Friday, January 6, 2012

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Anybody out there not need food? I didn’t think so. Food is one of the basic requirements to sustain life; all of us need to eat. For most households, the food bill is one of the biggest chunks of the budget next to housing. Food prices rose by 3-4% in 2011 and are projected to increase by another 3-4% in 2012. Personally, I think our family’s impact has been closer to 10 – 15%.

For the pantry challenged issued by Jessica over at Good Cheap Eats, I’ve challenged myself to get our grocery bill under budget. For the last few months we have been over our $200 a week budget, sometimes significantly. $200 a week seems like a large amount for a family of four but there have been times when I’ve been amazed at how little was in the cart when we went over budget.

Here are some of the strategies I’m using to ensure we come in under budget.

1. Have only the budgeted amount available to spend.

Typically I just use our general checking account to pay for groceries and don’t worry too much about going over since I keep some slush in there. I think back to the days when money was tight and I only had X amount available, not a penny more. By being mindful of what went in the cart we always managed to squeak by at the cash register. Keeping track of what you are spending as you walk through the grocery store is critical to coming in under budget.

2. Plan a menu.

I'll admit, menu planning can be a drag. Thinking ahead for a week or a month as to what you are going to serve your family for dinner can be a little daunting. Menu planning serves a number of purposes. The first is that you are able to make a shopping list of only what you need. If you go into the grocery store without a plan you will most likely overspend. The second benefit is you know what you are serving for dinner and can plan ahead, saving money from the take out budget. Third, if you have a plan you can get help from the family in putting dinner on the table. As a working mom, I rely on my husband and kids to do a lot, if not all, of the prep work for family dinners.

3. Make a list

If you have a menu plan, making a list of needed items is pretty easy. By having a list of what you need, and sticking to it, you will not overspend in the grocery store. This is one area that I’ve fallen down the last few months and has contributed to us being over budget. I’m working on a list of items that we typically buy, laid out in the order of the grocery store we shop at. Currently when I’m making my list I try to mentally go down each aisle, but it never fails that some kind of produce ends up at the bottom of my list. Fortunately my husband is usually with me and doesn’t mind being the “procurer of forgotten items”, that doesn’t work so well if you are shopping alone with small children.

4. Inventory your pantry

How many times have you bought something only to realize you have plenty at home? Spending five minutes to look in your cupboards will save you substantially in the long run. Last year when we did the pantry challenge I found a month’s worth of dog treats in the pantry. We were in the habit of buying them every week whether the dogs needed them or not. Buy only what you need!

5. Utilize more coupons

As a working mom I don’t have a lot of time to cut and organize coupons or run to various stores for deals.  I usually find that my savings don'tt justify the time spent. However, I can snag a few minutes to go online to some of the coupon sites and see if there are any coupons available to print. By printing out the coupons right before I need them and clipping them to my list, they are available and handy when I need them without a lot of time or energy spent.

6. Target something fun with the savings

If possible, I would suggest that you target something fun with your savings. Knowing you’ll be able to do something fun with the money that you may not otherwise do can be very motivating. If I can come in under budget every week by $25 I could treat my daughter to a mother/daughter massage on our upcoming vacation.  That's pretty motivating for me.

The final suggestion I can offer is to make sure that you are shopping at the cheapest store in your area. Keep in mind that sometimes the cheapest store isn’t in your city. There are three large grocery stores within two miles of my house that I rarely shop at because they are so expensive. We drive a half hour to go grocery shopping because the items are consistently so much cheaper. If you live in Wisconsin or the Chicago area I would encourage you to look for a Woodman’s. It’s a big store and can be overwhelming but is definitely cheaper than most other stores. Woodman’s does not accept credit cards.

That’s how I plan to save money on grocery shopping. Do you have any other tips for saving money on your grocery bill?

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom


  1. When I make a shopping list, I put a ? mark next to items that I think I might already have. Then I check my pantry/fridge or freezer and cross off what I don't need. Oh, yeah, I'm like a lot of people in that sometimes I'll pick up something and find out I have 3 at home!
    I'm an avid couponer and love the savings. But if I didn't want to spend the time clipping and sorting, the one thing I would do is just cut out coupons for items I use a lot and put them in my wallet. That way you have them handy without too much effort.

  2. when i make my list i write it in quadrants..

    top left. produce
    top right meats and dairy
    bottom left canned/dry
    bottom right frozen aisles..

    easy to add to it..and then we swing by the bread aisle..we only get few things there i usually add them in the middle or put a line at the bottom to add another square


  3. I highly recommend making a price list. YOu might be surprised at what stores in your area (even the ones you consider expensive) have at cheaper prices than others. My price list is kind of my guide - I don't pay more than the price listed. I've also found shopping once-a-month to be super helpful in sticking to my budget. And then there's always the envelope method, much like you suggested (having the actual cash amount in your hand that you can spend).

  4. Great tips! One you didn't mention is looking at what's on sale. I save a lot by stocking up on things when they are at an unusually low price.

    For our area and the things we eat, there is no one store that's consistently the cheapest. For example, Trader Joe's has the best prices on yogurt, jam, and tofu, but their produce usually is more expensive (and overpackaged and not as good) compared to Giant Eagle. There are a lot of things we can get in bulk (bring your own container) at the food co-op for much less per pound than any other store, yet other things are crazily expensive at the co-op. Some things are much cheaper in big packs at Costco, while others aren't. So I try to get to each store about once a month to buy the things that are bargains there.