5 Non-Traditional Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

By Jordann

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?

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About the author: Jordann is a self proclaimed personal finance aficionado living and working in Atlantic Canada. She writes at her blog, My Alternate Life about reconciling the life she thought she’d live and the life she’s actually living.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • CanadianBudgetBinder June 15, 2012, 11:11 am

    Great guest post and good for you! We sort of were in a similar situation where we didn’t have a budget but were overspending on groceries even though we thought we were saving. Now we designed our own budget called the Canadian Budget Binder Spreadsheet which incorporated all of our needs including coupon savings, deals, etc. So far our testers love it, so we can’t wait to offer it to our fans shortly.

    Since then we have never looked back although we wonder how much more we could have saved. We also try to meal plan, grow our own vegetables, try new recipes, eat meatless meals, and shop 3 weeks per month instead of 4. We have a freezer inventory and Pantry list that you can print from the blog and we update ours monthly. This helps us design our meals and not overspend. We designed The Grocery Game Challenge to help us lower our grocery budget and our fans. So far it’s been great, and all you do is post your weekly shop. It’s amazing how by posting what you spend motivates you to stay the course… some fans say they hear me whispering in their ear when they shop lol.

    Cheers,
    Mr.CBB

    • Jordann @ My Alternate Life June 16, 2012, 9:51 am

      Wow sounds like you’ve taken grocery savings to a whole new level! I don’t think I could ever have that level of commitment but I’m glad you’ve come up with a system that works for you as well as others!

      • Cmacrub June 19, 2012, 9:45 am

        Meal planning is smart planning alway control portions of meat something that should be used sparingly not only is it good for the wallet but our health as well…..enjoyed the article

  • Laura @ no more spending June 16, 2012, 12:57 am

    I try to stick to once a week shopping as the interim visits were blowing my budget – you shop for one item midweek and end up with five. Now if we run out of something I make do without until my next planned shop.

    • Jordann @ My Alternate Life June 16, 2012, 9:48 am

      I was really bad at doing that last fall, I was stopping at the grocery store four times a week, getting about $20 in groceries each time, not a good strategy!

  • Modest Money June 17, 2012, 12:14 pm

    I was that way with grocery shopping before too, spending way more than necessary and throwing away lots of stuff that went bad.  Now that I’m single again and just shopping for myself, I decided to tackle that problem.  I am now proud to say that I almost never have to throw any food out now.  Before buying new veggies I always make a point of finishing up what I still have.  Now that I’ve got in under control I am gradually spending a bit more as I try to eat healthier.  I might have to hit you up for some of those beans & lentil recipes.  I do still feel the need for meat in every dinner.

    • Carrie Smith June 19, 2012, 8:43 am

      I like eating meat too, but I try to make them smaller portions and use a lot of veggies, rice or beans to make up for the rest of the volume.

    • JordannK June 19, 2012, 2:32 pm

      Feel free to send me an email, I’ve got a couple of great ones.

  • Bogofdebt June 18, 2012, 8:43 am

    I’ve been creating lists of meal plans and what we have in our fridge/pantry.  This way I can try to creat the meal plans for the next 2 weeks from what we have in stock before making the grocery list.  It’s helped out so far–we’ve cut down on a lot of “hm do we have this? I”m not sure but lets but it anyways” type of conversations.  I tend to eat all of my veggies/produce so throwing them out is not a big problem with me. I don’t really use coupons or anything as if I do clip them, I tend to leave them behind when I go.

    Something that has really helped is buying for the two weeks but knowing that the second week we will have to run to pick up milk/bread/something–this way I’m not making too many trips to the grocery store. 

    • Carrie Smith June 19, 2012, 8:46 am

      I’ve been guilty of not doing a good inventory in my pantry, so I end up buying double or triples of ingredients. Doing a quick meal plan helps to cut back on a lot of that waste. Cutting back on trips to the grocery store is a good idea too.

  • Not a butcher June 19, 2012, 7:19 am

    You mention “cutting the meat” — in addition to buying less meat, there are cost savings if you literally cut your own meat. Compare the prices of a whole fryer chicken to a cut-up fryer or all-white or all-dark meat cut into pieces, or a chuck roast versus “stew beef”. A few moments with a sharp knife and you save money. Knowing how to cut also helps you buy bigger cuts at a good price and freeze some of it for later.

    • JordannK June 19, 2012, 2:36 pm

      That’s a great point, I never buy boneless skinless chicken, usually whole chickens, because the less processing that goes into them, the cheaper they are, which, when I’m buying locally, is very important!

  • Guest June 19, 2012, 9:51 am

    Uh, wow, eating meat 5 times a week is still a lot of meat. I live with two picky eaters and we are 2 adults and 2 children, plus 2 cats. Oh, and I’m pregnant so I have some food aversions and there are certain things I can’t eat for food safety reasons.

    Our meals are typically like this:
    Breakfasts- toast and eggs, fruit, yogurt, granola or baked items… sometimes on the weekend my DH will make French toast with old bread.

    Lunches- I pack my DH a lunch daily for work. He takes leftovers or I make a turkey and cheese sandwich with a thin slice of turkey deli meat. He also has a yogurt, cheese stick, apple sauce and a dessert. The kids and I have leftovers or pb&j. With my food aversions, lately I’ve been having fruit and a bean/rice/cheese burrito topped with salsa.

    Dinners- Our weekly dinners might include 7 of these meals, on a rotating basis.
    Spaghetti, homemade meatballs, homemade sauce, homemade bread
    grilled cheese and a steamed veggie
    pancakes & sausage
    tacos
    homemade cheese pizza
    lasagna (no meat)
    fried rice with any leftover small amounts of meat and whatever veggies are on hand
    chicken and noodles
    pasta with sauce and broccoli
    grilled fish
    grilled chicken breast 

    –etc. Simple meals. We buy a 1/4 beef once a year from my uncle who raises organic beef and pork. I’d get some pork but my freezer is still full of beef and frozen veggies and cheese.

    • Guest June 19, 2012, 9:52 am

       I forgot to add, our budget is $75 per week for all of us for everything including food, detergent, toiletries, hygiene, cleaners, etc. And that includes the bulk beef purchase.

      • JordannK June 19, 2012, 2:43 pm

        Wow that’s very strict! Unfortunately I still have a few bad habits that continue to drive up my grocery bills. I’m going to print out this list though, it seems so healthy and filling!

  • Cherie June 19, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Jordan I thought that was a terrific article.  I used to do a lot more to make my budget work, but I wound up with a lot of food for the food bank LOL.  Now I try to shop locally and more naturally when it works with my budget – and I too buy less, shop more often.  I do meal plan but we’re a family with three kids and a zillion activities – it’s purely survival at this point.  I also try to do a balance – we tend to eat more red meat than you [since I've found a reasonable farm with happy cows and their own processor who's also small and family run] but I still spread out the meat meals throughout the week and have at least a couple of dinners and several lunches that are meatless.  I’m also going back to cooking simpler, more straightforward stuff instead of endlessly complex because while fun it requires a lot of little bits and pieces of this and that . . . 

    • Carrie Smith June 20, 2012, 12:23 pm

      I enjoy eating grass fed meats and buying from local farms too. Simplicity is sometimes the best method and is something I’m incorporating in my life more as well.

  • Leehaynee June 20, 2012, 10:26 am

    eating meat 4 to 5 times a week is not exactly what would be called cutting back. Once or twice a week is cutting back and making a difference.

  • Haradakimberly June 20, 2012, 9:04 pm

    Thanks for your realistic post on how much you spent on your groceries and how much you were able to cut out. I feel like all these frugal bloggers these days say they spend impossibly low amounts of money feed their gigantor families. I just don’t believe it’s possible to spend $300/month to feed a family of four, including diapers, toilet paper, etc. and be eating healthy meals. Something I think that plays a major factor in the size of a healthy grocery budget is the general produce costs for where you live. I live in Providence, RI now where cherries are on sale now for $4/lb which is the cheapest I’ve ever seen them. I was just in southern California last week and bought cherries for $1/lb. While cherries are fairly luxurious, this is the general price difference I’ve noticed between these two locals for all produce. If I wanted to beans and rice every day, sure I could cut down my budget, but if I want to make a salad at dinnertime with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta, etc. I could easily spend $10 just for that.

  • S. C. Edwards July 11, 2012, 12:10 am

    I would say keep a grocery list in the kitchen and jot down what you USE UP. (that way you only buy what you REALLY need) as well make sure you KNOW your prices (I hold off on buying TP until I can find it for 25cents for the double rolls and when I do find it that cheap I buy as much as possible (I tend to have 100 rolls of TP in the house at all  times) Buy MORE when its out of season and cheaper (like window washer fluid)

  • Julie @ The Family CEO March 7, 2013, 10:41 am

    I love this list! I especially like tip #4, as I’ve experienced the same thing with fruit. My son is a big fruit eater, but if I have 4-5 kinds of fruit in the house it won’t get eaten. I also appreciate the advice to buy local selectively. Trying to buy everything local or organic is overwhelming and super expensive.