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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Drugstore Game Two Years Later: My Shopping Habits (And Budget) Have Changed So Much

I began playing The Drugstore Game in early 2008. I’d been reading about the deals others were getting for a few months, and thought it sounded like a great way to save money. But I couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on our finances.

To put things in perspective: before The Drugstore Game, I spent about $800 per month on groceries and household items (mostly for two people). Considering our income, it actually wasn’t extravagant. I shopped at Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and occasionally Ralphs. Almost all of the food I bought was organic, hormone/antibiotic-free, or otherwise natural. I didn’t think twice about buying a pound of wild-caught salmon for $10.99 once a week, because it's the sort of thing that never goes on sale (or so I thought). I used coupons on the items I bought regularly, had a price book, shopped the sales at Target, and felt that I was doing pretty well.

After I started playing The Drugstore Game, I gradually built up my stockpile of household items, and even though I was shopping for four now, I reduced my monthly spending by about $100 per month within the first few months. My target prices on everyday items like facial tissue, toilet paper and detergent went down dramatically. I even developed a list of things I would only "buy" when they were free (toothpaste, adult toothbrushes, shampoo, etc.).

About a year ago, I discovered I could use coupons at the major grocery stores the same way I use them at the drugstores. That was a real eye-opener for me. So I started shopping at Pavilions (our nearest Safeway-affiliated store) and paid more attention to the Ralphs circular. I learned that I could get cereal for 50 cents a box or less, and that sometimes organic milk is cheaper at Pavilions.

This past weekend, I spent $5 at Whole Foods on two boxes of Back to Nature crackers, two packages of pre-sliced Jarlsberg cheese, and a container of yogurt. I saved about $10 using coupons. I swung by the meat counter to see if there were any good sales, because I almost always serve hormone/antibiotic-free meat. Two years ago, I would have bought whatever I felt like cooking this week, because sales were so hit and miss. Now I wait for sales and plan my menu around what I have, not what I want. So that’s another significant way in which my shopping habits have changed. (See some Whole Foods deals here.)

These days, I spend one to two hours a week clipping, printing and organizing my coupons. I spend another two to three hours shopping at multiple stores, which for me is how I get the best deals each week and minimize our expenses.

What The Drugstore Game has taught me is to appreciate every penny and every dollar, because the small savings add up. I shop completely differently now than I did two years ago, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

The payoff is that I’ve cut our spending by nearly half, all while our family has been growing, and all while maintaining a very comfortable lifestyle. And that leaves us more money to spend on other things, or to put into savings.

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