We saved over $600 on groceries and never felt deprived. Here’s how:
When this little experiment began, I thought of our household as a relatively frugal one:
We don’t eat out very much, we shop at ‘inexpensive’ places and my partner and I don’t struggle with impulse-buying.
I honestly didn’t think we were spending that much money each month on groceries until I broke our budget up into categories. This revealed a startling truth: we spent MOST of our money each month (outside of necessary expenses like the mortgage and utilities) on one specific category: FOOD.
Since I love a good experiment (especially if it saves me time or money), I convinced my partner to join me in the simple task: let’s see how much money we can save on groceries in one month!
And so it began. I was extremely surprised to discover we not only cut our grocery bill in half, but we also didn’t feel deprived in the process. In fact, I’m going to be continuing this experiment in the months ahead to see how much money we can save this year.
Okay, I’ll get on with how the heck we did it.
Here’s what we did to save money (about $600 in a month!!) on our grocery bill:
1. We got honest about the numbers.
It’s impossible to track the progress of a goal if you don’t have a snapshot of where you are at the beginning of your task. My partner and I sat down at the beginning of the month, pulled up our credit card statement and recorded the numbers. We included coffee (which we have a subscription for), alcohol and also ALL dining out in our overall grocery budget. Basically all consumables outside of vitamins were included in this number.
We were STUNNED to discover our total from the previous month was around $1200. Now, some of that spending was due to a holiday, but STILL. This figure seemed REALLY high.
Since we didn’t have any numbers to compare it to, I began to poll our friends and family about their spending habits. Our circle ranged everywhere from about $575 per month to $1200 per month. Some of the lower numbers came in from our budget-minded friends and family members so that explains THAT. Another factor that impacted grocery spend in our circle was how carnivorous the household was – our vegetarians spent less on groceries overall because they weren’t spending the extra dollars on meat.
A little back-story here, my partner and I eat more (I think) than the average 2-person household. Connor is a former bodybuilder and still (for the most part) maintains a high-protein diet of around 4 meals per day (down from 5 meals in his competition days). I’m a gal that loves hard workouts and FOOD, and in my experience, my appetite dwarfs that of most people I spend time with. (Which was anxiety-inducing as a girl… but that’s a story for another time).
Since we’re aware of our voluminous food-consumption, we referenced our friends in the fitness world and their numbers were closer to ours: their budget comes in at $1200/month.
After a quick google-search, I discovered the average household in MN spends around $567/month on groceries.
Armed with this information, I knew we could PROBABLY save a couple hundred dollars per month if we really paid attention to it.
2. We made intentional lists ahead of time with a ‘do we need this’ filter.
Making lists ahead of time really helped us cut our grocery bill. The key to this was the added question: do we actually need this? We made our grocery lists together using my favorite list-app Microsoft To-do. We made sure to come together in our kitchen so we could accurately assess the levels of our hoard before adding anything to the list, and always tried to do this when we weren’t already hungry (this helps!!). Finally, we followed each addition to our list with the question: do we actually need this??
It was amazing how many times we eliminated items from our list and ended up not missing them. One regularly shopped item that got the axe was andouille chicken-sausages from Costco. We would always buy them when they were in stock, but I haven’t for a second missed having them in my refrigerator (or my stomach).
3. We bought foods and food-prepped for multiple meals in a mix-and-match style.
This third tactic for limiting our grocery spending brought me back to the days when we were BOTH bodybuilding (LORD, I do not miss those days…)
When we made our lists for this month-long spending experiment, we took a page out of the old body-building book and edited it for our purposes: how do we get the most volume with the least amount of dollars (in bodybuilding days it was how do we get the most volume for the least amount of CALORIES – it was a dark time).
We bought items like bulk chicken and made multiple meal plans with it that didn’t involve a lot of extra ingredients. An example would be: we baked a full cookie sheet of chicken tenderloins, and used them for asian stir-fry dinners, thai soup lunches, covered them with sauce and ate them next to a bed of rice and sauteed veggies. The more versatile your ingredients are, the better. Especially when you’re buying for a household of two.
4. We shopped smarter: Costco + rewards, Aldi vs. Cub.
This was a surprising revelation in our shopping habits: Aldi groceries are almost HALF the cost of the same/mostly similar items at Cub Foods. I was shocked. Now, the problem with Aldi is they don’t carry ALL the foods we require, so we always had to pick up a thing or two from Cub- but with curbside pickup this is a breeze.
We’re also avid Costco-shoppers and with a little research we found that this was one habit we were doing half-right. Buying organic chicken and organic produce in bulk from Costco is a MUCH better deal than anywhere else. The trick is figuring out how much your family of two can get through in a week or two (before it goes bad) and only buying what you actually need. This has taken some practice, but we now know how many packages of veggies and fruits we need to get us through a week without anything spoiling or running out prematurely.
We also paid attention to which types of fruits and veggies gave us the most bang for our buck and reduced our spending on the more expensive varieties.
An additional perk of being a Costco shopper is their Citi Costco rewards credit card. It’s the only credit card we use for our household and it gives us cashback on groceries, gas, travel and basically every purchase!! We get about $600-$700 of cash back every year. If this fits into your goals, you can learn more about it here.
A note here: I will also add that we are a family who values high-quality organic foods, which has definitely affected our spending habits. Throughout this experiment in lowering our grocery bill we didn’t sacrifice quality, but in many cases we did reduce QUANTITY, which ended up being part of our success.
So if you’re thinking you’re going to have to sacrifice your organic fruits and high-quality meats, I’m here to tell you, you WON’T. But, you may have to cut back on the frequency with which you indulge in the more expensive items on your list.
5. I mined our cupboards.
To my surprise, our pantry cupboard had all sorts of treasures in it that could be creatively combined for a delicious meal. I tried to choose one old item from our cupboards to build a meal around each week to work through our pantry non-perishables. Some examples were a delicious chickpea-pasta dinner, and a thai curry meal.
6. We broke old habits.
We all have eating habits. One of mine (and my Partner’s) is to construct our meals in a very specific way: heavy protein, 1-2 servings of a carb (like rice, pasta or bread), and a serving or so of a low-carb vegetable. These old habits were definitely carried over from our bodybuilding days and all-in-all they’re pretty healthy… except they don’t allow for much leeway in the intuitive eating department. I found myself better able to let go of this old pattern and indulge in a few differently-balanced meals to suit our new goals: save money and feel good about it. To my surprise, I felt MORE satisfied with the variety I allowed myself and my waistline didn’t seem to mind either ;). The occasional grilled ham and cheese sandwich or pasta dinner was a refreshing change from my perfectly-macro-friendly meals I’d become accustomed to. #living
Another old habit that each of us reconsidered (and I certainly don’t miss) is our reliance on protein powders and protein bars to supplement our meals. Each of us used to use protein powder every day at breakfast and eat about a protein bar per day. We were budget-conscious in our protein supplement choices: his protein powder was bought from Costco and averages about 80 cents per day in the amount he consumes, mine was a popular collagen supplement which averages about $1 per day. I decided to try eating REAL FOOD for most of my meals instead of my post-workout protein bar, and halved the collagen in my morning coffee and have felt great. Connor still has his morning protein powder but has cut his protein bar intake back by about 60%.
My protein bars were VERY expensive (they’re raw, vegan and Gluten-free) so at around $3 a pop (on discount with a subcription), I eliminated them from our budget and haven’t missed them. In fact, I find myself less bloated and more satisfied when I eat normal food throughout the day rather than relying on supplements.
7. We ordered groceries online ONLY ONCE PER WEEK in order to see a running total and minimize trips.
Ordering food online has drastically cut our grocery spending because we’re able to see a running total of the items we’ve shopped as we go. This has SEVERAL times encouraged me to eliminate the $6 gluten-free cookies I’ve added to the cart in favor of more satisfying indulgences like the occasional (okay DAILY) squares of dark chocolate.
Costco doesn’t do online ordering where we live, so when we venture into the store for a weekly shop, we stick to the list and avoid impulse buys. When we’re distracted by a ‘shiny object’ we take a picture and think about it for a week. Usually by the time we go back we don’t feel the need to buy it anymore.
Limiting our grocery trips to only once per week definitely contributed to our success in this experiment. It forced us to plan ahead, and eliminated the sometimes expensive ‘I’ll stop in to pick up just one thing…’ Target runs that inevitably turn into a 4-5 item purchase.
8. We limited eating out.
At the time I’m writing this we’re still in the middle of a pandemic so it’s not necessarily hard to cut back on dining out. We put a limit on this months ago and stuck to it this month: only ordering delivery 2-3 X per month. This month we really weighed the craving vs. convenience aspect. If we were genuinely craving food from our local Middle Eastern restaurant, we ordered it. If we were just being lazy and not wanting to cook our own food, we sucked it up and raided our refrigerator.
9. We eliminated alcohol.
You might have noticed at the beginning of this article that we include alcohol in our grocery budget. We decided to do a little detox this month along with this grocery experiment that has accounted for over $150 of our savings. Limiting your alcohol consumption or at least keeping your spending under a certain number (set a rule!!) can drastically reduce your grocery budget.
Alright, that was a NOVEL and congratulations to you if you made it to the end! If you’re looking to spend less money on groceries and even cut your grocery spending in HALF, I hope these tips are helpful to you. Please reach out if you have any questions!
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