Food expenses have gone up drastically in the past few years. After the world was forcibly shut down, the supply chain became highly strained. Thankfully the supply chain is much improved now. But the cost of food is still higher than all of us would like. So we’ve got to figure out some way to save money on our food expenses.
I recently wrote an article on why it’s difficult to stick to a food budget. There are many reasons, but some of the big ones are grocery store marketing tactics, a lack of meal planning, and our lifestyle choices. Obviously, price increases are a major factor, too.
Let’s dive into some specific ways to save money on our food expenses, specifically at the grocery store. This will require some creativity and making sacrifices. But we can still get what we need while keeping that food bill in check.
Make a Detailed Food Budget and Stick to It
The first order of business is to set a food budget and stick to it. If we don’t have anything we’re aiming for, we won’t hit it. So we’ve got to at least set up some goal.
This number varies among households. If you’re single, it will obviously be a lot less than a married household with 4 kids. If you have particular dietary needs, this may also affect your food budget.
But we have to at least set some type of budget for food. Determine what that is based on your household needs and values.
For a single person, I often see food budgets around $250-400 monthly. For married households without kids, $400-700 monthly is common. Once kids are in the mix, we’re looking around $700-1,000 monthly, maybe a bit more.
Whatever the number is, aim for that. Even if you occasionally go over by a bit, at least there is some type of boundary that will help you save money on food expenses.
Make a Shopping List and Stick to It
Related to making a food budget is making a shopping list when you go to the store. This is really the second side of the coin on food budgeting generally.
We can set a number to aim for on a weekly or monthly basis. But if we don’t make a shopping list that falls within that spending parameter, we’re unlikely to actually meet it.
I recommend planning out what your meals are going to be. This is beginning with the end in mind. When you have that objective clearly established, you can narrow down what items you plan to purchase.
Another idea is to plan out your meals based on what the sales are. Stores like Kroger and Food Lion often have certain items on sale each week that offer significant savings off the regular price. Check your local stores’ circulars for what items will be on sale next time you shop.
When you have that list, stick to it! Make a plan for yourself and follow through. This is where the rubber meets the road and where you will be able to save money o your food expenses.
The list only works as well as you stick to it. If you need to modify, that’s okay. But make the plan and come as close to it as you can. This may take some practice, but start small and you’ll get better over time with practice.
Buy Generic for Most Items to Save Money on Food Expenses
Did you know that many items are processed in the same facility even though they have different labels? It’s a dirty little secret of the food industry. Lots of items are basically “white labeled” and only during packaging is there any distinction.
The price differences are often quite striking. For example, I took this picture in Aldi looking at name brand Honey Nut Cheerios and Aldi’s generic brand. For a box that’s larger than the name brand, it’s less than half the price!
We have these all the time in our household. And we can hardly tell the difference between the two. But our food budget definitely can tell the difference in terms of the money we’re saving on this food expense!
Even if they’re not the exact same product, many food items taste the same regardless of the packaging they come in. (I know, your kids may think differently, which is why we have a few tricks available).
Now, I will qualify this by saying it’s not a universal rule. There are some products where the name brand is the way to go. For me, it’s Dawn dish soap. No other brand I’m aware of works so well that it can take oil off of ducks!
The point is that name brands are often not the best buy. Sometimes, they’re really just about appearances and company legacies than they are about actual quality.
Make Fewer Shopping Trips
Making fewer trips to the store is another way to save money on your food expenses. When we go to the store and only grab a few items at a time, it’s easy to add in another item or two because the total amount we’re spending isn’t much.
But this adds up over time. Let’s say we aim to get 10 items per shop and we’re hitting the store 5 times a week. If we add 2 items each time—very easy to do—we’re increasing our food bill each time.
While it doesn’t seem like much in isolation, it’s the aggregate spending that will reveal how much we’re really shelling out.
By making fewer trips to the store, each individual ship will be a higher dollar amount. But, ironically enough, that can act as an inhibition to adding too many extras to the cart.
If our bill is going to be $150-200 per week on average, adding extra items can push that over the $200 mark quickly. With that in mind, there can be a subconscious awareness of how much the bill will be. To make the final tally less expensive, we say no to the extra items that can sneak their way into smaller shopping trips.
Bottom line: with a smaller trip, the smaller bill makes it easier to add extras. With larger trips, the larger bill can give us pause before adding things we don’t really need. And think of the time savings too by only going once or twice a week, or even less frequently!
Shop at Discount Grocery Stores
Stores like Kroger and Publix are the standard pricing on food shopping. These stores have lots of inventory and many choices for each item. But the issue at these stores is that not all inventory gets used. There is a significant amount of loss, and that loss gets recuperated by raising the prices on all items.
Discount grocery stores like Aldi have a smaller selection of items. That’s one of the downsides. But the upside is that there is less inventory that gets wasted, meaning less loss for the store to recuperate. That savings gets passed on to consumers.
Aldi is one store, but so is Lidl. If you have them in your area, Lidl is one step above Aldi in terms of quality and price. The two stores are technically competitors in Europe, with the latter spreading in the U.S. in recent years.
Even going to Walmart for grocery shopping can save significant amounts of money on food expenses. Some of my clients use Walmart pickup so that they can find the best deals online and remove the temptation for excess shopping. The two things combined, even with any additional pickup fees, help to save a lot in the long run.
Final Thoughts on Saving Money on Food Expenses
We all want to save money on our food expenses. Eating out less is obviously one, but here I focused on how to save at the grocery store.
Being a tactical shopper means putting in more effort than you’re perhaps used to. This is where making values-based choices comes in. Is the convenience of your current lifestyle in the food area worth the increased cost that you’re incurring?
The answer to that question is up to you. Maybe the answer is yes today. But maybe next week it’s no, and you decide it’s time for a change. You get to decide and make the daily decisions that shape your financial future.
For more guidance on saving money on food, and all other areas of your daily financial practices, book your free Discovery Session today!