7 Tips to Reduce Your Out of Control Grocery Spending
Looking for simple ways to save money? Take a good look at your grocer spending. According to the USDA, the monthly cost of food for a midlife couple can range from a low of $384 to a high of $764. That’s a whopping difference of $380. If you’re at the top end of that range, here are some times to help you reduce your grocery spending.
What’s Considered Grocery Spending?
Let’s start by getting real about what should be included in grocery spending. When you think about grocery spending, you often forget to include the amount spent eating out. Since you aren’t actually bringing groceries into your home, you usually don’t associate those costs with groceries.
I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news, but any money you spend on anything you eat or drink should be considered grocery spending. Yes, even that latte you stop for every morning.
Don’t panic and please keep reading. Being from the Pacific Northwest myself, I promise that I’m not here to tell you to give up your latte, (although I might suggest making one at home to save some money).
My purpose is to give you easy tips to help you reduce grocery spending.
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1. Analyze Your Shopping Habits
What does your typical grocery shopping trip look like?
Do you often spend over an hour in the grocery store trying to remember what you need? You wander up and down each aisle hoping that inspiration will strike. On your trip down each aisle, you pick up at least one convenience item because you can feel your stomach growling and everything sounds good at this point?
After your third trip through the entire store, you finally decide you must have gotten everything and it’s time to go?
While the clerk is scanning your groceries, your mind drifts to your weekend plans, then you are startled when she says ‘$197.00 please’. You glare at the cart and sarcastically wonder if the eggs are from a golden chicken.
Once you get home and start unpacking the groceries and realize you forgot several items. You’re not even sure what to make for dinner now because you are worried you don’t have all of the necessary items.
Stressed out and running out of time, you pick up the phone and order pizza. Now you are out another $30.00 and are feeling like a total failure. Sound familiar? I’ve been there, and it stinks.
What you need is a grocery shopping game plan with specific tips to reduce grocery spending.
2. Know What You Have On Hand
Before you even think about heading to the store, check your pantry, cupboards, and freezer to see what you already have on hand. Quickly check the use by dates and make a note to use older ingredients first. Try to think about which ingredients you would use together in a meal.
Make a list of all these ingredients you currently have including meats, veggies, sides, and condiments. This part is going to be a bit tedious but the information will be useful when planning your menu and shopping list.
Don’t like the idea of digging through the pantry before each grocery trip, keep a master list of stock ingredients on the inside of your pantry door. Here is a free printable one to get you started.
When somebody takes out the last of an item, they check the box to signal the need for more. Now instead of rummaging through the pantry before going shopping, you can just grab the list and transfer the checked items to your grocery list.
You could also laminate the list and use a dry erase marker to check the items off. After you transfer them to your grocery list, wipe the surface clean and it is ready to fo again.
Now that you know what ingredients you have on hand, it’s time to sit down and plan your menu.
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3. Plan Your Menu
Using the list of ingredients from the pantry, figure out a meal plan for at least 1 week at a time. Write down each breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack.
Having a meal plan will not only save you time and money at the grocery store, but it can also help you eat healthier by eliminating the need for convenience items and fast food. Plus, you get to avoid the stress of the ‘What do you want for dinner?’ – ‘I don’t know – what do you want’ game. Admit it – we all play it.
Once you have the menu planned, grab the recipes so you can figure out what additional ingredients you need. Add everything to your grocery list, increasing the quantities as you identify duplicate items. Need an onion for five different recipes, make sure you added five to your grocery list.
Speaking of grocery lists, you can go old school and make a handwritten one like Michaelangelo did (check it out) or you can download this free printable one and check off the items you need. There are also several smartphone apps available that you might like to try out.
Bonus Tip – Arrange your grocery list by the store layout. You’ll be surprised how quick and simple grocery shopping can be. This will also help you reduce grocery spending by reducing the temptation of buying extra items as you browse the shelves.
4. Stock Up During Sales
Grocery stores use all kinds of sales gimmicks to get shoppers to buy more. Buy one get one free, buy three for $5, and buy ten for $10 are some of the common ones.
Buy one get one free is one of the best times to stock up. Especially if it’s a meat sale and you have freezer space. Even if the grocer increases the price per pound (which is a sneaky trick they use when running a sale), this is still a huge value for your money.
An average roast weighing 3.5 pounds at a regular price of $5.99 per pound would cost just over $20, and two would be around $41. Even if the sale price was raised to $6.99 per pound, the same two roasts would cost a total of $24.50. That is $16.50 which calculates to a huge 80% savings.
Buy three for $5 is a good deal when the average cost of all three items is over $1.67. You’ll usually see this type of sale on stuff that people use frequently but in different varieties. Salad dressings and barbecue sauces are a really good example. Most sell for over $2 a bottle each, so a buy three for $5 sale would save you $1.00 which calculates to a 17% savings.
Buy ten for $10 is similar to the three for $5 in the types of savings it can offer, but I mention it separately because this one can be very tricky. Make sure the item normally costs more than $1. I know that sounds obvious, but when you are talking about one single dollar, people don’t pay much attention.
5. Compare ‘Per Unit’ Prices
Once you’re at the grocery store, compare prices. A larger or bulk size doesn’t always mean a cheaper price. Compare the value of different items by comparing the price per unit.
Some stores have a per-unit price listed on the shelf sticker for each item, but these can sometimes be inaccurate or broken down into different unit sizes. Some per unit prices might be calculated in ounces while others are in milligrams, so look out for that.
I prefer to just use my smartphone or a calculator to accurately figure the price per unit. Price per unit is the price of the item divided by the quantity of the units in the package. This gives you a clear picture of the value of each size.
Let’s use mayonnaise as an example. Since it’s a staple in most homes, people rarely comparison shop. They just automatically grab the biggest one knowing that they will use it all and that smaller size won’t be enough. But why not buy two of the smaller size?
At my local grocery store a 64-ounce jar of mayonnaise costs $7.12 (which is 11.1 cents per ounce), and a 32-ounce jar costs $3.48 (which is 10.8 cents an ounce). If you buy two of the 32-ounce jars, you just saved 16 cents for the same amount of product and you save refrigerator and pantry room with the smaller sizes
While we are on the subject of price per unit and bulk products, let’s talk meat.
6. Buy Meats in Bulk
Buy meats in bulk packages to get some great grocery savings. Larger packages of meat are normally sold at a discounted price per pound. Bulk meat discounts can range from $.50 per pound to as high as $1.50 per pound.
Here’s another comparison for you. 93% lean ground beef sells for $6.79 per pound in smaller packages but is only $5.79 per pound in bulk packages. Four 1 pound packages would cost $27.16, but one 4 pound bulk package would only cost $23.16. That’s a savings of $4.00.
Word of caution, be sure you are comparing similar items, such as the cut of meat or percentage of fat, etc. It doesn’t do any good to compare per pound prices of a small package of pork sirloin to a bulk package of pork chops.
Are you only cooking for one or two and don’t know what you would do with all of that meat? You can break bulk meats down into smaller individual portions, repackage and re-freeze it. Or you can use it to prepare a selection of premade freezer meals for those days when you don’t feel like prepping and cooking.
You can also use it all in your weekly menu by breaking it up into several different meals with different flavor profiles spread throughout the week. Fill in the extra meals with a different protein to break the monotony.
7. Shop Clearance
Right now you are rolling your eyes thinking ‘Absolutely Not, we are talking about food, not a pair of summer flip flops’. Please hear me out before you completely ignore this tip.
According to this article in Time, the use by/sell by date (shelf life) is a freshness guideline for the grocery store, not a discard date for the shopper. This date is what the grocer uses to keep track of the peak freshness of the item.
Once the food reaches this date the store will usually discount it for a time prior to tossing it. While not at its freshest, most food has a storage life after its shelf life. This is the time after the shelf life that the food is still safe to eat, cook, or freeze.
Most grocery stores have a Manager Sale section for such items. You can regularly find fresh meats within a day or two of their sell-by dates that are discounted 30-50%.
These are items they normally don’t include in the ‘buy one get one free’ sale. Some usual finds at my local grocer included ribeye steaks, filet mignon and round steaks with the occasional ham or bacon.
50% off is pretty self-explanatory so I won’t bore you with the whole comparison thing again. Just know that filet mignon typically sells for around $18.00 per pound, so savings here would be $9.00
Add Up the Savings
Have you been keeping track of the savings? If not, that’s ok, I did it for you.
These tips showed you how to save $16.50 on 2 roasts, $1.00 on 3 salad dressings, $0.16 on 2 jars of mayonnaise, $4.00 on a 4-pound package of ground beef, and $9.00 on a ribeye steak.
That’s an overall savings of $30.66 on 9 items, and you didn’t even break a sweat. But wait, there’s more.
Inadvertent Ways to Reduce Grocery Spending
You won’t see these grocery spending reductions as actual savings on your grocery receipt, but you will see them in your bank account or in the form of electronic gift cards.
Use Ibotta to get cash back on qualifying purchases. Sign up and download the app. Check Ibotta before you shop, buy the products at a supported retailer, and scan your receipt. Ibotta will deposit the cash into your account within 48 hours.
Use Fetch Rewards to get electronic gift cards. Sign up and download the app. Do your shopping and scan your receipt. Fetch Rewards will find qualifying brand purchases and give you points based on those purchases. Those points can be redeemed for electronic gift cards ranging from online retailers to restaurants, entertainment, and travel rewards.
Reduce Grocery Spending and Get Rewards
Now you have some tips to reduce grocery spending and a couple of apps that you can use to earn cashback and gift cards. What are you waiting for? Get to the grocery store and then let me know how much you saved?
Do you have any tips I didn’t include? Please share them here.