I’ve read a lot of financial blogs over the past year, placing my specific focus on how to decrease spending in certain parts of my budget, such as food in and outside of the home. In January, I did a comparison analysis where I added up all my grocery spending for the past four months. This consisted of all purchases made from our one grocery store that we shopped at last year prior to becoming a Costco member, and that’s Kroger. What I found really shocked the hell out of me. We were spending at least $1,000 at Kroger every month. In comparison to many of the financial/frugality bloggers I follow, we are spending almost double the amount for our family of three as some are spending for four or more people. I had to figure out what I was doing wrong.
Some bloggers save money by eating a very restrictive list of foods. For example, rice and beans is a very popular dish among frugality bloggers because it’s cheap, creates a complete protein, is filling, and when paired with some fruits and veggies is a solid source of vitamins and nutrients. They can afford to spend more on food if they want to but they have a bigger goal than meal variety that they are wanting to achieve. They were either trying to buy homes, reach financial independence, or be able to leave a job they loathe.
Other bloggers are eating this way out of necessity. They needed to feed their family on as little as possible. So before I go any further I want to acknowledge that I am writing this from a place of privilege. We have good jobs. We can afford food. My goal in saving money on food is that I want to pay off our mortgage and fund my child’s college education in the future. I’m saving money for another goal, not because I’m having to choose between eating and paying my bills. I am truly in awe and am full of respect for the people that manage to feed their family great meals for so little and never want to sound elitist when I’m talking about money or food.
Why are we spending so much money on food?
We are very anti-waste regarding food so I knew I wasn’t overbuying food and creating waste. In fact, this year we have only thrown away a couple of mealy apples that turned brown quicker than normal and a half bag of brussels. Food does not go to waste in our home. At times in my life, food has been hard to come by and I find it to be a valuable resource that should be utilized in the best way possible. Food is nothing to be frivolous about in my opinion.
Too much meat? Yes definitely. We are big meat eaters. Most nights our dinner consist of a piece of meat, a starch and green vegetable. I’ve read about people decreasing their food bills by having vegetarian nights so I thought I would incorporate that into my meal plan…which of course requires me to meal plan, something else I’ve read really decreases the food budget.
Are we buying too many processed or fancy foods? Yes and no. In our home we have some food intolerances that require some purchases that other homes don’t. I’m lactose intolerant and need to buy non-dairy milk products for cooking and baking. My husband can’t eat tomatoes so a cheap spaghetti dinner isn’t an option in our home. We spend a considerable amount of money on organic eggs and chicken, which I can stop doing. We don’t buy a lot of processed food but I’ve been known to buy fancy protein bars in the past and these can range in price of up to $3 each.
When I joined Mint two months ago to track our spending and finances it was primarily for the purpose of decreasing our spending in the food category. I was able to set a budget for groceries in the Mint app and I was determined to decrease our spending by half. The budgeting part of Mint allows me to see when I am getting close to my spending limit so I can adjust my shopping list accordingly. So I set a monthly budget of $600 for us and decided to try some of the suggestions that seemed to appear in almost every “save money on groceries” article I read. After sticking to it for two months I have successfully decreased our grocery bill by $500 a month BUT don’t get too excited, this savings is not as big as it seems…
Tips and Tricks
- YES decreasing meat will definitely save you money! Two nights a week are now and forever more meatless in our home. I typically will have a night where I make fresh bread, a salad, and a baked potato for dinner. On a second night I will make a potato hash with fried eggs on top or some type of egg dish. Eggs are super cheap you guys and a great source of protein, so this works well for us.
- YES meal planning saves money. Mainly this works if your palate is flexible enough to eat whatever is on sale that week. This does require some extra work on my part though and can become time consuming. I limit my shopping to two stores so that helps, because I’m not looking at sale flyers for multiple stores and driving all over town. Having some set meals makes meal planning and shopping easier. For example, I know that two nights are meatless, one night will be grilled chicken, and one will be tacos. So that’s four nights that are typically the same every week. Some nights are “fend for yourself” nights and we eat leftovers or have sandwiches.
- Joining Costco has saved us money on our food budget. Warehouse stores are great places to get good deals on food, assuming you can walk past the home goods and seasonal items and not get suckered in by the nonfood stuffs. You have to be laser focused and this can be tough. Costco is known to have great housewares and outdoor items and this is a major temptation for me. There’s a reason the food is found in the back of these stores.
- Generic Generic Generic! Kroger brand items are always cheaper than name brand. Take for example Teddy Grahams graham crackers. Recently I was buying these for my daughter to have for snack time and they were on sale and I had a coupon for them…but they were still $0.40 more expensive than the Kroger brand version of the same item. Generics, learn to love them folks.
But the main reason I was able to decrease my food budget by $500 dollars was that I learned a trick of the financial blogger trade that caught me by surprise…itemize everything! You see I was lumping everything as “groceries” if it was purchased at a grocery store. This included household supplies and dog food, along with the occasional deodorant or shampoo. But what most bloggers do is break up their receipts to itemize everything into separate budget categories.
I noticed this one day as I was reading one of my favorite blogs, The Frugalwoods. I kept racking my brain trying to figure out how she was spending so little on groceries for a family of four. After reading several of her monthly spending reports it occurred to me that she itemized everything. Was I the only one not aware of this secret budgeting tip? Maybe so, because as I’ve gone back through several blogs I’ve noticed several of the financial bloggers I follow do, in fact, separate out their purchases and categorize them. I’m new to tracking my spending so please forgive my excitement to learn that I was not spending an obscene amount of money on food.
So now, instead of spending over $1,000 on “groceries”, I’m actually spending $600 on food, $100 on home supplies and personal care, $50 on dog food, and $75 on fancy beer. Categorizing my spending into these separate categories is very helpful. While I realized I wasn’t spending an obscene amount on food it occurred to me that I was spending too much on household supplies and personal care items. I am notorious for throwing a candle, magazine, or seasonal item into my grocery cart, thus running my bill up. Now that I’m itemizing and tracking I’m less likely to do this and my bank account is showing it.
I was hoping to eventually decrease our food budget to $500 but I am hitting the $600 mark every month, mainly because I try to stay stocked up on certain items like coffee when I find a good deal. I believe it’s better to buy more of an item when it’s on sale than run out and pay full price. Yes, I could spend less on food buy adding another meatless night to the menu and that’s something I may do as my family doesn’t seem to object to the meals placed in front of them.
I could start couponing or using cash back apps to save money as well but as we don’t buy a lot of processed food or name brand food anymore I don’t think I will have much success in this area. Most coupons are for name brand items and most of the cash back apps are the same way. I did join Ibotta to try it out but so far I’ve only earned $0.10 as they haven’t had any discounts for the items we tend to buy.
I would love to get any reader suggestions for ways to save money on groceries that don’t require four different stores and hours spent scanning apps and flyers. Also if anyone is interested in the easiest homemade bread recipe ever, let me know! Feel free to comment and thanks for reading!