Grocery Store Challenge

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Start Saving Money at the Grocery Store

According to the USDA, the average monthly cost of groceries for a family of 4 is $860. Some people may read this and think the number is crazy high and some people may think it is crazy low, from my experience of reviewing client expenses, I would say it’s a good average number. After our living arrangements, food is the highest expense in our monthly budget. However, unlike our living arrangements, we have the most opportunity to control our food costs.

The best way that I help my client’s control their food spending is by encouraging them to create a grocery challenge. Rather than just tell my client’s they can’t buy the foods they like, I tell them to make it a challenge to eat how they would like, but cut their food bills dramatically. I have not only seen this work with my clients, but I have made it work in my household as well.

A few years ago, I started scrutinizing our grocery bills and realized we were spending between $200 and $300 a week and we are only three people. So I made it a challenge to cut the weekly bill to $100 a week, and for over a year now, I have made this work in our home, and saved us over $7,000 a year on groceries. Here is what I do.

Grocery Store Challenge

Set a weekly target goal

Before you can begin the challenge, you need to have a good grasp on what you have been spending at the grocery store. You should go through your previous two months of expenses and determine your average weekly grocery store expense. From there, you should set a reach goal for yourself. For me, it was to cut my spending in half. Whatever number you determine, make sure it will be a challenge and create a significant savings for you and your family.

Understand your adversary

One of the main problems most of us have with overspending on groceries is that we don’t know what food should cost. I was definitely guilty of this. If I needed chicken, I just purchased chicken. I would not stop to think that maybe the chicken was more expensive than normal or what the sale price for chicken could be.

When you take on the grocery challenge, you should think of the grocery store as your enemy. They are stealing money out of your pocket, and one of the best ways to defeat the enemy is to understand them. Start paying attention to sales or practices that they employ with certain foods. If I know that my grocery store will sell chicken for $3.80, then why should I pay $7? If certain brands tend to be cheaper in cost but not quality, then maybe you should switch brands?

Make realistic menu plans

Once you understand the basic costs of foods that you typically buy and where you can get deals from your grocery store, then you can make realistic meal plans that will keep you under your weekly target goal. I sit down once a week and make the menu plan for our family. If I know that we might have something expensive like steak or pork one night, then I will make sure we have one or two cheaper nights where we have pasta or something vegan.

Despite the fact that I have a specific plan for the week, I leave myself open to the possibility of switching meals based on a surprise deal that I find at my food store. Sometimes the grocery store ordered too much or something or needs to make room for something else, and they will offer a significant discount not advertised in the circular. If I can swap my meal ideas, then I know I will come in even further below my target goal.

Set rules

Every challenge should have rules and you should come up with some to help keep you in line. For me, if I am not going to eat something in the next week, then even if it is on sale at the store, I will not purchase it. I have fallen prey too many times to buy one get one free offers or sale item foods that only sit in my refrigerator or cabinets until it is time to throw them away. These types of deals only save you money if you can guarantee that you will eat the food. If you don’t eat the food, then it is just money wasted.

I have clients who started the challenge by only bringing cash to the food store. If their target goal is $50 for the week, then that is all they will have to spend at the store. Some have had the painful experience of being required to leave food with the cashier; however, they did get to experience the joy of meeting their target goal.

Track your shopping along the way

I primarily shop at a store called Stop and Shop and they provide self-scanners that you can use while food shopping and they do self checkout at the end. The best thing the self-scanner provides is a running tally of my shopping. I know that if I am nearing my target, that I am going to have to rethink some of my menu ideas or perhaps buy the dishwasher soap that I needed next week instead of this week.

If you don’t have a self-scanner, then just use your phone’s calculator to keep track of your running total. It is a nuisance to track, but remember this is your money, you work hard to make it so you should work hard to not spend it. Just like tracking your expenses, when you track your food shopping, it will be amazing how your decision-making process will adjust along the way.

What are tips that help you keep your food bills under control? What are your grocery store problem areas?

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Shannon is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, The Financial Gym, because she felt traditional financial services firms did not have the tools or resources to help people in their 20s and 30s who are starting out and trying to build assets while also managing debt. She realized that the key to long-term personal financial success is a commitment to financial fitness and making smart financial choices. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way To Financial Fitness, her podcast, Martinis and Your Money and The Financial Gym, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for everyone.

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