Cutting Your Costs at the Grocery Store
Since grocery expenses tend to be the largest expense in American households that we have some control over, this topic is critical for all of us to address. The US Department of Agriculture puts out “Cost of Food” reports every month listing how much American men, women and children can expect to pay each month for their food, based on a “Thrifty plan,” a “Low-cost plan,” a “Moderate-cost plan” and a “Liberal plan.” These guidelines are based upon a cost-of-living index and are too often used as “proof” that crackpots like me are off our rocker when we suggest monthly grocery bills far lower than even the government’s “Thrifty plan.”
Spending even 50% of the “Thrifty plan” is not only possible, it is achieved regularly by millions across the country. If you think it can’t be done than you’re reading the wrong blog. It IS possible and YOU can do it too. Read our popular blog on the suggested monthly cost of groceries per person to learn how others are doing it.
When it comes to the following keys to saving money on groceries, two principles should guide all decisions: first, buy when prices are low, and second, buy a lot when prices are low. Basically, stock up on items that can keep well in pantries or freezers when you find them at a great price.
To find the best prices, consider one or more of the following keys to uncovering the most affordable grocery budget possible for your household:
1. Take advantage of store rewards or points
Many grocery stores offer a rewards program for loyal customers. Typically, for each dollar you spend at the store, you earn a set amount of points which you can redeem later for great deals on many food staples. Some stores even let you build and use points when buying gasoline at their own station out front.
TIP: Don’t waste those precious points on food items that you would not buy if it were not for the discount. Save them to use on staples such as butter, cereals, milk, and bread when those items go on sale in combination with the rewards points. Keep in mind, though, that many store rewards points do expire in less than two months, especially those that provide discounts at the gas pump.
2. Use coupons
Just a few years ago, many grocery stores not only accepted retailer coupons but would actually double the face value. Other grocers would round any coupon up to the next whole dollar value. Such practices spawned popular television reality shows while they created at the same time a lot of impatience and frustration for customers stuck behind super-couponers at the checkout stand.
Coupon policies vary widely by both store and region. Call the customer service department at the store’s home office to ask about the coupon policies in your area. Many stores have the policies listed online. It is not uncommon for a store to post a great coupon doubling policy online but then not notify or train their employees on how to do it. If you find such a policy, print it out or save it to your Smartphone so you can be sure to qualify for the discounts.
3. Look for relevant discounts
Ask your grocery store managers about discounts you might qualify for. Many grocery stores, bakeries, and other venues for purchasing your food staples may have weekly or daily discounts for seniors, military members and their spouses, and students.
4. Competitor match policies
Do you know if your favorite grocery stores have a price match policy? It could be well worth your time to look through competitor circulars, cut out the best price you find, and take it with you to your grocery store. This can be really handy at the butcher counter or when stocking up on other high-cost items.
5. Venture into new grocery stores
Many large drugstore chains now carry grocery staples such as milk, bread, and cheeses. These drugstores will often be more likely to double coupons. Just because it is a non-traditional place to shop, don’t write it off.
6. Case Lot Sales
Often taking place in a store’s parking lot or in their aisles, case lot sales offer some of the best deals of the year on many of your favorite staples. Military members know that base commissaries have regular case lot sales, but these events can be found around the country for “civies” as well. Before buying everything you see, though, make sure you’ve done your homework and know if the price really is a good deal. Also, keep in mind that you will need space in your vehicle to get the cases of food home and then more space to store them in your pantry or garage. Remember that canned goods need to be stored in temperatures below 85°, and above freezing, so some garages may not be appropriate.
7. Save for Sales Splurges
Finally, it will be critical to save money so you have it when you need it. And by “save money,” I don’t mean “spend less.” I mean actually putting money into a savings account so that you have access to it when you find killer deals using the keys above. If you are just starting down the path toward ultra low grocery expenses, you may only be able to save $5 or $10 a week from your normal grocery bill. That’s okay. Get it out of your checking account so it doesn’t get spent. Then what do I do with the money? Then, when you find a food staple on sale, you’ll have $40 or $50 to stock up. That means you may be spending less on that item for the next 2-3 months and can, therefore, save $10 to $15 a week now. Keep the snowball rolling until your weekly grocery is half what you were spending. At that point, your grocery bills will almost be on autopilot, and you’ll know how much of your grocery budget you can afford to use elsewhere.
Todd Christensen, Director of Education,
Debt Reduction Services, Inc.
Do You Have Questions About or Suggestions on How to Save Money on Groceries?
We check our articles and blog posts for new comments and make it a priority to respond quickly.
If you’d like more information on finding ways to cut your grocery bill, improving your monthly budget, or have tips to share with others, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer right away!