Yes, you read that headline right. I don’t play The Grocery Game. I know that a lot of bloggers will tell you how wonderful it is, and it’s true that you can save a lot of money. I did try the Grocery Game for 12 weeks and saved a lot of money—when it worked. But here are the reasons why it just didn’t work for us.
Local grocery store sales schedules don’t cooperate
For some reason, the major stores in my area (read: not the cheaper grocery stores, which aren’t included in the Grocery Game) run their sales from Wednesday to the following Tuesday. Teri’s List (The Grocery Game list of the best deals) comes out on Sunday around noon. I don’t shop on Sundays, so that leaves just two days that I can use the grocery list. To get deals, that means I absolutely have to go out on Monday or Tuesday. If I’m busy or sick, too bad.
By the time I could shop, the shelves were picked clean
That wouldn’t be quite as bad except for the fact that, when I finally did get to go out armed with the best coupon/deal/sale combinations, there was nothing left. No, I don’t mean “Oh, my favorite flavor of this is gone, so I’ll have to settle for my second favorite” gone.
I mean the shelves with the sale items were completely empty. The end-of-aisle displays and island displays were gone. There was no more stock in the back. And the next shipment wouldn’t be in for days—till after the sale ended. “Gone” gone. No rainchecks.
Granted, this only happened with the absolute best sales, but it usually happened by Friday night (sometimes as early as 9 PM on day one of the sale, though!). The premise behind the Grocery Game is that sales run in 12 week cycles. If they’re so predictable, why not time the new lists so I can go at the beginning of the sales, before everything is picked over? And, really, are there that many good coupons in the coming week that waiting until the next Sunday’s paper justifies missing most of the good sales?
I’m a terrible stockpiler
Actually, I’m a great stockpiler. Pack rat, even. But I’m not quite as good at remember to use the things I stockpiled. My freezer must be very efficient—it’s always full. (I haven’t been able to buy a substantial amount of frozen food in . . . probably two years.) I’m pretty good at using canned goods (thank you, FIFO organizer), but everything else either takes up space on the shelf, goes bad before I remember it or both.
Frankly, I don’t need this stuff
I saw Jurassic Park the other day for the first time (just the beginning; I can’t stand violence so I made Ryan change the channel). To paraphrase what’s probably the best line (philosophically, at least), the Grocery Game keeps you so preoccupied with whether or not you can, you didn’t stop to think if you should.
To put it another way: I’m a very frugal person. Okay, I’m cheap. I find excuses not to spend money. But give me the Grocery Game list and I’ll buy anything that looks remotely good. And related to the previous point, I don’t even manage to eat all of it. (I have food bought on the Grocery Game that expired more than a year ago. Sure, I saved money on it, but I never liked it and never ate it. So is that saving money?)
It’s just food
I know, I know, food is a little bit important in sustaining life. Right. But the things that coupons come for most of the time will not form part of a complete meal. For example, in this week’s paper, I found coupons for:
- Fruit snacks
- Cinnamon rolls, biscuits
- Snack cakes
- Frozen pizza and pizza-type things
Actual meals in there? Breakfast, biscuits as a side with dinner, freezer pizza and canned spaghetti (which I don’t even like). Healthy.
It’s mostly just food—food I probably didn’t need anyway. Again, even if I can get $50 worth of snack food for $0.50, once again, it doesn’t mean I should. It’s $0.50 I don’t really need to spend (and it’s never just $0.50) and it’s probably 50 pounds I don’t need to gain.
Granted, the Grocery Game lists do note when there’s a good sale on fruit and meat, but I can figure that out myself.
I’m just not convinced
I know that it’s so easy to come home from the Grocery Game with a huge amount listed on the receipt as your “Amount Saved.” The rewards seem very tangible. But when I buy the store brand on sale instead of the name brand, my receipt doesn’t list that as part of my amount saved. While I could be saving just as much, the rewards are less tangible.
For example, I took a look at my grocery receipt for last week and compared prices on a few things that you just can’t use coupons on: store-brand milk, store-brand juice, meat (London broil), cucumbers, tomatoes and nectarines. I chose these because they happened to be on sale at both the discount store and my old Grocery Game store this week. Some were better deals
What did I discover? I was overcharged for my nectarines! I want my $1.47 back! (Why you should always check your receipt, as mentioned in a good post on grocery shopping on Get Rich Slowly.)
Erm, um. . . . In the amounts that I bought of these six things, the discount store was cheaper by more than $5 for one week’s worth of groceries. But if I really wanted to compare prices, one thing I’d have to take into account: I bought 2.23 lbs of meat, and the sale price at the other store (already $1/lb more) only applied to “Super Value Packs,” which would probably be at least twice as much meat. (And then I’d have to figure out a place to store it…)
Taking into account what I’d really have to spend to get that price, assuming I could find a small Super Value Pack (5 lbs, or two London broils), the difference grew to $13.63. On six things. That’s a lot of coupons.
What Works for Me
I still clip and use coupons (when I remember and feel like it). When I was on top of couponing, I review my stock of coupons before looking at the cheaper grocery store’s fliers. That was until the Sunday-only rate for the newspaper went up threefold (Ryan says that it went up sixfold; even worse). We unsubscribed.
Then I look at the fliers and plan the week’s meals around what’s on sale. Then I write down anything else that’s a good deal that we normally eat and check my shelves to see if we’re low. Finally, I see if I have a coupon for anything in the flier and decide whether I really want it.
My favorite shopping trick: Local stores periodically offer “case lot sales,” where canned goods (usually store brand) are marked down considerably—usually less than $0.40 a can. I stockpile canned goods during these sales. We use a FIFO organizer (first in, first out) and I’ve never run out of canned goods since we started really stockpiling during these sales.
The Grocery Game can work for you. But I prefer shopping when and where I want, bringing less junk food into my house, and bringing home meals and food we’ll actually eat. To me, that’s the most cost effective way to get our grocery shopping done. I’m sure that many passionate Grocery Gamers will vociferously disagree with the points I’ve made here, but it doesn’t change the fact that this has been my experience.