Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saving the Moola: our best tips for saving on groceries

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This fall, Jason and I took Financial Peace University classes. While we had already been Dave Ramsey fans for years {and even went to a Total Money Makeover event back in May}, we really wanted to take the classes for encouragement and any smart tips that would be new to us. I can tell you we have learned so much, particularly about insurance.

While in the class, Jason and I felt convicted to really crack down on our grocery bill. Our expenses are pretty pared down, so to gain any extra traction with our financial goals, we had to really look at what could be cut. We especially wanted to be able to grow money in a "blow" envelope and to grow money in our grocery envelope for when items we use regularly hit rock bottom prices so we can really stockpile.

Of the money we use for groceries, which includes everything from food to toiletries to odds and ends {like duct tape!}, we decided to earmark 25% of our total budgeted grocery money per week and add that to our newly-created blow envelope. We kept the remaining 75% in our grocery envelope and decided to really become serious about not just effective menu planning, but effective grocery trip planning.

Here are some of the tips we've used to be able to grow our blow envelope money and our grocery envelope money just over the last two months:
  • Take extreme stock of your pantry. For every item on the grocery list, absolutely check to be sure you don't have it. If you don't have it, can something else be used instead? A recipe we tried recently called for marinara sauce, but that is costly in the store {usually around $3 or so}. Regular pasta sauce is not only cheaper {at $1 per jar on sale}, but we had lots of that stockpiled. So we skipped marinara sauce and used pasta sauce instead. Instant savings of $2! We also make it a point to use ground beef instead of ground turkey for everything since we regularly buy a side of beef from Becker Farms. This saves us $6 every time we do this.
  • Plan at least half of your dinners around your pantry and freezer. This also usually means simple meals. Our standby favorites include Taco Bowl, Creamy Chicken Soup, pasta with a green salad on the side and frozen pizza from Aldi {so unbelievably tasty and a whole pizza is just $1.99!!!!} with a green salad. We make a couple of new dinners each week.
  • Keep breakfasts, lunches and snacks simple.... although we warn you that this might be where you spend a lot of your money! We definitely spend the majority of our money in the Produce department of the grocery store. We always have apples in the house along with at least two other types of fresh fruit: right now, we have bananas and grapes. We also keep canned fruit on hand. For breakfast right now during pregnancy, I'm eating toast, eggs and sausage. Jason eats cereal bought at $1.50 or less per box and homemade instant oatmeal. Lunches are leftovers, PB and J sandwiches or a green salad with fruit {this is what I've been eating most days since being pregnant}. Most of the time, we have leftovers in the fridge and Jason eats those for lunch.
  • Know the prices of items. You can use a price book to know the cheapest place to buy certain items, but it's also important to know the actual prices of items, whether they're on sale or not. Every Monday night, I finalize our menu plan and grocery list. As an item is added to the grocery list, which I type on the computer, I have a running total of what our bill will be. I add romaine and iceberg lettuce, so the total is $4. Add a tomato, and the total goes up to $5. If I'm getting close to my limit and I'm not yet done, I need to reconfigure what we're eating. If I'm not getting close to my limit and I'm already done, I take serious stock of all the sales ads {viewed online for free} and see if there are any rock bottom prices on items we regularly use. If so, I add those to the list for that store. If not, I leave the list as it is, and as the week goes on, if we run out of something, I add it to the list.
  • On Thursday evenings, Jason makes a trip to the ATM {one that does not charge us a single penny to pull money out of our credit union checking account} and pulls out the cash for our cash expenses for the coming week. This is usually only gas and grocery money, but at other times, it includes other items as well. He puts all of the cash into its correct envelope, including pulling out 25% of the grocery money and putting it in our blow envelope.
  • Here's the most important tip Jason and I could ever share with you... ready? When you go to the store, add up the cost of each item as you place it in the cart. I've been told there are apps for this on a smartphone. I just bring along a pencil and write down the prices of each item and periodically add up the prices. Sometimes, the prices are higher than I thought. Most of the time, though, they're lower. Either way, it's important to do this because you only have the money you have in your grocery envelope and you cannot go over that amount. Trust me - you want to be sure you're within your limits before you're at the register and you don't have enough money for all the items that are rung up and bagged!
Just by being diligent and following these tips, we have managed to grow money in our blow envelope, even after using our blow envelope many times for eating out and miscellaneous items/activities we've done, and we grew our grocery money envelope. Once our blow envelope reaches a certain amount, we plan to put any extra money after that toward our other financial goals. There's a lot you can do to save money off your grocery bill that doesn't include coupons or eating poorly. In fact, our diet consists of mainly fresh foods. We eat a lot of meat, vegetables and fruit. And you'll find you have enough money to pick up a treat or two at the grocery store. During this pregnancy, I have been going crazy for Ghiradelli chocolate. At $2 a bar {even though the bar lasts quite a few days between Jason and I}, it's kind of expensive! We have been able to buy two bars a week for a month now because we've been so diligent in only buying what we really needed and planning simple meals.

Groceries is the one area we can all blow money in very easily, but this is also an area that you can really save money in and eat a well balanced diet. Some weeks may be better than others, but after a few weeks, I promise you'll notice a difference at the register. You have nothing to lose... and a whole lot of savings to gain!

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