Groceries Are One Of The Big 3
Every household has what is referred to as the big 3 expenses: Housing, Transportation, and the Grocery bill. If you can control those three expenses to the best of your ability, you will be well on your way to freeing yourself and your money to grow real wealth through investing. It is tough to create savings from all of the other smaller budget areas if you do not. Most people try and attack the smaller ones first because they are easy. The problem is that they see very little change in the monthly bottom line, so they quit. Once you have optimized the big three, then you can move on to the smaller items if you want, but most likely, you won’t even need to.
Why Am I Writing This Post?
I recently was called out by some friends saying that they didn’t believe the monthly food budget that I put in a recent post. So I decided to write this post explaining how I approach grocery shopping and how I could achieve such a low number for a family of four. I also wanted to go through this thought experiment because I know there is still some fat to trim off our monthly budget.
A few things to note. One, nothing I am saying here is revolutionary. Hopefully, you will pick up a hack or two that you haven’t heard before. Two, I am not a crazy coupon person. We will use the coupons that are readily available or sent to us. We do not spend hours scouring the newspapers and internet to get 45 bottles of free travel shampoo. There was a time that I thought that was the way, but my wife squashed that idea pretty quick. We value our time, and the time spent doing that vs. the savings was just not worth it for us.
15 Ways To Hack Your Grocery Bill
Grocery Hack #1: Buy Generic
Do you really need the name-brand pretzels or chips? Really? Is your palate so distinguished that it simply can’t tolerate generic snacks? If so, keep on paying top dollar for the name brand of everything! My advice is to pick a few items that you will not compromise on, buy those name brands, and make the rest generic. Some of those items are cereal, peanut butter, and Ken’s Italian dressing in our house. Outside of that, we are a Market Basket brand household.
Grocery Hack #2: Shop The Sales
This one should be obvious. If the store is having a sale on something that you normally buy, stock up on it. Having an extra fridge/freezer and pantry storage space comes in handy for this approach. After doing this for a while, you will then be able to shop from your own inventory that you bought on sale and not be forced to pay the regular price at the store. As much as possible, buy things only when on sale. What this does not mean is buying things BECAUSE they are on sale. If you don’t normally buy that item, don’t get it because it’s on sale. You don’t save money just because something is on sale. You save when something you normally buy is on sale!
Grocery Hack #3: Use Low-Cost Items to “Fill” Your Plate
You can save a lot of money by thinking about how you prepare your plate. Try and put fewer higher-cost items (meats, etc…) on your plate and fill the space with lower-cost items (rice, veggies, pasta, etc…). I am not promoting being unhealthy. There are healthy and cost-efficient ways to do this. By doing this, you optimize each plate’s value without creating a deprivation mindset around your low-cost meals. Everyone will leave the table full. It will just cost less to get them there.
Grocery Hack #4: Shop With A List
Having a list that you and your spouse (significant other or just you) prepare will cut back on impulse buying. Please keep it simple. If it is not on the list, don’t buy it. If you come home and find out that you needed something, not on the list, it will motivate you to make a better list next time. Having a list also saves you a lot of time. You should not be “browsing” at the grocery store. A grocery trip is business, not pleasure.
Grocery Hack #5: Don’t Pay Premium For Delivery Service
You are not too busy to go to the grocery store. Add it to your to-do list or put it on a shared family calendar if you have to. My wife and I both work full-time, we have two teenage boys that do not drive yet, and both play sports year-round. We are a very busy family, yet I go to the store every Friday. It is part of my week, and I try not to change that. In most cases, the convenience of ordering from home and having it delivered and/or picking it up comes with a cost. Most stores charge a flat fee or raise the cost of each item slightly to offset their added overhead. Don’t be lazy, go to the store.
Grocery Hack #6: Use Price Per Unit Comparisons
OK, you are in the store looking to buy an item. This particular item has multiple sizes. One is $1.99, and the other is $2.99. The one that is $2.99 is twice as big as the other one. Which do you buy? Here is another example. There are two bags of chips. Both cost $2.99. One is 12 oz, and one is 16 oz. Which one should you buy? For some, this is a no-brainer, but for many, they have no clue. When possible, shop based on the price per pound, ounce, or other units of measure. As long as it is an item you will use all of, there is no reason not to. The price on the label does not matter. Focus on the price per unit to compare.
Grocery Hack #7: Aim For $2-$3 Per Person Per Meal
Try and keep in the back of your mind that you want each meal for everyone in your family to cost $2-$3 per person per meal. If you have a general plan for your weekly meals reflected on your grocery list, you can find creative and inexpensive ways to achieve that goal. If you need some ideas, check out this site, Two Dollar Eats, or this one at Choose-FI.
Grocery Hack #8: Food Prep For The Week
Every Sunday night, my wife and I use our outdoor flattop griddle (like the one below) to mass-produce food for the week. As I mentioned, we are a very busy family of four. If we do not meal prep, we will fall into the eat-out, take-out habits of our past. This eating style is expensive and unhealthy. We food prep all of our lunches and most of our dinners for the week on Sunday night. A few hours of work makes eating for the rest of the week easy, healthy, and affordable.
Grocery Hack #9: Avoid Multiple Stores
Choose one or two local stores and stick with them. I am pretty sure they will have everything you need. We use a local discount grocery store for most of our grocery needs along with one wholesale club for some items we want in bulk like flour, nuts, coffee, etc… That is it, two. You don’t need your favorite items from 4-5 different stores. It is a waste of time and money to do that. You will also find that when you run in to grab “just the one thing”, you will leave with much more!
Grocery Hack #10: Use Discount Grocery Stores
Not all grocery stores are created equal. Check out the prices on the items you buy the most (those comprising 80% of your grocery budget) from the stores near you. Pick the one that has the best prices on those items. You may be surprised which store that is, or it may hurt your ego some to go there, but if they have the same food at a better price, do you really have a choice? Out by where I live, the cheapest grocery stores are Market Basket and Aldi.
Grocery Hack#11: Inventory & Shop Your House
Now and again, skip the grocery store for a week and shop your cabinets and your fridge/freezer. Most of us accumulate food, and it sits there as the new food comes in and gets consumed. I bet everyone reading this could feed their family for a week or more with the food in their house. It is a great way to cut your bill for that month and start fresh with your grocery list.
Grocery Hack #12: Eat Less
Most people overeat, including me. Look around you every day and see how heavy we are becoming. We eat for many reasons, but more and more health and function are not amongst the top. One way to lose weight, be healthy, and save money is to eat less. One way to do this is to put the food away right after preparing it and plating it. Fill your plate as described above, then put the food in storage as part of your weekly food prep. If the food is put away, you and your family are less likely to go in for seconds. That $3 meal you worked so hard on becomes $6 very quickly.
Grocery Hack #13: Don’t Buy Pre-Made/Pre-Packaged
If you buy something that someone else had to do more work on or use more materials on, you will pay more. If you buy bigger chicken breasts and cut them yourself, you will pay less per pound in most cases: same chicken, just a little more work. Instead of buying small bags of mozzarella cheese, I buy the 3-pound bag and separate it myself to freeze later. It is the same cheese, just a little more work, and a lot less cost!
Grocery Hack #14: Leave The Kids At Home
No matter the age, kids cost a lot. They especially cost a lot at the store. Kids are easy prey for the marketing geniuses that run these grocery store chains. The end caps filled with candy and snacks aren’t there for us; they are there for them. After 20-30 minutes of nagging, our willpower shrinks to zero, and before we know it, we have 4 bags of Easter candy we don’t need. If you want to save money, leave them at home whenever it is possible.
Grocery Hack #15: Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry
Since the beginning of grocery shopping time, this one has been said…don’t shop when you are hungry. It is so true! Everything seems so much better when you are hungry. The research shows that you will spend more money and buy more things when you are hungry. Do yourself a favor and have a snack before you go to the store. That little trick can save you a lot of money.
How Do You Hack Your Grocery Bill?
Believe it or not, as I was writing this, I actually thought of some more. Rather than ramble on, I would love for you to post your grocery bill hacks in the comments below. I would love to hear some ideas that I haven’t thought of. Hopefully, my list above is enough to quiet my naysayers for now!