How I Reduced Our Grocery Budget From $1100 To $600 In 6 Months

Stocked Pantry Grocery Budget

Our Family

We are on a very tight budget with food being the second greatest expense, preceded only by our mortgage. My husband and I have spent most of our family years raising our kids and figured we would have plenty of time to save for retirement. Retirement has arrived for my husband and is staring me in the face and we are trying to get our financial house in order. Our kids are the joy of our lives but raising 4 of them has proven to be costlier than we would ever have imagined. This is our story about how we are beginning to climb out of debt and onto the road towards financial freedom. It is never too late to take control of your financial future.

My family is a single income family of 5 (two parents and three grown kids at home). Last summer, I sat bemoaning my situation (out of control debt and never enough money at the end of the month) and wondering where my money, which in theory should be sufficient to meet our needs, went. I am a professional person and make a modestly decent income, but through the wonder of the internet, I saw families with smaller incomes seeming to be not only debt free, but to be prospering. Something had to give.

How Digging Our Family Out Of Debt Began

During the course of my research, I stumbled upon a blog post about someone who had managed to unload $35,000 of debt. I was intrigued and inspired. He referred to a guy named Dave Ramsey and Financial Freedom University. This was right up my alley.

I borrowed the book from the library and shared his strategy with my husband. Together, we made a plan and informed the family that things were about to change.

In September, we tracked our spending in an effort to understand where we spent our money. We simply recorded the total of all spending. We have always been quite frugal shoppers and discretionary spending on non-essentials has been minimal. This was borne out by what I saw on paper. What to do?  What to do?

The one area where I believed we could trim our spending was on groceries.  In September, we spent $997.86 on groceries and $112.39 on take-out food = $1110.25. Although, I knew we could not stop eating, there was no bill stating we were obliged to pay so much for food. This was the one area I felt I could affect some significant change. The question was how?  My sons are very resistant to rice and beans, in general and a meat based diet, for 5 adults, is very expensive. I challenged myself to get that specific category of spending under control.

Enter Mr. CBB and the Grocery Game Challenge -The Grocery Budget

I began to track all my spending on groceries and played with fine tuning menu planning and watched what other people were doing to see what I could learn from them. While I couldn’t reduce my spending at that time by growing my food, I could analyse what I did right and wrong and make improvements there.

Grocery shopping now became a game to play where I competed against myselfThe key was to create a strategy where I could maximize the buying power of my dollar, all while minimizing the number of dollars I spent. Nothing motivates a competitive person like seeing your progress in print and the feedback one gets from Mr. CBB is like getting stickers for a job well done. I have always created a menu plan and shopped from a grocery list but I needed to figure out how to maximize my spending power even more.

Enter Cassie Howard at Mrs.January.com

Cassie has made an art form of extreme shopping Canadian style. She talks in-depth about how to shop for groceries and save money by purchasing items when they are on sale at rock bottom prices (not all sales are equal), buying sufficient quantities to last from one sale to the next, and where possible, using coupons to reduce costs even further.

In January, I recorded the regular price of all items I purchased along with the sale price I actually paid and all savings from coupon purchases. I found that by shopping the flyers and purchasing only items on sale, forgetting about brand loyalty, I saved approximately 35% on average (over purchasing all items on my list at one store and receiving the benefit of sales only incidentally).

In addition, coupons netted me an 8-10% savings above the 35%. I recorded every item I purchased and was thrilled to see that I had cut my spending down to $951.97. It doesn’t sound like much of a reduction at this point, but my house was overflowing with food which I had been able to purchase for the same amount of money simply by changing my shopping habits.

February’s challenge was to reduce my spending to $700.00 for the month. In conjunction with that, I decided to try cooking ahead to fill my freezer. My work schedule involves working 7 nights in a row followed by 7 nights off. By night 5 of my schedule, I usually am too tired, don’t want to cook and end up buying take out because I don’t have a plan. You know what they say “Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail”. Well now I was a woman with a plan and I planned to succeed.

Freezer Meals

Enter Once a Month Cooking

This time, I happened upon a site called “Good Cheap Eats“. This blogger spoke about her practise of doing a semi-annual “clean your pantry challenge”. Her goals include 1) saving money 2) working through her pantry inventory (to prevent waste as food usefulness expires) and 3) encouraging independence in her kids. I was stoked!

I committed right there and then to cleaning out my pantry /freezer. First, I inventoried my pantry and freezer. Then, I organized the contents and made a menu plan which incorporated the ingredients I had on hand.  I am a very busy person and this took me part of a morning, but once I was done, I had all the information I needed to create a plan (plus I was able to clean out useless items taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard). All inventory lists were fastened to the refrigerator door so that they would be easily referred to and I was in business.

Menu plans were based primarily upon what was in stock already and the grocery list included only filler items needed to complete a meal (milk, fresh produce, etc.). Of course, the decision about what to buy was made referring to flyers. I don’t purchase newspapers so I refer to Cassie Howard’s site. The coupon match-up section not only has items on sale with corresponding coupons, she has links available to see current flyers of major grocery retailers.

I spent most of one day cooking and ended up with 30 meals either ready to go into the slow cooker/oven or cooked and ready for reheating. Although, it is a tiresome process when you do it, freedom from cooking and major clean-up for many days of the month, more than compensates. I also decided, 1 week into the month, to cut another $100 from my budget and challenged myself to spend $600 or less. The official amount spent for the month of February was an incredible $605.95.

Rice and Beans Meal

What have I learned?

The most important lesson was that reducing my grocery budget, in the face of a lot of resistance from my kids, was possible. By learning the best possible prices for meat and other grocery items in my area and refusing to pay more than that price, I was able to slash my spending.

By using coupons, I was able to push my savings even further. To date, in the first two months of 2013, I have saved $180.03 by using coupons. Over the course of the year, that could reach more than $1000.00 in savings. If I won $1000, I would dance a jig around my living room.

By having a plan of attack and taking the time to prepare things ahead of time, I avoided the temptation to blow my budget with expensive take-out meals of convenience. I also managed to find a rice and bean dish which my boys will eat and have begun to serve that dish once every 2 weeks. I will continue to search for budget friendly menu items to reduce my budget even further.  Further, because they see that I am so excited about my successes, they have realized that “resistance is futile”, to quote the Borg, and have come on board with my program.

This process has been a lot of work but I have effectively trimmed $500 from my monthly grocery budget. That is equivalent to working an extra 20 hours per month (net after taxes) for me and since this project has not taken an extra 20 hours per month, I am ahead of the game.

Where will I go from here?

I plan to maintain my grocery budget at $600 per month. Now that I have a sustainable budget, I think the next phase of the plan will be to roll all grocery savings directly into debt repayment. Ultimately, my husband and I plan to be completely debt free by December 2015. We will have trimmed our budget to what we will be able to live on in our retirement years (hopefully our kids will be independent and feeding themselves by then) and all extra income will be directed to fattening up the nest egg until I can retire in 2021. Lowering the grocery budget and digging my family out of debt first then focusing on saving will be well worth it in the end. You never know, we might even be able to squeeze in a few trips before then.

Post Contribution By: Donna R. Hi, I live and work in Hamilton, Ontario.  My family consists of 4 mostly grown kids in post-secondary school (three of whom still live at home), my husband who is retired, our pampered pussy-cat, Sarah, and me.

 

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Mr. CBB
I’m from the UK and now a recent permanent resident in Canada. I bought my first house at the age of 21 after University then my second at the age of 24. I’ve always been fascinated with personal finance, savings, learning to make money and watch it grow while combating debts along the way. Canadian Budget Binder is a place where I get to share my experiences with personal finance and learn about yours along the way. I hope you stick around and check me out on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest where I am active on all social media sites. Cheers, Mr.CBB
Mr. CBB
Mr. CBB

Comments

  1. Good for you Donna! I had some major expenses in December and January while I stocked my pantry with a few Gluten Free necessities but we are back on track now that it’s simply replace what we use when it is on sale. Thanks for sharing! I know if you can do it, so can I! :-D

    • Donna R. says:

      I have a friend who has Celiac Disease as well. When I cook food for her, I am always ow much anything labeled “Gluten Free” costs. Many of the baking mixes don’t taste good enough to be worth buying, in my opinion. I feel your pain but with planning, it can be done.

  2. Awesome job on reducing your grocery budget so much! Ours is getting under control after years of trying to reign it in! Great job!

    • Donna R. says:

      Mine will slowly go down as my kids grow up and become independant. My oldest finishes university in April and already has job interviews (she studied nursing – a profession in hot demand) and I am hopeful she will get her own place before too long.

  3. Good post Donna! Congrats as well for working on getting that debt paid off. I know it might feel like a long way off, but it’s only a little over two years away. I think decreasing a grocery budget is one of the most overlooked ways to help bring spending down. It really does not require that much in terms of extra work, but it really comes down to making wiser choices so you can make your money stretch further.

    • Donna R. says:

      Thanks. We are making good progress on the debt front. The snowball effect may only have psychological value as a debt reduction tool but I believe the psyche is central to all things, success or failure, and it is working for us.

  4. I haven’t tried batching yet. I wouldn’t mind, but I really like cooking. So, only getting to do it every so often would be a negative for me :(

  5. Congratulations Donna, very impressive! If that is your pantry today, you still have a lot to go through and can keep the budget low for a while more! I used to stockpile a lot but have been going through it lately and using what was there has saved me a lot.

    • Donna R. says:

      I agree. I am going to hunt for some really budget recipes to try. I want to see next what it actually costs to make the dishes I serve and the difference between that and what I spend. I would bet I can trim some more. I plan to make lentil sloppy joes ;) this month and serve it on rice instead of buns and see how that goes over.

      • You don’t have to hunt too far… I have lots of recipes you can start with here under Mr.CBB’s Kitchen!!! :-)

      • We make lentil tacos here.
        I have a ton of super inexpensive recipes on my site if you’re intererested. I’ve been feeding my family for .40 per person per day (U.S.$) for the last two years. I think you’re just getting started on the budget trimming. I went from 3 children and spending $800 a month (this included toiletries and diapers for 3 children) to spending $100 a month with 7 children (plus $65 a month for diapers and toiletries). My experience has taught me that if you want to and need to, you can cut even more, especially as you learn new recipes!

        • That’s awesome that you can feed your family for less like that, good for you. Lentils are great and we love them in many recipes. I’ll come check out some of your recipes as well. If you ever want to share your story in a contribution post on CBB I would love to share your concept of cutting your budget if you need to. Cheers!

  6. First off, any article that contains a quote from the Borg automatically gets a plus from me. Grocery shopping is an area of like to get a better handle on. I don’t think we spend a lot (we buy what’s on sale, generics, and use coupons), but it always seems to really add up.

    • Donna R. says:

      HAH! All things sci-fi are welcome in my house, if not actually by me. My family was given the complete series of Stargate. Although I have never sat through an episode, I have seen every part of every epidsode at least 5 times – no exaggeration here!

  7. MyMoneyDesign.com says:

    That’s pretty cool CBB. I know that if we stopped throwing away food every week because we didn’t get a chance to cook it / eat it and did a better job of tracking it, we’d probably save a whole lot more.

    • Donna R. says:

      This is definitely a problem in my house as well, particularly with the vegetables which seem to crawl into the back of the fridge to die. I try to make a pot of soup once a week which cleans out my fridge and uses the “less than beautiful but not ready for the composter” selection of veggies and whatever scraps of meat have not been picked over by the buzzards I live with. It works fairly well.

  8. onesimplefarmgirl2 says:

    Lovely post Donna, and so honest. You speak of many families out there. I am shocked at what people pay for groceries, but when I look at how they spend it I understand.You have done a wonderful job of researching and allying what you have learned. I comend you and your on-going efforts. Thanks for sharing.

    Farmgirl

    • Donna R. says:

      I have tried to reduce my budget by growing some things but I definitely DO NOT have a green thumb. I do have a lovely asparagus patch and grew garlic for the first time last year. The largest cloves went back into the ground last fall and I savoured the rest. With any luck at all we might get 50 heads of garlic this year.

  9. Melissa Anne says:

    What a great article, Donna! Good for you for sticking to your goals, all the best.

    Melissa

    • Donna R. says:

      Thank you. It was fun to write this article. I have been thinking about what I might like to do to earn money/keep my mind busy once I retire. I might have a clue now and It won’t involve greeting anyone as they enter a shopping monolith.

  10. A great book for slow cooker prep ahead meals is the big cook or big cook 2 they are great

  11. I should join the challenge. We finally made the switch to meal planning from buying foods necessary for preparing a variety of meals and even after one trip, I’m seeing considerable savings already.

    • That’s awesome news mate!! It’s more about accountability with the grocery game challenge that helps us all. We fall off track and everyone helps us back on. It’s helped us cut our budget big time! Cheers mate

  12. Great post! We are really working on lowering our food budget. We just spend too much! Of course I say this as I’m about to go to a restaurant though :/

    • Donna R. says:

      For a little while we will pass on restaurants, although I plan to use a gift card to my fave thai restaurant soon. Once our consumer debt is all paid off, we will likely loosen our belts a bit and allow ourselves a treat. Life can’t be too spartan, after all.

  13. kimateyesonthedollar says:

    I love stories like this. Congrats, Donna. As a former grocery overspender, I certainly appreciate your efforts. After a few months, it just becomes a way of life. We still have slip ups, but I think the most important thing is to get right back on track and keep up with your savings. It certainly adds up.

  14. Hey Donna, just wondering why no one else in the home is contributing.
    You say its a single income family, but there are THREE grown children in the home?
    Perhaps things would be easier, if it was not only you who had to do all the income-earning

    • Donna R. says:

      Two of my kids are in college/university. I do not pay their tuition, that is up to them. My contribution to their education is to provide them with a roof over their heads while they are in school. My oldest child is about to finish university with practically no debt. My third is 16, although he eats more than my husband. I can’t imagine anyone charging their 16 year old for room and board. Once they finish school, they will be expected to pay their share or get their own place.

  15. Christine Weadick says:

    Donna… this is an awesome article!! You are an inspiration to those of us struggling along, I’m going to look around at the library for that book by Dave Ramsey among others on my look to find list…I’m not sure how well batch cooking would go over here as my hubby tends to be worse than a toddler for food jags. Right now his kick is hot sauce and it goes on everything!!! I can work magic on leftovers… so I tend more to planned leftovers to stretch food.. But I will admit the concept of batch cooking does interest me…………Keep up the great work!!!!!!!!

    • Donna R. says:

      I commiserate with you on the hot sauce issue. My sons love Frank’s hot sauce. They put that s#@t on everything. I did a coupon swap for about 10 hot sauce coupons a while back and bought piles of hamburger helper on sale to get the coupons on the back (one of which was Frank’s). I now have a nice little stock pile of it. Try just making a double batch of whatever recipe he does like. It doesn’t take more time or energy to bake 2 lasagnas, for example. Then you have 1 day you don’t have to do anything.

  16. We are a family of 6 and spend around $600-700 a month as well! It can be done… Avoid “easy” foods & you’ll save money! So bypass the chips, muffins, cookies, TV dinners, prepared freezer meals etc… I base my meals around what’s in the freezer & pantry and what’s on sale that week! :)

  17. Great article! Meal planning has definitely been one thing that has really saved our grocery budget. That and I would say bulk cooking have probably saved us the most. Kudos to you, Donna, for getting your financial house in order!

  18. Great job Donna! As your pantry builds up, your expenses will also go down.
    Try to enlist the help of your husband with the cooking , if he is retired. My father never helped my mother, until he retired. I think it made him feel useful.
    If the kids complain about not having a certain treat, just joke and tell them Xmas/easter bunny/ birthdays are coming :)

    • Donna R says:

      I am very lucky because my husband is a good cook. I tell him I married him for his raisin bread. If my kids want a certain treat they know the way to all the stores and the biggest shopping mall in the city is a 10 minute walk from our house. In fact, ultimately, if they refuse to eat what I offer, there are fast food restaurants within 10 minutes in every direction. They will not allow themselves to starve, poor kiddoes.

  19. studentdebtsurvivor says:

    Well done! For us the hardest part about making our grocery budget is actually eating the food we buy (sounds weird I know). What has been happening is we buy a bunch of groceries then come home and are too tired too cook, so we end up ordering takeout. I’ve vowed to stop this bad habit and cook at home at least Monday-Friday evenings.

    • Donna R says:

      When my mother lived alone, she used to cook a meal for 4 servings. She would eat one the day she made it and another the next day as planned leftovers. The other 2 servings she put away to eat once each of the following 2 weeks. That way she didn’t have to cook every day nor did she eat the same item until she was sick of it. Maybe you could try something like that – cook twice a week and eat 4 days a week. Then do restaurants or whatever on the weekend.

  20. Congrats, Donna! We’ve done a similar project with our grocery budget and have cut it from roughly $900 a month to $450 a month. It feels great, doesn’t it!

  21. This is very refreshing, it’s nice to know that people are doing something about unmanageable expenses and that you are helping them long the way. The grocery budget challenge is admirable!

    • Thanks! Sometimes when we start with one part of the budget and tackle that we can see the overall picture much clearer. It has worked for us and many of us that post our shops. Cheers mate!

  22. These are great tips! Batch cooking sounds like it would save me some money too; I need to get going on that :)

  23. Donna! You are brilliant!
    I am not ready to cook for the whole month at once. But I think I’ll give the week a shot. I’m really glad I dropped by today. Your story can give others the oomph they need.

  24. Great post. I love the idea of cooking once a month. That saves you time and money. I do the same but on a much smaller scale. I cook once or twice a week. Good job!

  25. Julie Tremblay says:

    Great article!!!! I try to menu plan, but it never works out. And we spend too much on fast food. Going back to work in 2 weeks (after a year long mat leave). I have no choice but to kick myself in the butt and get working on menu planning and batch cooking, otherwise I’ll be in the poor house! What is your recipe for the rice and beans your family likes? I love anything with beans, but my hubby, not so much!!! Thanks!

  26. Great article! I always thought I was pretty savvy & could freebie and coupon hunt pretty well, but since finding Cassie AKA Mrs. January late last year …Whoa! What a difference! She just brings it all together in one place so well! I was giddy when on first teensy trip out after finding her I had 1 FPC & saved $11 off my total bill. Now that woud be a slow savings day for me with her expertise!

  27. Christina says:

    Impressive! I need to re-read this. #CBB

  28. Loved this post! Very inspiring!

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