Grocery spending can vary a lot by household to household. In fact most people spend way more than they need to in order to eat well. In this article, I will go over many of the best ways that I have found to keep your grocery spending down without sacrificing nutrition, quality or enjoyment from eating. The goal is simply to reduce your grocery spending by getting more for your dollars. Eating white rice and pasta all year round will certainly keep costs low, but you will pay for it with a hit to your health and ability to function properly. Besides, I want you to still enjoy eating and get excited about cooking your next meal.
First off, what exactly should you target for your monthly grocery cost? Keep in mind, this accounts for the occasional guests visiting over for dinner, your lunches while at work and minimal eating out at restaurants throughout the month.
I personally found that $350-400 per month for a couple living together is a reasonable target while still eating very well with the occasional mix of fancy ingredients such as rib steaks, truffle oil, lobster or whatever else you enjoy treating yourself to on special occasions. If you are living alone, it will be a bit more than half of this as you will lose the economy of scales by cooking and buying for two. A family of 4 will of course be higher and can vary a lot by what age and how much your kids will eat. Somewhere around $450-600 a year for a family of 4 is a reasonable target. These targets should by no means be the limit. If you can save more than that while applying my tips below, go ahead and do so!
Tip #1: Price Per Pound
Most grocery produce are priced in $ per pound (or $ per kg or gram or liter). For the main produce you regularly buy (meats, fruits, veggies) you should start to develop a good mental image of what is a good deal and what isn’t. Compare prices from a few grocery stores and take note when items go on special how much of a deal you are actually getting. I’ve noticed that not all promotions are that great of deal, where as some are excellent deals. Price per pound is the way to compare, not price per package or how big the box looks.
When buying fruits and vegetables for the week, you can adjust what you buy based on what is trending below the usual reasonable price per pound of that product. If apples are lower one week, buy those. The next week maybe it’ll be bananas and cucumber. As an added benefit, you will mix it up in the kitchen adding variety while also saving.
Tip #2: Costco
I personally love shopping for groceries at Costco. The stores are easy to navigate, all items are clearly listed in a price per pound for easy comparison and they rarely have low quality products. Costco’s business model is different from a regular grocery store. They don’t stock everything, they have more limited choice on some items, especially in terms of competing brands for similar products. What they do is handpick suppliers that have high quality and are willing to reduce their profit margins significantly in order to sell in bulk. So you end up with a warehouse of large packages at very low prices. When they have what you are looking for, their price is rarely beaten. They also have a house brand called Kirkland signature that unlike many other house brands, is actually good quality.
Definitely take a trip to your local Costco, perhaps with a friend or family member who has a membership card if you are not yet a member. Check out their prices and see how it compares to your local grocery store.
Tip #3 Using Different Grocery Stores
Next to my home, there are two grocery stores within walking distance. The first one caters to a lower income market. It is often less well kept, food doesn’t quite look as fresh and spills will likely stay on the floor a bit longer.
The second one is more upscale and has a better overall presentation, fresher produces, in store bakery, butcher and fishery. However prices are slightly more expensive, after all they have to pay for all this. To take advantage of both places, I buy all my fresh produce at the nicer store, and the boxed and canned produce at the less nice store. Pre-boxed or packaged items are identical at each store as they are not prepared on site, therefore you may as well take advantage of the lower prices at the less expensive store. For fresh produce, quality is important, and I don’t wish to give up freshness to save a few bucks.
Sometimes the nicer grocery store will still have better prices when certain items are on promotion. So its important to check the weekly flyer. An easy way to do this is with an app called reebee. This app will allow you to compare specials of all stores. You can then compare specials to the baseline great prices offered at Costco. Costco also has its own promotions for select items, but usually far less often than a regular grocery store.
Tip #4 Don’t Waste Anything
Food spoilage needs to be avoided like the plague. Every time you throw out food that expired or a leftover in a tupperware that you had forgotten to eat, you are basically taking a few bills out of your wallet and lighting them on fire. You simply got no enjoyment for the dollars you spent on those items. Avoid this by buying the right amounts of perishables. Freeze items that can be frozen such as meats, breads and some vegetables. Whenever you throw out food that is wasted, take a mental note of how you can avoid it next time.
A few times a week, I like to review what is in my fridge that will expire if I don’t eat or freeze it soon. I’ll then try to make meal plans around those items, especially if it something that cannot be frozen.
Tip #5 Consider the Travel time
As I mentioned earlier, I have two grocery stores within walking distance. Costco on the other hand requires a 30 minute round trip drive. It probably works out to about 3-4$ of gas, so in order to offset this, I only do it once a month. You will save the gas, mileage on your car and also the time wasted traveling. Your time is worth something isn’t it?
Tip #6 Have Easy options
Long day at the office, get home a little exhausted, you won’t always be in the mood to cook from scratch. It certainly would be easy to order in. But if you had purchase some easy to make meals, such as frozen breaded chicken or a pre-made stir fry, you could eat those instead. Pre-prepared food should be avoided in most cases as its pricier for lower quality and less healthy food. However you can’t pretend you’ll always be in the mood every weeknight to cook from scratch, therefore these are slightly better alternatives to ordering in.
The other easy option would be pre-made meals you’ve made yourself. Since these will only keep for 3-4 days in the fridge, you can freeze them for later use.
Apply these tips above and you will be able to significantly reduce your grocery bill and monthly spending. Be sure to share these tips with others, especially those in your household.
For more spending tips. be sure to also checkout this article on spending effectively.