I used to shop for groceries the way I shop at Target, spending way too much money. But 6 steps help me cut my spending nearly in half.
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- I used to love shopping at Target, and every item would excite me. I'd walk out with a huge bill every time — and I shopped for groceries the same way.
- To cut back on my spending, I started buying essentials on sale and in bulk, shopped only once a week, did the pantry challenge, and always shopped with a list.
- I also used a grocery app to score deals, and eating less meat is saving me money.
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It's embarrassing to admit, but I used to shop for groceries the way I shopped at Target.
At Target, there wasn't an item or product that didn't excite me when I went in. In fact, I loved shopping at Target so much that when I decided to pay off over $60,000 of debt a few years ago, one of the most difficult decisions I made was to break up with Target. However, my grocery shopping habits were just as bad, and I was spending my way broke one grocery visit at a time.
There are people who eat to live — I'm one of those people who live to eat. I love watching cooking shows and trying out recipes, roaming my favorite farmers markets and grocery stores to see what they have. In fact, I love food so much that I spent a hilarious amount of time shopping, cooking, and thinking about it. However, I soon discovered that my grocery spending was hurting my wallet.
Each week I would pop in to see what the store had. I would pick up truffle salt for around $20, or a high-end chocolate bar for $5, a half-pound of chanterelle mushrooms for $10, and the occasional lobster tail. As a single woman, I was spending over $400 a month on groceries, or $4,800 a year on food, not including picking up my favorite coffee ($4) at my local coffee shop.
My grocery spending had gotten out of control. Multiple weekly trips spending well over $100 for the week was the norm. Then, I found myself losing money as I dealt with food waste, not always using the products that I'd purchased in my enthusiasm to try the newest thing. There was more month than money, so something had to give.
I went through my expenses again and again and each time, it became clear that maybe, just maybe, I was spending too much on groceries. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, a woman between the ages of 19 and 50 should spend on average between $172 and $342 a month. I was spending hundreds of dollars over that range.
As I focused more on my debt repayment, I began rethinking my relationship with food and how I purchased my groceries. I ended up cutting my grocery bill in half and continue to keep my bills low even during this crazy time. Here's how I did it.
I tried the pantry challenge
I deliberately ate through my pantry and refrigerator for as long as I possibly could. By doing that, I discovered how much food I already had on hand. I also embraced cooking creatively and I finally ate my way through all of the frozen fruits and vegetables that I always had on hand.
By doing this challenge a couple of times a year, I broke my grocery shopping habit and became more aware of the emotions connected to some of my spending.
I stocked up on essentials
This was something that I grew up doing because I live in a cold weather state that tends to have a lot of snow. But, I began paying more attention to the sales on essential items, such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and cleaning supplies. I made it a point to always have several months of supplies on hand and to never pay full price for those essential items.
I limited my shopping to once a week and brought a list
I made a ridiculously easy switch to going once a week to the grocery store. That one switch alone cut my grocery spending almost in half, and I also made sure to bring a list with me as well in order to cut out the mindless roaming up and down the different aisles. The grocery list was a simple way to help me purchase exactly what I needed and avoid impulse shopping as much as possible.
I used a grocery app
One of my favorite ways to save money is to use a savings app and the grocery store's app in tandem. I'm able to stack my savings, and I've earned back almost $650 with my favorite savings app, Ibotta.
I'm managing my wants
Just like everyone, I want a lot of things. But, I finally learned the hard way that I don't need to have everything that I want the minute I want it.
In order to counter this issue, I began cooking one new recipe a week or every other week so that I still get to enjoy what I love about cooking — trying new recipes and being able to explore the world through food.
I'm eating less meat
I used to eat a lot more meat before I started working on my grocery budget. Now I eat less meat, but much better quality than before, and my stomach and palate appreciate the change. I also eat more seafood now and look for sales on shrimp and fish at my favorite grocer.
I'm spending just $250 a month on groceries
I now spend around $250 a month on groceries. I still eat organic, I still buy products such as grass-fed beef or high-end vegan cheese (I'm lactose intolerant). I just approach grocery shopping differently. Some items that were regular staples are now treats, and that's OK.
Whenever I find myself spending a little more than I would like, I do a pantry challenge to help recalibrate my overall spending.
The pandemic almost ruined my progress
For the past five years, I've done really well with my grocery shopping system and save around $2,500 a year on food with my new way of shopping. But the pandemic almost wrecked my progress.
The urge to stock up sometimes overrode my common sense, and I had to check in emotionally before I went grocery shopping. After the first month, my grocery spending stabilized to the levels that I was at before, and I was happy that I was already in the habit of stocking up on essentials like toilet paper as a normal part of how I keep my expenses down.
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