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?