Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The $50 Grocery Game

Over the past year, Matt and I have been focusing on budgeting. We track our expenses on the computer, and look for ways we can spend less. After a few months of this, we were shocked to discover how much we spent per month on groceries. I would do the weekly shopping, and then we would wind up at the store again multiple times a week for "one or two" items.

We decided we that with some careful planning, we could probably get by on $50 a week for groceries. But that seemed so boring, so I invented the $50 Game, which is pretty much the same idea except I basically get super excited trying to see how little I can spend on food every week. If you're looking to reduce your grocery bill too, here are a few tricks I've discovered. You, too, can win the $50 Game! Or whatever your budget is. :)

For reference, there are only two of us humans and I usually cook about four times per week. Most days we have leftovers, which we take for lunches during the week.


Make a meal plan in advance. I get the circular ads in the mail on Wednesdays, and I stick them to the fridge and ignore them until Saturday, when I normally do the planning. I'll glance through and circle anything that looks good, and if there are any special buy-one-get-something-free deals (but I only buy them if it's stuff I'll actually use/eat). Then I'll make a plan for the week, including the main dish and any vegetables or sides for each day, or whether we'll be having leftovers or an "every man for himself" meal.

Make a grocery list. I check to see what I already have, and what I need. Based on my plan, I make a list of the ingredients we need for our meals, as well as any basic items we consume throughout the week (milk, bread, etc.). I won't deviate from the list until everything on it is in my cart.

Carry around a calculator as you shop. I use the one on my phone. It makes me look like a nerd, but I always know my running total!

Buy cheaper cuts of meat/fish. A lot of the recipes I make call for things like chicken breasts or beef roasts, and those can be expensive per pound if they're not on sale (and sometimes even if they are on sale). For roasts, I'll buy smaller quantities to cut the cost; for chicken, I'll look for cheaper options, such as chicken thighs (which are way cheaper for some reason and taste basically the same). If a recipe calls for a certain type of fish, I'll just buy whatever is cheapest per pound, since we're not big fish people.

Buy generic when you can. For items like canned goods or frozen veggies, there's really no reason not to buy generic; they taste the same as the non-generics. They may only be 30 cents cheaper, but it adds up. Some things — like generic peanut butter — are not as good though, and aren't worth it to me. Things gotta taste good.

Look at price-per-ounce. I learned this one because Aunt Jemima Lite syrup is cheaper per bottle, but it's more expensive per ounce than Hungry Jack Lite syrup. So I'll spend the extra 50 cents for a few extra ounces, and Matt won't have to eat dry waffles.

Stock up on sale items. Once I have everything on my list, any leftover money can go toward "want" items (Bluebell ice cream!) or stocking up. I'm always buying exorbitant amounts of chicken broth and canned soups when they're on sale so I don't have to buy them at a higher price during a normal week. (I should probably figure out how to make my own broth. Also, I am not one of those people who has a storage unit for their excess foodstuffs, so I only buy what can fit in the pantry.)

Coupon. I love coupons, but I really don't use them all that often. I only use the coupons that come in the Sunday paper; I don't pay for the subscription, but they still throw it into my front yard every week. You can still win even if you don't use coupons.

Don't beat yourself up. It takes a while to figure out what things cost and which items you really need in a given week. For a long time, I couldn't get our total below $55, and that was super frustrating. Now I can usually come in below budget (which is great because we occasionally still go to the store mid-week — especially if Matt's going to be cooking that night, since he doesn't plan in advance).

Do you have a set food budget? What are your money-saving shopping tips?

EDIT: Check out Part 2!

11 comments

  1. We track our grocery spending, but haven't actually set a budget yet. We tend to stretch out our shopping to every 2 weeks (since I'm currently splitting dinner preparation with my mom). We need to start cutting down on splurges (like more expensive sourdough bread and that Bluebell you mention ;)

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    1. Funny story about splurges ... I don't really like cheese, and when M and I first got married, I tried to buy the cheapest of the cheap cheap sandwich cheese, and he got really mad that I wasn't willing to spend like, 20 cents extra on "the good cheese." So now I don't bother trying to cheap out on the things that we really, truly enjoy that are still kind of "necessities." I just make sure they're on the list. :)

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  2. This is pretty much what we do too, although like Lauren ^^ we haven't started a budget yet. We usually end up spending about 50 for the week, although there are those dangerous "quick" trips to the store to "pick up one thing" that usually nets us a ton of junk and another big 'ol bill. Yeah, a budget would be helpful :)

    I love the $50 dollar challenge though, that's a cute way to look at it. Rather than "ugh, we have to keep this under fifty bucks" it's "IM ONLY FORTY NINE NINETY FIVE WHOO!"

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    1. Thanks! Funny how a trip for one thing ends up being half the store, haha.

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  3. Love these tips! We don't typically try to stick to a certain budget each week, but we do pretty good on keeping it low just with planning and making a list! I love the idea of turning it into a game. :)

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  4. We have a monthly budget for groceries, and I've also taken to meal-planning for my Sunday-Thursday meals and shopping on Sunday afternoon/evening for those groceries plus anything we need for lunches (which we pack every day). I can't believe I didn't meal plan before this - it really has helped, especially because since our pantry is RIDICULOUSLY small I can't really afford to put stuff in there other than what we absolutely need for meals! The thing that sinks our groceries budget more than anything is probably beer... :)

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    1. I think meal planning has helped us a lot too; we definitely eat better (more healthfully and more veggies) when we have a plan in advance!

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  5. Awesome awesome game : ) great tips too, like getting everything on the list first. Thanks!

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  6. Good for you! It's great to have a plan!! We spend $235 a month for 2 adults and $20 on stockpiling. I started The Grocery Game Challenge in early 2012 on my blog which has become very popular with many of my fans from around the world. Each week I post The Grocery Game Challenge on Tuesday and the fans follow suit. It's been a great journey especially getting fans from other countries joining in on the savings. Grocery shopping we take seriously in our house everything from planning to coupons to reduced items because it was the only category in our budget that we struggled with the most. Many of our fans have been able to reduce their budget, made new friends and continue to kick my butt each week shopping so I'm proud of them all. A great team, is one that works to achieve their goals. Good luck with your grocery game it's a great way to stick to the budget. Cheers! Mr.CBB

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Keep up the good work!

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