Guidelines for Reducing the Grocery Budget
by Gary Foreman
Are you looking to cut food costs without starving your family? These guidelines will help you cut the fat from that grocery budget while still keeping your family well fed.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am looking for someone to tell me how to lower the cost of my family’s groceries. I have no idea as to how to even start.
Angel asks a good question. For most of us, food is a large part of our monthly expenses. You’ll need to analyze what’s going on in your home and make adjustments. Find out how much you’re spending now and where you’re spending it. Let’s see if we can help you do that.
Make a record and add up your current food spending…
Begin by thinking of all the places that you buy food. Naturally, your grocery store. But there’s also the convenience store. And restaurants. And warehouse clubs. And fast food outlets. Perhaps a cafeteria at work. Oh, and don’t forget the cash that goes for coffee and snacks.
You’ll probably need to get a couple of weeks worth of expenses to get a good idea of what’s happening. You don’t need anything fancy. Just a sheet of paper and a calculator will do.
…and look for surprises.
Once you have a fairly complete record of your spending it’s time to see where your money goes. Begin by looking for surprises.
Maybe you didn’t realize how much goes for snacks in the company cafeteria. Or maybe you depend on the fast food window more than you thought. In any case, surprises present you with an opportunity for savings.
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Look for savings in each category of your food budget.
Next, take a look at the numbers and see what’s generating the largest portions of the bills.
Think about those categories and try to understand what you’re trying to accomplish with those purchases. Then consider alternate ways to meet your goals.
Here some tips for trimming some of the pricier grocery budget categories.
Some people include a lot of household cleaning products in their grocery purchases. The goal is a clean home. The mark-up on these products is huge. Most are made from a very few common, low cost ingredients. Consider making your own household cleansers.
Or if you’re not comfortable with that, find a janitorial supply store. You’ll be buying the same basic products. Some are even better. Let’s face it. If professionals clean toilets five days a week, they’re going to find the easiest and cheapest way to do it. Buy where they do.
You may find that fast foods or convenience items are a big part of your food budget. Why do you buy them? It’s probably either because you’re short on time or not confident in your cooking skills.
If it’s time, consider learning about freezer meals. They’re becoming very popular with busy people. Instead of making just one dinner, you make three or four at the same time. One for tonight and the rest go in the freezer. It’s easier and cheaper to pull a freezer meal out than to buy fast food. Healthier, too. (See How to Prevent Freezer Burn.)
If your cooking skills are meager, consider taking a cooking course. Or buy a cookbook that’s designed for beginners. Cooking skills could pay big dividends. (See How Heirloom Cooking Saves Money.)
Some families spend a lot on meats. If that’s the case, you’ll want to shop around and learn about cheaper alternative cuts.
Ask questions at the butcher shop. Buy as much as possible when sales occur. A good sale that allows you to stock up on a favorite cut could be worth a special trip to a second grocery store. (See 10 Ways to Save on Meat and Poultry.)
One profit-maker grocers have been pushing are specialty foods. Vegetarian, low-fat, organic and other uncommon items are increasingly popular. But if you’re going to make a commitment to special items, you owe it to yourself to find other places to buy them. Your grocery store will almost certainly be the most expensive place.
Think about where the food comes from on it’s way to your grocer. You’ll probably find alternative sources that are cheaper.
Start a grocery price book.
A grocery price book is a great (and cheap) tool. It’s just a loose leaf notebook that has one sheet for each frequently purchased item. While you’re in the store, make a note on the appropriate sheet when you’ve found a low price. Mark the date, store and price per unit. After a while you’ll be able to match the store’s “sale” price to your book.
Some sales are better than others. When you’ve found a good deal stock up. If not, only buy the minimum necessary. (See A Grocery Stockpiling Guide: How and When to Save.)
Your grocery budget is a great place to find savings. Only housing takes up more of your income. And it’s not easy to reduce your housing expenses without significantly changing your lifestyle. But you can gradually reduce your grocery budget and actually live better.
Reviewed September 2022
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.
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