In trying to carve out savings for our poker pilgrimage, one of the first areas Heather and I attacked was our grocery bill. We wondered how in the world we could spend $700 a month on groceries when we did not have extravagant tastes. Well sure, there was that weekly run to the tony local farm stand which carries a range of goodies on top of those fresh vegetables – expensive cheese and chocolates, nasty good breakfast items like cider donuts and chocolate croissants, and, sometimes, maybe a bottle of wine falls into the basket as well. Additionally, our grocery shopping often left us losing too much to freezer burn and watching forgotten fruit and vegetables morph into science experiments.
To use a poker term: we had leaks in our shopping strategy!
What We Did
We combed through our receipts at the start of 2016 to nail down where the fat was hiding in our grocery budget. Changes were clearly in order. Below are the strategies that made the biggest impact on our grocery bill:
- Identify the Cheapest Local Grocery Store for Stocking Up on Non-Perishables: Our go-to grocery store has great quality food but the prices are a bit on the high side. By switching to a low cost chain (Market Basket for us) for brand name and generic non-perishables, we realized significant savings. We also increased our efficiency by stocking up so we never run out of key items. No more last minute runs to the even higher priced convenience store at 10pm.
- Restraint and Flexibility with Weekly Perishables: Although we don’t want to resort to daily shopping, we did restrict ourselves to purchasing only the fruit and vegetables we would actually eat over the next 3-4 days. By leaning on fruit with some legs, like mandarin oranges and apples, we could make it through the week. We also bought fruit when it was on sale; grapes and raspberries, for example, can be quite expensive full price but can also be bought at a bargain.
- Scan Weekly Fliers Before Recycling: Flipping through the fliers of the four grocery stores within 10-15 minutes of our house allowed us to see what sales were available at which stores. Our favorite cheapest grocery store is not always the cheapest when sales are taken into consideration.
- Meal Planning: This is a concept that two people straddling a half century on the planet probably should have mastered by now. Sadly, our meal planning was spotty at best and frequently resulted in discovering we were short an ingredient just as we settled in to cook (Hello convenience store!) By actually planning the week’s meals before we shopped, we aligned our dining plan with our grocery list. Less waste, fewer emergency purchases.
- Use that Freezer: Chicken, steak, pork roasts, etc. all go on sale periodically at enormous discounts: chicken breasts can be 60% off when we hit the best sales. Buy large quantities when on sale, wrap in aluminum foil and freeze, and you can have meat for weeks. Stocking the freezer helps with the efficiency of meal planning as well, as you just need to add accompaniments to your already purchased main course.
- Make It Yourself: Neither of us is naturally skilled in the kitchen, but we have consistently expanded our skills over time. We decided earlier this year to start making our own chicken salad and baking our own bread and we found it not only reduced the grocery bill, but tasted a heck of a lot better than the alternatives as well. Now we’re also throwing together our own trail mix for snacks, which has trimmed our budget and our waistlines as we replace a bowl of chips with a handful of nuts in the evening.
- Avoid high-priced specialty markets: Sniff, sniff! Oh how we love that tony farm stand. But $14 for a small box of chocolates – albeit the best chocolates I have ever tasted! – kills the budget quickly. The first step of healing addiction is recognizing you have a problem: I have an expensive farm stand problem. Goodbye overpriced crackers, perfect looking red peppers, fancy frozen appetizers. I can quit you (I may need to find a good 12-step program for this one)!
How We’ve Done
Our approach has yielded decent results so far. Our average monthly grocery bill in 2015 was $591, in 2016 it was $511, and over the past 6 months, it has been $472. That translates to a net savings of $119 per month (20%) versus 2 years ago. We are now saving a total of $1,428 annually compared to our 2015 spending. While we can definitely do more (have I mentioned the soda addiction?), we are well on our way to a more sustainable grocery bill.
Anything we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.
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