By: Frugal Sally
Food is something we can't live without, but it seems as though it is the thing that is killing our budgets much of the time. It is one of the only things (dollar wise) that we can control and it is one of the few things we can choose (in some cases) that we can cut back on. These are my suggestions for helping you to stay within your budget and be happy with it. Most are for newby grocery budgeters, but you ol pros can maybe find a few new things that you can add to your list of savings tips.
1. Establish a Grocery Budget: I suggest going back over your grocery receipts or bank statements for the last 6 weeks and total them up. Then divide that by 6 (the number of weeks). That will give you a weekly average of how much you have been spending at the grocery store. Then take that total and cut 10 to 15% off of it. Again, this is for new budgeters. It is hard for the grocery shopping budget pros to cut much more from your budget - although the challenge of 10% would be fun!
Then every 2 weeks or so cut that grocery budget another 10 to 15% until you are down to 50% off of where you were when you started your budget. Do not make a second cut until you have mastered the first cut and so on. Challenge yourself to get a little better each week. Do not start with trying to cut it 50% , you will end up being dissappointed and you won't want to continue. Besides your family will curl up in a ball and start a revolt....you have to ease into this.
2. Cash Only: After you establish your grocery budget, go to the ATM or cash a check for your budgeted amount. Put it in an envelope. Leave the credit cards, debit card, checkbook at home. You can only spend what is in the envelope....that is it. When the cash is gone, you are done shopping. Hopefully there will be some left in the envelope! Take a calculator with you... if you must, put things back if you are getting to close to your limit. This will make you stop and think if you really need certain items.
By having cash only you will not be tempted to spend more or on a whim leading you to go over budget. Besides, spending cash hurts, it makes you think before parting with it....plastic or checks don't seem to mentally hurt as much and plastic for sure feels like you are using someone elses money. We want it to be an ouchie!! NO excuses about it is easier.....convenience costs to much!!
There are a few more steps before you leave for the store, but at least you have a budget to not go over and the cash to know your limits.
3.Have a plan and a list: Buy the Sunday paper. Gather the weekly ads for the grocery stores you shop at. You may want to shop several for the best bargains. Look in your pantry, cupboards, fridge and freezer for what you already have. Make a menu for the week using things you have already bought and paid for. Then check the ads to see what is on sale to finish up your menu's. Example: you have chicken and pasta - make a pasta meal that has chicken in it. So you need cheese for the recipe - check what store has cheese on sale. Check to see if you have coupons from the paper to bring that price down even more (Try stacking coupons too. Manufacturer and store coupons together). Make a menu that includes the meals you make each day and don't forget the snacks (because not planning for them is a budget buster, and it gives you control as to how much and what your family eats). I write my store lists on an envelope for each store. I put the coupons in the envelope for that store. It makes it easier. Buy what is on the list and only what is on the list. I do recommend a $5 "unknown sale" allowance. This is for manager's specials or store markdowns that are great deals.
Now you have a week or two planned meals, buy only what you need for those meals. Stick to the list!! This will keep you from aimlessly walking around the store throwing things that "look good" into your cart. It will cut down on junk food and impulse items that the store is featuring (usually not a good deal).
Tip: When coupon shopping, do not be tempted to buy something just because you have a coupon. Only buy what you need and what you will use. Even if the item is only a few cents, it is a few cents wasted if you won't use it or don't really need it.
4. Check out a few more options: Check on-line coupon sites to see if there are coupons you can print off for items you need. Check the manufacturers sites too, because they sometimes have coupons or you can sign up to get coupons.
Don't be afraid to buy store brands. Most are made by the same national brand companies you usually buy...worth a try if they are cheaper. Even if you have a coupon, look at the store brand. Calculate which would be cheaper, another brand or your item with the coupon discount. Sometimes decisions have to be made in the store as to which is a better deal.
SHOP ALONE!! If there is anyway you can go alone so you can concentrate on what you are doing and focus on the shopping. Kids and spouses tend to raise the cost of a grocery trip by about 15%. There are too many moms and wives that can't say "no, it's not on the list" or "no, it's not in the budget". By the time you buy several snacks because they "are only $1" you will have spent way over your budget.
Eat before you go to the store. It is true! Shopping hungry will cost you!!
5. Know Your Prices: If you have to keep a price book then do that, but know your prices. I would keep up with the items you are constantly purchasing. It will also give you a clue as to how the store cycles it's sales.
I can not tell you how many times I have seen 10 for $10 sales and they really aren't good sales at all. Example: A can of Chef Boyardee is 10/$10 at one store and only $.89 at another. Yet people will stock up at the more expensive store because it sounds cheaper. Also, you find yourself buying 8 other items you may not need just to get the 2 items that you came for. Don't fall for that game!
I have seen food, paper goods and cleaning items at the dollar store that are less than the grocery store or making them yourself.
Consider what it would take to make it yourself. I can make a batch of taco seasoning for about $1. It will make an equivalent of 4 packets that would cost anywhere from $2 to $4 total. I can do the same for cleaning products too. I can make 5 gallons of laundry detergent for equal or less than you can buy 32 oz. for. As I said before many times "convenience costs money".
6. Check your store to see if and when they do markdowns on items such as meat, produce and bakery. I know that the store close to me does meat markdowns every morning. They mark them down about 50% sometimes more, and if I cook them right away or freeze them it doesn't make a difference if they still have 2 days before they shouldn't be sold. I have never had a problem with this at all as far as food saftey goes. Today I found ground beef marked down and I am making a huge double batch of chili to freeze for later dinners.
Check for produce too. I have bought celery, onions and bell peppers marked down to a great price and then cut them up and put them in the freezer to use for future meals. I found ripe bananas super cheap and they are great for banana bread and muffins. Apples are great for applesauce and apple butter. The same with bakery goods. I will freeze them for later. My latest find was carrot cake cupcakes and I wrapped them individually and froze them. Hubby takes them in his lunch bag to work.
These are also items that usually never have coupons. So if you have ground beef or chicken on your shopping list and you see it on a markdown, you can buy double for the same amount you normally would have spent on just one. OR you can just buy the one you need and save some money. It's a win/win either way.
Always take a glance at the clearance section of the store too. You never know when you could come across a real steal. The other day I had crackers on my list. I had the best buy on the isle in my cart and went to check the clearance section. They had crackers marked to half on the shelf. Best of all they were organic and better than the ones I had in my cart - and cheaper!! Just don't buy things you really don't need just because they are on clearance.
7. Always budget a set amount each week for "stock up items". This would be canned goods or frozen foods. Things with a longer shelf life. I allow myself $5 to $7 each week to stock up on 1 or 2 sale items. This week I know that canned tomatoes will be on sale at my store BOGO (Buy One, Get One free). So I have it in my budget to buy $5 in canned tomatoes. I keep them stocked because I use them a lot in my cooking. I stocked up pasta about two weeks ago and beans this past week. Now when I need something, I just look in my pantry and it's there. No running to the store and buying items that aren't on sale. This will take a while before you build your pantry up, don't try to do it over night. Only buy enough for about 4 to 6 weeks, it will go on sale again. Don't hoard or build huge stockpiles. It is an incredible waste of space and money. You end up throwing things away when they expire. As I said before, you may have only spent $.10 on the item, but it's $.10 wasted if you throw it away.
8. Avoid buying items at the grocery store that can be bought elsewhere for less. A lot of health and beauty items could be purchased at drug stores or even big box (such as Target) stores much cheaper. The same with many paper goods such as toilet paper. Pet food and supplies can be purchased at places like PetSmart cheaper too. Diapers and baby supplies usually always are cheaper any place but the grocery store. Don't fall into the trap of buying everything in one place because that will cost you. Unless you have to travel great distances and the gas would kill the savings, do your homework and hit a few stores to and from the grocery store.
Shop places like Amazon for some of these items. Compare prices. If you belong to Amazon Moms you can get free shipping on things like baby supplies.
Become card carriers (loyalty cards) for the stores and drug stores in your area and take advantage of their program and discounts. Target now has a free debit card that will give you a 5% discount when you use it.
9. COOK! Cooking from scratch is cheaper than prepared foods. Healthier and tastes better. Cook in batches and freeze some for later. It is less expensive to buy in bulk, cook doubles and triples of a recipe and freeze them in family (your size family) portions. An example of cooking from scratch costing less than prepared is Hamburger Helper. It may only cost $1 or so a box, but it makes 1 meal for a small family (or just the 2 of us...we eat a lot). For that $1 you could make a big batch of the same mix and pasta and make twice as much (if you get the pasta on sale). There is very little to it. You could make it healthier too (no preservatives, colorings, dyes, etc..). Whatever you make, make double and eat one tonight and freeze one for another night. Cuts down on leftovers, waste and saves money. On nights you are to tired to cook, or forget to defrost something, just take a meal from the freezer and pop it in the oven or microwave.....just as you would a frozen meal - but better. It took you no more time to cook 2 then it did for you to cook one!! You will be surprised how much money this saves you. After you do this for a week or so, you will see that your freezer is stocked and the next time you go grocery shopping you may only need to buy 1 or 2 meals worth of food.
It's a wonderful thing!!
10. Look high and low: Focusing on the things at eye level in the grocery store is going to cost you. Look on the high shelves and the bottom shelves for your best deals. Manufacturers and vendors pay A LOT of money to have their products placed at eye level or featured on end caps and displays. Look past those for the deals. You will see a lot of the store brands and lesser known brands low on the shelves.
Check the ethnic sections of the store too!! I have found that I can get much cheaper spices looking in the Latin or Indian sections of my grocery store. McCormicks Cayenne is about $4 for an ounce or so and I can get the Badia brand in the Mexican food section for less than $2.. Cumin is over $3 in the spice section for a little spice size bottle and I bought a big container in the Indian section for around $4. Tortillas sometimes cost less in the Mexican section and sometimes in the dairy cooler than over on the bread isle.
When looking for specialty items such as gluten free....do you homework. Check to see if you store marks its gluten free products. One of the stores I go to has a big "GF" on all gluten free items. If you look in the section that is especially for gluten free you will see very high prices. Look throughout the store...you would be amazed at all the products that actually contain zero gluten. The same goes for any special diet, be it diabetic or whatever....when you specially label it, the price goes up. Cooking from scratch also helps cut these costs too!
11. DIY Everything You Can: I touched on this a little while ago, so now I will explain it further. Anytime you can do something yourself, it saves you money. It is no different when it comes to food and your groceries. When you get meat that is already cut into chops, steaks, chicken parts, diced ham....whatever it is, the price goes up. Anytime someone has to put their hands on it, in it, mix it or so on - it costs you!! Do it youself and save!! Get a whole pork loin the next time it goes on sale, don't be afraid. Slice it into chops, keep a larger piece for a roast, cut another hunk of it into chunks for chili or pork stew. For the same price as a couple of packs of boneless pork chops you made enough to do 4 or 5 meals that will feed at least 4 people. The same goes with cutting up your own chicken or buy leg quarters and cut the thigh from the drumstick....have you seen the price of just thighs?? If you are a family of 4 then 8 leg quarters (costing about $4) will feed you for 2 meals!
Mixes are the same...make your own taco seasoning, ranch dressing, spaghetti sauce. You may say to yourself....that Frugal Sally is crazy, I can buy spaghetti sauce for less than I can make it. Think again, you buy a 24 oz bottle of sauce and it makes one meal for a family (sometimes you have to use 2 bottles or jars), for about the same price or maybe a hair more depending on the veggies you throw in....you can make a huge pot that makes several meals. A packet of dry ranch dressing is almost $2 for a name brand....you can make what amounts to 4 packets for less than that.
Make your own cleaning supplies. Some of them take less time to make than for you to go down the isle and take it off the shelf. I just made some fake Clorox Clean-up for less than a dime....what do you pay for it in the store. It took me all of 2 minutes to make it. Saving me nearly $3.
12. Use Meat as Part of the Meal, Not the Focus of the Meal: Meat will go much further if you use it in a recipe and not as the main dish. Having meat such as steak and sides can get very expensive and it isn't all that healthy for you anyway. If you want steak make Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches or a stir fry. This way it isn't one steak per person, it is one steak for the entire dinner. One pound of chicken breasts goes a long way in a white chili or a casserole than it does if you serve a breast as a main part of the meal. Adding meat to a rice or pasta dish will really help spread out the cost of meat. Soups are another good way to make the best of meats. Making your own broths from chicken carcasses can help save some grocery dollars. Freeze it too and you will have it for all those recipes that call for broths and stocks.
13. Change it up. Switch it out! Don't be Brand Loyal. Replace old habits with something less expensive. Try swapping the soda habit for water. Not bottled water either....get a refillable 5 gallon bottle. Invest in a filter for your tap or a pitcher and refill those bottles. Can't do just plain water. Add lemon or an inexpensive drink mix. Frozen concentrate is cheaper than bottled fruit juices, only takes a minute to whip it up and save some money. Always buying packages of cookies? Check the bakery for deals on cookies if you don't want to make your own. They sometimes (not always) have cookies with more in a package for less....who knows, you may like them better. Make your own ice tea or ice coffee instead of the incredibly expensive brand name bottled drinks. Be willing to try new things that cost less....don't be brand loyal.
14. Shop the Local Farmer's Markets: If you can find it locally grown and sold, you will probably get a much better deal and maybe even fresher. Buying local and in season saves you over the grocery store prices because they have to pay for shipping and storing and on and on. Make the best of in season fruits and vegetables by buying in bulk then canning, freezing and cooking freezer meals. You can also dehydrate too. Make the best of a good thing.
15. Be Aware of Mistakes: Watch as your groceries are being rung up. Watch for mistakes in quantity and in price. Count your change. Try to have it fixed before you leave the store.
If the store is out of a sale item, have them issue you a rain check so when you come back you can get the item at sale price. You won't have to rush back again before the sale is over to get your item. You can get it on your next trip. These days with the extreme couponers wiping out the shelves before you can get what you came for, it is so important to get those rain checks.
If you can't make it to other stores and they have something on sale, see if your store will price match. Most stores will only price match stores that are close to them if they do it at all. But really folks, if you can go to the other store, just do it. You should be shopping the sales in the other store anyway.
See if your store accepts competitors coupons, you may be able to stack them with manufacturers coupons for better savings. Example: you store accepts Target coupons. You could use a Target coupon AND a manufacturers coupon for the same item. Know your stores coupon policies if you use coupons.
16. Plant a Garden: I know this one isn't for everyone. It would be hard for me since I barely have a yard and the homeowners association frowns on it. I can plant a small herb garden and that saves some money too. For those who can have gardens, this is a great way to save money. So even if it's just a window garden with herbs....it still helps to save you some cash. Don't forget, you can freeze herbs too, so they can keep on giving!
17. Pay attention to unit pricing. Price per ounce. Sometimes the larger can is not cheaper. At times you aren't getting the same thing you got last week. Manufacturers are doing a new trick these days. They are making the package smaller, but the price is still the same. So that 14ounces of sauce you purchased last week is now 12 ounces and now the other brand may be cheaper. Most shelf tags in stores show the price per ounce. Use that to try to get the best deal. Stores will also play pricing games. Such as this week the shelf lable says it is $1.45 and next week they will say it is 2/$3. - the 2/$3. looks like a great deal, but actually the $1.45 was better. You would not believe how many people fall for that.
18. Cut the Junk or at Least Cut It Back: Need I say more. Junk food costs, and not just money. It could also cost your health. That being said if you must have it, make it a small part of the budget and try to make it smaller each week. Yes, you should have a snack and it should be planned on the menu. There are also things like cookies or chips for lunches. Just try to keep it to planned menu items and not just having tons of junk laying around to be eaten at any time. Getting the munchies can be a budget killer.
When buying snacks for lunches or home. Don't buy individual serving sizes. Buy a large bad and divide it up. The same goes for just about anything. Individual cookies and snacks are expensive. Divide and package them yourself and save. Make a pan of brownies and wrap them for lunches. Make your own "lunchables" with crackers, some cheese and some lunch meats.
19. Replace Household items with reusable items: Replace paper towels with washable towels. Replace paper napkins with cloth or just use kitchen towels that can be washed. Replace baggies with reuseable containers or wash them and use them several times. Reuse aluminum foil that isn't dirty or has nothing on it. Refill spice bottles with bulk spices that you can buy in your produce departments that don't come in bottles. Use empty containers for your mixes and empty cleaning bottles for your homemade cleaners so you don't buy jars and spray bottles. All this can save you money and helps the environment too. Use reusable bottles to fill with your own drinks to spare the cost of buying so many bottles. Reuse the plastic shopping bags to line small garbage cans so you don't buy trash liners. Wash plastic utensils that you may have picked up at a fast food restaurant to use in lunch bags and school lunches instead of always buying new ones. Wash your sponges in the dishwasher instead of always buying new. By reusing you are saving!!
20. Baby Go Green: If you have a baby at home, make your own baby food. Breast feed if that is an option for you. Use cloth diapers. Make your own baby wipes and products such as using corn starch as powder. Babies can add a lot of money to a grocery budget. The more you do the less it costs!
21. Ring up food separate from household. This will give you a better idea of what your weekly food budget it. Or just have it rung up first and ask for a sub-total. When you hear people say "I fed my family on $30 a week" it is because they are talking food only. Not all the paper goods, health and beauty items and they don't include things like pet food. So if you want to know where you are standing with a food only budget...separate your purchase at the register. It just may give you inspiration to challenge yourself to do better next shopping trip.
I know there is probably some things and points I am leaving out, but this will give you a place to start. A jumping off point. I hope you all are now able to better cut those grocery bills down to size and save a bunch of money. Let's go shopping!!