In 2015, we’re putting extra emphasis on budgeting since it’s a must for financial success. Each month, we tackle a different category, and by years’ end, we’ll have one big resource for maximizing your entire budget.
One question we get asked more than almost any other is How do you keep your grocery budget so low? Grocery spending seems to be a trouble category for everyone — us included. When we moved to New York City, we had to experiment with different stores and delivery methods until we finally found a way to make our grocery budget work out here.
The crazy thing about groceries is that if you’re not careful, there’s really no limit to how much money you can spend on food. For some people, the splurge is totally worth it. And that’s great. But if you’re like us and you like eating well, but you don’t like spending a ton to do it, here’s a list of all of our grocery spending tricks and tips.
Before moving forward, I have to note that I don’t coupon. I know many are able to save a ton on groceries by couponing and I applaud their incredible skills. But for now, it’s just not my thing. It’s an opportunity cost and it just hasn’t made the cut yet. If it is your thing, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’ and killing it with your grocery bill.
And now, onto our tips for keeping your grocery spending in check:
Plan your meals
We all have to eat. Every day. Knowing that, meals are an easy aspect of our lives to plan in advance. I usually plan 7 to 10 days’ worth of meals, write down the ingredients I need for them, and then go grocery shopping. My grocery list consists of dinner ingredients, generic lunch and breakfast ingredients (bread, sandwich meat, cereal, milk), baking staples I’m short on (flour, brown sugar, etc.), and snacks. After my grocery trip, I write down all of the meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) I’ve bought ingredients for and post it on our fridge. Next to the dinner meals, I note how many nights’ worth of dinner the meal provides so I can plan out which days I’ll need to cook. Each day, I choose from that list until it’s time for another grocery trip. And if some of the meals have perishable items, I’m sure to cook those first.
Track your spending as you go
Johnny and I are big proponents of tracking spending in real time. And there isn’t a budgeting category where this is more important than your grocery spending. Buying groceries over the course of a month involves purchasing hundreds of items. And chances are that some of those items aren’t necessary or are more expensive than what you should be paying. If you’re not closely tracking your grocery spending, those items will oftentimes be purchased without a second thought. And $5 extra here or $10 extra there over the course of 30 days can add up to a hefty grocery bill at month’s end. Looking back, it’s hard to think of any specific items you could have omitted from your spending. BUT, when you’re tracking your spending in the moment and trying to keep your grocery trip under, say, $100? Suddenly, it becomes very clear that Double Stuf Oreos aren’t a necessity (except for the days when they are). Or that the really gourmet meal you want to make that costs $30 just for the ingredients might not be in the cards this month. In short, you find wiggle room for saving money where you didn’t know wiggle room existed.
Keep it simple
While Johnny and I like to eat healthy, we also tend to keep our meals fairly simple. This is partially because I don’t have a ton of time to spend cooking (as I’m sure many of you can relate). But it also saves us money. You don’t have to eat expensively in order to eat well. The most basic (and inexpensive) ingredients can make the most delicious meals. Many of our go-to meals consist of salad, chicken, and a variety of interchangeable toppings and dressings. We also love meals with tortillas, toppings, and a variety of interchangeable meats — from chicken fajitas to popcorn shrimp tacos to meatless sweet potato tacos, the possibilities are endless. Finally, we love soups and crockpot meals. In short, our meals are mostly one-dish options that taste great but don’t consume much money or time.
So here’s my confession: I don’t like leftovers. But over the years, I’ve come around to eating them. And I’ve found that some foods make better leftovers than others. Soups, for instance, taste just as great reheated as they did on day one. If we have food left over at the end of a meal, we stick it in the fridge and eat it until it’s gone. This is a simple, surefire way to cut food costs.
Stock up on sale items
This is another simple tip that can go a long way. If one of your staple items is on sale, stock up on it! Johnny loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And I like it, too. We’re both big cereal eaters, surprise surprise — mostly because it requires little to no effort to prepare. So when Costco has a sale on its bulk-size Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I buy a few of them. We do this with several of our go-to items. It may be more money up front, but it saves us money in the long run.
Shop around for the best value
We love Costco, which is well documented in this post. From ground beef to milk to eggs to frozen chicken breasts to sandwich meat, we’ve found big savings on many of our staples by being Costco members. And we have other stores here in NYC that are our go-to for other items. While it might be a little more inconvenient, it’s important to find which stores offer the best value for your different grocery items. When we lived in Utah, I mostly stuck to Costco and Walmart. And while Walmart might have been a less enjoyable shopping experience than, say, Target or a local grocer, the money I saved on groceries from shopping there made it worth it. If your number one priority is saving money on groceries, scope out until you find the stores that offer the lowest prices on different foods.
Put all those together, and that’s how we keep our grocery spending in check each month. If we stick to these guidelines, we stick to our grocery budget. What tips and tricks do you use to keep your grocery spending under wraps?