There are certain things that I’m not willing to sacrifice in order to save money on groceries and food. The biggest of which are taste and health. And I’m sure many of you feel the same way. So how do you save money on the biggest expense you probably have other than on your rent or mortgage? Clip coupons out of the Sunday mailer so that you can buy overpriced brand name junk food or hygiene products? Not my ‘cup of tea’.
For starters, I’ve found that keeping your food expenses to a minimum requires four very simple key behaviors:
- Creating a list for each store you shop at before you go there.
- Going to the store(s) on a periodic schedule.
- Loading up on the non-perishable stuff that you usually buy when it goes on sale.
- Opting for generics when taste/quality is the same as the brand name.
It’s really as simple as that. Here’s why…
Grocery Shopping Discipline
It’s all about discipline, really. If you have food in the fridge and cupboard, you’re less inclined to open either and tell yourself “Nothing to eat again. Time to head out!”. Being stocked on food should keep your restaurant costs down, and a meal out is almost always 2-3 times higher than one cooked at home.
This schedule has allowed us to keep our meals outside the home down to about once every other week, including lunch!
Additionally, if you have a list before you go into the store, it’s much easier to focus on what you really need and limit the impulse purchase of crap you really don’t need.
My Grocery Routine – Creating the Grocery List & Period Trips
The grocery list and the place from which I buy the items go hand-in-hand. We create a list for each store that we shop from. We frequent Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Kroger the most. Each week we’ll plan out all of our meals ahead of time. Using a grocery price list spreadsheet and comparing price by volume has helped with this immensely. With Kroger, we also review their weekly ad sales, coupons, and discounts beforehand.
We also make a monthly trip to Meijer and a Bi-monthly trip to Costco (we’ve found that Costco gas, Costco liquor, and Costco pet food are among their best deals). We’ve got it down to an exact science. In an upcoming post this week, I’ll cover the frequency in which we shop at each location, how much we spend there, what we get, and why we shop there. Also, a few tips on saving money at each location that we’ve learned.
Loading Up on the Good Stuff
The key to stockpiling when things are on sale is to not load up on stuff that goes on sale that isn’t already one of the staple products that you always purchase. It may be tempting to buy 10 boxes of hard taco shells for $10, but if you normally rarely eat tacos and don’t know if you like the shells that are on sale, then is it a wise purchase?
I know what I like to eat and how often I like to eat it, and I work from there. I usually don’t go the other way around – i.e. ‘this is for sale, so I’m going to eat more of it over the next few months’.
Generic Food Savings
This one is pretty self explanatory. If you have a generic option, just give it a try. Heck, have a fun evening with your significant other and do blind taste tests to see which you prefer. I have found that I usually save about 25-40% on generic foods vs. their brand brethren. Without any sacrifice on taste.
Not Sacrificing Quality of Life for Extra Savings
That’s really it. I don’t have any intense ‘extreme couponing – how to get $300 worth of groceries for $9′ stories. Those who take pride in that spend an insane amount of time and effort to do so – and usually end up buying stuff that they may not like anyways. Not worth it to me.
Farmers’ Market Plug
In the comments on my food sacrifice post, some of you mentioned farmers’ markets. Although I am a big fan of them in an ideal sense, I’ve had a hard time working them into my routine. For starters, I live in Michigan, which has a relatively short growing season, which doesn’t allow for much diversity or consistency. The hours are usually not the most convenient either. However, I’d love to hear your stories on farmer’s markets.
Food/Grocery Savings Discussion
- What do you do to save money on your food and grocery bills?
- Where do you shop?
GE – I can’t find any flaws to your strategy other than the discipline it takes. Getting groceries is simply no fun at all. I do like the simplicity, and if you have the discipline to execute, it sounds like a no compromise way to keep your expenses down. Great tips!
I am not an expert on farmers markets but I lived in San Jose (land of a ton of farmers markets) and now have to moved to buffalo where like Michigan the growing season is short. I can give your readers tips that even work into the grocery store. If you or your SO likes shopping farmers markets are a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (not morning), you get the best deals in the afternoon. You also begin to see when the growing season is (for example corn is .25 in buffalo during the late summer) and that is when you get the best deals. In Florida because of the rainy season strawberries were very cheap this month (this extended to the rest of the country in grocery store but not as cheap as Florida and esp in the farmers markets there.
Good tips about the list and planning meals. Along with that is planning leftovers meals.
My tip is to watch out for the “all prices are lower at the warehouse club” trap. I belong to Costco and shop there every 6 weeks or so. Items that I have found to cost the same at my local supermarket (when they are on sale) as Costco: cereal, much of the produce, paper products. So if you don’t have a lot of room, or won’t eat it all before it goes bad or stale, consider waiting for the sale at the local store.
We use a combination of Angel Food Ministry Signature Boxes and Sam’s Club to keep our freezer stocked with the main proteins we eat and frozen vegetables. That’s about $100 a month total or a little less.
We also grcoery shop 2-3 times a month for the perishable items like milk and bread and the extras (like tortillas for tacos, sandwich meat, and any side items that we don’t buy in bulk at Sam’s Club). That’s been costing about $100-$125 a month total depending on the menu we choose.
That’s about $225 a month total for groceries and we spend another $100-$150 a month on fast food and restaurants. $350-$400 has been our average monthly food bill since we started eating out a lot less in January 2010…last year we were spending about $600 a month.
@ Budgeting – Wow, cutting 50% off your food bill is a huge impact. Great discipline!
@ M Denis – Leftover planning is a great tip – and one I probably should have included (and could take advantage of more than I do). The more you can cook ahead of time, the less inclined you are to eat out.
@ Scmit – Nice tip on the meats.
When you can save with groceries it’s huge. My wife and I always have a list.
Also, wherever it makes sense, we buy in bulk (Costco). This alone cuts our bill by 50% in many areas.
Produce, is difficult to buy at Costco because it can’t be consumed in time by two people. In this case, we always try an find the smaller more independent grocer to buy produce. You can save close to 75% than at the large Safeway-type grocery chains.
A lot is riding on having discipline, but I think that starts at picking a few good recipe’s then building your list from them.
I love coupons! Especially the ones that will double or even triple. Saving money is really a big deal for my family. I need every tip possible to do so. One tip for me is leaving my children at home. They always want to place something in the basket. I only grocery shop during school hours. Alone!
So true! I’m all about frugal living and spending wisely but if it will affect my health then I’d rather pay for higher quality food… I always create lists..I’m all about lists! Lists help keep me organized so that I do not lose track of what I need. It helps keep me focused on only getting the items that I must have which prevents me from straying to junk food aisles.
One thing that has helped my fiance and I save money on our grocery bill was to switch stores. We want to buy healthy, organic food (ok, well I want to do that more than him, but he’s a good sport).
Switching from Whole Foods to Kroger has saved us a lot of money. Both story are about the same distance from our house, and they have many of the exact same brands. I’m really glad that more traditional grocery stores are increasing their natural foods and organic sections.
Oh, I think you are missing out with farmers markets! We shopped around the CSA offerings at several of our year-round markets (we live in a city but surrounding farmers bring in the goods) and have been with the same farmer for a year. For $12/week, we get enough locally grown vegetables and fruits for about 1/2 of our meals, a pound of local grass-fed meats, a block of local cheese, a 1/2 dozen of truly free range eggs (you should see the yolks on these puppies), and homemade granola. We supplement with grains, beans, additional fruits and vegetables, milk, and yogurt, and that’s about all we need! (And we do get most of these other items from Trader Joes.)
I agree with Credit Girl. It’s all about the list and following it religiously. DO not sacrifice quantity over quality. For double savings, use coupons during sales.. It’s a really great idea.
I shop mostly at Sunflower market. They are the closest thing to a farmers market we have in Las Vegas. There are “farmer’s markets” with booths and some of the stuff is great, but the products are shipped in from CA (by necessity) and end up costing twice as much as the stuff from the grocery store. So I only go to them for a couple of specialty items. As we have developed a taste for high quality home cooked food our food bill has increased to $500/mo for two adults w/ one breastfeeding. However I consider it a good investment in our health and enjoyment. We eat very well for that amount.
The only way I’ve found to save money on groceries is to send my husband alone. I can’t seem to keep from buying extra stuff no matter how hard I try. He can stick to the list, no problem.
“Generic” is a term used for over the counter drugs. What you mean is (store brand, discount brand, or “private label” which usually means a higher level quality of a store brand. God article though for the younger people who might eat out 4 times a week or more