While fixed costs—rent, mortgage, car payments, cell phone— may not be an area where you can cut down expenses each month (although you may want to try: check out my article on how to lower your fixed costs here), areas that are variable in your budget—food, entertainment, clothes, etc.—you can certainly cut back on. Food is probably one of the more expensive, and easiest areas to lower your overall expenses.
Here is something that most consumers are not aware of: grocery stores operate on typically a 12-week sales pattern. That means that about every 12 weeks (shorter amount of time for certain products like cereals), you can bet that a certain product will be on sale again. How can this little tidbit of information save you a ton of money at the grocery store? Because now you can ensure that you will only rarely buy a product when it is not on sale.
Let me illustrate how much this information can help you save. Before Paul and I knew about this, we were spending approximately $300 per month on groceries. Not entirely unreasonable, but certainly a chunk of our money. Every week we would make a list based on what we wanted to cook, go to the grocery store together, “stock up”, then haul it home. Fast forward a year, and now we only need to grocery shop every other week (which not only saves money, but time and energy). This past weekend, our grocery bill was a mere $70.53, which will feed Paul, me, and our cat Lyla for the next two weeks! This includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetable— something Paul and I both will not compromise on—as well as meat and all of our favorite foods (and did not include store brand items). Below is a sampling of what we will cook for the next two weeks:
- Chicken Parmesan and Roasted rosemary potatoes
- Chicken enchiladas and guacamole
- Salmon teriyaki steak with broccoli and steamed rice
- Butternut squash risotto
- Sweet ‘n’ sour meatballs
- Chicken caesar salad
- Catfish with sundried tomato aioli
- Spinach Florentine Pasta with garlic bread
- Pecan crusted chicken tenders in a tangy maple dressing over a bed of salad (Rachel Ray’s recipe can be found here)
- Turkey and cheese/ham and cheese sandwiches with spinach and ginger mayo
- Chicken salad with craisins and pecans
- Granola bars, Sunchips, potato chips, Chocolate, cakesters
- Carrot sticks with ranch dressing
- 4 Coca Cola refrigerator packs
- Enough bottled water for the upcoming Hurricane Season
- Multiple salmon steaks
- A whole chicken to roast
So how can you make this work for you? It’s very simple. Each week starting with your next grocery trip, stock up on items that are on sale and that you typically use. If ketchup is on sale, buy two bottles. If meat is on sale, buy several packs and divide them up into individually-frozen packs proportioned to your family’s size. Do this for several weeks to build yourself a significant stock pile of products. Because you will have this food on-hand, you will no longer buy it unless you see a sale (which you now know will occur typically 12 weeks from the time that you purchased the item). This system will ensure that most of the products that you buy on your weekly shopping trips will be on sale. The savings will add up.
In the beginning you may not see many savings from this, and perhaps you will spend a little bit more than normal because you are stocking up on sales items as well as other items you need to get you through until you grocery shop again. Start by basing the things that you cook for the week around what the meats, fruits and vegetables that are on sale to see an immediate difference. But after you build your stock pile up, you will begin to see a big difference in your food bill (even with cooking whatever you want, when you want) because you will stop buying products that are not on sale. Off the top of my head, I say give it a month, which is four weeks of sales shopping, and see how much you begin to save. If you don’t have the extra money to buy for your stockpile, then try just stocking up on one sale item per week. It may take longer for you to see the difference, but it will be very worth it in a matter of months.
Now, for those of you that enjoy couponing, you can expect to save even more money from this system. Follow the directions above, except use coupons on the products that you stockpile to increase your discount. Trade coupons with family and friends, or buy extra sets (or find them in people’s recycling bins) in order to use as many as possible on the products that you are stockpiling. You can use one coupon per product in any transaction; so if you have 5 jars of spaghetti sauce you are purchasing, you can use 5 separate coupons for them in the same transaction.
With our grocery system in place, we are now shopping twice per month and spending around $160, whereas before we were shopping every weekend and spending around $300. The difference in our budget, and quality of life is huge! I hope the same for you and your family.
Please note: I will be writing a separate article shortly on how to maximize coupon savings at the grocery store. For now, buy a Sunday paper and keep all of the coupon inserts (Red Plum, Vlassis, Smartsource, etc.).