Last year, I decided to take charge of our family discretionary spending. I was tired of being stressed with trying to figure out how to purchase things we needed and not break the bank. I’m happy to report that for the past 18 months, I’ve been using my realistic strategies and have cut our “Grocery & Household Items” budget category spending by 50%! Since 2005, we’d averaged about $8600 on these items. This year, we’re trending to only spend $4200 in this category–and this is with a family of 4 (including two growing boys), the biggest our family has ever been! Here are the simple strategies we’ve been using to make this happen:
ONLY Buy What’s on Sale. If you only read one tip, read this one. And do it, don’t just read it! Don’t waste your money on non-sale items. But, remember to be smart about your spending. If your favorite cereal is on sale this week and you eat one box per week. Buy 8 boxes instead. Since cereal is on sale about every 2 months, you’ll have enough to last you until then next time it goes on sale (then you can do this again).
Buy Staples in Bulk. If the item can be stored for an extended period of time, buy what you’ll use before the expiration date. I currently have 42 jars of pasta sauce (67% discount) and 42 boxes of pasta noodles (52% discount) in my pantry. We will use all of them before the expiration date and it saved me a bundle to get them at these special deals. Remember, always check expiration dates and be realistic about what you’ll use between now and then. A sale isn’t a deal if you have to throw some of the items away before you can use them.
For non-food items, think about what you really need. Did you know you can make your own laundry detergent, hand soap and stain remover for pennies on the dollar of buying them in the store? These basics are usually sold in bulk. Try cleaning with baking soda or vinegar instead of harsh chemicals. You can also use apple cider vinegar as a hair conditioner (I tried it for the first time today–works just as well as my $40 conditioner, I’m a convert!) Savings ideas are all around you, consider using more natural solutions for a healthier, money-saving option.
Price Matching Saves the Day. This has been my go-to Grocery Hero for the past 18 months. I’ve gotten 90% of my savings (aka $3000 savings) from Price Matching Preparation and In-Store Strategies . And since I’ve been doing it for so long with the other strategies above–I’m down to 2 shopping trips per month (previously at 4/month). I’ve got more time, I’m saving more money, and I’m less stressed.
If Price Matching seems overwhelming, start with one store’s ad (I’d recommend Aldi for fresh food) and work yourself into the system slowly. Once you get more comfortable, continue to add in all of your local stores until you have one Mega List with all of your savings options.
Make Good Use of Storage. Your fridge, freezer and pantry can be your best friends in your grocery savings game. By spending time regularly assessing and using what you have; you’ll be able to keep track of items and rotate through your food so you can use what you have. Keep expiration dates visible, so you know when to use your items. Store like items together, so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. Clean out the fridge, freezer and pantry before your shopping trip so you know what you need and what space you have. Rearrange and organize the fridge, freezer and pantry after each shopping trip–so you can rotate items around as needed.
Save Everything. Brown Bananas? Solid Gold. Just Expired Milk? Still Useful! Leftover Applesauce? Yes, please! Think about how you can give your leftovers a second life. Bananas are great for breads, healthy cookies and smoothies. Just expired milk makes great bread and homemade mac & cheese. Leftover applesauce can be used in place of oil for baking. You can make the most of everything you own, cut down on waste and save yourself tons of money. The best way to make this realistic for you is to portion off items (my standard freezer-ready Ziplocs portions are: 2 bananas, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup applesauce) label them, and freeze them until you’re ready to use them. Freezer tip! Lay them flat on their sides, then they’ll freeze like “files” and you can file them away for easier storage.
Last weekend, I made two mega batches of homemade mac & cheese using 6 cups of thawed, saved milk and 2 bags of saved cheese as part of the ingredient mix. It was delicious and made the dish much more rewarding, because I knew I was making good use of items we already owned. (And yes, I used some of the 42 boxes of pasta noodles we owned–deals & savings everywhere!) Look at my Pinterest page for tons more Recipe Ideas.
Plan Your Meals. Make a meal ideas list from the items you have on hand, so you don’t have to make emergency trips to the store for one thing. Only plan to make these meals throughout the week. Look at options for main dishes, sides and veggies/fruits. Be sure you have the spices and the staples for the entire recipe. If you don’t, it doesn’t go on this list–save it for the grocery list.
Keep a Grocery List. Post your grocery list in a very visible location, like the front of the fridge, so you (and the family) can add to it as items are depleted. When you’re shopping–stick to the list. And if the item isn’t on sale, you’ll need to determine if you really need it. If it isn’t necessary, save it for a future shopping trip (I limit myself to 3-4 non-sale items per trip max). Make special notes for items with coupons, items to price match or items that are on sale, so you remember to use these items. And don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. Price matching and sale shopping take time, and it’s hard to think when you’re starving and surrounded by food.
Keep Track of Your Spending & Savings. Often, saving 60% on something means you’re paying 40% for something you don’t really need. Keep track of what you’re spending and monitor this related to your budget. Focusing on both of these items will help you stay on track with your monthly spending. I’d recommend setting up an excel spreadsheet to make it easier to keep track of your spending and savings, it’s what I’ve done and it’s helped tremendously. Our average spending per month was $722 for groceries & household items. And the lowest annual average we had been in 2005 with $563 (this was when it was just me and my husband). My goal was to meet $563 average, but this year–because I’ve been following the strategies above–we’ve averaged spending only $348 per month. That is about $80 a week for a family of four!
You can do this! Remember, even if you only save 10%, you’re still helping your family move to financial freedom–and it’s exciting to know what you can accomplish. Stick with it, track your progress and give yourself time to establish your routine–you can make this happen and it will be worth your time and effort.