaxing with no worries was definitely worth it.
The first thing you have to do is change your perspective when grocery shopping and menu planning, rather then planning a menu and then doing your shopping to the menu you need to check your home stock and plan your menu to what is on your shelves buying only what you need to complete the menu, which we refer to as “needs shopping”. Then you have to redirect your regular grocery shopping to filling those shelves when things are on sale and when possible you have a coupon for it, which we refer to as “stock shopping”. Also, if you have some sort of brand loyalty you will have to cast that out the window because you are out to save money, if buying Best Foods will save you money over buying Miracle Whip, buy Best Foods.
Initially changing grocery patterns may cost you a little more in the short term because you will have to do more needs shopping to round out your menus while you start filling the shelves with stock shopping but over a few weeks it will balance out then it will save you money.
First, use your current grocery budget, this is usually around $100 per household member but may be as high as $150 each. For my family of six humans, three dogs and 4 cats I budget $650, this is not just for food but for non-food consumables like paper towels, personal maintenance items, etc. If possible use a separate account for this so that the money is kept separate from other items as this will not only be your grocery fund but your vacation or cruise fund as well.
Next, let’s talk coupons. These nifty little items are well worth your time in collecting and saving. I view each coupon as physical money in my account; often the face value is fifty cents up to as much as ten dollars. Manufacturers’ coupons are good for money off of specific products; I save the ones that are for products that I will use and sometimes save the ones that I may or may not use if they may be a good value at some point. Personally we get the Sunday Paper at home and I check what coupons are available each week. If there are a lot of useful coupons in the paper I go to the store and I get extra copies of that paper, the extra $1-$1.50 each is worth it if I am going to save considerably more in the long run. If you wait until Tuesday to get the extra copies the store manager may allow you to take extra coupon sections if you are buying a copy of the paper since they will be going into recycling bins anyway.
Tracking and filing the coupons can be a task and each person will have a preferred method for doing so. Basically though there are two ways to handle it, 1 is to keep each coupon circular in a file and pull it out when you find items on sale that you will be using, the other is what I do, which is cut the coupons that I will use and put them in a coupon file, then carry that file with you to the store so that you can get the coupons you want and use them right then.
Now pick one or two store to do your stock shopping and you may want a third store to do your needs shopping, at least until your stock starts filling almost all of your needs. Why would I suggest you have two or three different places to do your shopping? Simply put, to save money. Here in Portland we have a selection of stores to choose from, I use Albertson’s and Safeway to do the bulk of my stock shopping, and only my stock shopping. This is because I can save money on my stock shopping with them but not on my needs shopping because needs items are usually bought when needed they are usually not on sale when I need them. For our needs shopping we use WinCo, which is a chain store that has level low prices.
What do you look for in a store to use for stock shopping? First and foremost sales where the items you want to stock on your shelves are way below the level low price you would get at your needs shopping store. For example, boxed cereal can range from $3 to $5 a box, even at your needs store. But it is regularly put on sale for 3 for $5 or 4 for $6 as a loss leader for most grocery stores. Secondly you want a store that give you extra off, especially when you use coupons, Safeway offers double coupons, in Portland it is limited to 4 items at 50 cents each, but that is still an extra $2 off your bill. Albertson’s will honor any other stores coupons, so I can use the Safeway double coupon there with a double coupon from Thriftway. Lots of stores offer $5-$10 off coupons with a purchase of $50 or more, so those are useful too, and can be used at Albertson’s too.
When I go stock shopping I have 3 basic rules that I follow:
1. The item must be something that I will use.
2. The item must truly be on sale (lot’s of items will go on a faux sale and you want to avoid those).
3. If possible I must have a coupon for the item. Some items like fresh meat, fruit, & vegetables won’t have coupons.
I then walk through the store and I stock up on sale items that I hopefully have coupons for and I only buy those items. I use a calculator so that I know when I have reached any dollar value that I need to in order to meet any big dollar coupons and I wrap up when I hit that point. This does take time and it means that I make more then one trip into the store, but saving that extra $5-$15 dollars is worth it. What do I mean saving the extra $5-$15? For example, Safeway run a $10 off $50 coupon and has double coupons, Thriftway has double coupons. When I go to Albertson’s I use my calculator and when my cart hits $55 after manufacturers coupons I head to the cashier. She rings my order up, often topping $100 then starts taking all of my manufacturer coupons off and my competitors coupons and my bill gets to around $55, the cashier then takes the $2 off for the Safeway double coupon, $2 off for the Thriftway double coupon, and since my bill is still over $50 they take $10 off for the Safeway $10 coupon making my total bill $41. So using Manufacturers Coupons and Competitors Coupons I took a bill that was over $100 and only paid $41.
Now I am going to use a recent stock shopping trip to show where the savings comes from:
Item Normal Price Sale Price w/ Coupon
GM Cereal (4) 12.76 4.67
Hunts Pudding Cups (4) 7.72 2.00
Wishbone Salad Dressing (2) 6.58 3.28
Pillsbury Brownie Mix (2) 4.94 2.00
Alpo Canned Dog Food (6) 7.50 0.00
Electrolsol (5) 22.45 0.00
Yogurt (10) 6.50 4.00
Barilla Shells (4) 6.36 2.08
GrillMate Seasonings (4) 5.40 2.00
Dole Fruit Cups (2) 6.98 2.00
Farmer John Franks (5) 16.45 0.00
Popcycles (2) 5.58 2.00
Centrum Vitamins (1) 10.55 5.99
Best Food Mayonase (2) 5.98 3.00
All Detergent (2) 13.98 4.98
Rotel Diced Tomatoes (4) 5.96 2.40
Nabisco Crackers (3) 11.97 4.00
Frenches Mustard (3) 5.97 0.00
Hunts Spagetti Sauce (6) 7.74 2.94
Always Pads (2) 6.38 2.00
Marathon Protein Bars (4) 7.88 3.38
Twix Candy Bars (4) 5.16 2.00
Sub Total 190.79 54.72
Double Coupons 4.00
$10 off 10.00
As you can see from this list I bought multiples of each item and we store everything until we need it, if I had paid the retail prices for these things I would have paid $190.79 over the few months that we would use them, but because I purchased when they were on sale and I had coupons I saved almost $150 and got many of the items for free. Because of breaking my trips into $50 segments I usually make 3-5 trips to get maximum savings.
Once my stock shopping is complete we then go to WinCo each week for the items we need to round out our menu, fresh milk, vegetables, & fruit, usually spending under $20. At this point I might just buy the items that we need when I do the stock shopping if it is only a few items.
So, now I have budgeted $600 a month for groceries. I am spending $300-$400 on the groceries. The rest now is my vacation or cruise fund, saving around $3000 a year for us to use for a vacation or cruise. I admit that when I do the shopping it takes me a few hours, and I spend a few hours in front of the TV cutting coupons, but saving $200-$300 a month on groceries that I can use for a vacation or cruise is worth it.
Tom Truxton lives in Portland, Oregon, is the father of 4, does the family shopping and with his wife operates a home-based travel agency and website. Planning a vacation or cruise and don’t have an agent? Use Tom and his wife as your personal escape planners, visit them at http://www.timeenoughtravel.com. You are invited to sign up for our newsletters that include travel tips & tricks, news, specials and humor by visiting our signup page. Tom can be reached via emailing Tom@TimeEnoughTravel.com or calling 503.922.2655.