According to The Department of Labor, the average American spends 12.4% of their income on food. Up to 47% of that is spent on eating out, so it’s a no-brainer that curbing restaurant trips is a great way to reduce spending on food. But food is on the necessity column of our budgets. We cannot eliminate spending money to eat, but we can actively reduce the cost of our food consumption.
Food is typically the fourth biggest budget priority behind housing, transportation, and insurance. The average American family of four spends somewhere between $300 and $700 per month on groceries. That’s a big disparity! The defining factors for those that spend on the lower end of that statistic are attention and effort. By paying attention to how and what is spent on groceries, combined with a little bit of effort, anyone can significantly lower their grocery.
When you head out for your next grocery trip, try applying these strategies to your shopping routine for ultimate savings:
Don’t just shop around. Comparison shop!
The first step in saving money on food items is to figure out which store sells what you need for the least amount of money. It seems obvious, but a little more research will sometimes reveal that more savings are available. Comparison shopping is the best way to ensure you are getting the best deal. This means paying attention to unit prices. Most retailers disclose the price per ounce, pound, or other units of measurement on the display label. This is what is referred to as the “price per unit”. The unit of measurement is generally uniform for each product (paper towels in square footage, peanut butter in ounces, etc.). Comparing unit prices is a surefire way to ensure you are buying the least expensive product. Many savvy shoppers report that they don’t even pay attention to the price tag, but rather shop according to the least expensive unit price. Many times this means buying in bulk, but not always. Most people just assume that the largest package of an item is the cheapest. This is not always true. Pay attention to unit prices. Use this information to purchase the least expensive version of the item you need. Which brings us to….
Shop according to item, not brand
If you are truly committed to saving money on groceries, brand loyalty must go out the window. Many people refuse to try store brands, assuming they are lower quality than name brands. This is simply not true. The cost is less mainly because the manufacturers save big in areas like advertising, where national brands spend a fortune. Business Insider published a report that estimates a 25% savings on store brands!
Change your shopping routine
We are creatures of habit. I spent years shopping almost exclusively at Publix, which is the main grocery chain in my area, and Whole Foods. They were close by and I knew my way around them so well that shopping was generally quick and easy. Plus, they always had the items I was looking for. It turns out I was paying a BIG premium for doing all of my shopping there. Once I started focusing on my grocery budget (and realizing I was going way over each month), I began to venture out to other grocery stores as well as non-traditional stores. I went wherever I knew I could save. This didn’t mean I had to stop buying the items I felt were necessary for my family. I just had to become open to changing brands. For us, that meant Trader Joe’s became my go to for organic items instead of Whole Foods. It meant a $60 yearly membership to Costco, where I cut my paper product costs in half by buying off brand in bulk. IN HALF. It meant trying out non-traditional stores like Aldi and the Dollar Store for everything from canned items to snack food. I still go to my local grocery store when the sale price per unit beats these places, which it does often enough. I’m just no longer fixated on brand loyalty, and my family never noticed a difference in quality. In hindsight, I estimate that we wasted a ton of money, as I’m saving 30%-40% on my grocery bill now. It took some effort, but now that we’ve implemented the process, it’s just another routine. And it was well worth it.
Get technical about your savings
Consumers this day in age are extremely fortunate to have the most efficient price comparison and coupon tools at their fingertips. There are many applications that can be used easily from your mobile phone. From barcode scanning to manual searching, these programs can cut your research time from hours to minutes. Not to mention all of the cashback and coupon programs available. There are even browser extension programs that work with your internet browser on your PC or Mac. Many of these are designed to find deals and coupons during your online checkouts. With so much help available, there’s no excuse to not use tech to help you save money.
Don’t forget coupons
Couponing has become an extreme sport in recent years, and for good reason. Extreme couponers report big savings to their weekly grocery bills. But many of these people buy items just because they are on sale. They will share information from their most recent “haul”, captioning a photo of 40 salad dressing bottles with “just $5!”. There’s a fine line between saving on items you need and saving on items you don’t need. That being said, coupons are still a viable way to add to your savings. Set aside a fixed amount of time each week depending on your schedule. I limit couponing to thirty minutes per week. Make sure you sign up for your local newspaper and grab the store circulars (usually these come out weekly) from all the stores you will be going to. You may also get local discount flyers in the mail. Scan these before you throw them out. Facebook has local coupon groups that keep you in the know as well. Finally, use tech to scour for coupons on items you need. In addition to programs like Honey, there are great coupon websites and apps that, used in conjunction with comparison tools, can really amp up your savings.
Invest in a deep freezer
This was a game changer for my family. The deep freezer we bought was just under $240, with free shipping with Amazon Prime (another great investment for lasting savings!). We keep it on our porch and haven’t noticed a meaningful increase in our utility bill, and we’ve had it for over a year. Having a deep freezer allows you to buy freezable items, like meat, in bulk. The cost per pound for meat items is significantly less at warehouse stores like Costco. Meat isn’t the only thing that you can freeze, though. I buy frozen vegetables, like broccoli, in bulk. They stay good in a deep freeze for up to a year. It’s extremely handy to have these things on hand when meal planning. Frozen berries are far less expensive than fresh and are just as nutritionally dense, if not more, as they are picked at peak ripeness. These are great for morning smoothies. Surprisingly, there are many food items that can safely and effectively be frozen. Butter, cooked rice, ripe bananas, shredded cheese, and bread freeze great. That’s just the tip of the deep freeze ice burg! Things you’d never think of, like packaged guacamole, for instance, freeze extremely well and can be purchased for far less in bulk than in smaller packages.
Food waste equals wasted money. Waste happens mainly from not properly planning, so preparation is key. Start with thinking about what type of diet you and your family want to eat. Consider how to create meals with inexpensive food items. Use the internet as a resource to find great recipes designed with budgets in mind. Budgetbytes.com is a great resource that has a ton of recipes using inexpensive ingredients. A great way to save both time and money is to cook several portions and freeze leftovers in individual serving sizes. I quadruple most freezable recipes and store them in these great, inexpensive containers in my deep freeze.
Rely on a shopping list
Speaking of saving time and money! A shopping list is the most critical component to efficiently achieving money and time savings. It’s an absolute must. Start by writing down all the ingredients in your meal plan for a given period (I do this weekly). Cross off anything items you currently have enough of at home. Add to this list all other items you need, such as snack food, pet food, household products, and personal care items. Keeping an inventory of the latter items can be helpful in staying stocked but not overbuying. Remember that household products and some personal care items (razors!) are great places to buy in bulk to get the best per unit cost. Keep this list with you while you shop so that you can mark off items as you purchase them.