We've probably all chuckled a little when someone exclaims that a growing teen or robust houseguest is eating them out of house and home. However, if your family spends too much on groceries, you may be doing the same thing -- with a less humorous effect. In tough economic times, any money you save is money that could be going toward living expenses, such as mortgage, rent and utilities -- or any other cost important to your family.
The average American consumer spends more than 7 percent of his or her annual income on food eaten at home, and that statistic doesn't include other grocery expenditures, such as cleaning products and toiletries [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]. This is more than that same person spends on health care in a year's time.
Fortunately, grocery spending is an easy place to save money. Unlike insurance premiums or mortgage payments, there is no fixed amount you must pay when you arrive at the checkout counter. Prices vary from store to store and week to week; with a little savvy, you can reduce costs further.
There are several components to saving money on groceries -- budgeting, couponing, cost comparing, waiting for specials, buying in bulk, store memberships, sampling, buying generic, growing your own food, making substitutions and meal planning -- and any combination of them can help you find significant bargains that can dramatically cut your spending.
Now if you're already worrying that these steps will be overwhelming or that they'll turn you into one of those obsessive families on TLC's "Extreme Couponing," don't. Millions of families use money-saving grocery strategies and never resort to extreme or complicated behavior like rummaging through Dumpsters for coupons. All you need is a little planning and organization, and soon you'll have extra money in your family's budget to put toward both necessities (bills) and fun stuff (family vacations). So keep reading, and we'll introduce you to the variety of ways you can cut your household grocery expenses.
Tips for Cutting Grocery Costs
Every war has theaters of operation. In World War II, for example, the theaters were Europe and the Pacific. For you and your war against grocery costs, your theaters will be home and the supermarket. In both places, you will find unique ways to save money. Let's start with the home.
Your very first step should be to make a grocery budget so that you won't overspend at the supermarket. Once that is completed, look at things you can do to cut the amount of groceries you need to buy. Growing some of your own produce is one way to avoid plunking down extra change at the local grocery store (though you'll find these savings after paying the upfront costs of things like tools, plants, seeds and soil enhancements). Not only will this provide your family with plenty of fresh veggies, fruit and herbs in the summer, but it will also give you a chance to can and freeze food for use throughout the year.
And speaking of freezing, storing food is another way to save money on groceries. If you have room in your freezer -- or if you invest in a separate stand-alone freezer (assuming you have the space) you can make the food you buy last longer. Anything from bread to milk to meat can be frozen for later use. And if you vacuum seal and freeze the leftovers of foods you make at home -- things like soups and casseroles -- you're less likely to waste them.
Now, your next challenge is the supermarket.
Bargain-hunting for Supermarket Savings
If you learn how to properly bargain hunt and work the system, you'll start finding that many of your purchases are practically steals. One of the most basic ways to save at the store is to use coupons. You can maximize your savings by using them when a store is also running a sale on the things you have coupons for, when they're allowing double or triple coupons or when they allow you to combine store and manufacturer coupons.
There are other ways to get the best deals possible. If you are able to wait for something you need, don't buy it until it goes on sale. Most grocery products have a 12-week cycle before reverting back to a special price [source: Couponing 101]. You can also compare product prices from store to store. Check out supermarkets' mailers and online flyers to scope out the best bargains. This may mean you have to drive to several different stores for your grocery shopping; however, it shouldn't create extra expense unless you are going well out of your way. And try to combine your trips: If there's a great sale on chuck near the dry cleaners, you'll save some cash and fuel.
While you're grocery shopping, be sure to look out for marketing strategies that may cause you to spend more. For example, if something is three for $5, you don't necessarily have to buy all three to get a discount. Unless it is otherwise stated, you can often get the sale price on just one item. Also be sure to compare prices of multiple small items against singular large packs. Buying in bulk can save you money, but not always -- so pay attention to the per-unit costs [source: Quizzle].
With these strategies, you're sure to cut your grocery expenses and win the war against high costs. Look for lots more information on the next page.
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- ABC News. "How the Cheapest Family in America Saves Cash." (Jan. 21, 2011)http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/AmericanFamily/story?id=127871&page=1
- Couponing 101. "A Beginner's Guide to Couponing." Jan. 6, 2009. (Jan. 21, 2011)http://www.couponing101.com/2009/01/a-beginners-guide-to-couponing.html
- CreditLoan.com. "How the Average Consumer Spends Their Paycheck." (Jan. 21, 2011)http://www.creditloan.com/infographics/how-the-average-consumer-spends-their-paycheck/
- Quizzle. "To Buy ... Or Not to Buy in Bulk." May 27, 2010. (Jan. 21, 2011)http://www.quizzle.com/blog/2010/05/to-buy-or-not-to-buy-in-bulk/