The Ultimate Guide to Slashing Your Grocery Spending (While Eating Healthy)
Several months ago, my husband and I decided to drastically reduce our spending in order to reach our financial goals. I wasn’t a big spender to begin with so I wasn’t sure how we’d do. But to my pleasant surprise, the results were amazing:
We drastically reduced our grocery spending, ate healthier, both lost lost 10-15 lbs within a month or so, and saved a ton of money.
Sounds incredible, right? Well, it has been! The 13 steps that I am sharing are the result of a lot of research and work and I know that they can help you too. I’ve broken down the process and made an awesome workbook (see the end of the post to get download) for you so this process doesn’t have to take you as long as it took me. But as long as it took, it was 100% worth it!
While I felt we were pretty cautious with our money before, we went from spending over $1300 a month on food and grocery expenses to spending around $600 a month for my family of 6 (that’s ALL food and grocery expenses with buying a lot of organic products).
Getting Started: Two Books I HIGHLY Recommend
While I’ve always been a budgeter and a planner, I needed some extra help. In my research on budgeting and spending I found two books that were particularly fantastic. I seriously think everyone should read these. Oh, how different our world would be if people took control of their spending! They really helped me set the stage for planning how to drastically reduce my grocery spending.
1) Total Money Makeover: Like many people wanting to get finances in order, I turned to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. This is a quick read yet full of super fantastic information that will give you a big picture strategy about how to attack your debt, build savings, and plan for the future with investments. I highly recommend it for a big picture strategy.
2) Personal Finance For Dummies: While I’ve never been attracted to the “For Dummies” series of books (because while I certainly can be a giant dummy, I really hate to admit it), I found experts (like the Wall Street Journal) recommending this book over and over. Sure enough, it has been an indispensible source of information. Eric Tyson is a legit financial expert with loads of real-world experience. It basically takes you through step-by-step getting your finances completely in order from top to bottom, looking at everything from your credit score to insurance and investments.
The Work is Worth it, Trust Me
After reading these books, I knew I needed to cut my grocery spending, but they didn’t really provide concrete steps to do so. After doing lots of additional research, I decided to take the 13 steps that I am sharing with you.
These simple steps took some time at the start, and some things were a bit hard. But honestly, we got used to the changes pretty quickly and it was so motivating and empowering to see the positive changes in our bank account and health.
BTW, it’s a total misconception that it costs a lot to eat healthy–it cost us a lot more to eat less healthy!
13 Keys to Slashing your Grocery Spending
1) Figure out how much you are actually spending on everything.
Do not skip this step. I repeat: Do not skip this step. While this is the most time consuming step, it will have the most impact on your spending. You have to know where your money is going. Like every single penny. And I’m willing to bet, you’re going to be surprised how much you are spending. I know that I was.
Check ALL Accounts
Check out your online banking and any credit cards you have used. Most have spending breakdowns so instead of going through each transaction, it’s easier to figure out exactly how much you are spending each month on food and groceries. But if you really want to see your expenses, go through every transaction. Do this with every account you use.
Find out exactly how much you have spend in the last 6-12 months on eating out and grocery expenses. If you are analyzing 6 months of data, add up every single eating out and grocery expense from every single account, then divide by 6. Now you have your monthly average.
Are you surprised?
I certainly was.
I seriously did not think we ate out much–my husband mostly took his lunch to work and I cooked a lot. But I’d occasionally run through a drive thru for lunch for the girls, we’d get take out once a week, and my husband picked up lunch once or twice a week.
But holy cow, that adds up: $219/mo on average for what I thought was not eating out much. Yikes. Then move to grocery spending. Ouch, again. Over $1100 a month on grocery expenses. For me, that was waaaay too much for our family of 6 considering the goals I had.
Yes, this is time consuming. But it will help you get down to the truth about your spending habits. As they say, the truth will set you free…or maybe scare you into changing behaviour!
2) Stop eating out.
I know this can be hard when you want something quick. As a working mom, it was hard to not fall back on picking up dinner instead of making it. But if I can do it, so can you! See how long you can go without eating out. It is absolutely insane how quickly small cheap trips add up. And small cheap trips are usually loaded with fat, calories, sugar, and salt. I promise, you will adjust quickly. We did. And it felt amazing.
3) Set your budget and stick to it.
You know how much you are currently spending if you followed step 1. Now, decide what is a realistic goal for your budget. I would caution against slashing your budget too much. You want to set a goal that you can keep. What good is a budget if you are not sticking to it?
As your habits change and you experience success, you’ll find it easier to then cut your budget further.
4) Create system to keep track of spending.
This is how you make sure you stick to your budget. There are two easy ways I suggest that don’t necessarily involve tracking each and every expense:
1) Use the cash envelope system: Old school but effective for many. Set aside cash for different budget categories and when the cash is gone, you stop spending! We did this at different points, but prefer option 2. If this strikes your fancy, check out The Budget Mom’s Ultimate Guide to the Cash Envelope System.
2) Open another checking account: I have a separate checking account attached to my other accounts. I transfer my budget allotment every other week. Anything that fits the grocery/food budget comes out of that account. And that’s it. It make sticking to the budget and knowing where our money is going so much easier.
Note: some banks charge for accounts, but there are usually ways to avoid fees for accounts. I use Wells Fargo and I avoid a monthly fee by simple having 10 transactions a month (which is super easy since all my food grocery comes from here). Make sure you aren’t actually paying for your extra account!
5) Consider reducing your consumption of meat and processed foods.
Both meat and processed foods can be pretty expensive. Cutting out both has helped us feel so much better and lose weight quickly.
Processed food is full of nasty stuff that we don’t want in our bodies. Making your own food will save your health and pocketbooks.
I’ve always liked the idea of eating less meat, so I’ve mostly stopped buying meat. Ever since I watched this awesome TED talk on becoming a weekday vegetarian, it’s been a goal of mine.
Not only has it been very helpful in saving money, I seriously feel so much better on the weeks we don’t eat meat. Even if you cannot imagine cutting out meat, just try to reduce your consumption and see how you and your wallet feel. You may be surprised.
6) Create your Standard Grocery List.
This is your core grocery list of everything you buy and use. Intentionally creating this list will help to focus and plan your spending long-term. Your Standard Grocery List consists of three categories of food items. These food items will vary depending on your eating habits.
Standard Grocery List
1) Staples you buy in bulk every couple of months: For us, these are things like grains, quinoa, rice, beans, pasta, baking supplies, cooking oils (olive, coconut, and avocado), spices etc.
2)Stuff you buy monthly: For us, these are things like cheese, canned foods, frozen fruits (for smoothies), bread (I buy in bulk at Costco and freeze extra loaves), Costco frozen pizzas (I keep this one processed convenience food on hand because sometime you just need something fast!)
3)Stuff you need weekly: fresh produce in season, milk (we just do almond milk).
Write your list of everything you use. Cut out the expensive stuff you can live without and find a less expensive alternatives. Keeping a core list (and sticking to it) will eliminate impulse buys and otherwise wasting money on food that you do not use or need. That’s why it’s important to be as thorough as possible with your list.
In making my list and tracking my spending, I realized that we spend a ton on fresh fruit. Switching to in-season fruit and focusing on buying more of the less expensive vitamin rich vegetables was the right move for my family.
Also, this is a great opportunity to more carefully curate the kinds of foods you want to have in your home. You can simply cut out unhealthy food you want to eliminate and add in healthy foods you want to bring into your family’s diet. This really helped us be healthier since I just planned meals around the inexpensive and healthy food I had on my list.I pretty much cut out buying white flour. While I still bake, I use wheat flour and everything still tastes awesome! We’ve also used natural alternatives for sugar as well.
7) Make a list of all the meals breakfast, lunch, and dinners you can make with those ingredients.
Once you have your standard grocery list, go through and think of all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners you can make with those ingredients. Keep this list on hand when you can’t figure out what to make. It will be a serious money saver.
8) Using your list, figure out who has the best price for each of the items you buy.
You don’t have to do this all at once. As you go to stores, take note how much your items cost. You will quickly figure out where to get each item.
Also, I highly recommend finding a place with super cheap produce. Ask around and see what hidden treasures exist. In my area, there are a couple places to get super cheap produce. They’re pretty busy and I have to plan ahead, but it’s so worth it to get a cart completely full of produce for $30 (much of it organic). Often it’s produce that is going to go bad soon, so if you meal prep (step 13) you can prepare it all and freeze it right away. Win-win.
A note on Costco and other big-box stores:
For many items, you will clearly save with Costco (or your big-box store of choice), but with others you will not. If it’s something you use often and Costco has the best price, go for it. But they don’t always have the best prices, so be careful.
And if it’s an item you use only occasionally, even if they do have the best per ounce price, it may still be a more expensive option.
Think about it: if you spend $15 getting a truckload of some spice or product that you rarely use, it will expire before you use it all. That is the more expensive option to buying the $4 version at another store that will last you 6 months to a year.
9) Don’t go shopping again until you’ve emptied your refrigerator.
This is key to fine-tuning your grocery shopping and eliminating costly food waste. If you get in the habit of emptying out your fridge of all your produce and perishables before you restock, you start to really get a sense of how much you actually use. And it forces you to be creative and use produce you may have just let get bad.
It’s seriously like a game for me. I ALWAYS have loads of veggies in my fridge that I’ve ignored. If I’m forced to use everything before I go shopping, I usually end up making a really healthy dinner full of food that would have otherwise gone bad before I used it.
This reduces food waste and saves $ and time by not running to the store. Also, keeping my fridge cleared out makes it easier to know what I have and I am more likely to use everything.
10) Have ingredients for 3-4 super easy, healthy and cheap meal your family will eat always on hand.
This will keep you from getting take out out of desperation and blowing your budget. You probably already have stuff on hand for several meals. This takes some planning and creativity, but it’s worth it!
For me, I always have stuff to make a whole wheat pasta in a quick homemade marinara with roasted veggies, black bean soup, sandwiches and a quick homemade tomato soup.
For quick and easy breakfast food ideas, check out my post 7 Healthy & Delicious Make-Ahead Breakfasts That Will Change Your Morning.
For other ideas, Bless This Mess has tons of recipes for healthy meals under 30 minutes.
11) Use Recipe Substitutions
How many times have you run to the store to get one item for a recipe you are making? Or you spent $10 for one spice or item for a recipe you found on Pinterest that you only make once?
I am definitely guilty of this.
When following recipes, use substitutions that you have as opposed to going out to the store and buying something just to finish your recipe. There are almost always great substitutions at the end of a quick google search. This has saved me money and it’s been empowering to know that I truly can make due with what I have.
Print this awesome and comprehensive list of ingredient substitutions form allrecipes and keep it handy.
12) Take inventory of what you have every few weeks
How often have you bought a bunch of stuff only to find a stash of it hidden in your pantry?
While you may use it eventually, keeping too much on hand is taking up space and costing you money. Taking a quick inventory doesn’t take long. Note staple items that will need to be purchased in the next few weeks. Repeat this every few weeks or so. This will save you from running to the store to grab just 1 or 2 items and guard against blowing your budget with impulse buys and eating out.
13) Meal prep
Take meals you listed from step 7 and make them in bulk and freeze. This will save you some time and money. For help getting started with freezer meal prep, check out my post Busy Mom’s Guide to Getting Started WIth Meal Prep.
Take charge of your grocery spending and be empowered!
Whew! That was a lot of information. Congratulations on getting to the end. You definitely deserve a treat for that 🙂
But there you go! Following these steps has really had fantastic results for both our bank account and our waistlines. With these steps, we naturally ate healthier. To make it easier to follow these steps, download my free workbook that walks you through the process. You can do this! This is such an empowering process and you will feel so great.
I would love you to know what you think!
Please let me know in the comments or drop me a line at erin at theincrementalmama dot com. I would absolutely love to hear from you!