When I started blogging 20 months ago, I spent a lot of my efforts writing about how to save money on groceries. If you look through some of those posts, you see a lot of information in great detail that comes from my experiences and inside knowledge of working with and at supermarkets for many years. But a funny thing happened to me recently. I found I had fallen into a few bad habits about food shopping because I just wasn’t paying strict attention to it as I should. I know prices have gone up this year (despite what the government has to say about inflation), but how much? The spending results really surprised me when I sat down and analyzed what I was doing and spending each month, and alarm bells went off in my head immediately.
Last year, my wife and I spent about 20% more on our grocery budget than we have ever done in any year during our 10 year marriage. That breaks down to spending about $100 a week last year versus an average of about $80 a week in previous years. Do the math and that’s over $1,000 extra dollars spent that could have been saved or used for something else. Now I know that if you have a family full of growing kids you’re probably thinking, “$100 a week…what’s he talking about?” But simply put, we got out of the habits we previously practiced by being a bit cavalier and somewhat lazy.
It matters not how big or small your family is, there are simple things we all can do that will cut your grocery bill by hundreds of dollars a year with just a little attention. Here are the things you can do right now to start saving immediately!
How to Save Money on Groceries Every Month
1. Shop with a list and all at once
Making convenient unplanned shopping stops a couple times each week takes at least $5-$10 every time we pick up bread, eggs, or a missing ingredient because we start finding other things to add to the cart. Just don’t do it. Plan for one shopping trip a week and make sure everything you need is on your list. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart.
2. Pay with cash only
I need to know ahead of time what I’m spending to stick to my budget, and when the money allocated is gone, I’m finished. Credit cards make it just too easy to overspend and I tend to buy more because of it.
3. Buy on sale and stock up
Check the weekly ads and plan ahead. Make sure you have some storage area at home for stocking up on cans and other things that have a good shelf life.
4. Use your coupons and loyalty cards
Better yet, double up a coupon with a sale and save even more. You don’t have to be an extreme couponer (I’m certainly not!), just check the Sunday paper or take a quick look online after you’ve put your list together. Just remember, don’t but things only because they are on sale or have a coupon if you don’t use or need them.
5. Look for ways to save on meat
Try using chicken thighs (skinless and sized perfectly) for your meals occasionally instead of the way more expensive and larger chicken breast. Or buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Better yet make one night meatless each week. We’re doing meatless Mondays with pasta and sauces or veggie stir-fry for now. You can try tofu and cook it like you’d do a steak by marinating, grilling or using barbecue sauce!
6. Make your own snacks
Jell-O, brownie mix and cake mix, even popcorn in a brown paper bag in your microwave will save you money over baked goods and prepared snacks. Or forget the mix and make your treats from scratch…they’ll be healthier, too.
7. Buy fruits and vegetables when in season
Oranges, high in vitamin C, are way cheaper in winter than strawberries and watermelon for example. Enjoy those in season and save.
8. Supplement with frozen veggies
Frozen veggies are way more convenient, already chopped to save you time and almost exact in their nutritional value. Best part is that they’re on sale with coupons constantly to make them a great value over totally fresh.
9. Skip organics
If you’re concerned about health and pesticides, research has yet to prove that organic produce is any healthier and all produce sold meets government safety guidelines. Plus organic items like bananas, for example, are generally unnecessary because the peel (along with any pesticide residue) is discarded before eating. The price of bananas can be 20-40% higher for organics.
10. Buy dry beans instead of canned
Save about 40-50% if you do and basically they can be simply soaked before using, or boiled and seasoned (if necessary). If you’d like, freeze the leftovers and use when you need it next time.
11. Don’t be brand loyal
Brand loyalty is a real expense. You pay for all of those TV and magazines ads and you don’t even realize it. Generic brands and store brands can be just as tasty and are often made in the very same factories as the brands are made. Check out store cereals for a good example. Also, even professional chefs use generic items like salt, spices, and flour regularly in their meal prep.
12. Redefine your meals
Try things like BLT’s for dinner or other lunch items like soup and a salad as your main courses. We do mac and cheese, quiche, and omelets to get a nice meal and save money. And once in awhile, it’s nice to have breakfast for dinner too (mmmm pancakes!).
13. Try a new store to compare prices
It’s a fact that your store will be a price leader in something, like produce or bakery items. Another may be much better on meat or dairy. Compare your prices and then if it’s worth it, split your shopping trips and despite the extra time involved, you will save money.
14. Shop your pantry first
Before shopping check what you have on hand that you can use or substitute and cross it off your list to save. Keeping things organized will make it easier to check.
15. Do the math
Bring a calculator with you (right on your smartphone) or refer to the shelf tags so you can see if the unit pricing on all your items is the best deal (especially when you’re using coupons). I recently saw a sale on Idahoan potatoes that when I applied my coupon, the smaller package was about $.05 less per ounce than the larger package would have been even with my coupon!
16. Eat something before you shop
Going hungry will cause you to spend on things you wouldn’t ordinarily buy. I know from experience. And here’s a tip if it’s just unavoidable: many supermarkets these days have prepared foods in the deli area, so stop and get a quick cup of soup before you do your shopping.
17. Buy the loss leaders
Every retail store has items that you will see advertised just to get you to come in to shop. Buying loss leaders, especially if it’s not way out of the way, can save you money. I try and tie doing that in with other errands that are nearby. Sometimes they’re in the most unexpected places like your neighborhood drug store chain!
18. Use a smaller cart
Having one of those huge jumbo carts will make you feel like you have to fill it. Be conscious of that and avoid the psychological trap.
19. Don’t ever buy at the checkout lane
The items that are placed while you’re waiting to check out are there to tempt you (hello gossip magazines and candy bars) and are extremely high profit items for the store. If you need gum or a candy bar, buy in an aisle where the unit costs are usually half or more for every item. Better yet, do a self-checkout to limit your waiting time and avoid the temptations.
By thinking about these things each week, you can save every time you shop. If you do, that extra cash can go towards something more important than grocery shopping.
How did you do on your grocery budget in 2015 and what plans do you have to try and save on it this year?