STERLING – When Kate Megill goes grocery shopping, she comes prepared.
Megill, 55, of Sterling, is a stay-at-home mother of eight. She recently published an e-book titled “Cut It Out! How I Feed My Family of 10 for $500 a Month Without Coupons.”
The book offers families tips on how to shop smart and make ends meet in a down economy. More insight is available on her blog, teachingwhatisgood.com. Readers can find recipes, health and fitness tips, and suggestions on homeschooling.
On Tuesday morning, Sauk Valley Media followed Megill as she went on her weekly shopping trip to see how she gets the job done.
Putting tips to the test
Preparation begins before she visits the first store. On Sunday night, she develops a menu for a week’s worth of meals.
It’s a basic component of her savings plan.
First stop: Aldi.
As she readies to exit her huge white van in the parking lot, she is already prepared with her quarter for the cart at Aldi. Shopping bags for groceries are in tow.
Also in hand is the week’s menu.
The top of the menu indicates the week she is planning for: July 30. On the left side is what’s planned for breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of the week.
On the right side is the list of groceries she needs to pick up that day. On Tuesday’s list were items including eggs, sugar, potato chips, diced ham, carrots and broccoli.
As Megill approached the dairy section, two prices caught her eye. The price per dozen eggs at Aldi was $1.28. But, Megill already knew eggs were cheaper elsewhere. Three cents cheaper, to be exact.
Milk is $3.18 a gallon at Aldi. But she skips it, and instead will buy it at County Market, where she already has collected free milk coupons.
Most people go to the grocery store and load their cart with whatever strikes them, Megill observes. That often leads to unnecessary purchases, she said.
There is a reason she can walk into a store and know whether the prices are higher or lower than what she can find elsewhere.
It’s because of her price book. In it, she lists the going price for staple items. That way, she knows whether a better deal is available elsewhere.
As she makes her way through the store, she picks up other necessities. Celery, cauliflower, broccoli and strawberries are all crossed off the list. All of them cost less than $1.50 each.
After making her way through the speedy checkout line, Megill expertly loads her groceries into the bags. At the end of her first stop, many of the items have been crossed off.
Total bill at Aldi for a cart full of groceries – $43.18. Not a bad deal at all.
After Aldi, she visited Walmart and County Market for a few more items. On Wednesday, Megill made one final trip to County Market to pick up milk. The store offers a special deal on milk on Wednesdays.
All said, she came in under budget by $23.97 for the week. Now that’s smart shopping.
Become a smart shopper
Megill has tips on how beginners can learn the tricks of the trade.
“The first thing that I would highly recommend is menu planning,” she said. “If you have children that are home during the day, menu plan all of your meals. I do breakfast, lunch and dinner. When my children were younger, I would also put their snacks in there.
“I knew exactly what I needed at the grocery store to feed my family.”
For $500 a month, Megill feeds her family. Often, she has children of area ministries stay at her home. She feeds these children while staying in the same monthly budget.
It’s all thanks to planning and preparation, she said.
Making ends meet
Shopping wisely isn’t the only way Megill saves money. She also makes her own homemade vanilla for cooking and her own laundry detergent.
The savings add up, considering the number of wash loads that come with a big family, Megill said.
Recently, Megill began making her own appliance cleaner.
There also is a great recipe she uses often to save time and money. It’s a family favorite.
“I have this recipe, it’s called Melt in Your Mouth Muffins,” she said. “You make it up and take out and make what you need for that particular day. For me, stocking up on items that I can make my own mixes for, it’s really helpful in the long run.”
The muffin recipe is available on her blog. Megill swears by it. On her site, she even writes that her 8-year-old son can make them for breakfast on his own.
One woman who has benefited from Megill’s know-how is Valerie Lehman, who met Megill when she lived in Dixon in 2003.
Lehman has been an avid reader of Megill’s blog. She had picked up a tip or two, but it wasn’t until Sunday that she planned her first menu.
“Today at the grocery store, I knew how much per meat, noodles, vegetables or fruit,” said Lehman, who now lives in Kansas City, Kan. “I have the whole next 2 weeks planned out.”
Lehman said many families could benefit from taking time to organize their meals and shopping smarter.
“At the times we are living in, gas prices go up,” she said. “Not only that, ... it’s really hard right now for a lot of families.
“You don’t have to necessarily get coupons. I just think this is such a Godsend. When times are better, more people can save more money.”
Megill said her goal is to help women and families like Lehman’s.
“I want them to walk away just knowing that, with a little bit of planning, they can really save a lot of money,” she said. “For me, to free up housewives or families, to not be struggling so much, that makes me excited.”
For the rest of her tips and tricks, readers must pick up the book. The cost? Just $3.99.