Save on Groceries

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 9

Food is the third largest expense for most households, especially if you have growing children or pets in that house. A family of 4 in the US spends around $700 – $1000 per month. When I first started tracking our spending, I discovered that our family of 6 was spending close to $1500 per month on groceries and eating out. Woah! That’s a lot of money!

Thankfully, I quickly found ways to reduce our food expenses, starting with grocery shopping. The following tips show how our family dropped our monthly grocery bill from around $1200/month to $800/month. We’d like to get that down much further, so we continue to try to find ways to cut back although we do not have discount grocery stores in our area.

  1. Ask yourself whether you HAVE TO go. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is simply to go to the store less often because once you’re there, you know you’re going to buy something else … and another something else… and another. I get it if you have a sick child and ran out of his medication or if you need more baby formula. However, many of our *quick* grocery store runs are for want items as opposed to need items. Can you make a slight change to tonight’s recipe so that you can go without a certain ingredient? Can you bring a different dish to the potluck than what you had originally planned? Can you make pancakes or muffins rather than instantly replacing a favorite cereal? Find ways to eliminate those in-between trips, and you’ll spend significantly less.
  2. Take Inventory. As I mentioned in a previous post, making note of what you already have in your fridge or pantry and determining how best to use them in the weeks ahead will prevent you from buying duplicates or even substitutes when at the store. Know what you have and don’t buy more (unless there’s a deal really worth stocking up on).
  3. Don’t bring the kids. Easier said than done, I know. However, kids can make you stressed… stress makes you cave to convenience… and convenience costs cash. If you are able to change habits and go to the grocery store less often, you most likely can find an hour each week or a little longer every other week to go alone. It’s glorious. And necessary.
  4. Know when your store sets out clearance items. I called my local grocery store and asked what time they set out clearance items daily. At the Dripping Springs HEB, they stock those specific shelves between 6 and 7 am. Eek! That’s not even close to my usual shopping time, but I still always check the racks because I have found so many items I would’ve bought anyway marked way, way down. If your store doesn’t have a clearance rack, maybe they mark down soon-to-expire meats or day-old bread at certain times of the day. A quick phone call or short visit with a manager is all it takes to get the inside scoop.
  5. Keep your grocery list generic and shop the sales. This brilliant idea came from a podcast featuring the Saving Sherpa on Bigger Pockets Money Episode #75, during which Justin shared how low his grocery bill can go. It is completely unrealistic for me to feed a family of 6 on $15/week, which is his personal budget, but hearing how he shopped was pretty inspiring. Instead of planning very specific meals with very specific ingredients, his list remained generic so that he could shop based on sale prices, seasonal produce, and in-store coupons. His list might read “Protein, Fruits, Vegetables, Lunchmeat, Fillers (i.e. rice, potatoes, bread, tortillas), Snacks, and Yogurts”. The most important aspect of this idea is to break habits and buy based on value, not based on routine or rigid meal plans.
  6. Before you grab an item from the shelf, ask if it’s something you can make from scratch at home. If frozen waffles aren’t on sale this week, can you make extra waffles on Saturday morning and freeze them for later in the week? You can ask this same question when shopping for granola bars/balls, cookies, rice krispie treats, muffins, frozen pizza, sweetened coffee creamer, bagged popcorn, chex mix, lunchables, veggie trays, fruit salad, jars of soup, pre-made/frozen meals, and so on. Not only is it usually cheaper to make something with scratch ingredients, but it’s a lot healthier too.
  7. Make the most of store coupons and apps. Use your local grocery store app to save money on groceries. I’m a big fan of HEB… everyone in Texas is! And with the featured HEB digital coupons, I’m an even bigger fan. HEB is already known for their in-store yellow coupons and their weekly meal deals, but the app offers additional featured coupons and even sends users freebies every once in a while. If you add a cash-back app, such as Ibotta (enter referral code “wpcrvpk” pretty please), you can even double up on some coupons or on other items you bought. In fact, there have been many, many times that I’ve saved using an in-store coupon and then received additional money back from Ibotta on the same product. Ibotta pays you back on specific grocery items listed in their app, and it changes weekly, but it also has “any item” options that will earn you some money back for simply redeeming a receipt or buying bananas. All you have to do is select the items you purchased, take a picture of your receipt, and cash in. I’ve earned over $200 since I joined in Oct of 2019.
  8. Know what to buy when. Usually, vegetables and fruit are cheaper when in season. This guide might help you to determine whether now is the time to stock up on berries or whether you should wait until a different season of the year. Also included below is a guide of which fruits and vegetables freeze the best so you can stock up when they’re on sale.

To take action today, listen to the podcast mentioned above and download the Ibotta app. Also, go to your pantry and fridge to check out what foods you’re stocked up on. Come up with at least 5 meals you can make from what you already have. Then, calculate what the cost is for each of those meals. Set a goal for meal costs in your home. We aim for $2/person for homemade dinners.

Then, when it’s time to go to the store again, download your grocery store app and check what’s on sale or what coupons are offered. Make your list and your meal plan starting with those sales.

Spend Nothing Week

Is it time for a spending reset?

In August of 2019, I decided it was time for myself and my family to become hyper-aware of our mindless spending and to hit the reset button. The result of this decision was a Spend Nothing Week, which provided us with a reason (or excuse) to just say no to the frequent discretionary spending we were doing.

As the Spend Nothing Week went on, I posted about it on Facebook. My posts and photos are shared below. Upon reflecting on our week of resetting our spending, I realized that awareness is just the first step; changing habits requires the hard, consistent work. Since taking the Spend Nothing Week challenge, we’ve definitely improved in making better use of the food we have at home … eating what’s available rather than what we’re craving. However, we haven’t managed another Spend Nothing Week in over a year. It seems we’re due for another spending reset, or better yet, maybe we should attempt a whole month of spending nothing. Can we do it?

Mom’s Piggy Bank

Aug 26, 2019 – After realizing how much money we spent on school supplies, clothes, shoes, band fees, end-of-summer excursions, and then listening to my kids continually ask for MORE, I announced to my family that we’re having a Spend-Nothing Week! Anyone up for taking the challenge with us?
Step 1 was to do pantry/fridge inventory and figure out meals with our limited supply of food in the house. I hadn’t planned for this so there was no big grocery trip last week to prepare. We had zero fruit, hardly any meat in the freezer, 3/4 gallon of milk, a handful of pre-packaged snacks, and only half a loaf of bread.
However, I was feeling super confident with my meal plan this morning and thought, “for sure, we can do this!“ Then, within the first few hours of Monday, a youth group pizza party invitation came up, and the kids poured almost half a gallon of milk into their cereal bowls this morning, BUT crises averted when I discovered a small balance in my Venmo account and transferred it. I grabbed a few groceries and paid for the $5 pizza ticket… we’re back to being in the black!!
Let’s see how long this lasts…. 🤔😬🤞

Aug 28, 2019 – I’m disappointed to report that there have been a couple hiccups with Spend-Nothing Week. The hubs STRONGLY suggested I get gas in the car if I wanted to continue to drive it. 😜 And then at my dentist appt today, I discovered that my deductible hasn’t been met, and I had to fork over $50. 😩 I guess those were non-negotiables, but I’ve mustered up all the willpower and stubbornness in my body to resist buying a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost this week and also to buy a new TV after one of the kids BROKE the screen of the one in our living room! 🤦‍♀️😖 (I’m sporting free shades from the dentist office today. 🤣)
But there is a plus side: The fam is getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner without a single dime being spent, thanks to app rewards and some freebies we had acquired!!

Aug 30, 2019 – Celebrating the end of Spend Nothing Week with steaks from the bottom of the freezer 😋, a salad made from veggies the kids won’t eat (including 1/2 a head of barely-edible lettuce), the last few potatoes, and margaritas, plus flourless PB blondies!! It was delish, but shelves are bare, and we definitely won’t make it another 12 hours without milk for the toddlers. I’ve never been so excited for an early Saturday morning grocery trip before! (I’ll share how much I spend tomorrow.)

Aug 31, 2019 – The day after Spend Nothing Week included a BIG grocery trip. Here’s a picture of my receipts from that day:

BIG grocery spending after Spend Nothing Week

Yep… that adds up to about $440 spent at H-E-B this morning. 😱😱😱 I made THREE different trips inside bc I realized in the parking lot that I forgot things and did not want to go back another day. The total definitely caused a bit of sticker shock, but I bought 2 weeks worth of groceries (hopefully), and if we actually make it 2 weeks, it will still be a big improvement on what we usually spend.

Recap: Total amount of money that we charged on our credit card was <$100 between Sat, Aug 24th and tonight, August 30th. The only money that left our bank account was a recurring medical bill. Full disclosure, I did go to the movies on Sunday evening, but I had paid for the ticket in advance, and on Sat night, I bought a beer and fries using a gift card. So, we did not, in fact, spend “nothing”, but it was the closest we’ve ever come, and it leaves room for improvement!

Sunday Surprise: Pantry Clean Out

State of our pantry this morning

When my kids open the pantry door to find it looking like this, let the whining commence: “There’s NOTHING to eat!” If they don’t see their favorite pre-packaged lunch and snack items, they are at a complete loss as to how to feed themselves. But I see several days of meals and snacks in this pantry…

– Noodles (with butter and Parmesan) for my picky eaters or meatless spaghetti for others

– Mac n cheese, Ramen, and Spaghettios for quick lunches (in a thermos for school)

– Canned veggies and baked beans for sides

– Flour and sugar for muffins (paired with nuts and/or the frozen bananas I’ve been saving)

– Oats and peanut butter for homemade granola bars, oatmeal balls, and flourless PB/chocolate chip cookies*

– Loads of cereal for breakfast and the after-school munchies

Red beans and Rice for dinner

– Quinoa and pecans to add to my leftover spinach for a more substantial salad

– Canned refried beans to pair with eggs and diced tomatoes for a Southwest breakfast scramble or dinner option

– Pancake mix for Sat morning hot cakes

– Ritz crackers and PB (and maybe some raisins on top) for toddler lunch or snack

– Rice Krispies and marshmallows for my kids’ favorite treat

– Canned corn for a hearty chowder (can add potatoes and diced ham or bacon for a full meal)

– Popcorn, remaining potato chips, and tortilla chips + bean dip for appetizers, sides, or snacks

– Gluten-free crackers, goat cheese in the fridge, and dates for a hearty and quick Mom-lunch

– Barley for a filling soup

– Biscuit mix + Nutella for another breakfast option

While my kids might see our pantry as half-empty, I see it as a pantry half-full. The above list of options may not be enough to stretch for an entire week if you’re feeding a large family, but if you’re looking for ways to save on groceries, you could add a few reasonably-priced perishable essentials, such as fresh fruit and veggies, milk, bread, cheese, lean meats, and butter. With those additions, I bet your “bare” pantry could feed your family for over a week.

Full disclosure – I did take a trip to the grocery store this afternoon because my fridge was looking a little sad and because I have a 4-year-old obsessed with milk, as well as a 9-year-old who binges on fruit. However, I don’t plan to venture back to H-E-B for at least 2 weeks, and our monthly (food only) grocery bill remains under $550 for our family of 6. For more ideas on how to save on groceries, check out my post, 7 EASY Ways to Save on Groceries.

* For this week’s Sunday Surprise, I used ingredients I always have on hand to make Flourless Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe linked above in list). These are usually a special treat for my husband and me, and the kids have to be quick to snag one for themselves!