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

reduced grocery budget Canada

Family Lifestyle And Grocery Budget Strategy To Reduce Costs

Our grocery budget is the second greatest expense, preceded only by our mortgage and I’m going to show you how I managed to reduce it by almost half.

Hi, my name is Donna a mom and wife who lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and we are on a very tight budget.

I guess we are a typical family that runs on a budget and works hard to make ends meet.

This time was different. I wanted to lower our grocery expenses and now I want to share my experience to help all of you who are struggling like I was.

Climbing Out Of Debt

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 which I’m proud of but had to make budget changes.

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 We Began Digging Our Family Out Of Debt

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 to understand where we spent our money by recording our total expenses.

We have always been quite frugal shoppers and discretionary spending on non-essentials has been minimal.

This was born out by what I saw on paper because the numbers never lie.

What should we do?

Trimming Our Grocery Spending

The one area where I believed we could trim our spending was on groceries so that was the budget category I tackled first.

How high were our grocery expenses? Very high and I needed to take control back before it got too out of hand.

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 especially with all of the great resources like Canadian Budget Binder to help.

The question was how would I lower our grocery budget?

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.

The Grocery Game Challenge

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.

For example, many people tend to have gardens and would grow vegetables and fruits to offset their grocery budget.

While I couldn’t reduce my spending at the time by growing my food, I could analyze what I did right and wrong and make improvements there.

Grocery shopping now became a game to play where I competed against myself

The 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.

Update: The Grocery Game Challenge ran from 2012-2017 on CBB but is no longer.

You can go back and read all of the GGC weekly posts by finding the category in the drop-down menu on the side-bar or by doing a search in the search bar.

Saving Money With Grocery Coupons

I did extensive online research to learn how to shop for groceries and save money using various savings tactics.

That’s what brought me to Canadian Budget Binder where I’ve learned so much about the way I grocery shop.

Some of the key changes I’ve made:

  • 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
  • Using coupons and coupon apps to reduce costs even further

Related: Use Online Canadian Savings Apps To Help You Earn Cash-Back

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 35%.

How I Slashed My Grocery Spending

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.

Fortunately, I had been able to purchase groceries 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

Once a Month Cooking

This time, I happened upon a site called “Good Cheap Eats”.

This blogger spoke about her practice 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)
  3. Encouraging independence in her kids.

I was amazed!

Commit To Making Changes To Your Grocery Shopping

I committed right there and then to clean out my pantry/freezer so that I could change the way I viewed cooking.

The first chore I tackled was to inventory what products I had in 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 the morning.

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, coupon matching, and price-matching.

Food Prep In Advance

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 I’ve learned about Grocery Shopping

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, 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.

Planning Is The Ultimate Guide To Grocery Savings

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.

Saving For Retirement

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).

All of our 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.

CBB Readers:

If you have a story you’d like to contribute about your grocery budget and how you’ve made changes message me.


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