One of the largest expenditures a household faces is what they spend on food shopping. It has been for us, and we were concerned just how much we were spending and how to cut that amount down. What you think you spend on food, and what you actually do could be considerably different.
The first step to understanding what you spend, and how you can save, is to keep your receipts and sum up what you spend. Do this for three or more months to get a good picture of what you spend on food shopping. Keeping track over a three or more month time frame, and then averaging it will show what you spend on average per month. This is what we did and it helped us to see we spent a lot on food.
Just how much a family should spend at the supermarket is hard to pinpoint with precision. Are you buying just food, or also sundries and non-food items such as paper towels, pet supplies, and magazines? When these items are included in the purchases made at a food-centric store, you have to decided if the items should be separated out or just included with the total amount spent. Knowing what you spend on various items is important, but just as relevant is to stay consistent. If you wish to track just the total amounts spent at the supermarket, then do just that. Over time, the averaging of the receipts will be useful since they represent the same assortment of foods and other items.
If you are motivated to look through receipts and separate out food from non-food items, then stay consistent with that approach. This will provide two relevant summaries – food expenditures and non-food expenditures. Be aware though that this is more work. Consider that unless a large percentage of food-centric store purchases are for non-food items, just work with the receipt totals.
Here’s what to do:
Determine where you food shop. Most families have a dedicated supermarket where they shop. However there may be one of more stores where you buy certain items the base supermarket does not carry. Typically these are health food items, items for special occasions, or just that some items, such as fresh produce, are better somewhere else. Don’t forget the farmer’s market or small shopping you might do on your lunch break at work.
Save receipts. Have an envelope or container that you can drop receipts into when you get home from the store. Sure, you can review each and any receipt when you get it, but the goal here is to first gather a sizable amount of receipts to summarize.
List the receipts – dates and total spent. Whether on paper, or in a Excel workbook or other software program – list the dates and amounts spent. Then as a month is complete, add up the amount spent in that month.
Calculate the average. The formula for calculating an average is the sum of the items divided by the number of items. This figure is from an Excel workbook.
It shows six months of food shopping expenditures, summed by month. Then the total ($4365.65) is calculated . Since this is six months of tracking, the total is divided by six, determining the average spent on food at $727.61. Here is the advantage of averaging. If one were to look at just November a conclusion could be made that this family spends over $1000 per month on food shopping. If one were to look at August, the conclusion is the family spends a bit over $400 per month. Both of these assumptions are of course way off – by hundreds of dollars.
Now that you know what your family does typically spend on food on average per month, you can work on reducing this figure. Here’s six ways to to save on shopping for food:
1. Look at what throw out. One of the first things you can do to reduce what you spend on food shopping is to review what you did not eat and end up throwing away. For example, a pound of deli meat might be a regular weekly purchase, and just as often there is a quarter-pound or so left over that is thrown out. If so, then stop buying a pound of deli meat. Buy three-quarters of a pound. Assuming that might save about a dollar each week, that’s a savings of $50 in a year – enough perhaps to pay your cable bill one month.
2. Use coupons. Many supermarkets use sophisticated systems that anaylyze your shopping and when checking out the cash register will print out coupons that are geared to your previous purchases. Some coupons require a purchase that could just create more waste, so avoid those. Others are quite useful, especially for frozen items, or items that do not require refrigeration. In other words- non-perishable items.
3. Eat first before shopping. Boy did we learn this lesson! If you go food shopping when hungry you will be compelled to by more than you meant. When hungry everything looks good! We tested this a bit, and here is what we noticed. We could out for lunch and spend $20, and then when shopping avoid many items we don’t really need because our tummy’s are full. We noticed we can save $50 this way. So we got to treat ourselves to lunch, and then saved a net of $30. Of course if you eat at home first you will save even more!
4. Adapt. Fruits tend to be seasonal. Berries are less expensive in the summer months. Pumpkins are plentiful in the late fall (pumpkin pie!).
5. Buy the store brand. Brand name items are not necessarily any better than the store brand. Just to take a 20% difference as a rule of thumb, $100 of brand name items could cost just $80 for the equivalent goods packaged as the store brand. Read the labels, there is likely very little or no difference in the ingredients or nutritional values. Save $20 per week, that equals a savings of $1040 per year! That’s your new TV, vacation, or fixing you car right there.
6. Leave the kids at home. If you can of course! When we would take our young son to the store, he wanted everything. Well, why not! So many shiny and yummy looking things are found in the grocer. And perhaps you have more will power than us. We said no to some things but other things we could not resist when seeing his fact light up. However often the things he picked out, he would have one bite of – and that was it! It was a waste of food and money spent. We all love our children, but saving money food shopping will provide some extra funds to do something else with them.
Food shopping may easily be one of your biggest expenses. But unlike your fixed expenses such as your mortgage or rent, or your car payment, food shopping spending is easy to cut down on. Just be aware of what you are spending and what you are not eating after you purchased it. It can be that simple!