Do you ever start doing something and then think “Whoa, this is SO EASY and yet makes SUCH A DIFFERENCE I cannot believe I wasn’t doing it already!”? I suspect you have, since I do it at least once a week – chances are people smarter than myself do it occasionally.
Specifically, I have started putting some effort into reducing our grocery bill. We really need to get our finances in better shape (too much holiday spending, a car that needs replaced, other stuff that makes being an adult kind of suck, etc etc etc) but my previous all-or-nothing attempts have always ended with…nothing. I’m terrible at that approach.
This time I have been much more successful because I limited myself to two(ish) particular changes. Let me tell you about them in great detail!
First, I stopped throwing away the grocery store circular they mail me each week in the free town paper. I don’t subscribe to the real newspaper paper and I don’t have to remember to go buy one on Sundays – this just shows up, with no cost or effort besides remembering not to toss it in the recycling bin. In the past I would save ALL the circulars and stare at them thinking “I should compare prices on stuff and make a chart and go to each store to buy specific things where they are the cheapest”. That never happened. I would end up at my regular grocery store with no idea what was on sale, buying things on impulse along with the things on my list.
Now instead of setting my bar at “find the very lowest prices and drive to three different grocery stores to save money” I settle for “Look at the circular of the one store where I shop”. I specifically look at stuff I know we are running out of, proteins, and convenient foods for the kids like Goldfish and fruit snacks. I discovered that even organic fruit goes on sale sometimes, so I can get the fancy apples for less than the regular ones if I’m paying attention. (I also discovered fruit in general is a really cheap snack – plus the kids can help themselves. WIN-WIN!)
On top of the regular sales, my grocery store (Stop & Shop – it’s the same as Giant in other parts of the country) has a few coupons attached to their ad that can bring the sale prices of an item even lower. For example, cherry tomatoes are usually $3.99. They were on sale for $2.99. With the coupon on the circular they were $1.99. That’s totally worth the ten seconds it took me to cut it out. The idea of “couponing” as depicted on TV and the more intimidating parts of the internet is still so overwhelming my brain completely shuts down at the very thought. I do not scour the internet for coupons. I do not steal my neighbor’s papers to get coupons. I don’t buy stuff I never would have bought without a coupon and hoard it in my basement. But if I can buy something with the coupon that I KNOW I will need (last week it was butter, down from $3.49 to $1.99) I will buy it and freeze it. There are also sometimes coupons to get bonus gas points, which is literally free money. Saving 30+ cents a gallon adds up over the course of a few months.
The second thing I do is meal plan with specific foods in mind. I enjoy meal planning. It reduces the “What’s for dinner?” stress by 10000% and results in a lot fewer pizzas and fast-food runs. But until recently, all I did was pull out my cookbooks, binders, magazines and Pinterest board to see what sounded good. Then I’d make a list, buy ALL THE THINGS and make dinner for 4-5 nights in a row. Now I am looking at my store circular and making note of what main ingredients are on sale BEFORE I plan. Two weeks ago I had a coupon for chuck roast. Since I know I can make easy, delicious, left-over producing drip beef sandwiches with a chuck roast, drip beef went on the menu. Recently my friend Mae suggested I check out Budget Bytes for inexpensive recipes and I am really enjoying it. (Special shout out to the dragon noodles which I’ve already made twice!) The site has lots of interesting, quick, easy recipes without tons of fancy, one-off ingredients. Buying a whole bottle of safflower oil because a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon will blow your budget quickly. With this kind of focus at the grocery store, I get MUCH less distracted by the bright shiny sales on stuff I don’t need. My mind gets in a zone – Must! Find! Exact! Pork Loin! On! Sale! – and shopping takes LESS time than it used to.
The other part of my new meal plan (which is the “ish” part of saying I’ve only done two(ish) things to save money) is making things from scratch. So far I have made focaccia rolls, pita bread, pasta sauce and hummus – none of them were very difficult and all were cheaper than their store-bought versions. I realize not everyone wants to do that much cooking/baking – in fact MOST people don’t, which is why there are 400 different kinds of tomato sauce in jars – but I have the time and interest so I’m happy to be doing it.
The result is our grocery budget has been reduced by almost 50% ALREADY. On my first big shopping trip after I started being more mindful I saved 30% – around $40. My second smaller trip I saved 40%. My grocery store prints a running total of how much I’ve saved over the year at the bottom of my receipt and my goal is to get over $1200 by the end of 2013. That works out saving $100 a month with a food budget of around $350 a month, which includes breakfasts for me and the kids, lunch for me and the kids, lunch for E to take to work, dinner for all of us plus snacks, fruit and special treats. I’ve never tried to stick to a budget so closely before, so I’m not completely confident in my ability to do it but I am TRYING…which costs nothing.
As you can probably see from the list of stuff I’ve been making, I haven’t been keeping up with Paleo eating while I’ve been trying to reduce our costs. It’s hard to do both – grass-fed beef, coconut oil, nuts and organic produce add up quickly while flour and potatoes are cheap – but I’m hoping as I get better at it (and once our CSA starts up again) I can get back to my bacon diet.
Since I’ve made these changes with so little effort I’m totally open to more ideas. What do you do to save money at the grocery store?
Want to feel like MacGyver mixed with Laura Ingalls? Put the white part of your green onions in a glass of water and regrow them. BOOM! Money saving AND cool to watch. (Tip from The Kitchn via Homemade Serenity)