Grocery Budget Makeover – The “Brand Loyal” Edition

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on September 8, 2010

Linda writes…and I think this is something we can all relate to…

I spend $200-$300 a week on food, paper products, cleaning supplies, office, & drug store items. We eat fresh veggies, whole grain products, eggs, meat/chicken/pork or fish daily. 3 meals a day for 2 at home. We’re very health & weight conscious. Fresh food is important. We can’t have a garden.

In looking at typical spending, I now think I’m way over budget.

For example, right now I’m stocked up on bleach, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and tissues. I have a feeling that I’m over spending on these items because I like a splashless bleach and use the “he” for front loaders – I also prefer liquid Tide because it gets everything so clean – use “he” here also.

As far as other products: I’ve tried all kinds of paper towels, but keep going back to select-a-size Bounty. I clean a lot and this really holds the Windex and cleans my glass surfaces and counter tops fabulously, as well as tougher messes. Yes, I do Windex – but I do buy the large refill – and I do Tilex to keep the soap scum off my tiles in the shower. It really, really works. Scrubbing Bubbles do keep a great bathroom and I use Barkeepers’ Friend to keep my porcelain clean. I’m kind of a neat and clean freak.
I do use the Swifter every day, and that liquid and the pads are a little pricey. But I hand scrub too. Continuing on: toilet paper – I’ve tried tons & my husband and I think Charmin extra strong works best for us and I do like the softness of Puffs tissues.
Huh. I think I’m beginning to see my spending problem. I didn’t really get it until now. I’m picky about what I like.
Good Grief.
Grocery shopping is as bad as consumables. I buy the apples I like and the type of asparagus I prefer – same with eggs, liquid creamer, and everything. My husband is really particular about the types of meat I purchase too. No wonder I spend so much.
I mean, I either change what I buy, or pay more for what I want.
Is Linda right?!?  What are some things that Linda can do to keep her budget under control while still buying the brands she likes??!??

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Christie September 8, 2010 at 7:49 am

LOL…those are exactly the brands that I never used to buy (because they were too expensive) UNTIL I started couponing/CVSing! Charmin/Bounty/Puffs regularly come on sale at CVS in a buy $25 get $10 ECB deal. Scrubbing Bubbles are quite often a great deal (or even a MM) at Target with coupons and giftcard deals. Windex has been very cheap/free/MM several times this summer at CVS (and if you don’t have CVS, there are great deals to be had at Walgreens and RiteAid)
So I would suggest you give the couponing/drugstore game world a try and see if you enjoy it. It really can help you get all the brand name products for a heck of a lot cheaper than store brands (my first 2 babies wore Parents Choice diapers, but it’s been all Pamper and Huggies for my 3rd because I discovered couponing and can get them even cheaper!)
But IF you have plenty of money to throw away and discover that the thrill of couponing doesn’t do it for you…hey, don’t sweat it. Someone has to buy those products at full price in order for the rest of us to keep getting great deals!

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Tiffany September 8, 2010 at 8:54 am

I think with buying all these specific name brand items, couponing and playing the drugstore game could definitely help save money.

Specifically addressing the Swiffer products: I have hard wood floors throughout my home and prefer to use Swiffer as far as sweep, mopping, and dusting go, just because it’s really great at picking up the dust and stray pet hairs. The refills are expensive though, so I invested in some machine-washable refills. There are many websites run by stay at home moms who make refills specifically for Swiffer products out of fabric, which you can use and then toss in the washer and use again. It’s better for the environment and your budget.

The only site I’ve purchased from is Mama’s Love at Home (http://www.mamasloveathome.com/Cleaning_Supplies.html) but I’ve used the cloths for about 4 or 5 years now and I’ll never go back. The quality is fantastic and now all I have to buy is the liquid for the Swiffer Wetjet.

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Noelle September 8, 2010 at 8:55 am

I’m not a brand freak at all. We go through tons of toilet paper, no matter if it’s cheap or expensive, so I get the cheap. We don’t do much with paper towels. I do have them on hand, but I prefer to use kitchen towels for most things and wash them once a week. I don’t do fabric softener and make my own laundry detergent.

As for the swiffer thing, I have the orange glo system for wood. It has a reusable pad which is really nice. And I will put an old ratty kitchen towel on my swiffer to use instead of those expensive pads.

There are 8 of us in our family. Mom and Dad, 1 in high school, 2 in middle school, 2 in elementary school and 1 in preschool. They all know to grab a dirty kitchen towel for a spill and think it’s odd if our laundry smells like detergent. But this is what works for us.

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Terri September 8, 2010 at 8:56 am

One specific thing comes to mind right off the top of my head. Right now there are *great* swiffer coupons out there…$2.50/3 products. You can buy lots of them on ebay: http://shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p3907.m570.l1313&_nkw=swiffer+coupons&_sacat=See-All-Categories then you could stock up on that expensive item for less. :)

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Catherine September 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

My suggestion – buy those items you can’t live without when they are on sale – and stock up! We use the same toilet paper and it does go on sale with extra care bucks every few months and there is usually a coupon.

Make some space in a closet for your “stash” and then you don’t have to go out and pay full price for the things you like.

An extra step would be to try one generic/replacement/home-made variety of each item you think you “can’t live without” and see if it makes a difference to you. If you can switch a few of your must-haves to don’t-needs, you’ll save some extra cash!

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Stephanie September 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

I think I’m a lot like Linda in terms of my preferences…except I rarely spend over $125/week for our family of four, including food, diapers, paper goods, and cleaning supplies. Our organic CSA farm subscription adds about $15/week during the growing season. I buy organic milk, mostly organic fruits and vegetables. I am brand-name-loyal to many items, including Tide. I tried cutting costs by buying cheaper laundry detg. but found it just didn’t get my clothes clean- and I’m not saving time, money or water if I have to run a load twice just to get it clean.

I made a decision to be loyal to products I like when possible, and to be open to trying new products given the chance (free samples and/or occasional freebies at Walgreens/CVS/etc. are a great way to see if you might like a new and/or cheaper product just as much as the one you’re used to).

I absolutely use coupons. I clip and file them. I read the weekly circulars, and I subscribe to blogs that provide coupon matchups with sales in my area. I also know which stores have the best prices on things I buy regularly (and it’s not always the store you think).

About a year ago I stocked up on Tide during a great sale at Shop-Rite, using coupons. I paid about half-price for the Tide and still have two big bottles left. I can’t remember the last time I paid full-price for my son’s diapers.

And honestly, the couponing and planning really doesn’t add that much time to my routine each week, but it does save my family a lot of money. I’m not committed to getting the absolute rock-bottom deal no matter what the brand; I’m committed to getting the best prices on the things my family uses and enjoys. So yes, in some cases, I’m paying more for what I want, but not nearly as much more as I would be if I didn’t use coupons and shop carefully.

Good luck to you!

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Shelly September 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

Erin, I hope I can post this. A lot of Linda’s problem seems to be in the disposible cleaning supplies & products. I used to have serious problems getting myself to keep my house clean, and came across http://www.flylady.net. She has a great store of reusable products, like microfiber rags and a reusable Swiffer-like mop/broom. I have knocked off a couple of her products at Dollar Tree. With a microfiber cloth (I got 2 for $1) I can clean my big picture window, all-glass front door, bathroom mirror, and the top of my stove WITHOUT cleaner! I do use a bleach solution once a week to get rid of anything that I can’t see on my stove and counters, but it’s not necessary every day. Those rags also keep the soap scum in my bathroom at bay with NO CLEANERS! So for about a $5 investment, I have enough rags to dedicate one to each job (one for bathroom, one for windows, one for kitchen, etc.) Maybe she should invest in some reusable/washable products instead…

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Lesley September 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

I used to use Tide but then read in Consumer reports Gain HE powder is really good (# 3 on the list – Tide was #1&2) so I gave it a try. It works great. We also had a repair man at our house for the washer and he said we were using way too much detergent even though I was using the amount they say to use on the box and using too much can ruin your washing machine.

The only pla
ce I found the powder HE Gain was at Walmart.

The o

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Lazy Budget Chef September 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I’m weird because more often than not, I like the store brand version better than the name brand version, although for some that’s not the case. When comparing name brand vs. store, sometimes it’s the package design that makes the product “better” like the no splash bleach. Can you pour a cheaper brand into an old no splash bleach bottle to make it work to your liking? Or forgo bleach altogether? I use a store brand oxygen bleach dissolved in water for cleaning and love it – no bleach accidents! I use it in laundry too.

I used to break all of the Swiffer type mops because I’m that talented. I gave up on them and bought an automatic floor cleaner and haven’t been happier. I don’t have to deal with the disposable pads (For my last one I bought reusable flannel pads and they were awesome!) and I can use any floor cleaner I want in it. My favorite is vinegar and water with a sloosh of dish soap. It works wonders and is inexpensive!

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Kerri September 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm

What if you went a bit “green” and used cloth napkins? There’s 3 of us in our house and I bought bandanas from the dollar bin at that “local shopping store that uses a bullseye for their logo.” We use those as “fancy” cloth napkins for everyday use. Now if we happen to have company over for dinner, I do keep a stock of disposable napkins on hand, or I do break out the fancier cloth napkins I keep in a drawer in the pantry. So cloth napkins might be one small change for you.

Now paper towels are another story. My husband is the paper towel junky in our house. I have tried to get washcloths/dish towels for in the kitchen but since he’s the one who usually cleans up after dinner, I do try not to complain too much about paper towels.

Another trick I’ve heard of (but haven’t tried myself) is to invest in baby wipes instead of Swiffer wipes on your Swiffer vaccuum. Baby wipes are much cheaper and you could even try the really cheap, non-name-brand wipes. Maybe they’d do the job just as well.

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Laura September 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm

My husband and I are very similar, but we’ve learned how to work the system to still get what we want. We’re snobs about detergent (liquid Tide as well), toilet paper (Charmin Ultra Soft), peanut butter, toothpaste, my razors, and lots of other things. We decided that if we were going to be cheap, we still needed to enjoy some things. So now we just stock up when they’re super cheap. We have a bit of extra storage space (a bit means we still only have a 1 bedroom apartment), so I can buy two detergents when they’re on sale, or a big refill of the soap we like. You just have to start paying attention to the sale-coupon combo options out there and take advantage when prices dip.

As far as the food pickiness goes, we’re the same there, too. We started South Beach a couple of months ago, and that really changed the way we bought groceries (and our waistlines!). We only buy lean meats, fresh veggies (organic if on the dirty dozen list), lots of fresh berries and fruit. We just do the same thing though: stock up when it’s cheap and freeze in individual portions for later. Except for the fruit and veggies, I try not to freeze those as we really just enjoy them more fresh.

Also, another tip would be to check out the website’s of the products you love. I did that for our favorites and they now email me coupons so I don’t even have to search for them. And sometimes they have coupons on their websites that are no in the paper or on the databases online. If you really love it and/or have feedback for an item you want to buy, also try sending in “feedback” on the website. I’ve done this a few times for some products we’ve loved or hated and they nearly always send me coupons in the mail afterward. :)

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Christy September 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I am also brand loyal to many of those products and while you can’t often get them for free you can save a lot by matching sales with coupons and stocking up when you can.

As far as the Swiffer goes I cut up an old towel to make re-usable covers and I actually prefer them MUCH more than the disposable ones they come with. It’s really quite simple to do. You can find instructions here: http://prayerofhannah.blogspot.com/search?q=swiffer

You can also make the cleaning solution bottle refillable which saves A TON! Here are instructions for how to do that: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-remove-the-cap-on-a-Swiffer-Wet-Jet-cleaner/

By pairing a sale with a coupon you can easily get a big bottle of multi-purpose cleaning solution for free and use that to refill the swiffer. Those big bottles last forever!

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AllieZirkle September 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I have a brand snob husband. He’s the first to admit it. I’m the first to tell you – I don’t buy name brands unless 1) they’re cheaper than with a coupon or 2) there’s no denying it- the brand name is better!

One tip that worked for me was purchasing reusable containers to put products into. At Sprouts, I purchased lovely glass containers with white lids for cheap ($2 – $4).

For example, I buy flour, sugar, oats, nuts, popcorn, grain, coffee, eggs, etc in bulk or generic. I store these products in a clear glass container that is pretty on the shelf and no one knows that it’s off brand. Also, in the fridge, I pour coffee creamer (generic) into a nice bottle so that guests and hubby are none-the-wiser of the brand. This also works for chocolate milk as making my own or the store brand is cheaper than Nesquik. Eggs go into a clear container in the fridge, marked 1) hard boiled & 2) raw.

There are some items that I can’t fudge :) Charmin TP (use a Q!), Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk (buy at the Asian market), Bounty select-a-size (buy at Costco or use a Q!), Milk (price match at Walmart for name brand OR if W coast use CA milk Q), etc.

I do agree with the suggestion to buy a microfiber cloth (try Sams Club or Walmart in the auto section for a big pack for $4). Also, I recently found a Shark steamer on Freecycle that was not even used! This uses water & a microfiber cloth to do the floors. Now I don’t have to buy extra fancy products. It’s great!

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Kristy @momhatescooking September 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Shop CVS for cleaning goods! I got 4 bottles of windex for FREE at CVS! I also buy paper towel there all the time that’s name brand for under $5 with ECB’s back. Also try buying in bulk, shopping sales and coupons.

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Rebecca September 8, 2010 at 6:41 pm

We are the same way when it comes to food. I’m always embarrassed to read about other people spending very little on their food budget when they have 5 kids, versus my husband and I spending a ton on just us! We don’t generally buy organic, but we do buy fresh produce, grass-fed beef, local free-range eggs, specialty cheese (every now and then), Kerrygold (or similar) butter, etc. And to think when we got married a few years back, we both only really ate frozen/pre-prepared stuff out of a box!

On the other hand, we are pretty cheap with paper/cleaning products. I use vinegar and baking soda almost exclusively, with occasional use of a little bleach or Windex. We use cloths for paper towels/napkins, and that has suited us a lot more than I would have expected. We keep one roll of paper towels in a back closet for stuff like patting food dry or draining bacon.

If you have an HE washer, it is really important to use the HE labeled stuff. However, we just discovered something recently that is saving us a ton of money in this area. We were measuring out the liquid by the inside of the cap on the Tide container. We would fill it up to the 1 line for most loads. My parents just had a repair come in and work on their washer (also a front loading HE) and he said that a large part of their problem was caused by using too much of the detergent.

He said that most people use the inside of the cap (as per the instructions) to measure out detergent, and that way uses WAY too much. According to him, you should be using a max of about 2 tablespoons for a large load, and a tablespoon or less for a regular load. I don’t know about you, but I was probably using four times that much, maybe more! This tip has cut down quite a bit on how fast we go through our detergent, hasn’t affected how clean the clothes get (at least, not that I can tell), and is better for our washer.

http://breathetolaugh.blogspot.com/

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Gina September 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

My husband is a big believer in only buying what works. I particularly like to buy the cheapest of anything. But when we keep buying things and they don’t work as well we are just wasting money. I agree with most of the posts that coupons and sales are the way to go with the preferred brands.
Now for the Swiffer – it might be okay for sweeping, but for mopping I LOVE the Shark steam mop. I purchased the least expensive one at Walmart, which was about $49. It came with 2 reusable cloths that you can put in the washer and it uses no chemicals – only tap water. It works unbelievable and even my kids fight over who gets to mop the floor. I am addicted to buying cleaning chemicals too and those all all the same ones we use too.

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Lynn September 9, 2010 at 7:20 am

I’m pretty surprised to see how much she’s spending. In our household, I’m pretty hardcore about eating organic. I won’t even consider non-organic dairy products, meats, etc. I mainly shop at stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods and I don’t spend nowhere near what she’s spending (and I bring this up because of the reputation organic has for being super expensive).

1st off, cut out the disposable cleaning products. Do your wallet and the planet some good and just say no to Swiffer. If you’re looking for convenience cleaning, invest in an $80 steam mop. You’ll never have to buy floor soap again and the mops come with multiple absorbant pads that you can wash in the laundry. Huge savings over time.

Go the cloth napkin route, as well. Check out your local TJ Maxx or Homegoods store. That’s where we stock up on cloth napkins. And next time you’re in a store like Target, also check out the baby aisle for cloth diapers (the flat kind). We use those as non-paper towels. I haven’t had to buy a roll of paper towels in over a year, at least.

As for cleaning products, dryer balls instead of fabric softener sheets. The balls last forever and are a great investment, IMO. We buy distilled white vinegar in bulk at Costco and use that for cleaning windows, mirrors, etc. A $3.00 bottle lasts us MONTHS. Its also good for your laundry (instead of fabric softener) and your dishwasher (instead of Jet Dry).

Lastly, when it comes to food, it is possible to eat organic on a tight budget. Buy in season, for starters. Get to know your local farmer and sign up for a CSA. Decrease your meat consumption (we eat non-meat meals 3x/week). Get to know whole grains and beans – and buy in bulk (both are filling, easy to cook in the crockpot and super cheap if you buy in bulk). Most of all, JUST SAY NO TO THE PROCESSED FOODS AISLE! Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store. Avoid the junk and you’ll save lots of cash.

And with all these tips, you’re alittle nicer to the planet as well.

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Erin September 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

Hi, For the swiffer, you can replace this with an O Mop, they sell that at Target and Lowes etc, anyhow it has a pad that you can throw in the washer when you are done, and you can use your own mop solution instead of having to buy the swiffer refills and products, I switched to this mop over 5 years ago, and I love it and it has saved me a ton of money, it works just as well as the swiffer and you can wash and reuse the pads over and over, I have 2 pads and they are still fine. I use one to sweep with and one to mop with this is made by the green company Method. Good luck. For paper towels, try target brand, you would be surprised how well they work.

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Barbara B. September 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

use mircofiber cloth,I use them for everything.Then throw in washer to clean.

Try to buy things you really like on sale,like name brands. clothes detergent use less in the washer.

Every season has special sales,fall would be apples,pumpkins and etc.

Buy meat on sale and freeze in quart bags just the amount you need,they defrost faster or use a foodsaver.
use coupons on name brands.
Make a list and take it with you and use it,only buy if it’s something you really need and the price is the lowest you have ever seen/or have a coupon.

Stocking up when the sale is on,is very good for household supplies.
If you have a farmers market in your area,that would be a good thing to check out.
Good Luck. Write again
Barbara

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Rebecca September 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

I just got the $129. Shark for $79 at Biglots! Love it so far!!!

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Glenda September 9, 2010 at 11:39 am

I bought a stack of inexpensive white washcloths to replace paper towels. I use them mostly in the kitchen but they get used for anything I might have grabbed a paper towel for (the only exception is to drain bacon or dab pepperoni–I keep a single roll of cheap paper towels for the purpose and the roll lasts me years). I usually have a spot to put the dirty ones then I wash them with bleach and either hang dry them or use the dryer with no softener (softener makes towels less absorbent).

If you insist on using paper towels, consider stocking up after Xmas when the holiday name brand ones are half price. They do the same job even if they have snowmen on them.

@Shelly–I love FlyLady too!

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Katy September 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I have a few brands that I love and “can’t live without”. I bight the bullet and pay the rediculous price for Barkeepers friend, splashless bleach and Lemishine. I watch for “good deals” and buy in bulk to last me.

One thing I can’t bring myself to do is pay 6 for 12 swiffer sweeper cloths! I have hardwood floors throughout my house and I sweep EVERY DAY! I started using my husbands old undershirts. He wears Hanes Tees adn when they get dingy or ripped. I cut them into swiffer size pieces and use those. I then shake them outside to get the dust off and throw them down to be washed with my clothes. WORKS GREAT!

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Charlotte September 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Wow there are a lot of great suggestions here. I agree with all of the ladies about using microfiber cloths for cleaning and saving the napkins for when you have company. My husband loves Windex but I prefer to use white vinegar since I have two little boys who occasionally lick the windows. I used to work in a vet clinic that used Scrubbing Bubbles to clean the counters throughout the clinic. Have you thought about using Scrubbing Bubbles on your bathroom counters?
In our house we use a lot of the same products as you: Tide, Bounty select a size, and Charmin. All of these products plus several more are made by Proctor and Gamble. P&G Brandsaver website is a great website to checkout. They occasionally have great coupons/samples available plus give you a heads up when they will have a coupon booklet in the Sunday newspaper.
Also if you have not bought Erin’s book, do so. She shares a wealth of information on how to combine coupons with sales and how to find great deals.
Good luck in you adventure in saving money!

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Christy September 24, 2010 at 11:42 am

I use vinegar and water mixture for general cleaning around the house. I’ve found it works really well in the bathroom. I filled up the tub full of hot water and poured some vinegar in there and I didn’t even have to scrub. It was easy to get the scum out of the tiles after letting it set for a minute as well as the shower doors. I can’t believe it! It also works well on stains except animal poop (I just get a pet cleaner in the dog aisle and it works well). This has really saved me money on cleaners.
also, I’ve ditched paper towels in favor of cloths and sponges. they last longer. I do get a few rolls because cleaning up dog poo with your own washclothes isn’t very appealing to me.

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