The average American family of four spends $121 a week on groceries. This is how much I spend on my family of nine. If I didn’t have children with special dietary needs, I might be able to cut it more. If you are an average American family, you can cut your grocery bill in half – through baby steps.
Following are thirteen tips, one for each week of the next three months. If you implement one new tip each week, you will see a significant drop in your grocery bill by the time the winter issue of Heart and Mind arrives in your mailbox. Make a copy of this article, put it in a prominent place, and commit yourself to working these tips.
Tip #1 – Don’t Go to the Store Hungry
This probably goes without saying, but make sure that you have a full tummy when you go grocery shopping. More importantly, make sure that any children who tag along have absolutely filled-to-the-brim tummies.
Grocery stores go to great lengths to psych you out and convince you to over buy. You have to out-psych them. If you’re tired and hungry, the children will have an easier time wearing down your resolve as they beg for all those colorful, attractive, prefab foods that require a mortgage to purchase.
Grocery Tip #2 – Make a List
Fifty-three percent of grocery purchases are made on the spur of the moment. Don’t let more than half of your groceries be bought without forethought.
Get up right now and put a piece of paper on your refrigerator and write at the top: "Grocery List." Now here is what you do - when you start getting low on a staple item, write it down. Know what is, and is not, in your cupboards before you go to the store. Never, ever, go to the store without a list.
Don’t deviate from the list once you reach the store. Yes, that snack pack of premade pudding may be on sale, and it does looks so attractive displayed on the endcap of the aisle (the pudding manufacturer paid thousands of dollars for that placement), and it would be so easy to just plop those plastic pudding cups in front of the kiddies for lunch tomorrow, but it is NOT on your list. If it was important and really needed, you would have put it on your list
Grocery Tip #3 – Make a Menu
Every Monday I sit down at my dining room table with that week’s grocery store fliers, my grocery list, and my favorite cookbooks. I then make up a menu for the week based on what is on sale and what is currently in my cupboard.
If you have dozens of hard boiled eggs in the fridge left over from Easter, then you can have deviled eggs for dinner one night and egg salad sandwiches for lunch. Don’t buy new groceries when you have perfectly good groceries already on hand.
How does making a menu save you money?
-- you buy only what you need.
-- you use up what is already in your cupboards.
-- you have no need to make unscheduled trips to the convenience store since you preplanned.
The first time that you make a menu, it will take some time. But trust me, once you make it a habit and do it every week, it will take no time at all. I promise.
Grocery Tip #4 – Leftover Night
Make sure that you set aside a day on your menu for leftover night. Never let anything go to waste. Every once in a while I go completely through my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to make sure that there aren't forgotten items that I can put on that week’s menu. Sometimes we call this "Clean out the freezer night" and enjoy a smorgasbord of all different kinds of foods.
Grocery Tip #5 – Stock Up On Loss Leaders
If you are going through your grocery sales ads every week preparing your menu and grocery list, you are getting a pretty decent idea of sale prices. Beginning this week, keep a sharp eye out for loss-leaders.
Loss-leaders are sales items that are marked down far below the store’s profit margin. They do this to entice you into their store and buy high-end items, thus making a huge profit in the end. But you won’t fall for that con game because you’re making a list and sticking to it.
Take advantage of those loss-leaders by stocking up on them. If your family loves pasta, and macaroni is on sale for an unbelievable 25 cents, buy enough to last several months. Take advantage of any extra freezer space for meats and vegetables. My husband built extra shelves for me in the garage for my stockpile of loss-leaders.
Grocery Tip #6 – Use Your Crockpot
Do you have one day in your week where it seems you are on the go the entire day? You get home wiped out and the last thing that you want to do is make dinner. So you throw a few frozen pizzas in the oven or have your spouse pick up Chinese on the way home. Maybe you have several days like this each week.
I solve this problem with a little preplanning and putting something in the crockpot before I leave the house. It is nice to come home to a prepared dinner after a long day of running around. Another nice thing about crockpots is that you can make even the toughest, cheapest cut of meat delicious. Utilizing my crockpot saves on frustration and it saves on the wallet.
If you need recipes try these websites:
Crockpot Recipes - More than 1300 Recipes for the Crock Pot or Slow Cooker
RecipeSource: Crockpot Recipes
Grocery Tip #7 – Use Caution in Clipping Coupons
Believe or not, there are times when coupon clipping can actually cause you to spend more money, rather than save money. Coupons can be a great thing, but you need to use a little extra common sense in choosing which coupons to clip.
If I see a coupon for a product that I normally buy, I clip it. Especially if it qualifies for my grocery store’s double coupon special and that item is on sale. I have gotten grocery items for free this way, but that is rare.
I avoid coupons for expensive name brands or prepackaged foods like the plague. Even with a coupon, these items are usually more expensive than store-name brands and homemade meals. So use caution in using coupons and make sure that you are actually saving money, not spending more, by clipping them.
Grocery Tip #8 – Use Caution in Visiting Warehouse Clubs
Just as coupons can work against you or in your favor, so goes warehouse clubs. If you throw caution to the wind, you can overspend. However, with a little smarts you can save a bundle.
First, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions:
If I have 100 rolls of paper towels stocked in the garage, and little Johnny spills an entire glass of milk on the floor, will I do the thrifty thing and use a rag to clean it up? Or will I use an entire roll of paper towels figuring that I will still have 99 left? If you chose the latter, then stay away from warehouse clubs.
Next question. Will you be tempted to buy the fifty-gallon jug of cheesy curls for snack time instead of carrot and celery sticks? If the answer is yes, stop here and never step inside of a Sam’s or Costco.
You should be stocking up on staples. Prepared, prepackaged foods cost too much at warehouse clubs too. Make sure that you are following all of your grocery tips at the warehouse club as you would at the grocery store.
There is a cost to join these clubs, so weigh the savings against that cost. See if your employer or spouse’s employer offers free memberships. My husband is self-employed, but we have a free membership through one of his clients as he takes care of this client’s purchasing.
Grocery Tip #9 – Pull Together Resources and Buy in Bulk
Warehouse clubs are not the only way of buying in bulk. I often times buy meat in bulk. Most recently, I split half of a side of beef with my friend Dawn.
This is a great way to save money, since meat is an expensive staple. I have an extra freezer, so I have plenty of room to stock up. If you don’t have extra freezer space, or you have a small family, find a friend or relative (or several if need be) willing to split the savings with you.
Look for reputable businesses that sell quantities of beef, chicken, and/or pork. There are some fly-by-night companies who will not think twice about stealing your money, so ask around to find out who provides the best product for the best price.
Grocery Tip #10 – Making Use of Throwaways
Think about all of the vegetable scraps and bones that you throw away. Now is the time to get into the mindset of always asking yourself if something can be put to good use before throwing it away.
For example, after cooking up a delicious roast chicken and serving it to my family, I take the carcass, throw it in a pot with some seasonings and vegetable scraps, cover it with water, and boil it to death. The resulting broth can be frozen if it is not needed in the near future. You can do this with beef, pork, turkey, and fish bones as well. I also make vegetable broth if I have a lot of vegetables scraps. Homemade broth is much better than a bouillon cube mixed with a cup of water. And it is so easy; if you can boil water you can make broth.
Another way to make use of food throwaways is to compost. Over the years the harvest from our gardens have gotten better and better do to our homemade compost. No more spending money each year on top soil, manure, and peat moss.
One more idea for you is Leftover Soup. When I have just a wee amount of vegetable or meat leftovers from dinner, not enough for a single serving the next day, I put it in a special container in the freezer. When my container is full, I make leftover soup. I mix it together with my homemade broth, perhaps throw in some rice, and I have a delicious soup.
Grocery Tip #11 – Forget the Cart
By now you are doing a terrific job in preplanning your grocery trips, but there will still be times when you have an emergency and have to run to the corner market for one or two items. When you do, walk right past the shopping carts. If you have to carry your groceries in your arms, you are not going to be as tempted to pick up that $5 bucket of ice cream that your hips don’t need anyway.
Grocery Tip #12 – Get to Know the Layout of Your Grocery Store
Getting to know the layout of your grocery store will save you money. Not loads, but some. The better you know where things are, the faster you can get to the things you want, and the better you can avoid things you don’t need.
I go so far to write up my grocery list items in the order that they are laid out in the store. As I cross items off of my shopping list it is a neater process and I am less likely to miss items. I have been going to the same store for many years and so have a pretty good idea of how things are arranged.
If you are in a new neighborhood, most stores have printouts of the store layout available just for the asking. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, usually you’ll find produce first, dairy items together, paper products and cleaning supplies last.
Grocery Tip #13 – Check Unit Prices
Make sure that you are checking unit prices. It is worth the cost of a little calculator to keep in your purse, so that it is handy while grocery shopping. My grocery store shows the unit price on regularly priced items, but not the sales items.
I have run across, one too many times, bulk items that were actually more expensive than smaller-unit items. I have also seen sales items that were still costlier than off-brand items, as well as same brand but smaller size items.
If you have not done this before, just take the price and divide by the number of ounces, or whatever unit of weight is used for that item.
This is a great math project to give a child. Or make a game of it and give calculators to several children and see who comes up with the answer first. Multi-tasking - school and shopping all in one - now that is thrifty.
Copyright 2009 Maureen Wittmann
About the Author
We welcome guest contributors who graciously volunteer their writing for our readers. Please support our guest writers by visiting their sites, purchasing their work, and leaving comments to thank them for sharing their gifts here on CatholicMom.com. To inquire about serving as a guest contributor, contact editor@CatholicMom.com.