April 26, 2013

Pinching Pennies: Groceries

In keeping with my "Less;More" theme for 2013, one of my goals has been "Less Spending; More Saving".  One thing this has entailed has been my being much more mindful of our grocery spending.  I read a lot of different things about "frugal living" and adapted them to my life situation, being that:

  • We live in one of the most expensive areas of the United States.
  • I have certain very specific limitations on my diet which eliminates many of the suggested meals/menus/shopping ideas I have read.
  • As part of the specific program I follow, I go through roughly two pounds of produce a day, just myself.
  • My family does like to have things like chips, the occasional crummy frozen dinner, granola bars, etc. around.
  • There were some cutbacks I/we were unwilling to make (such as using powdered milk instead of real milk).

My grocery spending amount does not include non-food items I may buy at the grocery store, such as shampoo, napkins, allergy pills, cleaning products, etc.  Those are categorized under "personal care", "medical:medicine", or "household".

At the beginning of this year, I looked up our grocery spending for 2010 - 2012.  Those three years, we spent $700 - $800 per month on groceries (2011 came out to a lower average because we spent so many weeks travelling).  

This year, however, I am proud to say that I've been able to cut back pretty significantly:

Monthly Grocery Spending - YTD
1/1/2013 through 4/26/2013

January:  $533.72
February:  $481.14
March:  $528.80
April (to date):  $446.51

OVERALL TOTAL:  $1,990.17

Pretty cool, no?  What has really blown me away is how easy it has been to cut back that much without feeling like we're sacrificing.  We're never going to be a family who can eat on $250/,month, but I'll bet I could cut this back a bit more (and I haven't even seriously gone after other spending on cleaning products, etc. yet).

OK, here's the part you're waiting for:  How did I do it?  Really, it has been very simple.

  • Watch the grocery sales very closely.  I have gotten familiar with which stores in my area tend to have the lowest prices on X or Y.  For example, Smart & Final has a giant pack of Romaine hearts for less than it would cost to get the same amount at Safeway, even on sale.  I don't even bother with Lucky at all.  Mollie Stone's I visit rarely, and only for specific items.
  • Stay out of stores where I know I tend to overbuy.  I haven't been to Costco yet this year.  It's easy to assume that their prices are better because you're buying in bulk, but if you're familiar with the local stores's sales, you'll find that Costco frequently is more expensive.
  • When non-perishables are on sale, stock up so that you don't have to buy them for more when you do need them.  Pasta for 70c/box?  Sure, buy 15 so that you have plenty to last you until the next sale (and you can offer to bring pasta salad for the next last-minute pot luck because you know you have plenty).
  • Don't overbuy on perishables.  If you get a bunch of vegetables for half of what they normally cost, but they rot in your fridge before you get around to eating them, you're throwing money away, not saving it.
  • Make the most of technology.  Many people subscribe to mailing lists that alert them to coupons and sales.  Most of the time, those coupons are for things my family doesn't eat, but that's my family, not yours.  If there's a web page or iPhone app that can help you, use it!  I, for example, use my Safeway app all the time.  I get the weekly sales flyer, plus the coupons (without having to clip them and carry them with me), plus special deals that are tailored toward my personal shopping habits - the things I actually buy (such as a deal on the yogurt my kid likes instead of a deal on diapers).  Using my app, I can apply the deal to my Safeway card and keep my grocery list managed on my phone.  I also have the apps for the drug stores near me - CVS and Walgreens - so that I can watch for deals on things like over-the-counter medicines, etc.
  • Look into bulk buying.  Sometimes, buying in bulk is cheaper.  I discovered that I can buy the cereal I eat (puffed brown rice/kamut/millet/wheat) for less per bag if I order it from Amazon.  Because of Amazon Prime, I can schedule an automatic "subscribe and save" delivery of a case of it (12 bags) every X amount of time (with free delivery) for significantly less than it costs to buy it by the bag locally.  Also, my kids like having chips in their lunches, but I found that it was cheaper to buy a few big bags of chips on two-for-one and portion them out than to buy the multi-packs of the individual "lunch-sized" bags.  (BTW, I also cut back on what we spend for dog food this way.  Jenna still gets "the good brands", but a less expensive version, and it gets delivered automatically.)
  • See how long you can go between trips to the store.  I try to wait as long as I can between shopping trips.  This pushes me to be more creative and to use up what we've got before we get more.  American culture is so focused on excess that this "make do" mentality can be quite a mind change.  
  • Institute a "no new food gets cooked until the leftovers are eaten up" policy.  If you create a fancy meal every night, but the leftovers get thrown away because they rot in the fridge before anybody eats them, you're not saving money.  This also gives Mom a break, LOL.  Our family has gotten used to "Leftovers/Fend-For-Yourself Night".  The other benefit is that Mom doesn't have to listen to kids complain about what's served.  These nights are also a good time for kids to eat that ramen you got super-cheap or the Progresso soup you got for $1.00 a can. 
  • Figure out what you can make yourself for less.  I eat a lot of yogurt, which can really add up, especially if you like the Greek-style yogurt that's so popular these days, so I found a super-easy recipe, and I make my own for a fraction of the cost.  One of my kids LOVES applesauce, but I hated to buy it, so I started making it myself.  Some people make their own bread.  I tried to make granola bars once, and it was a definite FAIL, but I'll try again sometime.
  • Go meatless once in a while. Don't worry; I'm not suggesting you go vegetarian, but meat has gotten even more expensive lately, so once in while (once a week?) have beans or lentils instead of meat, or plain pasta with cheese, or "breakfast dinner" with omelets.  
Overwhelmed?  I hope not.  I hope your mind is burbling with ideas.  I'll have more for you another time.

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