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Welcome to Part 3 of my 4-part series entitled “You’re Hungry Again? You Just Ate Yesterday: The never-ending challenges of feeding a family. Here are parts 1 and 2 of the series in case you missed them:
In this post I am going to share with you the many tricks that I use to save hundreds of dollars each year on groceries. And no, they don’t require clipping coupons! (although, I must admit, I was quite the extreme couponer back in the day!)
Aside from your mortgage or rent, food is probably your biggest monthly expense. According to an article by USA Today, it costs between $146 and $289 per week to feed a family of four. Translation: you are probably spending between $600 and $1100 per month to feed your family. Say what!?! And that is just for a family of four! Imagine if you have a larger family what you could be spending! The good news is that there are lots of ways to trim down that budget, beginning before you even set foot in the grocery store!
Before You Shop
Set Your Budget
Before you head out grocery shopping, you should have a budgeted amount that you plan to spend on groceries. The general rule of thumb that I use is $100 per person, per month (with a minimum of $300 for households of only 1-2 people). For example: I have a family a 5, so my monthly food budget is $500. I like to shop on a weekly basis, so I divide the $500 per month budget by 4 weeks in a month, and that gives me $125 to spend on groceries each week.
This is what works for me, but remember, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to your monthly grocery budget. Use this as a starting point, and tweak it to fit your family’s needs. For instance, maybe you live in a very expensive area, or maybe someone in your family has special dietary requirements. The most important thing is to set a number that suits your family’s needs and stick to it!
Plan Your Meals
Just like a budget tells your money what to do, a meal plan tells your food what to do. Planning out the meals that you want to make for the upcoming week before you hit the grocery store is imperative to making sure that you don’t overspend. Without a plan, you will end up wandering aimlessly throughout the store, and falling prey to all the impulse purchases that are lurking in the aisles.
If you haven’t already, download my Free Meal Planning Templates to get started with meal planning for yourself! Be sure to also check out my full post about meal planning. It will walk you through how I use the Meal Planning Templates to make my weekly meal planning SUPER SIMPLE!
Shop the Weekly Ads
How do you typically choose which grocery store to shop at? Is it the one closest to where you live? Is it the one that is the least busy (I hear you, I avoid shopping at Wal-Mart like it’s the plague for that very reason).
In my small town, I have 2 grocery stores to choose from. There’s no Wal-Mart, no Costco/Sam’s Club, no Aldi. That’s right, it’s practically third word. 😉 (however, I do head to the next town over once in a while to hit up Wal-Mart or Aldi) The way that I choose which grocery store to shop at in any given week is by looking at their weekly ad. Which store has the best markdowns for that week? Are there things on sale at a particular store that I know that I need? Then I’ll probably head there.
In fact, one of my local grocery stores has a weekly circular that includes deeply discounted coupon items each week. I have been known to ONLY buy those deeply discounted items (I will usually buy the limit to stock up) and plan my meals around those items, plus what I already have in my pantry at home.
While You Shop
Self-admittedly, I am one the LEAST brand loyal people out there. I will pretty much buy ANY brand of ANY thing. So this one is a no-brainer for me. But I know there are many of you out there that are, what I like to call, “brand snobs.” (and I say that lovingly!) If you are a “brand snob,” I ask that you give generic a try, at least for basic pantry staples like noodles, dairy products, canned goods, etc. Oftentimes, there really is little to no difference between the name brand and the generic. And the savings can be significant!
Keep a Running Total
To ensure that you are staying on budget, open up the calculator on your phone and keep a running total of the things that you are putting in your cart while you are shopping. How else do you plan on making sure you stay within your budget? I have tried the old “keep tally in your head” approach and I assure you, you’re going to get half way through your grocery shopping, lose count, say f— it, and just start throwing whatever you want into the cart.
Here’s the trick though, you want to round up to the nearest dollar for each item you are purchasing. For instance, if the item is $1.25, round up to $2.00 (unless it’s a 4/$5.00 kind of situation). I know this may seem a little much, but just trust me. If you round up for every item, you are going to get to the checkout and be so pleasantly surprised how under budget you are! Maybe you could even treat yourself to a fancy coffee on the way home.
Stick to the List
Okay, here’s where you really need to be firm with yourself. You have spent time setting your budget and planning your meals for the week. You have shopped the weekly ads and chose where to shop carefully. You have your calculator in your hand, ready to go. Now practice saying these words in your head: “It’s not on my list. It’s not on my list.”
If you get to the end of your shopping and you still have room in your budget, go ahead and splurge on something, or stock up on something that is a good deal that you didn’t plan for. But otherwise, stick to the list!
Check unit prices
The grocery store industry has some sneaky little devils working for them, whose sole job is to jedi-mind trick you into buying MORE than you actually need. (Ever fallen victim to a 10 for $10 sale? I digress.)
Another way they try to do this is with larger packages of items. As consumers, we are programmed to assume that buying in bulk is going to be cheaper, but be careful! This is not always the case.
Make sure to check the price per unit (pound, ounce, etc) of the items you are buying. Most grocery stores have this displayed on the left hand side of the shelf tag. If not, you can figure it out by dividing an item’s price by it’s quantity. As an example, let’s compare 2 different sized boxes of the same cereal
$4.49 for a 22oz. box = $4.49/22oz= 20 cents per ounce
$2.59 for a 14oz. box = $2.59/14oz = 18 cents per ounce
Moral of the story: the smaller box is actually cheaper!
DON’T Bring the Kids!
Nothing blows a grocery budget out of the water quite like bringing your kids to the store with you. Sure, at first you try to stand your ground. No Susie, you can’t have those cookies. No Jimmy, we’re not getting a lollipop today. But kids have an uncanny knack for wearing you down.
Before you know it, you’re walking to the checkout with an overpriced box of Elsa themed Fruit Loops, a jug of high fructose corn syrup disguised as “juice” and a king sized box of Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies. All pantry necessities, to be sure. And that’s before you hit the abyss that is the grocery checkout aisle. Don’t even get me started on the grocery checkout aisle….
Just trust me when I say, if you want to save your grocery budget (and your sanity), leave the kids at home. I know it’s easier said than done, but try to carve out the time in your week where you can leave the kids with your spouse, or grandma, or a friend, and hit the grocery store alone. Your wallet will thank you!
After You Shop
Track Your Expenses
Once you get home from the store, keep yourself accountable. Did you come in under budget? If you only shop once per week (at one store), this will be easy: is the total at the bottom of your receipt less than your budgeted amount?😉
If so, great job! If not, try to evaluate what went wrong. (it was those damn kids, wasn’t it?!)😊
If you shop at multiple stores each week you will need to keep track of those expenses. There are lots of ways you can do this: apps on your phone, pencil and paper, an excel spreadsheet. Stay tuned for a future post where I explain a super easy budgeting method that even a hot mess mom can follow!
Prep Your Meals
This one is tough for me. After I get home from the grocery store, unload all the groceries, and put them away, the last thing I feel like doing is prepping any of that food to be eaten. That feeling of laziness is also why I am always finding brown lettuce and rotten cucumbers in the back of my refrigerator.
Do as I say, and not as I do, and take some time when you get home from the grocery store to wash your produce, chop your veggies, and cook things like hard boiled eggs and rice that will stay good in your fridge for several days. This will not only save you time during the week, but help you save money by not letting that food go to waste!
Take Advantage of Your Freezer
A freezer will be your best friend when it comes to saving money on groceries. Many people don’t realize just how many things you can freeze! (future post alert!😉) Buy meat when it’s on sale and freeze it! Buy bread at a bread outlet and freeze it! Have some green peppers that are about to go bad in your fridge? Chop them up and freeze them for fajitas or chili. The possibilities really are endless.
I have 2 extra freezers in my basement that I use for stocking up on and preserving food (I also buy 1/2 beef directly from a farmer each year, which takes up a lot of that freezer space).
If you don’t have a separate freezer for preserving food, it is definitely an investment worth making. You can get a small chest freezer for under $200 (HERE is an option. And HERE is another option) It will pay for itself many times over, I promise!
Scan Your Receipts
Did you know that there are apps out there that will pay you to scan your grocery receipts and submit them? If you haven’t, have you been living under a rock?! There are many different apps out there (and I plan on doing a future post with the deets on all of them!), but the largest and most popular one is Ibotta.
After I get home from grocery shopping, I will just take a quick picture of my receipt and submit it to Ibotta to see if I qualified for any offers. They make it really easy to earn cash back and partner with a lot of different brands (some of the national ones include Walmart, Target and Walgreens). It’s one of the quickest ways to make money on grocery trips.
Check it out HERE (my invite a friend link) if you’re interested in getting started with Ibotta!
And that’s it! I hope you found lots of value in these tips! I hope you put them to use and save money like a BOSS the next time you go grocery shopping!
Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to save money on groceries? If so, I’d love you to share your wisdom with me and the rest of Hot Mess Mom Society! Leave them in the comments below or on our Facebook or Instagram page!