Thursday, April 3, 2014

How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Rising food costs and a lack of “time” to shop for the best deals at the grocery store might be driving up your monthly grocery bill. The average cost to feed a family of four runs about $146 to $289 a week according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (USA Today) That’s not including eating out, school lunches or splurges.

I work out a bi-weekly budget and meals to feed eight people daily in our house. That’s six adults at two children, one in school. Since I am a SAHM with only one adult working in the house, I have managed to get out grocery bill down to about $600 (give or take a few dollars here and there) a month!
It does take a lot of planning, inventory, and help form everyone, but I think the savings are worth it!

Here’s how I do it:

1.       Plan meals around store sales and produce that is in season. (See How to Save Money on Fresh Produce Here) Remember to build your menu plan around your schedule.  Crock pot meals for busy nights are a great example, especially if you have kids that play sports, dance or you have to work late.  This way, you’re not tempted to eat out.  
    • When you know what’s on sale, gather your family and create a list of complete dinner ideas. I found it easiest to focus on dinners only, especially since we usually eat the same general types of food for lunch and breakfast anyway. Make the dinner ideas foods that everyone will eat and enjoy. 
    • Meal ideas in hand create a new list that will be your menu plan. You can either plan the whole month in one sitting, or plan each week at a time, whatever works best for you. Note: If you’re planning the whole month ahead of time, make sure you make other trips to the store to get the fresh produce for your meals!
    • Wal-Mart has an Ad Match Guarantee if you prefer to shop there.  
2.       Make a list and stick to it.  You’ll avoid throwing things in the cart mindlessly.  If that’s your strategy, you are guaranteed to overbuy. (See How to PLAN a Shopping Trip Here)
3.       Know what items are in your house so you know at a glance what you have plenty of and what you are running low on or are out of. (Working on getting something written for this one)
4.       Don’t shop hungry.  Eat before you go. If you go to the grocery store hungry, you’ll put twice as much into your cart.
5.       Bring cash.  If you bring a credit card it will be easier to overspend.
    •  Keep a running tally of the items you put in your cart so you don’t have any surprises.  
    • If you have a calculator on your phone, use it as you go along, but make sure you have enough battery left so your phone won’t die in the middle of the store! Been there!
6.       Try to shop without kids. This is sometimes hard to do, but if you take them often, they will get use to your routine. Also, feed them before you go.
7.       Bring along coupons for things on your list.  If possible, stack them with in-store coupons or other discounts. If you do choose to use coupons, try to shop at places that will double them. Sometimes you can get a better deal there.
8.       Keep and use a price book to keep track of various prices at different stores so you know if you can get an item cheaper somewhere else. (I will have a later post about this)
9.       Skip convenience items.  If it makes your life easier or is faster, chances are it’s far more expensive than another option.  
    • Examples:  Cut your own veggies instead of buying baby carrots. Buy a whole chicken and cut it up instead of buying chicken breasts. Buy bulk oatmeal and divvy up servings instead of buying instant packets.  
10.    Buy certain store brand products on generic items:  milk, canned corn, canned tomato paste, pasta, eggs, and other items and you really can’t tell the difference between those and other more expensive brands.
    • Be careful when you do this, and always check the name brand too. Sometimes the store brand is more expensive because people tend to “think” they are cheaper.
11.    When you are walking through the aisles, look at the upper and lower shelves. Bigger sizes of items, which tend to offer a lower price per unit, are usually placed on the highest and lowest shelves at the grocery store. Smaller sizes, with a higher price per unit, are often given prime placement at eye level. Especially children’s cereal.
12.    Always use the produce scales.  Don’t try to guess how much a pound of mushrooms amounts to.  Weigh everything before you put it in your cart.
    • Weigh your bags of potatoes too. The bag may say 5lbs., but the longer they sit in the store, the more moisture they lose. Make sure you are getting what you are paying for.
13.    Before checking out, analyze every item in your cart and decide if you really need it.  Put back anything that isn’t really necessary or could be replaced with something you have already or a lesser-expensive alternative.
14.    Watch the cash register.  It is estimated that up to $2.5 billion per year is made in scanning errors.  That's a lot of money left on the check-out counter. 
    • Supermarkets often put items on sale at prices that don't always get to the register. 
    • Also, checkers can easily make mistakes when making entries.  Check your receipt carefully.
15.    Shop the sale, discounted or clearance racks if your grocery store has them.  
    • Buy marked down meat and freeze it for future meals.  
    • Shop the day-old bakery racks at Wal-Mart.  
    • Many of these deals can be frozen for later.
16.    Buy in bulk when it makes sense to do so, but break it down when you get home so you’re not tempted to consume in bulk.
    • This is where shopping by unit price comes in handy! Bigger is not always better.
17.    Compare frozen fruits and veggies to fresh.  They are often much cheaper – and they don’t go moldy in your fridge.
18.    When shopping, try not to buy one ingredient for just one meal. If you have to buy sour cream or a certain kind spice, try to figure out another meal or two that you can use it in for the week. If it’s an expensive purchase, consider finding an alternative.
§  Don’t buy designer salts.  Specialty spice mixes are usually 90% salt. You can just buy the basic herbs and spices and make your own. 
19.    Carefully analyze how much you’re spending on drinks.  Whether its juice, soda or alcoholic beverages – chances are you can cut back in some way.          
    • Don’t by water.  Everyone knows that bottled water is expensive, but fewer people know that it may be inferior, or at least no better than your tap water at home. 
      • If you have your own well, the odds are very good that you have cleaner, better water than the name brands. 
      • If you have city water, yours may be, probably is, just as good.  You may want to invest in a reusable water-filtering pitcher.
    • Bottled water: $346 per year. Tap water: 48 cents. 
    • Don’t buy disguised water either.  When we were kids, Kool-Aid only came in an envelope.  You could add the amount of sweetener you wanted, your own water, and you spent a lot less money.  So why buy it by the bottle?  That’s a good example, but there are lots of other ways you pay more just for water. 
    • The same concept applies to cartons of fruit juice, canned broth or soup, canned beans, Jell-O cups, applesauce, popsicles, even chicken and pork injected with water and salt “flavoring”. 
20.    Plan ahead and freeze or can fruits and vegetables when they are in growing season.   Many foods you’d least expect are freezer-friendly. (Freezer Friendly Foods coming soon)
21.    Cook from scratch.  Try to make as many products as you can: yogurt, bread, etc.
    • Make homemade snacks instead of buying them.
    • Try to produce your own staples.  Do you eat lots of bread?  If so, a bread machine will quickly pay for itself. 
    • Determine the items that your family uses the most, and see if you can’t reduce your purchase to the basic ingredients.
    • Don’t forget snacks, which may make up a large part of your food budget.  Popcorn can be produced cheaply in large quantities, and can be flavored with a number of low-cost items.  If you’ve never tried it, I suggest a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, which gives a richness reminiscent of butter, but without the cost or calories.
22.    Plan meatless meals once a week.  Build your menu plan around frugal meal ideas and themes like breakfast for dinner, soup and sandwich night, cereal night, etc.
23.    Plan leftover meals, using up what you have in the fridge.  
24.    Cook double batches of what you’re making for dinner to have leftovers another night or one to pull out of the freezer later on. 
    • It is almost always way cheaper to double a recipe than to make another dinner from scratch.
25.    Buy produce from a local farmers market.
    • Not only will you save lots of money at farmer’s markets, you’ll get fresher food and benefit your local economy. 
      • Buying directly from the grower in-season is also a good way to get food items for storage that you may not be able to grow for yourself. 
26.    When meat is on sale, buy extra and freeze it for later.
27.    This may sound odd, but keep your kitchen clean.
    • Having a dirty kitchen will make it less likely for you to cook and more likely to order out.
28.    Make a garden this year.
29.    Get a store card.

    • These loyalty cards allow shoppers to get extra discounts on items without having to clip coupons.  If a store you frequent, even infrequently, offers a card, you should get one.

How do you save money shopping?

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