How can I save money on food and groceries?
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
The first thing that we need to remember is that Rome wasn't built in a day. If you try and change your whole lifestyle and mindset in a month, you may get overwhelmed and give up. What if you take a look at where you stand from one month to the next and see what changes you are comfortable making.
Set some SMART goals and then develop a plan based on what is currently known to achieve those goals. Update your goals and the plan with any new information you learn the following month and include some now changes to reduce the spend even further as the other changes become part of your lifestyle.
There are two main plans which require development to reduce your food spend.
1. Your monthly food budget
Do you know what your current spend on food is? I'm talking about all the food, including coffees, snacks, lunches, treats at the gas station, groceries, restaurants, and bars. If you want to save money on your monthly food, start tracking these expenses. If you reduce your grocery, spend only to eat out more you haven't saved anything.
David and I had our journey to reducing our food spend, and our current budget is $600 a month for all our food. That works out to just over $65 each week. The $600 a month works for our budget. We eat mainly organic food and buy the majority of our meat from local farmers. Our kids call us food snobs, and admittedly we are. The point of planning and budgeting isn't suffering and do without, the point is to get the most out of what you have to improve your quality of life. An example, if you and your partner each spend $3.50 a day on a coffee and a treat, your spending would be about $210 a month; that's one-third of our monthly food budget. Everyone's food and budget goals will be different based on what resources they have and what's important to them. That's okay because we are all individuals, and there is more than one right way to do something.
2. Your meal plan
The purpose of the meal plan is to reduce food waste, save prep time, and reduce eating out because you couldn't come up with something to make.
Now that you have set your goals developed your plans, and know your budget take a look at some techniques to reduce what you spend below.
1. Check your receipt before you leave the store. Check your receipt before you leave the store. If you have kept a tally of what you are expecting to spend and it is way off the actual, there may be an input error or sale missed. If I'm buying items on offer, I keep the amount in my head and group them on the conveyor belt so I can watch them go through the till.
2. Keep your receipts to add to your budget worksheet, to track what you tend to use monthly, and to learn where the items you use regularly cost the least. We mainly shop at Costco, Superstore, and Community. Both Superstore and Costco sell the maple syrup we use; it costs less at Costco. The milk we drink only has a few cents difference between Costco and Superstore, but we drink six-four gallon jugs a month in our cappuccinos, kefir, and cooking. I buy the six jugs when Superstore has its 25,000 point offer for the $250 spend to realize a ten percent savings on our monthly milk usage. Costco is great for some items but doesn't have the variety that Superstore does, and Superstore carries more organic options then Costco. We buy organic bulk flour and specialty fruits and vegetables from the Community. We also love an ethnic store located in NE Calgary for spices, their fruit and vegetable selection, and their organic coconut milk, which is less than half the price of Superstore.
3. Check the fliers to see what is on sale if there are nonperishable items that you use, and you know what quantities' you use in a period; consider stocking up to what is reasonable for your budget and storage space. If perishable items are on sale, ask yourself how much you will use before they spoil or if you can freeze, dehydrate, or use in pre-made meals before they spoil. A sale isn't a sale if you throw the items out. A deal also isn't saving you anything if you're only buying it because its on sale.
4. Make a grocery list based on your meal plans, what is on offer, and what store you're going to if you are familiar with the store group your list in order of how you walk through the store. Go around the outside of the store first. All the "real" food is there. Next, get whatever cleaning items you need and then get whatever is on your list in the middle of the store. The center holds the fluff. If you are getting close to your set amount, think about which items you "want" most.
5. Bring a calculator so you don't lose track of your spending and so you can compare unit pricing of similar items.
6. Leave the big spenders at home If your kids or partner tend to want what isn't in the plan. Leave them at home. If you need to bring them with you, have them help develop the plan.
7. Don't shop when you are hungry or tired that's a sure way to get off-plan.
8. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great if you are going to eat them fresh. Plan to buy them in the season as they will be less expensive. If you are going to cook them anyway consider buying them frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables will not spoil and often have higher nutrients when they are flash-frozen. I'm personally not a fan of canned items as I try to keep highly processed foods out of my house. If this isn't a thing for you, then canned items may have value for you. Check out the reduced section now found in many stores for items you can consume quickly. Check out any local farmer's markets and visit close to closing time to see if you can haggle a deal. We also used to belong to a local Community Supported Agriculture CSA, which had weekly pick up points for a garden share. We now grow most of the vegetables we consume. I preserve the fall harvest for winter use.
9. Check Best Before Dates. We have checked dates on items and found they had already expired in the store. Get the best date you can find for the items you purchase.
10. Store food properly once you get it home to avoid premature spoilage.
11. Figure out the sale cycles the items you buy every month generally go on sale once every month or two. Since we know our usage, we can take advantage of these cycles.
12. Processed food. From a money-saving perspective, you are paying for your food to be prepared. The more you do for yourself, the more you will save. From a health perspective, I believe highly processed are bad for your body.
13. Meat Try to go meatless for some meals. Brown lentils are an excellent substitute for any ground meat. If you have the ability, then consider buying in bulk from a local farm. Support your local business and save yourself some money. As an example, we purchased a quarter cow. We calculated that the cost of the quarter cow was comparable to buying the amount of ground beef included in the bulk purchase to only buying the ground meat from the Community. It's the same supplier. We saved ourselves latterly thousands on one purchase. If you buy meat at the grocery store, buy bulk and process it at home.
14. Loyalty programs Take advantage of whatever loyalty programs are available to you. You can store your membership information on apps like CardStore.
15. Make Extra and then freeze the leftovers for future quick meals. You can also eat leftovers for lunch the following day. We routinely double or even triple a recipe for future use. When we travel, we will reheat a meal and store it in a thermos to eat on the road.
16. Pre-made Processed Foods will cost you more and typically aren't healthy even if marketed as being healthy. Make your food, snacks, and treats whenever possible. These can be made in bulk, portioned, and frozen for future consumption and control your food supply.
18. Preserve food, take advantage of store sales, farmers' markets, your garden, and other organizations that offer food at lower costs. I know that Calgary Heritage Park has an event every year that offers fresh fruit, vegetable, and herbs at old-time prices. I've filled a vehicle for $100 and preserved the items for winter use. Check out what is available in your area. I have canned, dehydrated, froze my winter supply for years.
In summary, do whatever you need to do to the extent you need to do it. Build a plan that you can work to live the lifestyle you want with the resources you have.
I am just in the process of putting in my garden for this year. Check out the first blog post if you like. I will work through planting, companion gardening, specific plants. Then provide some recipes, food processing, and preservation details in the following blog posts.
Subscribe to our blog, and I will email the Budget Spreadsheet with the welcome email and send you a note when I publish the follow-up posts. From a money-saving perspective, my next post will dig into saving money on entertainment.
Until next time take care and live well.