We need to talk. You probably spend too much money on food. Your regular grocery shopping, intermittent specialty shopping, and a miscellaneous mid-week trip because you ran out of bread add up. I’m not here to preach at you from the top of the mountain; I’m approaching you as an equal as I struggle to keep my food spending under control, too. It’s so easy to spend too much at the grocery store (especially in our current inflated economy).
If you’ve stumbled across this article, you probably already know you spend too much at the grocery store. But how can you reduce this spending? The bad news is that it will take some upfront work, planning, and some sacrifice. The good news is that saving money on groceries is possible, and I’m here to help you.
The amount of money households spend on groceries varies by size and dietary preferences. In 2021 we saw an increase in at-home food spending of 3.5%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this price increase is about 1.5% higher than normal (2%). As of March 2022, at-home food spending increased 10% over the last 12 months. A $10 increase per $100 spent is understandably putting additional pressure on your wallet. With this data in mind, it’s no surprise that saving money on groceries is a priority for most households.
If there is anything positive to take away from the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s the increase in grocery pickup availability. If you’re trying to reduce your grocery spending, one of the easiest ways to ensure you keep your trip under budget is to use a grocery pickup service. Grocery pickup allows you to see the total live while shopping, eliminating the guesswork of walking the aisles. Sometimes we allow ourselves to cast our budget to the side while shopping. Using a pickup app will require you to see the total of your purchase from your couch in advance of entering the store. Breaking your budget with a grocery app isn’t a passive decision that makes you more likely to stick to it.
The more opportunities you give yourself to overspend, the more likely you will do just that. A midweek trip to grab a loaf of bread turns into $50 in extras in the blink of an eye. Unless it’s a true emergency, eliminate making additional trips outside of your established frequency (weekly, biweekly, or monthly). A monthly budget will be much easier to stick to if you know exactly how many times you’ll go to the grocery store.
How does that saying go? “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail?” Meal planning will help you reduce other food spending like fast food. In addition, when you plan ahead, you can buy items in bulk to reduce the cost per serving.
This one might seem obvious, but don’t overlook the potential here. Store brands are almost always cheaper than name-brand (unless there is a sale). Try not to look at the dollars/cents savings per item but rather the percentage of savings. The difference in price between store cereal and name brand might only be 50 cents, but these savings are much more impressive as a percentage. Even if you save 10% by buying generic, this will add up, especially if you’re shopping for more than yourself.
This might not be true for every household, I admit. But if you’re anything like me, you have plenty of miscellaneous items in your cabinets you could use to make a meal. Sure, you might not love the idea of eating some canned soup you thought sounded good a few months ago, but these dollars are already spent and will prevent you from spending on a meal for the current week. Try to make a meal out of items you’ve purchased in a previous week at least once a week. You’ll cut your budget and reduce waste.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so be aware of any miscellaneous fees, limits, or time restraints for these apps. However, rebate apps are available that can help cut your grocery bill. You’ll need to plan for trips as rebates are usually available for specific brands, sizes, and periods of time.
You know this tip holds true. Never enter the grocery store on an empty stomach. You’ll convince yourself you need items that aren’t on your list. One of the easiest ways to save on groceries is simply eating a snack or meal before entering the store.
You might be buying adult beverages, bottled water, juice, milk, and soda - the list is seemingly endless. Water is nearly free. Increase your water consumption. Your wallet will thank you, and so will your kidneys.
Sale ads are not the treasure trove they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth skimming. Combining sale shopping with meal planning is sure to reduce your overall spending.
There is no need to build a stockpile like the Extreme Couponers on that old TLC show. But using coupons, especially for consumer staples, like laundry detergent, can help save some additional dollars.
Your children entering the grocery store will most likely increase your grocery spending. Kids can get grabby in the store (who can blame them), and this can be a budget buster. Not every household has kids, but you could have another person in your life who, in principle, fits this description. Maybe your partner tends to overspend? Perhaps you’re the one who overspends, and your partner should go to the store instead? Perhaps you have a roommate who isn’t the best influence on your budget. You need not bring anyone with you who can’t help you stick to your grocery spending goals.
Alright, maybe this should have been tip number one. To stay on budget grocery shopping, you must first have a budget. Know how much you should spend on food each month (~12% of your take-home pay) and then determine how much you have to spend every trip to the grocery store.
Depending on your location and availability, there could be significant opportunities for savings. Freezer beef can cost less than $5/pound, including beef cuts (steak, roast, and ground beef). You will need the space for storage as you often need to buy beef in “quarters.” However, you could always split up a purchase between family and friends if storage is a concern.
The names of these stores will be different depending on your locale. We have “Aldi” in my area, which is a great option for buying your groceries. Of course, these discounts can come at a price. For example, you might not know what items you can secure from week to week as availability isn’t always consistent.
There is no need to overdo it here with raised beds and other bells and whistles. Growing some of your food can reduce your grocery expenses. Your mental health could improve too!
The key here is that you have to put them together yourself. One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is eliminating conveniences (more on that in a minute). We talked about meal planning earlier, and freezer meals take meal planning to the next level. If you shop the sale ads and build a recipe, you can make more than one meal and store the leftovers in the freezer. Be sure to check out social media for crockpot recipes, as these are the easiest to use.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your grocery bill immediately is to reduce dollars spent on convenience (like the freezer meals mentioned above). Wash and chop the produce yourself, shred your own cheese, and put together you’re own meals vs. buying kits. You’ll want to double-check the prices because sales can impact the bottom line. But as a rule, convenience really adds up at the grocery store.
Look, I love Costco as much as the next gal. I love spending a bunch of cash on bulk snacks and then grabbing a $1 hotdog as a reward for my efforts. However, just because you’re buying in bulk doesn’t mean you’re saving per serving. Some items aren’t cost-effective to buy in bulk. In addition, if you don’t have the proper storage or aren’t using all of the food purchased, your price per serving might actually be higher than if you shopped at a more traditional grocery store.
$3.99 for a soda? $5 for a beer? No thanks, I’ll take a water.
The goal of this post is not to be dismissive of the fact that cutting grocery costs is very difficult. At Your Money Line, we’re here to help you and your employees with the ebbs and flows of financial wellness. The reality is that it’s hard to keep spending within a budget right now with the rising cost of groceries. However, utilizing these tips as well as a member of our Financial Guide team for accountability is a recipe for success. If you have questions about our team and how we can serve your greatest assets, you can learn more about us here.