Let's talk a little bit about planning for holiday cooking.  Everybody cooks more during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and frankly a lot of traditional holiday ingredients can be really expensive (pecans, anyone?).  Not only that, but how many of you are like me and have waited until the day before Thanksgiving to go grocery shopping?  That's got to be the most stressful day of the year to be in a grocery store.  Not only is it extremely crowded, but chances are they'll be out of whatever it was that you needed to buy!  So I wanted to share some of the things I've learned over the past few years that have helped to take some of the sting out of holiday grocery shopping.

Plan Ahead
One of the things I've learned from the FLYLady is to make a shopping list of the things that you know you'll be making over the holidays, and then each week when you do your normal grocery store trip (or trips, as the case may be), pick up one or two things off the list.  This applies to both non-perishables and perishables as long as they are freezable.  Oh, and put that holiday shopping list in your binder!

I've also been a member of The Grocery Game for the past several years.  If you're not familiar with The Grocery Game, here's how it works:  you buy a subscription to their website and choose which grocery store you want to "play" with.  Each week, the website publishes a list of that grocery store's specials (advertised and non-advertised), and cross-references them with the coupons from the Sunday paper.  The list is color-coded so that you can see which specials save you the most.  It requires a little time investment to peruse the list and cut out all your coupons, but the savings are definitely worth it.

One of the most important things I've learned from being a member of The Grocery Game is the concept of stockpiling.  Basically, this means when an item that you know you will use is on sale, go ahead and buy it-- even if you don't need it yet.  By buying it now at a discount, you save yourself money because you won't have to buy it for full price in the future.  This concept applies very well to holiday grocery shopping.  If an item from your holiday shopping list goes on sale, buy it!  I've already bought the pie crusts I will need for this year's pies, and I bought them on sale with a coupon.

Do Your Homework
For the higher priced items that don't generally go on sale, I will go to Sam's.  You can buy a two pound bag of pecans for about $12 at my local Sam's Club.  That's a great bargain.  I also buy spices and some of my canned goods there.  But I've found that if I can wait for a sale at the grocery store (especially when there's a coupon), I'll spend less there for most items than I would at Sam's. 

This brings me to another point-- which is comparison shopping within reason.  I know that there are folks who search all the grocery store sale papers every week to find the cheapest deals, and then make trips to several different grocery stores in order to get the lowest prices.  Here's why I don't do that: for one thing, you can only use a coupon once.  When I was first a member of The Grocery Game, I signed up for two different stores.  The problem was that once I used a coupon for one store, inevitably the same item would go on sale at the other store within a couple of weeks.  So I found that, overall, if you're taking advantage of the sales when they happen and keep a reasonable stockpile, it won't be necessary to run all over Creation just to get a cheaper can of green beans.

The other reason I don't do that is time and gas money.  Could I save fifty cents on heavy cream if I bought it at Trader Joe's?  Sure.  But if I have to make a special trip to Trader Joe's just for the heavy cream, then is that fifty cents worth the gas burned and time out of my day?  Probably not.  With that in mind, it would be a good idea to break down your holiday shopping list so that you know which items you want to buy at which store.  That way, when you make a trip to each store, you know you're getting the items you need a the best price.

I realize that this is a lot to throw out all at once, so I'll stop here.  I'll just say this-- make sure that your holiday budget works for you.  These are things that have worked for me, but they may not work for you.  So keep that in mind.  But you'll find that once you've planned ahead and used a budget, it will alleviate so much of your stress that you'll look forward to doing it again!



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