What’s your grocery bill look like? Reasonable or unreasonable?
Our monthly grocery bill was…obnoxious. So, for the past few months I’ve changed the way I shop. And it’s made a major impact on our wallet.
By implementing the following practices, I have been able to cut our grocery bill in half! Some of these things are more challenging, while others are a no-brainer. So for those of you who have lost control of your grocery shopping, try and take advantage of these suggestions. It’s truly worth the effort.
Disclaimer: I know some of these suggestions are not possible for everyone!
(1) Be willing to shop at places you don’t find that desirable
I live minutes from a really nice market. The outside is lovely and the inside is filled with gorgeous produce, a stellar butcher, a cafe, and a super friendly staff. There are no panhandlers and everyone who shops there takes showers daily. I love it. But a can of black beans is $1.29. Stupid expensive. Ten minutes further down the road, there’s another market. Not in a bad area, but um, there are a few panhandlers and the people don’t bathe regularly. The canned beans there are .62 cents. I can endure stinky people for that.
(2) Drive a little further and stop at several places
I love the time I save by shopping at the market down the street from my house. But by driving a bit further, I can save a bundle on money. And stopping at more than one place to get certain items, saves me even more. I remember my grandparents used to spend all afternoon driving to five or six different stores to get the best deal. That’s a bit excessive, but is three places? To save $50, I say it’s worth it.
(3) Don’t ignore those weekly flyers and coupons
I have never been a coupon cutter, and those weekly flyers in the mail always went straight into recycling. But I started taking a closer look and realized what bargains I have been missing. Some of my local markets have 2-for-1 deals on chicken and ribs, or 10 boxes of pasta at .69 cents each.
(4) Cut out the soda and chips
This is a tough one for me. We love our chips, crackers, nuts, and soda. But let’s be honest…it’s unnecessary. We don’t need chips and soda (although I would argue that a sandwich without chips or pizza without soda is sacrilege.) So, just maybe cut back, not cut out. Use it sparingly instead of snacking. And wait for your market to have great deals – at least one of my markets has a buy one-get one free sale on these items every other week.
(5) Buy generic
With the exception of a few items (like Ritz, Cheez Its, and Oreos, which we’re not supposed to be buying according to #4 ^^^, and also ANY of Walmart’s Great Value brand cereal, which is nasty IMHO), I would say that most generic product is comparable to brand names, but will cost you considerably less.
(6) Don’t buy pre-cut or individually packaged items
Ouch. I totally love the ease of getting butternut squash pre-diced and cheese already shredded. And what about those Nabisco snack-packs and trail mix for the kids’ lunches? Yes, the convenience of all of those can’t be beat. But the money you will save by cutting your own vegetables and purchasing in bulk, then making your own individual bags, is enormous. I compared it last month and my eyes sort of bugged out of my head.
(7) Menu plan and make lists
I’ve been doing this for years and honestly can’t imagine shopping any other way. But I’ve always done it from an organizational standpoint, not a savings perspective. By planning out your meals, and shopping one time a week, you not only get more organized and stop struggling with what to make for dinner in the 11th hour, but you save money!
(8) Utilize left-overs
Make your meals and grocery bill go farther by using left-overs in a new meal. (It’s amazing what you can throw together with melted cheese – think pizza or quesadilla!)
(9) Get a membership to a big box retailer/warehouse store
Have a Costco, Sam’s, or BJ’s near you? Get a membership. You’ll make back that $40-$55 annual fee in savings so fast. Maybe even in the first month, depending on what you need. A couple of things to keep in mind, though – go with a plan (don’t impulse shop), and always check per-unit pricing (just because something is in an enormous container doesn’t make it cheaper.)
(10) Skip the organic
What’s that you say? Are you serious, Amy? Ya…um…I know this one is going to be very unpopular. But sorry, friends. Organic, IMHO, is just another way for marketers to make money off of us. I have read articles, studies, taste tasted, and compared products. Yes, there are some fruits and vegetables that warrant buying organic because of the nasty pesticide residue, like celery, grapes, strawberries, and spinach (to name a few), but generally speaking, foods labeled organic are a waste of money. “Regular” food is not unsafe and rarely can you taste any difference.
I say this, though, as a person who isn’t paranoid about food contaminants. Yes, I pay attention to recalls, of course. But I don’t believe meat is bad for us, I don’t believe a donut on the weekend is bad for us, and I don’t believe that grains or carbs are bad for us. I believe all food, in moderation, is wonderful.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to save money on groceries? I’d love to hear them!
Reader Questions and Reviews
I guess I need to menu plan, but I ALWAYS make a list. It does keep me honest. However, if I find a real deal, I will flex. If soon to expire meat is at a big discount, I will buy as much as I can afford, come home and portion it out, maybe pre cook some of it, and stock my freezer. My very well stocked freezer is frequently my menu plan/dinner inspiration.
LOVE your posts!
Before I had my own family, my sister and I used to shop at Costco together, buy a lot meats and fish, then come home and split it up. Freeze a lot of it for later. It saved us both a ton of money. Thanks, Val!
Just came over from the Blogger Ten and I thought I would read this post because I love to see what other people do to save money. We do a lot of similar things and I love what you said about Organic stuff. When I was kid, my mom bought everything on sale and it was all normal day to day food. Now that she is retired and they have more money all she does is buy organic and special filtered water bottles from the other side of town. I cannot go that extreme. One income family here, lol! So nice to see someone else with a normal view.
Oh, I’m so glad you stopped by! I adore Deborah at Taste and Tell <3 Happy to hear I'm not the only one who shares this point of view. It's a tough sell these days with so many new food trends that people get brainwashed into believing is the only way.
Can I get an amen?? Those last 2 paragraphs are just awesome! These are some great tips. I’ve gotten way too lazy recently, especially about going to the nicer market that’s 3 minutes away. Bad habit. You’ve inspired me!
*high five*! I was so relieved when what I thought was going to be a food fight, ended up with people agreeing. Not everyone, but a lot. Pleasantly surprised! And trust me, I completely understand the convenience of a market down the street. It’s so tempting. But the extra money in my wallet is even moreso :D
Great tips, Amy! My goal in 2014 is to be better at menu planning, which will also help me cut down my grocery bill. I live in the middle of nowhere, so I try to grocery shop on the weekends when I can go to Aldi’s and Wal Mart. Sometimes I do go to the pricy grocery chain in town for last minute stuff, which then I end up regretting.
P.S. You should totally write a menu planning post :) (if you haven’t already)
Thanks, Carla! Well, as you read, menu planning is a non-negotiable for me, long before I started saving money. I’m far to anal to leave things to the last minute. Lol. Make it a habit, just like anything else, and you’ll reap the benefits.
I love this list! I realized reading #1, however, that I need to move out of NYC, bc I was thrilled at the thought that soup could be only $1.29. You blew my mind with $0.62!
I have terrible eating habits, and the City is a totally different animal when it comes to grocery shopping…but not really. I’m pretty sure I can apply most of these things and stop just reading your posts about all this yummy yummy food…whilst eating cereal for dinner…again, and maybe take the time to make some instead. Thanks for the tips!
I live in CA, so I understand expensive! (although not quite the beast of NYC.) I swear I still cook all the recipes I enjoy, and obviously what I post here, I just have to be more creative with the shopping. But the savings is well worth it!
Great post! I started menu planning last year and it has saved me a lot of money, but I’d love to try most of your tips. I am definitely guilty of shopping for everything at Whole Foods because I don’t want to go to several stores. You have inspired me!
Thanks, Rachel! Believe me, I totally get it. The market down the street from me is very similar to a Whole Foods. I love it in there. But the difference in price to other places, which is almost double, just isn’t worth it to me anymore. What’s amazing is that I cut my bill in half, but my cooking hasn’t suffered :D
I do a lot of these tips, I spend roughly $ 100.00 week for 4. I don’t make a lot of my meals with processed foods and I do take advantage of leftovers. I try to go meatless a couple of times a week and make soups, and we have breakfast at night. I read the grocery ads that are sent to me in the mail and take advantage stocking up. Thanks for sharing !
$100 for 4 is awesome! I can’t get it that low, but some of that is because of my job (obviously), but pretty close. And ya know what? We’re still eating great, so win win!
Love this! And I have to say that I agree with Skipping the organic. An old friend of my family is a researcher/developer of fungicides and he claims that the one he has been working on would have been approved by now if he was to just stick the word “Organic” in the name, but because he doesn’t it will take him another 7 years to get approval. Sad part is that he wouldn’t even have to use different ingredients to be classified as organic. After listening to him explain the processes and the differences between “organic” pesticides, fungicides, etc. I’m now hard pressed to spend the extra money… if there truly is a difference in taste then I will spend it, otherwise nope.
Interesting! But not surprised…I’ve heard so many accounts like this, I swear. Thanks for chiming in, Ricki!
This is SUCH a great post! You KNOW I’m sharing this on EVERYTHING this weekend…I’ve got a bunch of grad school and newly-married friends that I think could really use this info! Way to go, Amy! (And I really need to get better about the whole meal-planning thing. Now that Alex and I are living together, I can’t just subsist on popcorn for dinner anymore…though that was an awfully cheap option…)
You can’t subsist on popcorn for dinner, really? I didn’t get that memo. How about cereal? Lol. ;-) I’m really proud of this post, so thank you Stephie! And thank you for sharing!
I was born a cheap-o and will die a cheap-o. I’ve been doing all of these for years. When we first married, we decided that we would bite the bullet and not have me work outside the home once we had children. We’ve had some rough years, but stuck by our decision (which, for us, was the best decision we ever made). What that meant, however, was me working to cut the grocery bill. Cutting out convenience foods is a huge savings. Here’s a dirty little secret that I learned back in college food science (see, someone did teach me a few things): You know the generic food you talked about? Well, most of it comes from the leftovers from the name brands that they don’t get packaged. For example: let’s say that Del Monte is canning green beans. They are scheduled to can 1500 cans. Once this production of 1500 cans is over, they still have green beans left. So, they sell them without the Del Monte label to Aldi’s (or whatever) and then they label it as Aldi’s. They can’t market it as Del Monte, so you don’t know that its where the green beans came from, but that’s the deal. Or that’s what Mrs. Hayden told us 143, 4o4 years ago. :)
Whoa, for real?? Mind. Blown. Learn something new every day – I love it! On the previous note, Paul and I both felt it important for me to be home with the kids, too. It’s been really hard, but I don’t regret it one bit.
You never will regret it! I’m still glad about it all of these years later. I sometimes look at other couples who have nicer (well, everything) than we have and know that if we would have both worked, we would have had the material things that they have. However, I have a relationship with Stephie that no money or things can buy, and for that, I have NO regrets. Best. Decision. Ever. (for us, anyway. Please understand that I’m not hating or dissing other couples that don’t stay home. It’s just what worked for us). Anyway, I thought you might like that piece of info about generics. Like I said, it was true all of those years ago, but might not be now. And my dad said that my home ec degree was a waste. Pssh. I can make a pie crust like no other. Take that, all of you math and science majors!!
Oh no no, I would never diss other parents who don’t stay home. Everyone has to do what works for them. My mother stayed home with me and my sister also…all three of us are super close. So I knew that’s what I wanted for my kids also. But yes, some things are a sacrifice. Life is all about choices.
And also? I was a rhetoric and communications major. Waste of time? Pffft. I can speak, yell, and argue with the best of them!
The.boy gags whenever he sees our grocery bill. Seriously. Unfortunately, living in NYC that’s just the reality of it. Though I do shop at two stores (sometimes three), always menu plan, and only buy organic when it counts! These are awesome tips.
We both live in really expensive states. And I think yours is probably worse! Stop buying butter and sugar. Bwahahaha. Just kidding.
“pizza without soda is sacrilege” haha…i have to have soda with pizza!
The only thing I don’t follow is menu planning. I’ve tried it and I always end up changing my mind on what to make most nights anyway. LOL
I can’t imagine not menu planning. Actually, yes, I can imagine. One of these things would happen: a) we’d be eating at 8 pm b) too much produce would go bad or c) we’d have scrambled eggs every night for dinner… (the last one being somewhat acceptable ;-)
You are probably negating your savings from Costco by spending at least $25/month to power that second freezer.
Oh goodness, no. When we got the second freezer (which is outside in the garage), I kept an eye on our electric bill for a few months. Maybe a few dollars difference. If that. That thing is worth it’s weight in gold and one of the best items we ever purchased.
Great tips! Another advantage at some of the warehouse’s is gasoline. My local BJ’s price for gas is always well below what I would pay at any other pumps!
YES. Costco members also save big on gasoline. I just wish it wasn’t such a drive to get there! Seems counter-productive ;-)
This is fantastic advice. Thanks for reminding me to do some of these things again. My grocery bill NEEDS to be cut. F’real.
Thanks, Melissa. I got way too complacent with my shopping/spending. Never again. Mighty as well just give my money away…
I take my ads with me to Super Walmart (detest the place and won’t go there after noon…the scary people must be sleeping until then) because they price match. You can’t beat their prices on dairy and pantry foods. Meat and produce are a different story. I also love Target because I can stack coupons and use my Red Card to save 5%. Their selection isn’t as vast, but for certain items, especially brand name cereal, they’re much cheaper than Walmart. I do have an Aldi, but I don’t go there. I’m not certain the folks there know what a shower is…
I buy most of my meats at Costco, since we have a second freezer. I have a Target Red Card, too, but even with the 5% discount, it still seems to cost me more than shopping at Walmart. So I tolerate the smell, and people blocking the aisles…and screaming on their cell phones. Ugh. It’s all worth it at the check out when I see how much I saved. Or so I tell myself!
Many years ago, I put my shopping list in a notebook and when I would purchase the item, I would put the cost beside the item. Because it’s hard for me to remember what I paid week to week for each item, this came in very handy for comparison shopping. I could look back and see what I paid the last time and what the date was. Somewhere, in a box, I have that little notebook!
Several years ago (when we were still in MN, actually), out of curiosity, I bought a few of the exact same items from Lunds, Costco, and the market down the street from us. The price difference was shocking. Costco was considerably lower, like by half I think. Should have changed my shopping habits back then!
A couple more hints:
Refill the small box of Kleenex tissue from a regular sized box.
Make your own Greek yogurt by putting a couple of coffee filters in a strainer, fill with regular yogurt, cover and drain over a container in fridge for 24 hours or longer. It’s thick enough to use as a spread. I add fresh fruit or preserves for flavor. Try it, you’ll like it! (I have a yogurt maker, but this works just the same).
I’m willing to try a different brand or generic once and stick with the ones that show no difference.
Omg, the kleenex. YES!! I do that. Because of you, of course. A few weeks ago, Paul threw away one of the little boxes that I refill. I was like, “noooooooo!” He said, “but it was empty.” So I had to explain. He’ll never do that again. HA.
I do the Kleenex thing too…’cause of mom. That little box actually needs to be replaced because I’ve had it for so long.
Mine get all ratty, too…but it’s hidden under the lovely holders, so I don’t care ;-)
Well said Amy!
I practice all of those same ideals and it has been a big money saving experience.
I still have an issue shopping at Walmart though…..I find that the quality, quantity and price is just so much better at Aldi’s.
I’ve convinced quite a few co-workers and friends to shop there as well, really great products for a fraction of what the large chain grocery stores charge.
I don’t have an Aldi near me, so I’m stuck with Super Walmart. I cringe every time I walk in there, but I just can’t beat the prices.
A few of my tips:
Aldi. So much cheaper. Sometimes their prices are HALF on certain items.
Coupons, but only if you would normally buy that product. I mainly use them for toothpaste, cleaning products.
I tend to shop at 2-3 places: Aldi, Super Target and Sam’s/Costco. I plan the meals for the week and get as much as I can at Aldi, the rest at Super Target and specialty things like paper towels, garbage bags, occasionally meat about once a month at Sam’s.
I’ve always heard that about Aldi. Unfortunately, I don’t have one anywhere near me :( It’s amazing how much coupon cutting can save you if you use them on items you would normally buy, and definitely if your stores offers double coupon days. Those are the best!
These are such great tips! Thanks!