Saving Money on Groceries (NO coupons required!)
By Jeannie Rodriguez | Dr. Budgets
Dr. Budgets may know a lot about spending wisely, but he doesn’t shop for groceries in our household…So he’s asked me for my best tips on saving money on food. Between eating out and groceries, people often spend 20% or more of their income on FOOD… so these tips can add up to big savings for some!
I’m going to start off by saying that I do not clip coupons and I hardly comparison shop – I’m all about easy! These are the tips I found fit seamlessly into my routine:
Plan Ahead and Keep Lists. Every Sunday, I choose up to four dinners (depending on our upcoming schedule for the week), a couple lunches and a couple breakfasts, then I generate a shopping list*. Then I add our staples (milk, bread, cereal, etc.) and head to the store. Here are two running lists I keep that are helpful for this process:
- Favorite dinners: such a simple concept, but having a list of favorite dinners is so helpful to break dinner ruts and feel inspired. When I try a new recipe, I ask Daniel, “is this tasty enough for the list?” and if we both like it, then I simply add it to a note on my phone. When I pick dinners for the week, I reference this list.
- Staples: another note I keep on my phone is a list of staples items – the items I buy week after week. Keeping a running list helps ensure I don’t forget eggs (again).
Buy in Bulk (When It Makes Sense). Since it’s just the two of us now, it doesn’t make sense to buy fresh fruits and vegetables or other perishables in bulk because they go bad before we can eat them. Some of the items we stock up on at Costco are nuts/grains, meats, snacks, and wine. If you consider what items you truly use in bulk and only buy those, then you’ll start seeing real savings.
FREEZE! If the only items in your freezer are ice and vodka, you might be surprised by everything you can freeze. I save money by using my freezer in three ways:
- Freezing bulk items: to save money on bulk items you have to use them! Putting meat in the freezer buys me time before it goes bad.
- Freezing infrequently used items: some recipes call for ingredients I simply don’t use very often (half and half, pesto, chopped ginger, and chopped jalapeño are some examples), and I would find I’d buy the item and wouldn’t use most of it – what a waste! Now, I measure out and freeze it for the next time I make the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of half and half, I’ll measure it out, put it in a baggie (marked with the ingredient and measurement) and pop it in the freezer for the next time.
- Freezing entire meals: many prepared meals can be frozen, which saves time and money. For example, when I make pancakes I make a big batch and flash freeze most of them (which just means I freeze them individually on a cookie sheet and then put them all in a bag so they don’t stick together). It’s cheaper than buying frozen waffles or pancakes, and gives us quick breakfasts.
Trader Joe’s. This is my one-stop-shop for the very best prices on the things I buy most. We ran the numbers a few years ago on the groceries we buy and determined that Trader Joe’s has the best-priced staples for us. Here are some examples:
-Spinach – $1.99 for 6 oz of organic spinach (compare to $3.49 for 5 oz)
-Spaghetti Sauce – $2.49 for 25 oz spaghetti sauce (compare to $3.19 for 24 oz)
-Milk – $1.29 for 1 qt 1% milk (compare to $1.49 for 1 qt)
Sure, these items might be on special at a different store or you may have a coupon, but I’m all about easy 🙂 Also, it saves time and money to only shop at one store. Maybe your one-stop shop is a club store (Sam’s Club, Costco), a big box store (Target) or a large grocery store – it all depends on what you buy and where you live.
Spend on What’s Important (Save on What’s Not). It might surprise you to learn that we buy organic, free-range eggs, which can cost three times as much as regular eggs. We also buy organic fruits and vegetables when appropriate. We have decided to spend on quality where it matters to us, and not spend on junk food. For us, junk food includes soda, cookies, chips, and booze. Some people might opt to spend on convenience foods (premade dinners, packaged snacks for the kids) or a daily indulgence, but save with “meatless Mondays” (or meatless everydays!) or store-brand items. Decide what’s most important and spend your money on that.
So those are my tips on saving money on groceries without coupons. We’d love to hear from you! If you try any of these, please tell us about your experience in the comments section below. Also, please share your own tips for saving money on groceries! Our favorite tips save money with few or no changes to your current lifestyle so you can easily divert those savings to your financial goals. I hope you can give these a try!
*My method for this is, admittedly, crazy but I’m happy to share more details (and maybe it can even be a future blog post!)… leave a comment below if you’re interested.