Food expenditures are probably the easiest places to make budget cuts for younger Americans, but the grocery budget is also the easiest to justify keeping. After all, statistics show that most Americans eat food on a regular basis (citation needed). In fact, many scientists would probably agree that food is nearly a necessity for human survival. With all of these facts buried in your brain, spending money on food is viewed as a necessity and unconsciously we reason that “our bodies need the nourishment and our bodies are worth the expense”. There is nothing wrong with this assertion on the surface we do need to feed our bodies quality foods in order to keep them working in optimal condition. Unfortunately, drawing a line between expense, nutrition and necessity is based on flawed logic.
Let me be clear, I am not advocating only consuming a dense diet void of any taste, but I would reason that spending more on your groceries does not make you healthier or love yourself any more than the rest of us. I have drilled down into my spending data for the past few years and have noticed some amazing trends. The statistics show (in my household), that those times when our food bill is lower correlate with better eating habits. So, I can back into the reasoning that spending less on food makes my family healthier (not even considering less stress that accompanies bettering your financial situation).
I know that there are those among you that will argue, “it’s cheaper to eat unhealthy foods than it is to eat healthy.” In many ways this assertion is correct, but there are moves we can make that swing the scale in our favor. We must learn to value our food differently. Rather than looking at food’s value on a calorie per dollar basis, we need to evaluate foods on a nutrients per dollar basis. It’s much easier to get full on high quality foods. Try this experiment, eat as much chicken and broccoli as possible, then eat a similar meal from McDonald’s. You will consume more nutrition, get full on far fewer calories and spend less.
Eat at Home
Without question eating at home saves money. If you are spending more by eating at home, you’re doing it wrong.
Go to the Grocery for Big Trips After Dinner
The times when we eat most unhealthy and spend the most money happen to coincide with those times when we have less food available at home. Too often my wife and I will look in the refrigerator or pantry and say, “You want to go get some dinner?”. This plays out poorly and expensively in two ways. First, if we go out to dinner we will spend between $10 and $30 for that meal. Option 2 is that we go to the grocery with our hungry eyes. We purchase those items that would not be part of a normal shopping list. From a psychological perspective it’s much easier to handle these smaller expenditures. You don’t feel like you’re spending much money if you just spend $25 on most of your grocery trips. It’s easy to splurge when your total is relatively low, plus you’re hungry and you’re worth it.
Going to the grocery for one big trip each week is easier to handle because you are less likely to make off the wall purchases. Going to the grocery on a full stomach keeps your brain in control of food purchases.
Make a List
Knowing the items that your family consumes is important for shopping successfully. Some items that we always try to keep in our house are Bread, Chicken Breasts, Ground Turkey, Ground Beef, Frozen Vegetables, Cottage Cheese, Peanut Butter and the list goes on. The point is that we have taken a mental inventory of those items we eat on a regular basis and we buy them when they are on sale. These tips also can be applied to other non-food items as well. We are not super rigid with our lists, but we know that keeping these key items on hand around our house give us many of the ingredients needed for dishes we eat regularly.
Shop the Sales or go to a Salvage Grocery Store
This likely goes without saying, but making purchases when items are on sale is pivotal to saving money. Knowing the list of ingredients your family enjoys is key, but so is purchasing these items when they are at their lowest prices. At our local grocery store the regular price on a loaf of “Nature’s Own” bread is about $3 per loaf, but at the local Salvage Grocery Store they sell the same exact bread for $1 per loaf. It’s the same delivery guy and everything. Very often, going to a salvage grocery store is a better deal than even regular couponing and sale shopping. Most recently, I found a 10 pound “Black Forest Ham” that is normally found behind the deli counter. At the local deli they charge more than $5 per pound on this item, but I bought this for $2 a pound. Always keep stocked up, it might cost more up front, but you spend much less over time.
Buy a Freezer
Around the holiday season 2012 my wife and I really started to embrace the stocking up on sales mentality. We found turkeys were deeply discounted for Thanksgiving. We ended up buying 6 of them in total and each one was a great deal. I think the two cheapest were less than 20 cents per pound. We also found glazed hams for at GFS for $1.30 per pound and ground turkey for $1.45 per pound. We bought 100 pounds of the ground turkey and 5 hams. We spent a ton of money, but we used my parent’s spare freezer to store these items, but it was running out of room. It was then that my wife and I decided that we needed our own freezer. We ended up purchasing a stainless steel upright freezer that was on sale at Lowe’s. We ended up spending about $600 for the freezer, but by having the freezer we were able to capitalize on sale prices. One of our first purchases after buying the freezer was buying boneless skinless chicken breasts by the case at Sam’s Club. Normal price for chicken breasts seem to hover around $4 per pound or more. We ended up buying 100 pounds for $1.77 per pound. Our freezer has already saved us more than it cost in the ability to always eat sale priced food.
Credit Card Cashback
Of course anyone who has read the blog knows that I advocate getting money back by using credit cards for purchases you are making anyway. So while you’re buying food on sale you might as well get a bonus discount after all your sale prices, coupons and smart shopping are considered. With the exception of Sam’s Club, I can get cashback for grocery purchases. One card give 5% at grocery stores, another gives 6% cashback at grocery stores which can really save quite a bit of money over the course of a year. If I spend $6,000 a year at grocery stores then I will get $360 cashback on my American Express card which is pretty great for expenses I would incur under any scenario.
Start a Garden
Vegetables can be quite expensive when purchased at the grocery store. My dear wifey bought bell peppers last week at Kroger for 50 cents each because she needed them for a recipe she had been eying. We have grown accustomed to having a garden, but with the move and home renovation we did not get one planted soon enough. Today we went to the local farmer’s market and actually purchased pepper plants for 50 cents each. Even if each plant only produces one pepper we will be ahead. We planted a late summer garden today and all of the seeds were a bit over $10. Hopefully this small investment and minimal sweat equity will end up paying for itself many times over as we enjoy our fresh organic vegetables this fall for minimal cost.