The simplest way to save on groceries involves mastering two skills that will serve you for life.
Meal planning and a stockpiling.
I’m not talking about an episode of extreme couponing or hoarders. We’re talking about a sensible small stockpile that you know will use in the next few months. It’s so much simpler than your thinking it is in your head.
Let me be totally clear here. If you're spending too much on groceries, you need to implement both of these skills. Slowly but surely, we need to start making baby steps towards mastering these skills.
Baby Steps to Saving
Slow change is true change. If you knock off everything in this list in a week and call yourself cured, you’ll be right back to where you were in a few weeks. I don't want to see that.
Start slow, do the first action step, then the second action step, and as those feel more manageable, add in third action step. If you're the slowest learner in the world and it takes you a full year to tackle meal planning before you can move on to learn how to stockpile, I’ll be thrilled with you. Because you will never go back to the way you were and you will continue making progress.
This will save you hundreds of thousands of dollars on groceries in your life.
Effective Meal Planning to Save on Groceries
Menu planning involves knowing ahead of time what you plan to eat on what day. It takes the guesswork out of your grocery shopping. You know exactly what to buy in order to eat this week.
You need to meal plan efficiently and avoid the common mistakes of overcomplicating your plan, buying too much, and not planning for emergencies.
The best way to learn how to meal plan efficiently is step-by-step. You can find all of the steps to effective meal planning here.
Stockpiling to Save on Groceries
Stockpiling means to buy things at a good price and keep them in the house so that when they're needed, you don't have to pay full price. There’s a few basic steps to efficient stockpiling.
Know your staple groceries.
Everyone is in a very different place as far as what their staples are. When we first started, we were transitioning from a diet of almost always eating out and working crazy schedules.
Our “staples” included things like “frozen cooked chicken breasts” and “stir fry sauce”. Now it’s things like “ketchup and ground beef”. I have a friend that makes absolutely everything from scratch for her Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle (a clean eating diet), her staples are things like coconut oil and Stevia.
Make a list of about 15 items of things that you buy frequently. List meats and snack foods first, then condiments since those have the most potential for savings.
Know your base price.
A “base price” is what you know that you can always buy that item for. No coupons necessary and no special sale at the base price. This is just the usual price for the product at a store that you go to frequently.
For example, If I routinely go to three different grocery stores: Wegmans, Food Lion and Aldi. A can of corn at each of those stores is:
- Wegmans: $.49
- Aldi: $.59
- Food Lion: $.69
Then my base price for a can of corn is $.49. If there’s a Stop and Shop an hour away that I go to twice a year that sells a can of corn for $.39, then my base price is still $.49. I don’t use $.39 as my base price, because if I need to buy corn, I’m not going to drive an hour to save .10 per can.
Know your stock up price.
A stock up price is the lowest price that you can purchase an item with predictability.
For example, you realize that your local Food Lion routinely has a “buy one get one free” sale on crackers every few months, allowing you to buy 2 boxes for $1.09 each. Your “base price” on crackers is $1.99 at Wegmans. You know that you can save almost $1.00 per box when you grab that Food Lion sale, so that would be the time to stock up!
Caution: a stock up price isn't a once in a lifetime great deal.If you find a can of corn in a clearance bin for $.10, likely you won’t be able to buy that can of corn at that price again so that’s just a lucky price, not a stock up price.
There are four main factors that affect your stock up price. If you’re brand new to stockpiling, don't try to dive into these all at once. Go for the easy wins in Ibotta and Ebates and move into sales cycles and then couponing.
Always weigh the balance between time and money. Couponing can save you a lot of money, but if you have very limited time and a high stress job, it may not be worth the $300/month possible savings for you to spend all of your free time couponing.
I’ve done both couponing, and automating my errands depending on what my work/life balance looks like. I love the savings of couponing but automating my errands will always be my favorite until my little guys are in school and I have more free time.
Ways to save on groceries:
Ibotta is literally a no brainer. It’s an app you load on your phone, and it gives you a small cash rebate for grocery items that you buy (even generic or store brands!) of things like milk, shredded cheese, frozen vegetables, etc.
While the amounts are small, they add up to an easy $2/week for most families. That’s about $110 extra per year without even trying. If you buy anything that’s name brand, your potential to save is even higher.
The app takes less than 5 minutes to use and is my favorite way to reduce our grocery spending. If you use this link to sign up, you can be on my team, which just means that I can help you earn bonuses and extra money. You can read my full review of Ibotta here.
Ebates gives you a percentage back on anything you purchase online automatically. It’s another brainless way to save. They have thousands of stores available for rebates (I’ve never needed a store that they don’t give rebates on) and it takes seconds.
You simply head to Ebates first, then search for the store you want to shop at and click the link from Ebates. You don’t need to do anything else. A percentage of your purchase will be credited to your account.
The reason that I love this so much is that I’m a huge fan of automating my errands. Automating saves me a ton of time and money. I make all of my household purchases online and have them shipped directly to my house for less than the “base price” of my local Target or Walmart. When I add my ebates savings, it’s even better!
You need to have an Ebates account first (it’s free), you can sign up for Ebates here.
Store sales cycles
The store flyers that get sent out every week are the best way for you to save a ton of money. By checking prices and planning your meals around the store sales, you can save with very little effort.
If chicken and pork are on sale this week then plan dinners that use those meats like pulled pork and cranberry chicken. As you stock up at those lower prices, you can start pulling other options from your freezer. The goal here is to never buy meat at full price again.
A good investment at this point would be a food saver, it allows you to break up large packages of meat into meal sized servings and freeze them in airtight bags that keep the meat tasting fresh for much longer than freezer bags.
Couponing allows you to match coupons to sales cycles and get many items for free or very low cost. It’s a little time intensive (at least in the beginning until you get into the swing of things.) but the free stuff is pretty fun.
I would caution you though that if you like to eat healthy it is really hard to say no to free junk food. Every time I coupon heavily we have a freezer full of free pizzas and a pantry full of chips and candy. I have no willpower when it comes to free.
The easiest way to coupon, is to ride on the coattails of those already doing it. Krazy Coupon Lady already posts the coupon match-ups for most stores. They compare the store sale to coupons available to give you the final price for the item.
If you're more of an app person, Favado does the same thing in a helpful app (for free!), they then email you the printable coupons that you need for the items that you marked as wanting to purchase.
Most coupons these days are actually printable online coupons, which means you don't even have to buy the sunday paper. Just print off the coupons for the items on your list, and go grab them.
Having the coupons from Redplum and Smart Source (found in the sunday paper) will give you more options though. Many towns and cities have a coupon drop box, (if you’re in Northern Virginia with me, we have one at Potomac Community Library) where you can go grab several copies of any coupons you want. You can also type your town name into google with coupon exchange to see if you have an active Yahoo or Facebook group that meets up to exchange coupons.
While this is the easiest way to start couponing, you can get more in depth here.
Know your sales cycles.
Most stores actually have a pretty predictable cycle of sales if you pay attention. The problem is that it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with how many items are available at a discount. My best advice is to stick with a few basic items that you use routinely and have the greatest potential for savings.
Generally speaking this will be meat and snack items. I can save 50% easily on both of those categories and there are really only a few items that we use routinely for them. As an example: Here’s my basics list in those items: chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken tenders, ground beef, steaks, bacon, crackers, granola bars, Triscuits, and bold almonds.
Just by getting those items at 50% off, I can save about $1,000 per year. Totally worth it! When you concentrate on just tracking a few items, it means that you’ll stick with it. You won’t get overwhelmed and give up. Later, as that becomes easy to you, you can start tracking a few more things if you want.
Know how much you use.
The final piece of this puzzle is knowing how much of each product that you typically use. It does no good to buy 50 boxes of crackers and let them all expire before you’ve worked through box number five.
If you stick to a small list of items that will save you the most amount of money, this becomes easy. You know that you eat chicken 3 times per week. So you use about 3 pounds of chicken per week. You can see from your store cycles that it goes on sale every 6 weeks. So you should get 6-8 weeks of chicken (21 pounds) when it goes on sale.
This can get a little trickier when it comes to snacks and things your family loves to eat (especially if you have teens!). It’s not unheard of for a family new to couponing to go through 10 boxes of cookies in two weeks because they’re available. The best practice is to either mark dates on the snack foods for when they can be opened (so this box of cookies is for this week, and the next box of cookies can be opened next monday), or try to hide the extra packages at the back of the pantry.
Pulling it all together:
You need to write down your prices in one central location. Bring it shopping with you and keep it as a quick reference. If you’re brand new to price tracking, limit the number of items that you track to 15. I use a specially created price book that gives me room to record my prices as well as track sales cycles.
There is nothing that will ensure your failure quicker than filling a price book with 150 items and getting overwhelmed. 15 items maximum when you’re new to this, and always use pencil in your book (I use pen loops to make sure that I always keep a pencil attached to my book).
As getting the lowest price on those 15 items gets easy (you’ll be shocked how quickly that happens!), you can add new items and save even more.
If you want to use the Price Book that I use, you can grab it here. I print mine out at Staples to have it bound nicely for about $3.00 into a book (you can also use a 3 ring binder if you prefer, but I love having a bound book).
With patience and a little planning, you can tackle stockpiling and take your grocery saving to a whole other level!
- Grab a price book (or make your own).
- Choose 15 items in your house that you buy frequently. (try to stick with meat, snacks, condiments, and household items).
- Determine the base price for those items based on your local stores. Write it in your price book (always use pencil in your price book!)
- Sign up for Ibotta here. (free)
- Get an Ebates account here. (free)
- Each week as you make your grocery list, check sales cycles and ibotta at a minimum (add in the other ways to save, like couponing as you get used to it) for the prices on your 15 items and pencil in the sales amounts (stock up price) then add the stock up price and the date you found it to your sales cycle list.
- Start buying extra items to see you through until the next time you can get the sale price.