Today I’m going to talk about some tips I've learned for saving money when shopping for groceries and eating out.
Grocery Shopping Tips
-Consolidate errands by planning ahead. If you have several lists going of what you need and from which store, you’ll save so much on gas and time by visiting stores only when you were going that way anyway or if you had a bunch of errands planned for one place.
-You will save so much money by planning the week's meals before you leave to get your groceries because you’ll tend to cook foods with ingredients you already have. Meal-planning sites like Grocery Shrink Plus can be a great help since they tell you exactly what to make and what groceries to buy, so the $5/month subscription should definitely pay for itself if you stick with it.
-I don’t recommend extreme couponing. Grocery coupons are usually for processed foods or chemical products you either don’t actually need or can get cheaper from Costco or Amazon.
-However, I recommend getting a newspaper subscription for using coupons such as $5 off $40 at Publix or $10 off $20 at Smokey Bones. Wait until Groupon or Living Social is offering a deal on newspaper subscriptions; for example, I got 52 weeks of the Tampa Tribune (Sunday-only) for only $17. Since there’s a $2 off Publix or $5 off GFS coupon almost every week, it pays for itself very quickly. Plus I get to read the comics :)
-Eating fresh and healthy foods will save you money on medicine and doctor’s bills later. At first when I realized we were trying to save money on groceries, I thought that meant we would buy a lot of canned foods. However, eating fresh and whole foods is so much better for our bodies and we almost never get sick. We’re therefore happier, more productive, and almost never have to buy medicine or go to the doctor. Of course you don’t want to be adding laws to your life and obsessing over something as temporary as your body, but the principle of delayed gratification is worth remembering as well.
When I go to the store, I look at the conveyor belt and ask myself, “Is this mostly stuff I couldn’t have made by myself?” Admit it, it’s cheaper and healthier to make your own pancake mix. It almost costs nothing to make stuff like that yourself. (Confession: I do buy pancake mix now that I can afford it, ha!) However, I’m not sure if you can make your own peanut butter or orange juice for cheaper than buying it at the store. And as cheap and delicious as it is to make your own bread, know for yourself how much time in the kitchen you can handle. Time with Jesus and people is more important. Now that I have more wiggle room in how much I can spend on food, there are many items I’m willing to buy or shortcuts I’ll take so I have more time to spend on more important things, like people.
-Bulk stores can save you so much money.
I strongly prefer Costco, but if you don’t live near one, Sam’s can suffice. You can sometimes find a great Groupon or Living Social deal on a Sam’s membership. GFS doesn’t require a membership and they provide food and supplies for restaurants, so their prices and quality are great. However, sometimes the quantities are just too large for one person/family.
As you shop at bulk stores, you’ll figure out what quantities of food you can handle before it goes bad, but bulk stores are almost definitely the place to buy:
- Meat and most fruit. Oftentimes the price per pound is less than half what Publix charges. If you’re afraid of the large quantity, remember you can separate the meat and freeze it. This is also why meal planning can help. Yes, you might be buying many many pounds of chicken breasts, but if most of your meals for that week involve chicken, you just saved a ton of money. And, if you, for example, make chicken pot pie on Wednesday with your leftover baked chicken from Tuesday, you’re saving yourself a lot of work.
- Household Goods such as detergents, toilet paper, diapers, etc. I dare you to compare the unit prices with those of say, a singular roll of paper towels from CVS because you ran out. It’s best to plan ahead and buy once or twice a year in bulk so you’re always stocked up. Plus, try to wait until there’s a store coupon.
- Gasoline. Gas is often ten cents cheaper per gallon at Costco, so try to plan fill-ups around when you’ll be nearby.
Aldi sells groceries for cheap. They’re able to have such low prices because they sell their own brand of foods and cut corners in a lot of places (shopping bags are not free and if you want your cart back, you have to return it yourself!) I will admit that sometimes their food’s quality is sub-par, but their policy is to refund your money and replace the item if you’re not satisfied, so feel free to experiment and see what’s good.
Amazon Subscribe-and-Save offers many desirable products (household goods, personal items, dry goods, etc.) with a Subscribe-and-Save discount. This means that if you subscribe to the item and get it regularly (you can choose whether you get them monthly, bi-monthly, twice-yearly, etc., but they only ship once a month) you will get a pretty decent discount.
Here’s where the money-saving really happens: if you have 5 or more subscriptions in a month, everything in that order is 15% off. Plus, they often offer good coupons on the items.
I buy my whole wheat spaghetti 16 boxes at a time this way. This is also how I buy my makeup, vitamins, etc.
A Note on Publix:
As much as I trashed Publix in comparison to Costco, I shop at Publix often and like supporting businesses that are run well. However, when we had less money I shopped at Walmart Supercenter for items I couldn’t get from Costco because it is significantly cheaper. Also keep in mind that usually the Publix BOGO’s are on “foods” such as Toaster Strudels and Ritz Crackers that you can probably go without anyway :)
I will again emphasize that if you are in financial crisis, try as hard as you can to avoid eating out because it really will sap up the money you do have.
Also, if you can’t afford to tip well, you still can’t afford to eat out.
However, if you are eating out, you probably never have to pay full price. Here are some tips:
-Create an extra email address for “spam.” Use this email address to sign up for emails from restaurants and retail websites.
-Use unroll.me to consolidate all the spam emails of your choice into one daily email. This way the coupons and deals are there if you want them, but you don’t have to see them every day. For example, if I’m going to get Papa John’s or Outback, I will search my email for their most recent coupon, but I don’t want my inbox flooded by them every day.
-Hey It’s Free has a great list of stores and restaurants that will give you coupons for free or BOGO stuff on your birthday. Plus you often get something free just for signing up :)
-Use deal sites for local restaurants! I love getting 50% off deals from Groupon, Living Social, Double Take Offers, and Amazon Local. Yipit has a lot of the deals from those sites all in the same place. In the Tampa area we also have a local site called CLDeals.com. I try to wait until the deal site offers a coupon (it’s not unusual to find an additional 30% off code for local deals), plus I also use Ebates (feel free to use my link to sign up!), which might even give me 12% cash back from sites like Groupon or LS.
-Around Christmastime and Graduation Time (May), restaurants often offer deals such as "Buy $100 in gift cards, Get $25 back." This is a great deal (especially since you can still use coupons in conjunction with gift cards!) but make sure the bonus money is in gift cards, which don’t expire, not a bonus card, which might give you a one-week window to use or have a minimum purchase (lame!)
-Be no slave to soda. Learn to drink water (request a lemon if you need to.) But remember to tip your server well and don't be a freeloader!
-Kids meals are generally ripoffs because you’re paying for a tiny portion of food, a sugary drink, a yogurt, and, like, five grapes. We prefer to buy an extra adult-sized entree to feed to the kids (which is usually the same price or less than 2 kids meals but offers significantly more food) then we even get leftovers to take home!
Some tips on packing lunches:
-You will save so much money by packing lunches.
Before we were married I discovered that if Peter didn't pack his lunch, that usually meant he wouldn't eat that day. He did this partly to save money, partly because he didn't want fast food, and partly because he was so busy working that he didn't want to have to stop to buy anything. Though being that extreme might not be helpful, it showed me the benefits of packing lunches and I found that building discipline in that area really communicated love to him.
-Cheese sticks are great for lunches but they can be pricey; save money by buying an enormous block of cheese, cutting it into bricks, then wrapping the bricks with shrink wrap and putting them in the freezer. Do this while watching a movie or something :)
-When you can, divvy out your own portions instead of buying single-serving packages. I've figured out that I can save a lot of money by buying a very large container of yogurt and giving the family yogurt from there as needed, mixing in a spoonful of jelly. This is so much cheaper than buying individual cups and I have more control over what ingredients they're getting.