With the holidays quickly approaching, wouldn't we all like a few tips on how to cut our grocery bill?
Spoiler – it’s not always using coupons! Let’s face it–food is expensive. The average family spends just over 10% of their household income buying groceries (over $6,000 a year) and even while average wages have gone down, the price of food keeps going up. When you are just trying to feed your family, that is a pretty scary prospect.
Coupons can be a great way to save money on food. If you’ve ever watched TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you probably already know that sometimes those savings can be quite dramatic. The problem is that those dramatic savings often come from seasoned coupon users who have spent countless hours clipping and sorting coupons and searching for the very best deals.
Quite frankly, who has time for that?
Like anything in life, you have to find the right balance. That balance won’t be exactly the same for everyone, but here are a few tips:
1. It's not about the coupons
The bulk of your savings will come from the store sales. The better the promotion, the bigger the savings, so the FIRST step in saving money on your grocery bill is to shop the sales.
Always buy food when it is on sale or at its rock bottom price. And by this I mean really on sale, as in 30-50% off the regular price, not one of those “Surprising Low Price” items because the "surprise" is that it’s not really on sale 😉 Compare the store sale ads in your area to find out which stores have the best sale prices, and keep an ongoing price list so that you KNOW when something is a good price.
This does NOT mean that you should buy food just because it is on sale, but instead be on the lookout for sale prices on the food your family normally buys, whether it be all whole foods, organic, or gluten free. Almost everything goes on sale eventually.
Thus, your goal from now on is to only EVER buy an item when it is at its lowest price.
2. Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile
In order to 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. This is key. Most items go on sale every 6-8 weeks, which means you need to buy enough to last your family that long if you can. If you buy only a weeks worth, you will be forced to pay more the next time you need it because you didn’t buy enough.
For example, let's say your family eats 2 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios every week. The regular price for Honey Nut Cheerios is $4.50 a box, but when you go to the store this week, you see it is on sale for only $1.99 a box. That is more than 50% off the regular price! Instead of buying 2 boxes like you normally would for your weekly shopping trip, you buy 12 boxes to last your family for the next 6 weeks at less than half the price you would normally pay.
At first it may seem counterintuitive 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 6-8 weeks, which means your stockpile should contain about 6-8 weeks worth of a nice variety of food. It also means that it will take about 6-8 weeks before you’ve built up a nice varied stockpile and will start to see the most dramatic savings in your grocery bill.
Furthermore, stockpiling does not mean your family has to only eat a diet of processed food. There are plenty of healthy options for stockpiling, including beans, rice, whole grain pastas, whole grain cereals, frozen vegetables, and more.
3. Eat less meat
Stay with me here you one meat and two veggie people. I am not suggesting that you give up bacon but going vegetarian just a couple times a week could save you as much as $1,000 a year. Meat costs usually account for a significant portion of people’s grocery bills, so cutting out even a little will make a big difference over time.
Want some meat-free recipe ideas? Check out Healthy Girl Kitchen or Bad Manners.
I realize that not everyone wants to become a vegetarian, so when you do buy your chicken, beef, or pork, remember to stick to the principles above–buy only what is on sale, and stock up if it is a great deal.
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, this step won’t be as painful as you might think. Instead of running to the store for your dinner supplies you’ll be able to run to your stockpile–a ready-made grocery store right in your own home. You may even find that maintaining a nice, varied stockpile by shopping the sales once a week saves you a whole lot of time, in addition to saving you from the expensive impulse and last-minute buys.
For those of you who normally plan your meals then make your shopping list based on that plan, this adjustment may be a little harder. However, you can still make it work if you get into the habit of planning your meals around what’s on sale and around what items you already have on hand in your stockpile. 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 to store sales
It is not by accident that using coupons is the last item on this list and not the first. Coupons can and do save you money on your grocery bill, but only if you follow these other 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 6-8 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 without clipping a single coupon.
When you begin to match coupons to the things that are already on sale you will see savings that are even more dramatic–50 to 60% off your grocery bill! Doing this consistently, week after week, you can literally cut your grocery bill in half.
Learning to match coupons to store sales is not nearly as confusing or intimidating as it might sound. If you want to learn more, there is a very easy-to-follow series called The Beginner’s Guide to Coupons that starts from the very first step of just getting started to making your first shopping list to building a stockpile. It breaks down the whole process into manageable “baby steps,” complete with assignments to get you going, and it is completely free.
One of the most common complaints about coupons is that they are all for unhealthy processed food. While this is to some degree true, there ARE coupons available for healthier food options too. 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. There are also plenty of coupons 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–manufacturer’s count on that! Wait for the sale, then use the coupon. Changing old patterns and shopping habits is never easy, but with these simple changes you really can cut your grocery bill!
If you want to see some fun place setting ideas for those holiday meals, check out HGTV.
How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, livingwellspendingless.com, Oct. 2021