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.

Save Money by Taking Inventory

Know What You’ve Got Before You Shop

Have you ever gone into your drawer and had to search through multiple pairs of black yoga pants to find that ONE pair you really love? I counted recently, and I have 11 pairs of them. ELEVEN! Despite having so many of one type of clothing in my wardrobe, I used to search for deals on black yoga pants every time I went shopping. Until I took a true inventory of what I owned, I just fell back into my regular shopping habits and searched for a deal on what was familiar. I have a feeling you do this too. What items in your closet do you have multiples of? Do you have a dozen pairs of jeans? Several pairs of the same type of running shorts? Twenty t-shirts of the same style?

How about in your pantry or refrigerator? How many bottles of ranch or Italian dressing do you have? How many jars of peanut butter or bags of flour or types of half-eaten cereal? These are items found in most households, and because they’re the “common” items, we often buy more and more of them when we mindlessly shop and fall into routine habits.

Taking inventory is your first line of defense against unintentional spending. Awareness helps you spend less and therefore, save more. After all, even if you find black yoga pants for 50% off or buy another bottle of ranch because there was a $1 off coupon, you’re still spending money on something you don’t currently need.

So, the next time you’re making your grocery list, peek into your pantry and your fridge and take count or better yet, take a picture. Not only will this keep you from adding something to the list that you don’t need, it will prevent you from mindlessly or impulsively buying yet another bottle of ketchup or frozen bag of peas.

Before your best friend and you embark on your next shopping day together, take a count, make a mental note, or snap a picture of your drawer full of jeans, your shelves full of shoes, your rack of dresses and skirts, and your pile of soft graphic tees. Being aware of what you already have will give you that resolve to say “no” when your friend is telling you how stinking cute you look in that #MomLife t-shirt.

A few other categories to take inventory of prior to launching into your weekly errands include:

Beauty items, such as makeup or hair accessories and products

Personal care items, including soap, body wash, razors, lotions, and toothpaste

Towels … oh my gosh, the towels! I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve found amazing deals on soft, luscious, colorful towels at Target and convinced myself that we just did not have enough nice towels in our house. Now that I’m taking inventory, I’m blown away by how many drawers, cabinets, and closets in my house are packed full of every type of towel imaginable.

Laundry and dishwasher detergents … there are almost always coupons available at the grocery store for these items, convincing you that you should buy more, but remember what I just said. There are ALMOST ALWAYS coupons available when you do actually need to replenish those products.

Toys! Take a picture of your playroom or your child’s bedroom at its worst and have it handy for when you’re tempted to buy that “must-have” toy that was just marked down.

With all of this being said, I don’t want to discourage you from taking advantage of a great sale or huge discount. As a self-proclaimed frugal shopper, I understand that there are some deals that just cannot be passed up. I completely agree that occasionally, it makes perfect sense to stock up on something if you find an incredible deal and know you’ll be using that item often or that it will get eaten within the next month or two. For example, recently my grocery store was running a 20% discount on organic food items. This included the 24 pack of organic applesauce that my kids love. I already had a stash in my pantry, but because my younger kids each go through 2-3 applesauce pouches per day, I bought all the boxes left on the grocery store shelf. Those boxes full of addictive pouches of puréed fruit are taking up a lot of space on my pantry floor, but when I’m ready to go to the grocery store again, I’ll have a mental image of them being in stock at my house, saving me $12 of mindless grab-and-go shopping next time around.

I hope taking inventory of what’s on your shelves keeps you on the right path of your savings journey. You will likely recognize that you have far more than you truly need, and this awareness will prevent you not only from throwing away extra cash but also save you from being nominated for the next episode of “Hoarders”. Happy Saving!