My friend Kristin asked for some grocery shopping tips and I thought, "What? I'm no expert!". But we do live frugally so if I can help anyone by writing down what we do, then I'm happy to do it. I hope to make this an ongoing topic on my blog since it fits in with my desire to save more money this year. I started an outline, broke down the topics into more details, and wrote and wrote and wrote. After I got to eight paragraphs, I knew I had to publish this information in separate posts so neither of us was overwhelmed.
Let's start with some background. I'm not a frugality or financial expert, but we do manage to live okay on what we have. Nor am I an extreme couponer, but I am an extreme saver (more than 30% of my paycheck goes into retirement/savings plans) and I couldn't do that if I didn't save in other places, like groceries. I'm not giving the 30% number to brag, but hopefully to inspire you. A few years ago, my friend (who was making about the same as me) told me she was paying double her mortgage to pay it off faster. Again, this wasn't bragging, but merely a factual statement that she was hoping to pay off her house sooner than 30 years and how she was going about it. I knew we wouldn't be able to do make double mortgage payments, but I was inspired to save more because of what she said.
According to the USDA, the average cost of food for Nov. 2010 for my family/age group was $347.80 to $690.20, depending on if you're thrifty or liberal with your grocery shopping. I'm not sure how the cost of living in different cities comes into play; frankly, I didn't read all 80 pages of the dry report.
We spend around $380/month on "food"; that amount includes vitamins, paper goods, shampoo, soap, and other consumables, which the USDA doesn't include. I group these items together because sometimes I buy paper goods/soap/etc. at the grocery store and sometimes I buy food at Target. It just makes my bookkeeping easier. If you add in our dining out budget, we're still below the USDA average cost for a liberal monthly cost of food. I think we're doing quite well, especially since we live in a high cost of living area. According to the news gas averages $3.35/gallon here. Ouch!
If you're looking at cutting your grocery budget, looking at the USDA average can give you an idea if you're on the right track. Of course, if you live in an expensive area, entertain a lot, buy all organic, or have food allergies or other dietary needs (sorry, chocolate is not a dietary need), your costs will most likely be higher. You can easily track your spending for a few weeks (or even better, a few months) on a spreadsheet. I don't have a specific amount I spend per week, but since I know what our average grocery/consumable costs are, I just keep that in mind while shopping. It doesn't bother me to spend $70 one week if there are great sales because I know I'll spend less the next week. For example, yesterday, I bought vitamins and probiotics at the natural food store, which added another $40+ to the total. That's enough to last us two months and I'll keep my eye out for the next sale so I don't overspend.
Saving at the grocery store series (topics subject to change):
My grocery budget (this post)
Coupons (coming soon)
Making a list (coming soon)
Checking it twice (coming soon)
Other ways to save (coming soon)