How Grocery Savings Can Take You to Disney World

Turn Savvy Shopping into Family Travel

If your kids are like mine, they beg daily to go to Disney World or to stay at a hotel for the buffet breakfast and awesome pool. I’m pretty sure I know where they get it from; I research travel deals more often than I’d like to admit. With our family’s wanderlust, we set a high budget annually for travel, but we also try to find creative ways to free up some additional cash to pay for spontaneous trips we just can’t pass up. This is part of why I continually seek ways to save as much as possible on our food spending each month.

In 7 EASY Ways to Save on Groceries, I shared how our family of 6 got our grocery budget down from over $1200 per month to closer to $900.On average, we continue to save about 17% – 25% of our total on each trip to the grocery store by using coupons and capitalizing on weekly sales and clearance offers. We also use ibotta to get up to $8 cash back per receipt. Over the last year, with the exception of the months at the start of the pandemic, we saved nearly $3600 on groceries and earned about $112 in cash back from ibotta. That amounts to $3,712 that could be put toward additional investing or travel!

Let’s see how this math plays out for a “typical” American family. The average grocery costs for a family of 4 in America is between $800 and $1,000 per month. If a family can reduce its grocery spending by 25% over the next 12 months, that would give a family an additional $200 – $250 per month to go toward other opportunities. If that money were invested and compounded annually at 8%, those grocery savings would amount to approximately $36,688 – $45,860 in cash at the end of 10 years. That could be a down payment on a house or a trip around the world! It could even allow you to retire an entire year earlier.

However, if you need more short-term motivation, those annual savings of $2,400 to $3,000 could take your family of four to Disney World or any other favorite vacation destination each year. Here’s how:

  1. Use a hotel rewards card for all your grocery shopping. At the time this was published, Hilton Honors offers a 150,000 point sign-up bonus as well as 5x points for grocery spending, meaning that your annual spending of $7,200 would provide you with 186,000 points to use toward hotel stays. (That’s just with grocery spending, not including anything else you’d put on that card.) *Important: Only sign up for a credit card if you are able to make your payments every month on time!*
  2. Transfer the amount you save in groceries each month into a high-yield savings account and give that account a clever name to keep you motivated, such as “Meeting Mickey Mouse”.
  3. Use the calendar function on Disney’s website to find the most affordable days to visit Disney World (or do research for cheapest time to travel to your desired destination/theme park). Mid-week travel in August and September is often when you’ll find the best prices. For a family of four, 4-day passes to Disney World Resort (1 park per day) come out to $1,708.28.
  4. Find the best hotel using your points. Log in to the specific hotel chain associated with the credit card you signed up for (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt…), and search the dates of travel associated with the lowest-priced theme park tickets. Select the option to “Pay with Points” or “Use Points”. A quick search turned up dozens of hotels priced at 20,000 to 30,000 points per night. With the Hilton Honors example above, you’d have at least 186,000 points available to go toward this stay, which would cover 6 to 9 nights away.
  5. Book your trip and use the remaining $700 to $1300 (or more with added interest and cash back) toward flights, rental cars, or food. Find more ways to save on airfare and rental car!

This method of motivation to save on groceries not only works for you, but it’s a great way to get your kids on board with learning about the benefits of frugality too. If a trip to Disney World is promised, kids may be willing to try more off-brand foods, finish the leftovers in the fridge, and help with meal planning and prep! It’s a win-win for everyone.

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

Making a Delicious Meal with What You’ve Already Got

My kids are picky. Even my typically non- picky eaters are picky in their own right. I’ve been dodging complaints all week about certain snacks not being in the pantry or about what I chose to make for dinner, even though, in my opinion, we’ve been pretty well-stocked. I don’t think it matters how much we actually have… my children still think, “there’s nothing here to eat!” (Enter eye roll.)

With that in mind, I decided to start a new tradition at our house, called “Sunday Surprise”. We’ll make a meal out of whatever randomness we’ve got in our pantry or fridge for our Sunday dinner. No special trips to the grocery store to fulfill a recipe, no Chinese food runs, and no resorting to frozen pizza. It’s our new family challenge, similar to the ones I mentioned in step 3 of New Year, New FRUGAL You(9 Easy Ways to Save Money in 2020).

One of my favorite aspects of frugal living is making the most of what we already have and really using up what’s in our house, especially the food. As I mentioned before, we’re relatively well-stocked this week, especially with vegetables, after hosting friends last weekend for gumbo night and a family slumber party. But the items I used tonight are likely in your fridge and pantry too.

With canned corn, potatoes, carrots, celery, a simple meat, milk, and a few common pantry items, you can totally pull off this potato and corn chowder! I had several gold potatoes that were about to go bad and some celery stalks that were on the verge of bending like rubber. I also had some leftover ham slices, which by the way, I recommend adding to your regular grocery list if they’re not a part of the rotation already. (Ham slices are a quick plan B option when dinner plans don’t work out.)

I love to make soups in the winter, and I found a yummy recipe on Pinterest. I just tweaked it a bit by adding about 1/2 cup of water and additional milk to get the texture I wanted. Plus, I also added some of my favorite seasonings and about 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese because, well, cheese makes everything better. https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/leftover-ham-recipes/

The chowder turned out to be delicious, and I had enough to bring to a friend for her family’s dinner tonight as well. The first Sunday Surprise actually worked out, aside from the fact that my picky kids still turned their noses up at it. Ah well, such is parenting. Luckily, I keep plenty of marginally unhealthy kid faves in the house as well.

Unrelated to the soup, I also realized today that we were out of coffee creamer, and I definitely did not want to go to the store just to replace that, knowing that I’d end up buying several other items once I stepped inside. So, I used an empty jar we had previously saved and mixed up half and half, a tablespoon (or maybe a tad bit more) of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. I gave it a good shake and ended up with creamy perfection without having to run to the store.

Homemade vanilla coffee creamer

I would absolutely love to hear how you make the most of what you’ve got in your fridge or pantry, especially if it’s become a great way for you to save money. I am by no means a chef, so there’s no reinventing the wheel in this house. Please share away!