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News flash—food is expensive! But I bet you already knew that. Suzanne and I are pretty proud that somehow we manage to keep our food expenses under control and since I track it all to the penny for the past 10 years, I actually have the evidence that we have done a great job of saving (and patting ourselves on the back!).
According to the USDA, the typical family of four spends about 10% of their household budget on buying groceries for their family and that’s well over $7,500 on the low side to an unbelievable $16,000 on the high side each year depending on income. For our family of two, our grocery budget lies somewhere between the thrifty and low-cost food plans. All these numbers don’t include the money a family spends dining out which is about one third of total food expenditure itself.
The worst part about that 10% is that despite almost stagnant wages, the price of food continues to go up. When you’re just trying to keep food on the table, it’s a scary feeling. So, how can you cut your grocery bill in half and save money on food? Here is what we do and have done to keep us under what a typical family spends every year!
1. Shop the Sales
The biggest bulk of your savings is not in the coupons you clip. Your biggest savings comes from the store’s weekly sales. If you want to save the most money, you need to shop the sales.
Overall, you’re looking for savings of around 30-50% off the regular store prices on sale items, but don’t be fooled into thinking that everything in the store’s weekly flyer is on sale. They often trick you with wording like “compare and save” or “new low price”. The reality is those items are still regular priced and not on sale at all!
The price book advantage
The best way to be really good at figuring out what’s on sale and whether it’s at a “rock bottom” price is to keep track in a price book. By maintaining a price book, you see in black and white the best promotions and what the lowest price is for your particular store. That doesn’t mean you should buy food just because it’s on sale. Instead, be on the lookout for the foods that your family actually eats. Eventually, as the cycle runs, all food in the store will go on sale. You just need to figure out the sales cycle for your store and the brands you’re looking to purchase. A price book will help you figure it out.
Don’t assume you know which store has the best deals until you’ve actually checked—you may be surprised at what you find. Here in our area, many people believe Stop and Shop is the “expensive” store, but when you compare sale ads, you will find that Stop and Shop consistently has great sale prices. Many people also assume that Walmart has the best prices around but most sale prices at traditional grocery stores will beat Walmart’s “everyday low price”. Also, if you have an Aldi in your area, they beat many store prices even with coupons. You owe it to yourself to at least check them out too. The end goal is always buying food when it’s at the lowest price—period!
At first, you may be thinking that stockpiling is going to cost you much more money, but you’d be wrong. Remember you’re now shopping the sales and looking to buy food at the lowest possible price. The best way to do this is to stockpile when the prices are at their lowest.
The best way to accomplish this is after you learn the natural sales cycle at your favorite store. Then “stock up” when the foods you regularly buy go on sale. Most food goes on sale every 2-6 weeks. Knowing this cycle is the magic behind saving a lot of money on food.
A good example on how you can save
Let’s say that your family consumes a box of Raisin Bran every week. The regular price for a large box of Raisin Bran is $4.50 a box. This week you happen to see it’s on sale for $1.99 a box—more than 50% off the regular price. Instead of buying a box like you usually would, you buy four boxes because you’ve figured out the sales cycle for Raisin Bran at your particular store is once a month and know you’ll need that much cereal until it goes on sale again. In essence, you get four boxes of cereal to last four weeks until it goes on sale again at less than half the price you would usually pay. Pair that with a coupon and watch the price drop even lower! Over time you’ll see your bill go down because you’re shopping the sales.
3. Eat Less Meat
We try to eat at least one meatless dinner a week in our home. By doing so, we save about $300 a year in our food budget. Meat is the high-ticket item in most food budgets and so if you can find a way to cut at least one or two meals per week you could save upwards of $300 too.
I understand that not all families are interested in refraining from meat—not even for one meal—so when you do buy your chicken, beef, or pork, remember to stick to the principles above: buy only what is on sale, and stock up if it is a great deal. You can freeze it and have it when you need it.
4. Commit to Meal Planning
If you like to wing it at meal planning, saving money at the grocery store just won’t happen. Running to the store for last minute dinner items costs you much more money in the long run. If you can learn to “shop your pantry” first and then your stockpile it will not only save you time, but money too.
If you are one who plan your meals and then creates your shopping list based on those plans, this will be an adjustment for you. You can still make this work if you get in the habit of planning your meals based on what’s on sale and on what you already have on hand in your stockpile. The goal here is to reduce the number of non-sale items you buy each week, meal plan each week and it can cut your grocery bill in half.
5. Use Coupons
It’s no accident that using coupons is this far down on my list of how to save the most. Coupons will save you a ton of money, but only if you use them by following the steps above. When you make these changes in the way you shop—shopping only for what’s on sale, buying enough to last until the next sale cycle, eating less meat, and planning meals around your stockpile and what’s on sale—then and only then will you see a dramatic drop in your grocery spending. And, that’s before clipping a single coupon or using any money saving app.
Matching your coupons
Matching coupons to the sales is the key to success here. When you begin to match coupons to the products that are on sale you will see savings of up to 50% or more. Learning to coupon and match sales is very possible and you can learn to do it yourself or check out blogs where the coupon matching is done for you.
If you think that the only coupons out there are for junk and unhealthy food options, that’s just not accurate. There are coupons available for things like yogurt, cheese, soy or almond milk, frozen vegetables, oatmeal, coffee & tea, gluten-free foods, cereal, and basic pantry staples such as pasta, canned tomatoes, and rice. There are also plenty of coupons available for non-food items such as shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and over-the-counter medicines.
Money saving apps like Ibotta will have fruit and veggie coupons that you get digitally and help you save on those types of fresh foods that are often scarce in the paper coupon world. Using apps like Ibotta can save a few extra dollars a week just by itself! Plus you save time as well.
I love saving on groceries each week because food shopping is the backbone of the budget and when your save there, it makes a big dent in your total expenses. I can’t think of anything else that I shop for every week that can match its impact!
If you start consistently using these five methods to save money on groceries you will enjoy the savings and just might cut your grocery bill in half!
Is your grocery budget growing and growing? Are you aware of how much you can save if you are a smart shopper? What are you doing to combat the weekly war on groceries? Do you have any great grocery saving tips you can share? I’d love to hear about them!