As a foodie… and as someone who loves fresh produce… my grocery bills can get pretty high. Between the piles of fruits and veg, the nice cheeses that we bring home, and treats like fun spices that somehow find their way into the cart, I often find myself with teeth on edge, wondering how I managed to spend so much money at the grocery store checkout on any given completely normal week. It also doesn’t help that hubby and I shop at Whole Foods (for the time being, but we’re anxiously awaiting that blessed day when Wegmans opens its next northern Virginia store, which will be tantalizingly close to our house). All of this combines for some unacceptably high grocery bills.
I’m not going to give exact numbers, because I prefer to keep financial information off the blog. Just take it from me when I say that for quite some time now, I’ve been unhappy with my inability to economize at the market. That’s why I’m getting serious about cutting back. My lofty goal is to cut my grocery spending IN HALF for the remainder of the year. (What I mean by that is this: I naturally spend somewhere within a range, say between $A and $B, on a weekly basis. Each week until December 31st, I am setting a goal to spend within a range of between half $A and half $B.) I started this goal a few weeks before we left for our vacation and I’m glad to say that so far, so good. In fact, I’m pleased to report that on our big “return from vacation stock-up” trip, while I was fully expecting to blow the budget, I still came in $25 under my upper range. Woo to tha hoo!
This could get interesting. Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Keep the pantry clean, organized, and clutter-free. I am usually good about keeping an organized pantry, but lately I’ve let it get a bit out of hand. The first step in cutting back on grocery bills is going to be cleaning out the pantry. There’s no better way to figure out exactly what I already have! I’m usually pretty well-stocked on canned and dried beans, brown rice, vegetable stock and soup in cartons, and oats (both old-fashioned and steel-cut). Part of my money-saving strategy involves using those staples more.
- Use coupons! Whole Foods has a page of current coupons – and they’re coupons for things I already buy on a regular basis, like plain Greek yogurt. Every so often, in a burst of thrifty inspiration, I print a page of coupons (and you can select only those ones that you want to print – so cool) and then promptly lose them. Not anymore, though. I’m going to go to the grocery store armed with coupons. But – and this is a major but – I’m ONLY planning to use coupons for items that I would have bought anyway. Coupons can cost you more money (and extra pounds on the tush) if you use them for overly-processed foods, like chips, that you wouldn’t have bought without the coupon. I’m not into buying things just because I have a coupon – but if it’s an item that I buy anyway and I can save a dollar, I’m going for it.
- Stock up on staples when they’re on sale. I used to do this all the time when I ate chicken – I would only buy it when the organic chicken was on sale. If we ran out between sales, we didn’t eat chicken again until the next sale. But as a vegetarian, I find I’m terrible about this. I buy the staples I need instead of waiting for sales and then stocking up. If I need tofu, I buy tofu – even if it’s not on sale. Same goes for beans. Last week at the market I started to put this idea into practice – I bought three cans of lentils because they were on sale. Now I’ve got them in my pantry and I can use them in meals anytime – and the next time I need lentils, I won’t have to buy them full price. I need to be better about stocking up on staples when they’re on sale, and not buying them when they’re full price.
- Control myself in the produce department. My biggest money drain at the market comes from getting too excited about all of the pretty fruits and vegetables and buying way more than hubby and I can eat in a week. I invariably end up throwing stuff away and it just kills me. I need to either learn to preserve, or I need to be better about not throwing stuff into the grocery cart just because it looks good. I have to get real about exactly how much veg two people can actually eat in seven days.
- Get back in the menu-planning habit. I used to do this and it did save me some money – although not as much as I’m aiming to save here. I’ve fallen out of the habit and just gotten into whipping up whatever interests me in the moment, which is fun and all, but it’s an expensive habit that I need to kick.
So there you have it – my strategy for saving some major cash at the grocery store. I’ve exempted one item from my money-saving strategy: beer. I personally don’t drink beer, with the exception of the occasional Blue Moon – the only beer I like. (I’m such a girl.) But hubby is into artisan beers, especially IPAs, and they add up. I’ve spent a lot of time gritting my teeth over the grocery receipt, looking at how much money goes to expensive beers. But you know what? It makes him happy. I could say “no” or tell him he has to reign it in, but I’d be a nag, and I’d be taking away something that he enjoys. I’m just not willing to do that. So for purposes of this money-saving challenge, I’m considering beer as a separate item that I won’t count toward the “grocery costs.”
So there you have it: I’m challenging myself to chop my grocery costs in half for the rest of the year – through December 31st. And I’m hoping that when I get into 2012, my thrifty strategies will become habits that will continue to save us money. I’ll report back regularly to let you know how it goes!