Want to know the secrets to eat well while spending less on food? (Relax—it’s not just clipping coupons!) This is how to cut your grocery bill in half.
News Flash!–food is expensive. The average family now spends north of 10% of their household income buying groceries–nearly $7,000 a year!
And even while the price of food keeps going up, average wages are not keeping up. Even the thought of losing ground like that is scary when you are just trying to feed your family.
Celebrity experts on shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing tell us to clip more coupons. Then they follow up with dramatic savings from seasoned coupon users who have spent countless hours clipping, sorting, and searching for the best deals—deals that are a kind of one-time opportunity and, for sure, not possibly duplicated. Extreme grocery savings do NOT, over time, come from the coupons. Besides, who has time for all of that?
Even if you never clip a single coupon, you can save significant money on your grocery bill just by changing how you shop.
1. Embrace the Sales
Every grocery outlet has some type of weekly sales flyer. You find it in your mailbox or stacked neatly at the store entrance. Even more convenient for many of us to find this valuable information is at the store’s website. It’s there! Look for it. If you need an app for access, get the app! You can be sure that if it’s on sale this week, it will appear on that flyer. Use it, peruse it. Know before you go.
Make it your rule never again to buy anything that is not on sale. It’s a lofty, albeit reachable, goal. If in the beginning you absolutely must pay full price, okay. Just do it with regret and determination to buy that item on sale next time. And yes, there will be a next time as every area of every food market in the U.S. goes on sale about every 12 weeks.
Let’s take peanut butter, for example. Look at those shelves—there are many brands, sizes, and styles of peanut butter! I’m not suggesting that the JIF brand is on sale every 12 weeks. No, but one of those brands will be. You can count on that! And when I say “sale,” I mean a real sale, like 30-50% off the regular price.
Compare the store sale ads in your area to find out which stores have the best sale prices. Keep an ongoing price list so that you KNOW when something is a good price. Don’t be fooled by phony “specials” that are just regular-priced items dressed up to fool us by making them look like authentic sales.
This does NOT mean that you should buy food just because it is on sale; instead, be on the lookout for sale prices on the food your family normally buys. Almost everything goes on sale eventually.
Don’t assume you know which store has the best deals until you’ve actually checked–you may be surprised at what you find. Here in Colorado, for example, many people assume KingSoopers is the “expensive” store, but when you compare sale ads, you will find that KS consistently has the best sales week after week. Many people automatically assume that Walmart has the best prices, but most sale prices at a traditional grocery store will beat Walmart’s “everyday low price.”
While Aldi has not yet come to my area, if you are lucky enough to have one near you, please check it out and compare prices. In the end, it is all about the price you pay.
Your goal is only to buy items at their rock-bottom sale price. Period. And before you start driving from one store to the next, consider the trade-off in gasoline prices.
2. Stockpile, Stockpile, Stockpile
It makes sense that if from now on, you will only ever buy an item at its lowest price, you must buy enough of it while it is on sale to last until it goes on sale again. Read that again. This is key.
In the typical American supermarket, something in every section in every aisle of that store goes on sale—authentically on sale at 30% to 50% off the regular price—at least every 12 weeks. That is the standard sale rotation. And when that happens, you need to buy enough to last your family that long. If you buy only one week’s worth, you will be forced to pay (gasp!) full price the next time you need it because you didn’t buy enough.
Let me make it more clear with an example. Say your family eats two boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats every week. The regular price for Honey Bunches of Oats is $4.19 a box, but when you (pun alert) sail through this week’s flyer, you see it is on sale for only $1.99 a box–that’s more than 50% off the regular price! Instead of buying only two boxes like you normally would for one week, you buy 12 boxes–enough to last your family for the next six weeks at less than half the price you would normally pay.
OK, hold on. At first, it may seem out-of-the-question to be buying more than you normally would instead of less. However, because you are shopping the sales each week, you will be buying a larger quantity of a smaller variety of items, which means your overall grocery bill will still go down. The goal is to build up your own mini-grocery store in your pantry, which you can then use to plan your family’s meals.
Remember that a well-varied stockpile does NOT have to take up a whole room of your house, and you do NOT need to accumulate a whole year’s worth of food. Sale cycles generally run about 8-12 weeks, which means your stockpile should contain about 8-12 weeks’ worth of a nice variety of food. It also means that it will take about 8-12 weeks before you’ve built up a nice varied stockpile and will start to see the most dramatic savings in your grocery bill.
Stockpiling is a grocery method created years ago by Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. It is as brilliant today as it was then, and what we have touched on here is but the tip of The Grocery Game iceberg.
Teri would be the first to tell you that this does not mean that by adopting stockpiling, your family is destined only to eat a diet of processed food. Or weird stuff they would not normally enjoy. You’re building your own in-house “store,” so it should contain the items you would normally eat. There are plenty of healthy options for stockpiling, including beans, rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain cereals, frozen vegetables, cheese and other dairy products, canned tomatoes, and more.
When you get on board with stockpiling, expect to see the inventory on your shelves and in the fridge and freezer grow. And that will present its own set of challenges to manage that stockpile.
It is satisfying to be prepared for the future, no longer living (read: shopping) for only one week at a time.
3. Eat less meat
Going vegetarian just a couple of times a week could save you as much as $1,000 a year—a dollar figure that is going up, up, and … up! Meat, fish, and poultry costs usually account for a significant portion of people’s grocery bills, so cutting out even a little will make a big difference in time.
Introducing meatless meals to families accustomed to meat, fish, or poultry with every meal should be a gradual process. There are many options and recipes for dishes built around eggs, pasta, and so forth. We will be introducing many more recipes here at EC in the coming days and weeks—to help readers expand meal planning to cut costs without giving up health or wealth.
4. Change the way you meal plan
If you normally wing it when it comes to meal planning, running to the store several times a week for last-minute dinner items—eating out because it appears there is nothing in the house to eat—this step is probably not as distasteful as you might think.
Instead of running into the store to get items to make dinner, you’ll run to your stockpile–a ready-made grocery store in your own home. You may even find that maintaining a nice, varied stockpile by shopping the sales once a week saves money and time. And imagine all the impulse buying opportunities you will avoid. I mean, do you ever run in to get milk and bread and come out with ONLY bread and milk?!
For those who normally plan their meals and then create a shopping list based on the ingredients to make them, this will represent an adjustment. But let’s get honest here. Are you delighted with the way things are going now? Where you are out of breath trying to keep up with exploding food costs?
The daily grind of trying to figure out what to make for dinner—or where to go so that someone else can do that for you (and at great cost, I might add). Here’s my promise: By minimizing the number of non-sale items you need to buy each week, you will find that you can plan your meals in advance and still cut your grocery bill in half.
5. Learn to match coupons and store sales
Coupons are the last item on this checklist because they’re ineffective if you don’t use them correctly. Coupons can help you save money on groceries, but only if you take the time to go through these four steps first.
When you make these changes in the way you shop–getting into the habit of shopping for only what’s on sale, buying enough to last your family 8-12 weeks, eating less meat, and planning your meals around your stockpile and what’s on sale–you will see a dramatic drop in your grocery bill, even if you never clip a single coupon.
When you begin to match coupons to the things that are already on sale, you will see even more dramatic savings–50 to 60% off or more! Doing this consistently, week after week, you will certainly cut your grocery bill in half.
A common complaint about coupons is that they are all for unhealthy processed food. While this is true to some degree, coupons are also available for healthier food options. There are almost always coupons available for things like yogurt, cheese, soy or almond milk, frozen vegetables, oatmeal, coffee & tea, gluten-free foods, cereal, and basic pantry staples such as pasta, canned tomatoes, and rice. Plenty of coupons are available for non-food items such as shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and over-the-counter medicine.
The important thing to remember is that coupons come last, not first. Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon–manufacturers count on you doing that, which is why they issue coupons. Trust me on this: They are not staying up at night thinking up ways they can help you save money.
This is simple: Wait for the sale, then use the coupon. Changing old patterns and shopping habits is never easy, but with these simple changes, you can cut your grocery bill in half.
What will you do with that money you are no longer spending on food? Get a plan together now, ahead of time. If not, expect it just to evaporate, leaving you clueless.
Give your money—every single dollar—a job to do, and you’ll never wonder where it went.