Getting the Most Out of Your Grocery Budget
Whether you’re a single-income or two-income home, saving money should always be a priority. One of the easiest ways to trim a budget is taking a close look at your food receipts. All the money spent dining out, making a drive-thru run, grabbing your morning caffeine at your coffee shop of choice…it adds up fast. You could probably save way more than you ever thought possible if you instead fixed 90% of your meals at home.
Why? Because honestly, it’s a cheaper and healthier way to live. And even if you have no intentions of changing your eating habits, you should at least consider putting a grocery budget in place. Because seriously, you should have some sort of food budget. And if you don’t have one, you need to create one, because I doubt you can fully comprehend how much you’re spending on food if you’re not actively keeping track of it.
When I was working outside the home, part of my paycheck went to groceries. I had no budget. If I was hungry I ran through a drive-thru. If I was at the grocery store and thought it looked good it went in the cart. When I quit to stay home with my daughter after she was born and we became a one income household, I got on a budget real quick. I went from spending $200+ a week to roughly $200 a month. Think about that for a moment. I was spending at least $800 a month on food, for a family of two. Yeah…a family of two. That’s roughly $600 each month I could have been spending on other things…like clothes. Or, you know, paying my car off faster or sticking it in a retirement fund or my future child’s college fund.
Was it hard to do? Uh…hell yeah it was, but after a few months it got easier. Now did I get such a drastic price drop solely through cost comparison? No, but it did help a lot. I also took note of what items I was having to throw away because they spoiled or expired before I could use them. I stopped buying things because they were on sale (I have a weakness for BOGO’s) and started buying things that I knew I would use before they went bad. We stopped eating out 3 – 4 times a week and now only eat out once or twice a month.
Some months we spend less, some months we spend a little more (it all depends on when holidays and birthdays and special occasions fall), but we do average a $200 monthly grocery bill (including non-food items like paper products and personal hygiene items).
Finding the Best Grocery Store for You
If you live near a decent sized town or city, chances are you have several options when it comes to shopping for your daily/weekly/monthly groceries. I live in a somewhat small town and depending on how far I want to drive (5 – 25 miles) I can purchase food at Target, Aldi, Walmart, Publix, or BJ’s (similar to a Costco or Sam’s Club). And if you have ever had the option of shopping multiple grocery stores, you know that everything varies; the prices, the products carried, and sometimes even the quality.
So how should you go about choosing the best store? First, you have to define what makes it best for you. And this is really a question that only you can answer, and one whose answer will very greatly from person to person.
If you have limited transportation, then the best store is probably going to be the one that is geographically closest to you. If I had to walk to the store, or even ride a bike over, I’d rather go to the place that’s 5 miles down the road instead of the one that’s 25 miles. Because I would die.
If transportation is not an issue (and I honestly consider that to be the biggest main issue when it comes to shopping for anything) then decide if you have any ethical/social issues with your store choices. Some people refuse to shop at certain stores. If you have an issue with a store, cross it off your list.
Narrowing it Down…
At this point you should have two, maybe even three stores in mind. Now you’re going to look at product cost to determine which store is the best fit for your budget.
The first store is going to be the one that you already shop at, the one that 90% or more of your grocery purchases come from. Here’s the easy part…go shopping. Save your receipts for a month and take note of what your most often purchased items were. Now we start our list. And I’ve even made it easy for you to do this with a neat organized download that you can print off and hang on your fridge to help you keep track.
Write down the items that you purchase all the time. Most people can rattle off a list of their food staples. Mine would be chicken breasts, ground sausage, potatoes, etc. Write it down. Under “price” write down the amount you paid and if it’s available write down the unit price also. Unit Price is the price of an item based on weight or count. You see this a lot in the produce section (it’s available for every single item you purchase, but it’s most noticeable in the produce aisle) where you see the large signs stating things like “Apples, $3.94 per bag”. So for example, you would list apples as your item, the price you paid for them,$3.94, and then the unit price, which was 8.2 cents/oz.
Most stores will have their unit pricing listed in the corner, sometimes in a colored box to separate it from the actual price of the item. Make sure you take note of what the “unit” is. For food, it it usually listed in ounces or pounds (this is important, you can’t compare ounces to pounds…they’re totally different, it would be like comparing inches to yards and claming you’re getting a better a deal because you can buy 5 inches for the price of 1 yard…you would need to convert them both to the same unit in order to compare the pricing). For items like plastic cutlery, it might be listed as “per 100 count”, or any other large unit of measure. Also, not every state requires stores to list unit pricing, so if you’ve never seen this in your local store, you might live in one of those states.
Why should you care about unit pricing? Because it is everything.
- This is what determines what’s an awesome price and what’s a rip-off.
- It is exactly the number you should be paying attention to if you like to shop the warehouse stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc.
- This is how you can save pennies when shopping, and those pennies add up over time
- Those pennies? Sometimes it’s more like a nickel, or even more. Save a nickel every day for a year and that’s $18.25
You really want to get in the habit of checking unit prices, because looks can be deceiving. Think of items that come in two size options. Cereal usually comes in a standard and a family size. Salad Dressing comes in two sizes. A lot of dry goods/shelf items you’ll see are the same brand, same flavor, just different quantities. Most people would assume that the bigger of the two, even though it costs a bit more than the smaller/standard size would be the better bargain. Sometimes this is true, and a lot of the times it’s not. If I can purchase an item for $0.20 an ounce, or the same exact identical item for $0.26 an ounce, which one would you choose? The cheaper one! Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run to purchase two of the smaller items than one of the larger items.
Take note: This really works best for items that you use/consume ALL. THE. TIME. For instance, you’re trying a new recipe and it calls for rice flour (or any other obscure ingredient you can think of). I know that outside of this recipe, that I am only making once, I will never use rice flour again. Yes, it might be cheaper (unit price wise) to buy the two smaller bags instead of the one larger. However, I will have a lot more left over rice flour that I will probably wind up throwing out if I purchase the two smaller bags instead of the one large bag. When it comes to reducing food waste, it’s actually best for me to just buy the one large bag.
Time to Comparison
Now that you have your list, go check out the other stores that made the cut earlier. How does their pricing compare? Is it cheaper for you to continue shopping at your first store or are the prices better at the second store? If you have access to a warehouse store like Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s, or anywhere really that lets you buy in bulk, you want to have this knowledge of pricing with you. If you buy in bulk, only buy the items in a quantity that you plan on using, because if you can’t use that case of food before it expires, then you’re just throwing money away. And always, ALWAYS, check the unit pricing to make sure it’s a better deal to buy it in bulk rather than just purchasing the same quantity at your regular grocery store.
Taking it a step further…
Brand name items. People are big on this. They like brand names. I like brand names. I buy several brand names when it comes to food. But you know what’s often overlooked? The store brand. Which is sad, because 90% of the time they are (in my opinion) just as good as the name brand. Store brands are usually a bit cheaper too, which is nice when you’re trying to stretch that budget just a little bit further.
So here’s a challenge for you: If you’ve never tried a store brand, give it a try.
Now, please DO NOT go and buy a large amount of a store brand item if you’ve never tried it before. Buy just one. Compare it to what you’re used to. If you like it, you now have a cheaper option. If it doesn’t meet your taste standards and you prefer your regular name brand option then your only out that one can/box/bag. You won’t have a ton of it sitting in your cupboards going to waste because you won’t eat it. I usually buy about 80% store brand and the rest are things that either don’t have a store brand option or that I’ve tried the store brand and just don’t care for it.
Tracking your Progress
So seriously, figure out what you’re spending on food and then give cost comparison a try. Keep track of what you’re spending for a couple months and see how much you’re able to lower your food bill. Any money you save is money that can be used elsewhere in your life.
This works for just about any item you’re purchasing, so take the time to do a little research and find the best price possible. Best of luck in your budgeting adventures!