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.

AMP UP Your Savings

7 Proven Ways to Increase Your Savings Rate

Savings rate? Who keeps up with that? We have so many expenses, not only the basics but also the high expectations of what a “good life” should look like. Is there anything left to put aside for saving or investing?

There has to be! Every personal finance expert out there will tell you that you need an emergency fund, preferable equal to 3-6 months of monthly expenses, accessible at all times. They also recommend investing for your future at a higher rate than you’d probably think possible. All in all, it seems we should be aiming for a savings rate of at least 25% of our gross monthly income, setting some aside for emergencies, some for retirement investing, and a little extra for living a full life. This requires motivation and dedication. I propose the route of immaturity to get you started. 😉

Do you know that awful song that kids sing about a watery substance that most people don’t like to speak of? The lyrics start like this, “When you’re sliding into first, and you feel your britches burst, ______, _______.”

My older two kids have taken to singing this song more often than I’d like. To prevent my younger two from adding it to their favorite song list, I sing over them and change the lyrics:

“If you really want a jeep when you reach age sixteen, save your money! Save your money! If you really want a scooter that has a fast motor, save your money, save your money!”

This song can work for adulting wants and needs as well…

“If you need a gorgeous beach to escape a tough week, save your money! Save your money! If the truck keeps breaking down every time you’re in town, save your money! Save your money!”

Go ahead, make up your own lyrics. It’s pretty catchy. And then when you’re done, check out some of these more serious ways to motivate you to amp up your savings.

1. Name your accounts.

I read about this idea in one of my favorite mindset books, Atomic Habits by James Clear. Try adding an emotional connection to your accounts by giving each a name, like “Ditch the Clunker” if saving for a new-to-you car, “Oh No, Not Now” if growing your emergency fund, or “Escape Rona” if saving for an epic vacay when we’re free of the Covid. This might motivate you to keep adding to these accounts.

2. Reward yourself … often.

Every time you make a frugal decision over a splurge, such as cooking on a Friday night or driving past the very enticing shaved ice truck, reward yourself with $5 or $10 in one of the above funds.

Reward yourself every time you make a good frugal choice, including skipping that delicious shaved ice.

3. Move from debt-free to saving big.

After you pay off a debt, take the amount of money you were putting toward that debt each month and put it into savings instead of spending any part of it. (You already adjusted to not having that money to spend anyway.)

4. Wait … and wait … and wait.

Wait 24, or even 48, hours before making a “want” purchase. If you decide after that 24 hours not to buy it after all, reward yourself by putting the amount of the purchase in one of your savings accounts to go toward something more meaningful.

Set it and forget it. Saving can be easy and fun.

5. Set it and forget it.

I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but it works! You can create your own catchy phrase to force yourself to transfer a set amount of money from checking to savings each paycheck. Maybe “Automate my savings rate!” or “Conquer the transfer!” However you refer to the practice, repeat it in your mind until you just do it.

6. Shop around.

Find the best APY so that the money you save will work for you. Check out Nerd Wallet’s list of online savings accounts to make an informed decision. If you’re looking to invest the extra savings, JL Collin’s Stock Series has excellent advice about where to put your cash depending on your goals.

7. Keep the change, ya filthy animal

Try out a program such as Acorns or through your local bank that will automatically round up your purchases to the next dollar and deposit the difference (the change) into your savings or investment account.

Increase your savings a little bit at a time.

These tactics tend to work for me so that I am continually finding ways to increase our savings rate. However, we have plenty of setbacks too, and when those happen, it helps to draw on a little bit of humor to get back on track.

What works for your family?