Food is one of the biggest costs in our family. We spend an obscene amount at the grocery store every week and tend to eat out at least a few times a week. In an effort to keep my budget under control, I know the first place to save money is the grocery store.
I know that I should be spending all of my free time clipping coupons and making room for a stockpile. This could save us thousands of dollars a year.
But who am I kidding? Food coupons are like calculus to me (I love coupons in general, who doesn’t like a coupon code for free shipping?) and I don’t understand spending money on newspapers and ink for printing coupons. It seems so counterproductive to me.
We are also renting a house smaller than we need, so the stockpile would go somewhere in the “box room” along with all my clothes that I can’t unpack.
So that isn’t happening.
But I have found PRACTICAL ways to cut my food bill from OVER $300/week to closer to $200/week. I have also been able to include my miscellaneous household spending in that $200/week, cutting an additional $150/month. That is a total savings of $550 a month.
My husband (and our bank balance) is very pleased.
Here are my tried and confirmed ways to save money on groceries:
Write Down What You Need As You Need It
Seems simple enough, right? But I am horrible at it. Those silly lists on the fridge get forgotten on grocery day, I seem to lose those post-it notes in the bottom of my purse, and I am never organized. I was always forgetting something at the store and having to go back. This means I usually end up spending more money on subsequent trips. I am physically incapable of walking out of a store spending less than $100.
How I combat it – I keep a memo on my phone. I have the silly thing in my hand 24/7, might as well use it for good. I keep a list of things that are running out, things my husband tells me at 8:30 at night that he needs, etc.
The most important aspect of the phone memo is to make sure you look at it while at the store. Just glance at it once to make sure before you leave the store. Forgetting that $10 item can kill your budget later in the week.
Plan Your Meals
I know this is so hard. I don’t know what I am going to feel like cooking on Thursday night, but I know that I need a protein, veggie, and starch. I keep in my memo a note for how many meals I need for the week. This usually means a cursory glance in the freezer and pantry. I know if I need more rice or potatoes, or if there are only two main dishes in the freezer.
I try to keep my notation loose; unless there is something specific I want to cook. I look for sales, what looks good, and keep an open mind for meals. Inspiration usually strikes in the aisles, so having a regimented list of things to buy doesn’t always work.
Carry A Calculator
Again, a phone is a great tool. I try to keep a running total in my head of what is in my cart. If it is hard to do, start a running total on your calculator. If you want to spend $200 at the store, then the best way to do that is to keep track of what is in your cart. I can usually guess as I am unloading the cart what the grand total is within $20. It saves that gulp and fluster at the end of the tally.
If you are also noticing that you are way over halfway through the trip, then you can start to re-evaluate what you are purchasing. I like to start with the needs first, then go on to the wants. If I am running out of laundry soap, that goes in the cart first, and is added to my tally. That way, when I get to the chip aisle, I know if I can really afford those or a special snack on the way out.
Fill Your Cart Before You Start Buying Things
I don’t know about you, but a full cart is a great representation to “stop buying.” If I can’t fit anything else in the cart, chances are I have hit my budget.
Luckily, I live in a cold climate. The first thing I do when I get in the store is remove my jacket, take my phone from my purse and put the purse in the cart. I also remove the kids’ jackets and stick them in the cart. Now ¼ of the cart is full before I even start shopping. It seems silly, but it really does make me think about what I am putting into the cart.
Try To Buy Everything At The Same Store.
I am famous for going to Target and the grocery store every week. I thought I was saving money by paying $1 less for diapers, or if there was a Cartwheel sale at Target. But really, I was ending up spending more. Going back to me not being able to get out of a store under $100, Target was usually $150. They had a cute outfit for me or the kids, or some new housewares, or just anything. The $24 in diapers spiraled to $125 in stuff. That I didn’t always unpack from the bags before going back the following week.
Now, unless I need something from Target – like if the kids have outgrown their current clothes, or have to honestly buy housewares, I just don’t go. Target has become a once every 6 weeks trip instead of a weekly trip. Yes, I pay $1 more for diapers, but I am not buying things I don’t need. The Wegmans’ by my house has pretty much everything I need, so there is no need to go to another store.
As you can see, my changes have nothing to do with comparing costs on meat, buying store brand, or couponing like the crazy coupon ladies. It really has to do with being mindful, conserving energy, and visually stopping yourself. I have seen drastic changes in our food bill just by following these 5 steps. I would love for you to try these and let me know how they work for you!