Back in university, before I understood the value of a dollar (and before I realized how much it sucks to pay student loans back), I spent a lot on groceries.
My then-boyfriend-now-fiancee and I would drop $800 a month easily on groceries alone, and then probably another $200 on restaurants and bars.
It didn’t bother me too much, why would it? We ate like kings, but then again so did our garbage can, sometimes we’d toss whole bags of untouched produce into the trash, having once again bought way too much at the grocery store.
My spending continued this way until I was abruptly thrust into the world of personal finance and discovered the beauty of Mint.com.
I realized my household was shovelling almost four figures into our mouths every month. Surely two people didn’t require that much food to live?
Since then I’ve slowly begun chipping away at that massive grocery bill and managed to reduce it from $800/month to a consistent and much less absurd $450 per month.
The funny thing is I didn’t really employ traditional grocery saving tips, and I still don’t. I don’t shop the sales or buy in bulk. I don’t meal plan, I don’t eat KD. Instead I found different ways to achieve the same result, here’s what I did:
1. Buy Local, Selectively
I used to buy everything locally. I’m a firm believer that it just tastes better, and is also better for the local economy. Unfortunately, certain items tend to be more expensive, and those extra costs made up the bulk of my inflated grocery bill.
Things that are “value added” like yogurt, gluten free granola, and gelato tend to have a higher markup than a comparable product at the grocery store.
So I’ve laid off those items but continue to buy our veggies and berries locally. These items are more commoditized and tend to cost about the same as the grocery store as long as you buy in season.
2. Cut Out the Meat
Along with buying everything locally, I still buy all of my meat from local, free range sources. Meat, unfortunately is one of those items that are “value added” and therefore more expensive. To compensate for my expensive meat tastes, I cut the volume.
These days we eat meat four to five times a week, mostly chicken and pork, and rarely eat red meat. I used to be a die hard meat eater, and the transition has been slow, but I can honestly say I don’t miss it.
3. Weaponize Your Recipes
In order to keep my meals filling and hearty, I’ve intentionally learned simple, flexible recipes that feature rice, lentils, and legumes.
The upside of adding more of these is that they’re freaking cheap, they have a long shelf life and they’re healthy.
4. One Veggie at a Time, Please
One of my biggest issues when I was wasting so much money on groceries was that I would buy spinach, lettuce, green peppers, broccoli, celery, corn, and carrots in the same week.
Of course some of them weren’t going to get eaten! These days, I grocery shop once a week, and I’ll buy only one or two types of veggies.
The recipes I mentioned above are specifically chosen to be flexible and easy to incorporate these veggies into. Once they’re gone, I’ll go and get more.
Having less choice ensures it gets eaten every time, and it cuts down on the fresh veg waste enormously.
5. Shop The Pantry
The biggest thing that has caused me to not spend so much on groceries is that I have a budget and I stick to it.
At the end of the month if I’m nearing the limit of my budget, I put the breaks on grocery spending and force myself to eat the food we already have.
At any given point my cupboards are bulging with stuff that I’ve purchased but never gotten around to eating.
In order to avoid temptation, I stop going to the grocery store, or I make sure there’s only $50 or so in my account so I can’t go crazy when I’m there.
Sure, having oatmeal for lunch and PB&J for breakfast every morning for a week kinda sucks, but it feels good to know I’m eating food I’ve already paid for.
To sum it up: Using these methods, I’ve gotten better at eliminating food waste, making cheap and delicious meals, and controlling my grocery spending. I did it without meal planning, list making, or sale shopping.
I still spend more than a lot of people for a household of two, but I eat fulling, healthy, and nutrient packed meals so I’m alright with it. If you’d like to get a hold of some of my weaponized recipes, visit my blog and drop me an email.
How do you cut back on your grocery budget?