I cut our grocery bill by 20% and more over the last few months.
My grocery budget was not small to begin with, I have to admit.
Let’s just get that out of the way first: We aren’t misers over here. There are lots of really cool blogs that’ll tell you how to get the cheapest groceries, the latest tips and tricks. The ways to get the Cheapest Food Possible. For a long time, I was more on the How to Get the Best Good Possible Without Crying While Checking Our Bank Account end of things.
My challenge was to figure out how to continue to eat balanced, delicious, healthy vegetarian meals including plenty of fresh produce while cutting my budget at the same time.
Here’s what I did. I hope sharing it helps some of you looking to do the same.
Drink cheap(er) coffee.
I knooooooow! We have access to so much awesome coffee in Portland. My husband and I do have a separate budget line item for “WAM” (that’s walking-around money) that includes buying coffee on the go, so we do get to support local businesses and drink delicious coffee that way. But when we’re measuring out that first cup at home, it’s Trader Joe’s French Roast these days. It does the job.
Don’t be afraid to buy up good deals.
When something we buy regularly is on sale, we buy as much as we can use. We go to Costco once a month for bulk deals, etc. That 12-pack of soup pays for itself when it saves you from having to order pizza on a hectic day.
Give your budget some time to catch up.
Yeaaaah, buying in bulk is going to save you money in the long run, but not the first month or two. Costco memberships aren’t cheap, either. Depending on your budgetary flexibility, you might have to save up for a few months so you can get that membership or afford that first trip and that hulking tub of laundry soap that comes with it.
Don’t buy anything you’re not 100% sure you’ll use.
“We can eat five pounds of clementines before they go bad, right? They sure smell good!”
*Time passes, approximately three clementines have been consumed.*
“Ew, these are getting moldy.”
Plan grocery trips ahead of time.
This used to be our killer: We’d make little trips to the store here and there, maybe 4-5 times a week. We’d go to the store as something to do to get out of the house with the baby. Now, we use up what we have instead of buying what sounds good that day.
I have a google spreadsheet of items that I want to keep on hand, so it’s easy to copy, paste, and email grocery lists. We also have a low-tech fridge list as well, which I’m getting better about using when we run out of something.
Stop buying so much dang chocolate.
We do get occasional treats, but no more bites of dark chocolate after lunch. And dinner. And whenever I felt like it. Having a bunch of dark chocolate around is delicious, but dangerous from a caloric and a budgetary standpoint.
Cut down on the cheese.
*Cries.* Yes, we still keep a block of a decent sharp cheddar in the house, but anything else? It’d better be for company or a specific recipe. Our luxury item is good beer… which we buy from Costco, and supplement with other brands when they’re on sale.
Figure out deals where you shop, and on what you shop for.
You can spend hours and hours and HOURS going through online deals, couponing, and comparison shopping. There are some people who spend 40 hours a week on getting good deals. Good on ya, but I’d rather be starting toddler dance parties or putting the laundry away.
Once a week, I go online to check out online coupons at Fred Meyer. You “load” the ones you think you’ll use onto your card, so when you scan your card, it’s automatically taken off. Five minutes a week can save you a few dollars; it’s something I do when I need a break from actually using my brain.
Buy less processed food.
This especially goes for our toddler, who loves those pouches of pureed vegetables. (I know, but try to give him a piece of broccoli vs. a “green pouch” and see how far you get.) Now I plan more food that he’ll want to eat, and he’s cut down his pouch consumption by half. Whooo! We also cut down on frozen pre-made foods. We didn’t eat a ton before, but we’d have frozen burritos and veggie burgers around for nights we didn’t have time to cook. Now we make time, or just get creative.
Save for an emergency.
I mean A Real Emergency, like that 9.0 earthquake we keep hearing about. We buy extra food that’ll keep, stash that food with our emergency supplies, and check the expiration dates a few times a year. Emergency food and water isn’t a luxury, so we budget for it. If you live in Portland, or any other place that’s at risk of a major disaster, please do the same.
By doing all this, we’re able to still enjoy a pretty high standard of deliciousness while eating lots of healthy and fresh food, all without spending a fortune.
How do you save on your grocery bill?
I absolutely adore this post. Your tips are wonderful and you made me laugh throughout at the same time 🙂 I’ve totally fallen victim to buying the large bags of clementines and then ending up throwing out half the bag. I try to be watchful of our grocery spending, and these tips are all great! Thanks!
But the Clementines DO smell so good! I also purchase waaaayy too many apples.. sigh. This is a great post! I love that you didn’t take the usual budget shopping route that I’ve seen on most blogs. The “buy whatever is on sale and figure it out later” or the “cheapest is always best”. Its nice that you used real cost cutting methods that still allow you to eat healthy! Great post!
I do scan sales, for sure, but I agree that cheap does not always equal a good value.
Ha ha. I love this post. These are great tips. Our grocery bill is still too high. Our biggest saver though was your tip about not going 4-5 times a week. I do one big trip on the weekend, and then maybe one smaller one when we run out of milk or bread. Not willing to cut out good coffee or dark chocolate yet….
I know. The coffee and chocolate were hard to say goodbye to, but given the choice between that or nice beer… well, it’s clear where our priorities are!
I’m definitely not giving up the cheese – I tend to buy more flavorful cheese so a little goes a long way and grate with a microplane to try to make it last! It’s true though that there are some things that can last a long time that you get in bulk – toiletries, shampoo and deodorant, etc are some of the more expensive items that I buy only a couple times a year because it can sit in the closet safely.
Yeah, it’s hard with cheese. It’s more of a special purchase now. I do have a little bit set aside for “splurges” which might end up getting spent at Cheese Bar. Then we will REALLY enjoy that cheese.
It’s always difficult to cut down on the food budget! These are some great tips, that I’m sure I’ll be able to put to great use… Except the boxed wine maybe… 😉
Ha, we all have our priorities!
Great post and tips! Nice work.
This post couldn’t have come at a better time! We are getting sooo bad at shopping 4-5 times a week. I need to become a better meal planner, and shopper!
It’s so hard to balance how much money you’re willing to spend vs. how much time you’re willing to spend. There was a time when I’d buy pre-chopped vegetables (when I was an amateur athlete with no free time), but those days are long gone.
I do a lot of the same. Definitely need to get on the Google spreadsheet idea though!
It’s the only system I’ve ever used that stuck, because it’s so easy.
Great suggestions! We’re on a verrrry tight food budget but try to eat fresh as much as possible. Buying seasonal veggies in bulk and freezing the whole lot is another great way to save money, enjoy good food throughout the winter, and also support the local farmers. And HECK YES to TJ’s $5 coffee and $12 box wine. They both do the job just fine.
High five for cheap drinkable coffee!
I like this post and need this! Thanks for sharing 🙂
You’re sure welcome!
Love your suggestions… but I don’t see our household trimming good cheese or chocolate from our grocery list!
I don’t blame you!
Thank you for your insights! Interesting to see how other folks deal with the still rising cost of food. I can’t give up good coffee and a wide variety of teas and cheeses. I buy the big bags of lemons, limes, potatoes, and peeled garlic at Costco and then struggle to use them before they go bad. My biggest cost savers are eating in, baking bread, and making a sensational soup once or twice a week. And we don’t buy junk food–no chips, drinks, or other prepared foods.
I’ve been experimenting more with baking bread. We still do sandwich bread (see: toddler), but that DOES save a lot. And soup, too. Those are really good ideas. We all have our tradeoffs… there’s no way we could go without chips and salsa in our house.