Lowering the grocery bill

Some line items in our monthly budget are non-negotiable: mortgage, child care, insurance, among others. We have little to no control over these costs, as they are fixed, or we have done everything we could to minimize payments (ie, refinancing, raising deductibles on insurance).

One area where we have almost full control on how much we spend is food. Last year we overspent on groceries, restaurants and coffee shops. We used 2012 as a learning experience, as we tried to find the perfect way to save money on food, that was also the least impactful on our time.

$450 was our total grocery bill for January. This is for two adults and one 18 month old. Our other daughter is under 6 months old and doesn’t affect our monthly food budget. We also spent about $100 at restaurants, most of which was before I started this blog.

The following are the rules we follow to save money at the grocery store.

  1. Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and dairy.
  2. Avoid the “middle-aisles” of the grocery store (basically avoid the cracker, chip, soda, cookie aisles).
  3. Only drink milk, water and coffee. No sodas, no juices.
  4. Compare similar items by unit cost, cost per ounce, per pound, etc. This is huge, because sale items aren’t always your cheapest option.
  5. Rice or pasta go with almost every meal. They’re cheap. Avoid “minute rice” as a huge bag of enriched or thai jasmine rice is super easy to make and will last a month or two.
  6. DON’T buy any personal hygiene items at the grocery store. Buy them at Rite Aid (or whatever pharmacy you prefer). This will also help you categorize your transactions easier with Mint.com.
  7. Buy store brand items if available, they’re pretty much the same thing (if not better) and usually cost way less. We shop exclusively at Safeway, and we love their store brand equivalents.
  8. Utilize a grocery store cash back card (American Express Blue Cash will earn you 3% cash back on groceries, or 6% cash back with the preferred version of the card). I don’t get paid to push this card, but we use it and it’s amazing!
  9. At the beginning of the month we purchase a grocery store gift card for the amount we intend to spend on groceries for the month. Typically for us it’s $500. Our store rewards us with gas points for every $100 we spend, so we are able to save at the gas pump as well. Plus we earn $30 cash back by using our AmEx Blue Cash.
  10. Always make a list and EAT before shopping, this will prevent impulse buying.
  11. Add digital coupons to your store card after you make your list (if your store has a program like this). This is as far as we go in terms of “couponing”. We tried the whole coupon thing, and it was a bigger pain in the ass than it was a money saver.
  12. Cook bigger dinners, and pack leftovers as the next day’s lunch!
  13. If you have a family member that is a picky eater try to have them help cook dinner. They may be more inclined to eat it if they had something to do with it’s creation. This will prevent having to cook separate meals for everyone.
  14. Just remember brand names almost never matter (besides Coke or Pepsi), but if you avoid soft drinks then you don’t have to worry about that either.
  15. Stock up on the things you use most often. Buying things when you run out, or when you need them will put you at a disadvantage because you may have to settle for a higher price than you could have paid.

Reddit user LibertyVanguard had these tips to help save even more money while grocery shopping:

  1. Potatoes, Rice, Beans, Onions, Carrots, Mushrooms (non-exotic) are good cheap staple foods.
  2. For fresh fruit, buy what is seasonal. Certain fruits can be frozen well, so stock up when in season. Frozen fruit is good in smoothies. Bananas and melons provided a lot of food for their price.
  3. Meat, Seafood, and Dairy are actually quite expensive when compared to fruits and vegetables. Buy what is on special and take advantage of good prices that you can store in the freezer. I cut dairy out of my diet and I save quite a bit of money. Consider buying meat on the last sale date (usually stickered) and freeze it.
  4. Consider alternatives to your more expensive purchases. Instead of dairy milk, try making your own rice or almond milk with a blender and strainer.
  5. Grocery stores like Aldi or ethnic markets can be half as expensive as big brand name stores. Ethnic markets are good places for cheap spices.
  6. If you live in a climate that is good for growing and you have access to a place to garden, try growing green onions, peppers, and tomatoes.
  7. Make your own snacks like popcorn, chips, and cookies.
  8. For baking mixes, nuts, and other dry, non-perishable goods, try buying online from Amazon. From experience, I can usually find most items cheaper and with free shipping.
  9. Try cooking a meal that will store for 3-4 days after, so you don’t have to cook each day and less food is wasted.
  10. Have a plan. Make a budget, analyze what you buy each month, identify expensive culprits, and identify methods for lowering cost. Focus on coupons, alternative foods, or bulk buying ahead of time for expensive culprits.

What tips do you use to help save on your grocery bill? I’d love to hear some other methods that you use to keep your grocery bill down. Our method works pretty well for us, but we are by no means perfect shoppers.

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