When my husband and I decided to move to a cleaner, more whole food diet, I was pretty horrified at how dramatically our weekly/monthly grocery spending increased. Unfortunately, trying to eat healthy is not cheap and that was difficult for my thrifty-little-self to accept. I am very budget conscious and am frequently checking our account to make sure we are staying on track with our finances.
We were committed to changing our habits though, and so week after week, I simply cringed while making the grocery payment. Over the past few years though, I have found a number of easy ways to help cut back on the grocery bill, while still maintaining a mostly whole foods/organic diet.
I’m sure there are many other ways to reign in the grocery bill besides the following. These are just the ones (in no particular order) that I am able to make work without having to sacrifice too much time.
- Buy in Bulk. I highly recommend getting a membership to a wholesale club, such as Costco or Sam’s. Personally, we have a membership to Costco, but I think the two are pretty similar as far as what they have to offer. Now, how many of you are thinking, “But wait, don’t you have to pay for a membership? And isn’t this post about saving money?” Yes and yes. You do pay for a yearly membership, but even if you just purchase a handful of items per month (raises hand), you will come out ahead in the end. I am not someone who does all of my shopping at Costco and walks out with an enormous cart teeming with everything I could possibly need for the next month. Honestly, I don’t even do half of my shopping at Costco, and yet, the membership is still worth it for me. It really won’t take you long to match, and then exceed, the cost of the membership with the amount that you save. Some of the items that I personally buy in bulk include: rice, chicken broth, coffee, toilet paper, Kleenex, pasta noodles, honey, some spices, dental floss, quinoa, lentils, etc. I don’t tend to buy perishables (produce, dairy, meat) in bulk. Most of them we just wouldn’t go through fast enough. Plus, while Costco is offering more and more organic options, most of the perishables are not, which leads me to…
- Be Selective With Organics. This is often what drives your bill into the stratosphere. Many times, when people switch to a clean, whole foods based diet, they also start buying organic. This, however, does not mean that every.single.item. in your shopping cart needs to carry that label. I try to buy organic as much as I can, but I don’t sweat it if part of my cart is non-organic. If you are just venturing into the world of organics and you’re not sure how to prioritize what should be organic, here are a couple of helpful tips. With produce, stick to the dirty dozen. These are the items that have the highest amount of pesticide residue on them, so these are the most important to buy organic. Meat, eggs, and dairy are also a high priority for me when it comes to purchasing organic, due to the hormones and antibiotics that are often used on animals. If you are new to organics, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with just a few items and slowly increasing your organic to non-organic ratio over time, as your budget allows.
- Check Sale Items. This is one of my favorites, as well as one of the simplest tips. Every week, during my grocery trip, I check out the meat/seafood items that have been discounted and the “Oops, We Baked Too Much” bread cart. These are often items that need to be sold soon, due to their ‘sell by’ date. If I see something that I know we eat regularly (or even something that just looks good), I will buy it on sale, then take it home and immediately freeze it. This allows me to get items that I purchase on a regular basis for a discounted price. It’s also a way to get organic items for a better price. I often find wild-caught fish and organic meat on sale. I also keep an eye out for discounted produce/dairy items that I could potentially use. Those are a bit trickier though, since they don’t tend to freeze well, and therefore, need to be consumed quickly.
- Sign Up For A Store Rewards Card. I love my rewards card. Another very simple saver. Most groceries stores offer some type of store rewards card, which allows you to purchase many items at the store’s discounted price. Many of these cards come with fuel rewards, as well. So, you can reduce your gas costs by simply buying groceries. Yes, please! Another great thing about many rewards cards is that they track what you purchase on a regular basis, then send you coupons in the mail based on your buying habits. This is great for two reasons – 1) Most of the coupons you receive will be for items that you actually purchase regularly, 2) There are often coupons for whole food items, like produce/dairy/meat/etc., which are often difficult to come by in the couponing world. Now, I am not even close to being a crazy coupon lady, but it really can’t get any easier than having coupons (for items that you regularly purchase) sent directly to your mailbox. I typically get between 15-18% off of my total bill for simply using my rewards card, as well as the coupons that I get in the mail. Today, for example, I saved $21 at the store. That’s not bad, and it definitely adds up over time, considering I grocery shop every week.
- Farmers Market. This one, I think, really depends on where you live. Growing up, I was used to my mom shopping at the farmers market regularly. It wasn’t unusual at all for her to head out early Saturday morning to see what she could find. So, when I got married and moved with my husband to a different area of the country, I was excited to visit the local markets. The truth is though, I have always been a bit disappointed with the markets in my area. Much of what they have to offer is not much (if any) cheaper than the grocery store, and even the largest farmer’s market doesn’t offer much variety. It is, however, local and usually organic, which is a plus, but I honestly don’t go to the markets as much as I would like to. I was recently back in my home town, and my husband and I decided to visit one of the very large farmer’s markets downtown. We were both astounded at the huge variety of things they had to offer, as well as how much cheaper it actually was than the grocery store. So, in my experience, whether or not the farmers market will save you money may depend on your particular location.
- Eat Less Meat. Did I just hear you gasp? Stick with me here. I do happen to be a pescetarian (I don’t eat meat, but I do eat seafood), so I realize that it is easy for me to throw this one out there. But, even for the most die-hard meat-eaters (like my husband), it IS possible to cut back a bit. Even just a little bit can have an impact on your budget. Start with one meatless meal a week. Just one. Don’t shake your head at me, it’s totally doable. Maybe the numbers will help convince you. Let’s say you are doing chicken breasts for your family of four one night. The organic chicken breasts at my local grocery store run about $9-10 for two breasts. If you buy one per person, that will cost you $18-20 in meat for that one meal. So, by eliminating the chicken one time per week, you would save $72-80 per month, which would add up to $864-960 per year. Nearly $1000 in annual savings for simply forgoing the meat once a week. Doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?
- Meal Plan. My final bit of advice is to meal plan. I go to the store once a week, so I have one week of meals planned out at a time. This can help you save money in a couple of ways. Number one, if you have a list of specific meals that you are buying items for, you are less likely to purchase things that you don’t need. If you don’t have a plan going in, you may very well end up tossing a bunch of random stuff in your cart that you don’t really need. Not that I have experience with this or anything… Number two, if you want to go a bit deeper into meal planning, you can check out your local grocery stores weekly flier to see what is on sale, and plan your meals around the sales. That will insure that you are getting the best deals that the store has to offer, week after week.
Now, again, I know there are many other ways to help cut costs at the grocery store beyond these. What I love about this list, though, is that most of these tips take very little extra time on your part, which is huge for me. I’m all about saving money without adding time.
So, if you are like me and want to eat healthy but aren’t sure you can afford it, hopefully some of these tips will help get you moving in the right direction.