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  • Writer's pictureJoel Shapiro

How to save money at the grocery store

In a previous blog article, Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping a Simplified Solution, I mention that groceries are the 3rd largest expenditure for a family and quoted the USDA food plans and monthly costs for a family of 4.  According to—the average monthly spend for groceries currently is

  1. 1 person: $167-$385

  2. 2 people: $382-800

  3. Family of 4: $588-1344

Unlike housing and transportation costs (first and second highest expenditures), you can control your spending on groceries. Inflation and the rising costs at the grocery stores have the media attention right now. I hope that as we all become more aware of the true costs of a healthy lifestyle, we will cut out some of the unnecessary and unhealthy choices we have been making and come out better.

Pruning a tree or vine is what is required to get better fruit.  Eating healthy and keeping your grocery bill in check is possible. It requires that you plan and be intentional about your purchases.  Please consider these tips and suggestions as to ways that you can prune your grocery shopping to create a more productive and better quality of life for you and your family. 

Know What You Have:

For many families, the pantry and freezer are just “dumping grounds” for everything from half-eaten bags of chips to a partial bag of ice from the cooler that never got used.  Instead, they need to be the first place you “shop” to create your family menus. 

Complete an Inventory of your pantry, freezer, and any other place you may have groceries stashed (I know the bins that you put all the “bad carbs” in last year).  There are online templates that you can use to create your inventory, and a blank piece of paper will work as well. 

What you need: table or empty countertop, trash can, inventory sheet

  1. Remove everything and group like items together.

  2. Check Use By, Expiration Dates. Look for dents, rust, or swelling.

  3. Items you know you are not going to use, but are still good, bag up and plan to donate. Keeping them longer will not make you want to use them anymore.

  4. Items remaining are what you will use to create menu ideas

  5. Make a list of every item and the quantity (number of cans/packages or servings)

Meal Plan from Your Inventory:

Menu Ideas: Start with family favorites. You probably have most of the items anyway, so plan to make those meals from your inventory.

Think of substitutes and how you can use them—Italian sausage instead of ground beef or mix sausage and ground turkey.

Make Casseroles using beans and rice, or pasta.  Stretch recipes with some extra “fillers” so that you get    5 or even 6 servings instead of 4.  And that extra serving may be just enough for a lunch to take to the office saving $8 to $12 on lunch.

Simplify your meals. Have Breakfast for Dinner once a week or a Soup & Sandwich Night. Saute’ fresh vegetables, add cheese to make an Omelet. Make a fresh salad with grilled meat and toast leftover buns or bread for homemade croutons.

Shop to Fill in Missing Ingredients:

Always shop with a list. Check recipes before heading to the store. And update your inventory as you use up the items.

Shop alone and not hungry! Hungry Kids, Hungry Husband, Hungry You will add items to your grocery cart faster than you imagine. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed by leaving everyone else at home so you can get in and get out with just the items needed.

Other Shopping Tips:

Reduce the amount of meat and purchase when it’s on sale. Again, portion size is important. A package of 6 chicken breasts can easily be 12 servings. Generally, a portion of meat would be the palm of your hand while most chicken breasts I see at the store are at least the full length of my hand from wrist to tip of a finger or equal to 2 servings. Once you bring the items home, be sure to wrap them and protect them from freezing.

Smaller Quantities are not that much more expensive, and you aren’t “storing” something that you could purchase fresh. I know the mindset of “buying in bulk” is the cheapest option, but in reality, you are giving a bigger portion of your monthly income to someone else while you have the expense of storing that extra bulk. For example, something as small as Splenda packets—700 count ($ 18.66) is 3 cents per packet, and 200 ct ($ 6.97) is 4 cents per packet. Buy the smaller box and you’ll save $12 on this month’s grocery bill.

Shop Store brands and look for specials. Look on both high and low shelves for the best prices, not at eye level which is for the quick grab and most expensive.

Reduce the number of condiments you purchase and repurpose condiments. Things like salad dressings, jelly, mustards seem to multiply in our refrigerators and then we don’t use them. Make a glaze for pork chops or chicken from a jam or jelly. Toss vegetables in Italian dressing before grilling. Making your own dressing is also a way to save money. Honey Mustard dipping sauce or dressing is nothing more than honey, mayo, Dijon mustard, and a splash of lemon juice. Ingredients you probably already have! A bottle of Ken’s Honey Mustard will cost you $3.50.

Shop BOGO items ONLY IF you will use them.  Or share with a friend or family member.  BOGO items are often designed to draw your attention and get you to put extras in your cart because you think you are getting a good deal.  But if they are not on your list, pass them by.

Time is Money:

Your time vs the Food Processor’s time will determine the cost of items. For example, fresh broccoli—a crown is less than $2 per pound while a 1 pound bag of broccoli is almost $3. For all my Visitors/Vacationers, I will recommend the pre-cut ready to steam bag of broccoli. But for those of us wanting to reduce our weekly or monthly grocery bill, the crown is a better option not only because of the cost savings but because the crown will not spoil as fast as the bag of broccoli pieces (less cut service area means less oxidation and spoilage).

Commit to less processed foods like chips, cookies, snack cakes, sodas. These are “extras” and maybe now you don’t need to buy the extras.

Buy individual components vs prepackage items because all packaging adds costs. For example, a frozen breakfast sandwich is almost $2 per sandwich. While an English muffin, egg, and slice of cheese are going to cost less than $1 to assemble into a breakfast sandwich.

Packaging can be helpful for portion control. Eating chips right from the bag is never a good idea! One bag of Doritos is $4.50 and according to the package should be 15 servings. That’s only 30 cents per serving. But if you eat the entire bag in one snack session, you paid $4.50 for that serving!

Earn and Use rewards—enter phone number every time to get full credit for purchases.

Keep a running rounded up total as you shop to know what you’ve spent before arriving at the check-out stand. And items that are $1.64 are entered as $2 either on your calculator or on the paper list you’re working from to shop.

Keep Track of your Spending:

Keep a total of all grocery receipts to see what you are spending. Separate grocery purchases from cleaning supplies, paper items, and beauty/or toiletries. You may want to inventory your paper, cleaning, and beauty supplies and focus on using them up before buying more as well.

Keep track of your eating-out expenses. Be sure to include coffee, lunches, sodas, or snacks purchased at a convenience store while getting gas, and of course dinner. Side note, almost EVERY entrée that you purchase at a restaurant can be split to make a 2nd serving. I small portion of pasta with a fresh-made salad makes a great lunch and saves the $8-$12 expense of eating out.

One final comment, while vacationing using a delivery service like Grocery Concierge helps you to avoid impulse buys. We shop from your list and any specials we pass the savings on to you. Plus, Time is Money—for a little money we give you back a lot of time to enjoy the beach and your vacation more.

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