This is a guest post from Miss M at M is for Money. Be sure to check out her blog!
How often do you go to the grocery store? Once a week, twice a week or more? Every time you set foot in a store there is an opportunity to spend money, and grocery stores are designed to get you to buy more than you came in for. I found the only way to control our grocery spending was to cut back on the shopping trips.
The average home wastes somewhere around 40% of the food they buy, much of it going bad before it can be eaten. Some of it probably goes back to our hunter/gatherer past, hoard in times of plenty. Now that means expanded waistlines and overstuffed freezers. I noticed we were buying more than we needed, we’d go to the store for a few items and leave with a full cart. Looking at our pantry and chest freezer I realized we could eat for months without going to the store – that’s how much food we had. It was time to cut back.
Steps to Cutting Back
How to cut back will depend on how much you are currently shopping. Those who go multiple times a week can cut back easily. Usually those midweek grocery runs are for some staple that you’ve run out of – bread, milk, butter etc. The problem is you run to the store for milk and leave with milk and twenty other items. List anything you can’t live without, the things that you would have to buy if you ran out. Buy enough of these must have items to last you the whole week, these are the things that will sabotage your efforts to cut back. Things you can live without – well who cares if you run out.
Here’s another tip that might sound strange, if you just need milk or other staple try the corner market or a convenience store. They may charge more for that gallon of milk than the grocery store, but there is less temptation to buy other things. For fruit and vegetables try a farmers market or produce stand, again less temptation to buy stuff you don’t need.
If you are like us and only shop once a week, cutting back is a bit more difficult. Milk, fresh produce and fresh meat won’t last two weeks so you’ll have to be more creative. We don’t drink much milk so if we run out, I don’t care. If you can’t live without milk, I have a few suggestions. First, you can freeze milk, my grandma always had a half gallon in the freezer in case she ran out. Two, do as the Tightwad Gazette suggests and switch to powdered. Or three, pick up a gallon at your local convenience store and skip the temptation of the grocery aisles.
For fresh produce we have a garden which supplements what we buy at the store. Living in southern California means my summer vegetable plants often make it till January, yes we are lucky. For the rest of you, certain fruits and vegetables will keep for longer. Apples, carrots and citrus fruits will keep for two weeks or more in the fridge. Use up the perishable fruits and vegetables during week one and switch to the hardier produce for week two. Another option is frozen fruits and vegetables, we use the frozen fruit to make fruit smoothies in the blender. No need to add ice, just use the frozen fruit, juice and maybe some yogurt. If you must have a variety of fresh produce try to find a farmers market or produce shop for your off-week needs.
Last is meat. I happen to be a vegetarian but Mr. M is certainly not. To save money on meat he typically buys the bulk packs, which are a little cheaper, and then freezes individual portions. Meat keeps perfectly well in the freezer for up to two months, freezing doesn’t alter the taste or kill the nutrients. So buy enough meat for two weeks and freeze half of it for the second week, problem solved.
How Much do you Save?
How much you’ll save depends on your shopping habits. I’ve cut back from 4-5 grocery trips a month to 2-3 trips. This has shaved about 20% off of our monthly grocery bill, or around $100 a month. In addition to the grocery savings, we’re also saving gas (less trips) and saving time (less errands). I know this won’t work for everyone, but for us it was a simple way to save.
PS – this example is about cutting back on grocery trips but the same logic applies to other stores, shopping less often = saving money!