After a reader asked me for my tips on how to save on groceries, I decided to make it the subject of an entire article. I think it’d be relevant for everyone to see the possibilities to optimize this budget item which, as we know, can monopolize a good chunk of our budget!
For my part, I manage to maintain a level of expenses that I consider acceptable. I have to say it wasn’t always optimal, and I’ve had to improve my method over time! It’s the same for everything. With practice and a little perseverance, we get better, and we find the right balance.
So, I’m going to start by giving you an overview of my grocery spending. You’ll be able to see the average I spend at the grocery store and how much of my disposable income it represents.
Then, I’ll share with you the tips I always use, as well as what I try to avoid doing. I hope you’ll find something that’ll help you save a couple of bucks!
My Food Expenses
Firstl, I wish I could give you a more comprehensive picture, but I only started tracking my expenses in August 2020. So I can’t go back any further to do an average. Still, it’ll give you a good idea!
Also, as of September, you have access to it in detail through my monthly reviews , and you’ll continue to have access to it for future months.
So, let’s see how much I spent at the grocery store every month:
- August: $269.00
- September: $204.42
- October: $205.98
- November: $191.46
- December: $216.10
- January: $212.71
- February: $200.12
- March: $214.89
- April: $207.49
- May: $189.92
That means my average monthly grocery bill is $211.21, or $2,534.52 annualized. This represents about 5% of my disposable income. Considering that food expenses are generally part of the three big budget items (along with housing and transportation), that’s a pretty good number!
So, it would seem I have a good method, since my food expenses only take up 5% of my disposable income. Of course, I make a fairly respectable salary, but that’s no excuse for eating caviar!
I have been following a ketogenic diet for several years now, but the following tips absolutely apply to anyone.
Make a Grocery List
First of all, the best way to really buy what you need in a structured way is to make a list. As soon as you run out of something, add it to the list for the next grocery run. That way, you never forget anything and you don’t have to go back.
Although there are many apps for this, I personally use Google Keep to make my list. The advantage, compared to a paper list, is that I am much less likely to forget it, since my smartphone follows me just about everywhere. Plus, you can share the list with someone else for review and editing. That way, my sister and I can both access it at any time and add to it as we go along.
Of course, making a list is nice, but you have to stick to it. That means not adding too many unplanned items at the store just because you’re hungry.
Buy in Bulk
It’s the same thing for just about anything else. Buying larger sizes means you benefit from an economy of scale! If you’re not sure whether the larger size is actually cheaper, most grocery stores will show the price per 100 g on their price tags. This makes it much easier to compare what gives the most bang for your buck!
Of course, the bulk champion is Costco. I personally do more than half of my grocery shopping at Costco, so I benefit from a pretty impressive economy of scale! Let me tell you, the subscription pays for itself pretty quickly.
Don’t Go to the Store Too Often
Let’s face it. People who go to the grocery store every day almost always end up buying more than they needed, under the influence of emotion or appetite. Moreover, if they go back so often, it is most likely because they buy sizes too small in the first place, and therefore, pay more per 100 g.
Personally, I go grocery shopping about every two weeks. This is actually another advantage of buying in bulk. It takes longer to get through everything! And when I run out of something, what do I do in the meantime? I do without. I eat something else and cook what I have left.
Buy on Sale
No, not everything is cheaper at Costco. It’s worth going elsewhere too! And before you go to other stores, take your good old flyers out. Even better, use a flyer application (and unsubscribe from the paper version)! There are several available, such as Flipp, Reebee, etc.
Then, you can buy only the best-priced food. Personally, I know that for nuts, cheeses and many vegetables, Costco is the best. However, when it comes to meat and dairy products, it’s worth looking elsewhere!
Buy House Brands
Don’t be married to name brands. Many savings can be made by simply choosing the house brand! The big name brands, even on sale, are often more expensive than the house brands. Again, compare the price per 100 g. The difference can be impressive.
Also, it is not uncommon for house brand products to be actually manufactured by a third party, such as another well-known brand. They just put a different label on it! Let’s take a well-known example like Costco’s house brand Kirkland. Who knew that Kirkland coffee really came from Starbucks? The more you know!
If you thought living on your own keeps you from buying in bulk, let me contradict you.
Unless you lack storage space, there is nothing to stop you from buying large quantities of the same food, cooking it in large amounts and then freezing it in single servings for later.
Don’t want to eat the same thing all the time? Buy more versatile proteins (ground meat, chicken) that allow you to make different recipes.
Personally, I always have small, single-serving meals in the freezer that I prepped in advance. In the past, when I worked in an office, I always had a lunch in the freezer, ready to go. That way, I was never tempted to eat at the cafeteria. Now that I work from home, it’s handy when I don’t feel like cooking or when the fridge is getting empty.
Stock Up On Versatile Foods
Some foods can be prepared in a multitude of ways. These will be your best friends.
For me, it’s eggs. Not only are they versatile, they’re good for a long time and cost next to nothing. 30 eggs for $5? I love that! However, when I run out of eggs, I know I need to stock up.
For some, it could be beans of any kind, pasta, frozen or canned vegetables, whatever.
The important thing is to have back-ups like this when supplies are running low, and you’d rather wait a bit more before you go grocery shopping.
Practice Intermittent Fasting
Fasting is not so popular, because it is profitable for absolutely no company. Although I know it’s not for everyone, you should know it has many health benefits.
However, the best side effect is for your wallet.
I’ve read some frugal bloggers who calculate their food expenses at about $2/meal. In my opinion, that must be a lot of bread, pasta and canned beans.
Personally, I average at about $4/meal, but I eat very differently and much less often. The final tally ends up being very similar. Remember, keto does not include bread, pasta or beans.
And everything tastes just so much better after a long fast! 🙂
What to Avoid
Now, maybe you already know and apply most of these tips, but you still find your grocery bill too high. So maybe the problem lies elsewhere. Here is a short list of things I avoid to keep the grocery bill at a decent price.
I don’t know about you, but when I was young, I remember being told not to snack, or it’d ruin my meal.
Nowadays, it’s completely the opposite. Everyone eats snacks, all the time. Of course, if we make people believe that it is necessary to snack all the time, Big Food gets even richer.
Personally, I don’t snack. I only eat at meal time and I feel great. I eat (very) hearty meals that keep me full until the next one. That’s saying a lot, because the next one is sometimes 24 hours away.
Letting Food Spoil
No matter how much you buy your food at a good price, it’s all for naught if you let it go to waste (because you’ve eaten out too often, instead of cooking).
To avoid food waste, I also use Google Keep to keep an inventory of my fridge and freezer. Some might say it’s a little intense, but I like to be organized in just about everything.
When I’m wondering what to cook, I don’t even have to go through my fridge because I have a list. If something is hiding in the back of the fridge, it won’t be forgotten because it’s also on my list.
When I’m about to cook, I can pinpoint what needs to be eaten first (fresh meats and vegetables, for example), and I can add it to my recipe.
Of course, you still have to know how to improvise meals with the leftovers. Fortunately, we have the best possible tool in the world when we lack inspiration: internet. And the more comfortable you are with cooking, the more you can improvise intuitively without a recipe.
Finally, if you really don’t think you’ll be able to eat something before it goes bad, freeze it (if possible)!
Making everything from scratch with ingredients purchased in bulk will save you way more money than buying ready-made or processed foods. Especially considering that processed foods are taxable, compared to non-processed foods. By avoiding them, you automatically save 15% (in Quebec, anyway)!
Also, to avoid processed foods, here’s an easy trick. Just don’t do the middle aisles. It’s the realm of processed food. Stick to the foods on the periphery. 🙂
Also stay away from ready-made food at the grocery store. Yes, it can save time, but it’s expensive per meal and often not very nutritious. You’re no better off if you’re still hungry an hour later!
The Benefits of Lowering Your Grocery Bill
Of course, if you manage to lower your grocery bill a little, this could impact directly your savings rate. This will inevitably bring you closer to financial independence. Hooray!
Also, remember the 4% rule which recommends having a nest egg equivalent to 25 times your annual expenses. After that, annual withdrawals of 4% will cover your expenses.
If you do the exercise by expense items, it gives you an idea of how much money you need to have to pay for a particular expense once your FI.
So, if you spend $12,000/year on groceries ($1,000/month) and multiply that by 25, that means you need $300,000 to pay for your groceries at a 4% withdrawal rate.
However, if you manage to cut it in half, or $6,000/year or $500/month, only $150,000 will be needed. That’s a lot less money!
Using my previously mentioned numbers of $2,534.52/year, that means I only need $63,363 to pay for my groceries. Considering my nest egg is currently around $150,000, it’s like this part is already taken care of for me.
So, reducing the grocery bill allows you to increase your savings and decrease the amount of money you need to reach financial independence. In my opinion, it’s a win-win. 🙂
I have to say, I enjoyed taking stock of my grocery spending. I’m happy to see that I’m staying pretty much within my desired numbers, and without feeling any sense of deprivation. Looking at the numbers, it doesn’t look like I eat meat, nuts, cheese, avocado and tons of greens on a regular basis. But I do! 🙂
Also, I’ve been tracking my spending for almost a year now, and I’m starting to see some trends. I should have started doing this a long time ago!
One thing is for sure, food will always be a big part of anyone’s budget, and all tips are welcome to help lower the costs! I hope mine will be useful to you! If you have any other good tips, don’t hesitate to leave it in the comment section. 🙂
See you next time!
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22 June 2021 at 22:49
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t shopped for groceries in probably the past year and a half. Sure, I go to buy water and sauces and extraneous stuff but not to buy food, food.
I still manage to keep my food budget around $250 a month even while eating out every single day so I am still happy about that. Once the pandemic is over maybe I’ll use some of the tips in this post to keep my food budget to be $150 a month!