Adulting seems to be a repetitive drill of one step forward and two steps back. As soon as you pay to get your car washed, a huge storm rolls through. After you painstakingly clean your kids’ play room, you discover that your living room and children’s bedrooms are disastrous. When you finally set a goal to save money and start investing or pay down debt, large unexpected expenses arise.
I was so pumped to start 2020 on an even better track with my budgeting and savings, but …. life happened. It’s only mid-January, and setbacks have already occurred. A higher-than-expected emergency room bill from November showed up in the mail. All 4 tires on my minivan had to be replaced yesterday. The necessary home improvement project we tackled last weekend cost twice as much as we budgeted for it. And today, my computer wouldn’t turn on at all. It’s January 24th, and we’re already facing thousands in additional, unanticipated expenses.
So, where do I go from here? Thankfully, we have money in reserves and can cover emergency expenses, but I have to admit that defeat set in. I realized that I needed to find wins to stay the course and keep motivated. I opened up my budget spreadsheet to account for the additional spending, and while staring at all the numbers, I noticed one that was significantly lower than usual… my grocery spending! I’ve been implementing some of my own money saving tips, as well as advice from other bloggers, over the last few months to reduce our grocery costs. And I discovered that our January grocery spending is $509 LESS than what it was just 4 months ago. Win! In October of 2019, we spent $1320 on groceries and household items (diapers and wipes included), which was a somewhat typical month for us. However, this month, we are at $811 ($680 on food items only) with no plans to go back to the grocery store until February, and I promise you that no one in my family of 6 is starving. We’ve been eating the same meals we usually do… hearty soups, tacos and burritos, casseroles, chicken and turkey salad sandwiches, spaghetti, roasted chicken and veggies, protein-rich salads, etc. All the norm, all for less money. And my plan is to keep getting our grocery bill lower and lower until we’re near my $600 goal. But how?
There are dozens of resources on the internet to reduce your spending on groceries. I am in complete awe of most of these incredible penny pinchers and home chefs, but I have to admit that many of the plans seem like a lot of work. I’d love to be awesome at food prep, monthly meal planning, large batch cooking, intense couponing, and deep-freezing, but after years of convincing myself that I’d get better at these tasks, I still haven’t. Therefore, I had to find my own system of cutting costs, and it primarily involves a change in mindset and a break from routine.
Here are my 7 EASY Ways to Save Money on Groceries without Making Drastic Changes:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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. (You could also ask when the least busy times of day or days of the week are so you don’t have to stand in the check out line forrrevverrrr.)
- 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, your list should be more generic so that you can shop based on sale prices, seasonal produce, and in-store coupons. Your 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.
- 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? (I know I mentioned that batch cooking and meal prep aren’t my thing, but some cooking is still required, and waffles or pancakes are easy!) 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.
- 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. Today, I received a coupon for a 5 lb bag of mandarin oranges, which happens to be by son’s favorite fruit. That’s a $6 savings on something I would have bought anyway. 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. Last week, I purchased two packs of GoGo Squeeze Blastz flavored applesauce with an in-store coupon for 2 for $4. Then, Ibotta paid me back $2.94 for that purchase, so total money spent on the two boxes of my kids’ favorite snack was $1.06. 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 $91.23 since I joined on Oct 22, 2019 (3 months ago).
I truly hope these tips help you to find wins in your savings journey without having to change your lifestyle too much. A slight change in habits, an intentional change in mindset, and a tiny bit more work may save you hundreds of dollars each month.
I do want to add that cooking for a crowd and stocking up on what you use often are excellent ways to save money too. If you use a lot of ground turkey in your cooking, buy it in 3 pound packages instead of 1 lb packages. If your kids love chicken dishes, buy whole chickens at a much cheaper price per pound. And if you are making a favorite meal, double the recipe to have leftovers available. These tips and tricks go a long way and have helped my bottom line as well.