Justine is a writer, teacher, mother and mountain bike rider.
What Does "Groceries" Mean for You?
The first step to saving money in your groceries budget is to define what "groceries" means to you. This category may mean just food or it may also contain some of these items:
- Household supplies
- Pet food
- Vitamins and supplements
Now that you have defined "groceries," think about all the different stores you are going to right now to buy these items. Are you going to just one BigName supermarket, or are you going to several different stores in your area, including neighborhood markets, pet food stores, drugstores, online stores, and beer and liquor stores? Write these down for your next step.
How Much are You Currently Spending?
The next step in saving hundreds of dollars in groceries every month is knowing exactly how much you are currently spending.
Get out your bank and credit card statements for the last two months. Think about your definition of "groceries" and your list of stores. Circle those transactions and enter them into a column on a spreadsheet or on a piece of paper and add them up for each month.
Do you use cash to buy groceries? Make sure to include these expenses too.
Typical Monthly Grocery Budgets
|Family Size||Suggested Amount|
Set Your Budget
When I added up the last two months of my grocery expenses, I could not believe it. I was spending between $1,000 and $1,200 a month on groceries. I Googled typical grocery budgets for three people and decided that I could easily save between $300 and $500 every month by setting my budget at $750.
Now that you have set your budget, how are you going to keep track of your expenses during the month?
Some possibilities include:
- Open a new checking account for groceries only
- Open a new credit card for groceries only to get a 3% cash back award (but make sure to pay it off immediately every month)
- Use the cash system and put the monthly cash groceries budget in an envelope
- Save your receipts and write them down on a visible place so that you always know how much you have left
Commit also means committing to shopping once per week and trying to go on the same day. This helps you stay on pace with your budget and not use it all up in the first two weeks with spontaneous trips to the store. And it helps you to use up all your perishable food in the fridge to reduce food waste. Finally, it helps you to know what you have in your fridge and cupboards so that you don't buy things you already have.
BigName Supermarket vs. Neighborhood Grocery Store
Can switching stores from an aesthetically pleasing, neighborhood grocery store with lots of organics and friendly service to a BigName Supermarket with a loyalty program and personalized coupon app save you enough to justify this sacrifice? I decided to try it for one month to see if it could make a big difference.
Pros of BigName Supermarket
- One-stop shop (you can get everything here for your household needs; perfect if that fits your groceries definition)
- Coupons and discount programs
- Makes recording in your groceries budget easier
Cons of BigName Supermarket
- Sensory overload from a huge commercial store
- Coupons can be a pain and backfire
- Exposure to too much junk food
Are Personalized Coupon and Loyalty Programs Worth it?
I decided to test that for one month by switching from the friendly neighborhood grocery store I had shopped at forever, where I knew every aisle and could get in and out quickly, to just one BigName Supermarket to see if I could easily stay within my new groceries budget and enjoy my experience enough to make it worth it.
In my case, my friendly neighborhood grocery store was Trader Joe's, and my BigName Supermarket was Safeway. The Safeway personalized coupon app is called Just For U, and it is supposed to save you an additional 10%–20% on top of your loyalty discounts.
Excitedly I downloaded the Just For U coupons app and updated my loyalty card phone number. I asked my friends how the app worked, and I followed their passionate advice:
"Just add all the coupons suggested for you, whether you want them or not, so that when you get to the register, you will get the coupon."
I tried this at first. I call it the Hit or Miss method. The benefits of this method are that you can shop normally and simply look for the items you need and choose (hopefully) the best price, and when you check out, you will have a lovely surprise that some of these items were indeed on your coupon list and you get a discount!
"I downloaded every coupon suggested for me just in case. I even downloaded diapers, and I don't have a baby!"
— An enthusiastic new coupon user
I joyfully tried this method and went shopping and crossed my fingers. Unfortunately, I got no coupon discounts on that first try. I learned that you have to be very precise in making sure it is the exact item on the coupon, exact size, weight, color, etc.
So the next time I went, I tried the Precise method. I walked around the store slowly, up and down every aisle (in the right flow according to the arrows they have these days) with my reading glasses on, or pushed up on my head, so that I could accurately compare the coupon in my phone app with the item I'm selecting. The Precise method was also a fail for me because I ended up buying items simply because I had a coupon for them, even though they were still more expensive than other similar items. It was also a failure because the shopping trip took me over two hours! This is way too long for me. And it was a fail because I finally caved and bought all those unhealthy snacks my kids had always begged me to buy for them – simply because they were available and, hey, I had a coupon!
Unfortunately, my Just For U app did not capture any of my coupons for my first three trips to the store so each time I then had to go to customer service and manually add them up and then get a refund. I also called customer service several times to find out why this was happening. Finally, someone discovered my email was not linked to the Just For U. Once that was fixed, the app worked. I was very persistent in trying to make the app work for me, and customer service was very helpful and always gave me refunds for the coupons that I should have received; however, during all my four trips, my Just For U savings ended up being only about 3% on top of my card savings.
The last step to saving hundreds of dollars on your groceries budget is to refine your process. Ask yourself:
- Do I really need/want these items, or is it only because they have a coupon?
- Is there another similar item that is less expensive even without the coupon?
- Can I still take at least one of my weekly trips to my neighborhood store to get certain beloved items such as good dark chocolate?
- Have I used discipline to record and stay within my budget?
- Have I used discipline to only shop once a week and use up all the perishable food in my fridge?
Remember the Fundamentals
Setting your budget, committing to your budget, shopping only once a week, and finding a recording system that works for you are what will help you to save hundreds of dollars on your groceries. One-stop shopping and trying to get discounts with personalized coupons can be fun and save you money, but it can also be aggravating and actually cost you money.
And beware: BigName Supermarket can also expose you to some economical commercial brands that you might actually like! Perhaps a balance between BigName and Neighborhood stores is the best way to go as long as you commit to your budget. Good luck, and let me know how it goes for you!
Song, Jundong. “Why ‘Just for u’ Might Be Just What Loyalty Cards Need.” Chain Store Age, 8 Aug. 2012, chainstoreage.com/news/why-just-u-might-be-just-what-loyalty-cards-need.
Goldstein, Ben. “Why Loyalty Programs Work Better Than Coupons and Discounts.” Credibly, Ben Goldstein Https://Www.credibly.com/Wp-Content/Uploads/2018/04/CrediblyLogo-1-300x138.Png, 16 May 2019, www.credibly.com/incredibly/using-working-capital/restaurant-abandon-coupons-embrace-loyalty-programs/.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Camille on July 28, 2020:
Ok, I'm so guilty of going to the grocery story several times a week and see that it does cost me more in time and money. These are great tips, especially during a pandemic. Thanks for sharing.
Javi on July 28, 2020:
What an excellent article.
I love your idea! using designated credit card for groceries only and pay it off immediately every month. I think it is a fabulous suggestion and I am
now inspired to save more money.
Dineen seymour Nahn on July 28, 2020:
Another great read I learned a lot in an intelligent and humorous way!!!
alice on July 28, 2020:
I’m inspired to make a budget!
Press on July 28, 2020:
Excellent article and very useful. I like your practicality in wrestling with this topic.
Drew Agravante from Philippines on July 27, 2020:
Time to save some money. Thanks for the tips.
Robie Benve from Ohio on July 26, 2020:
Great article, thanks for sharing all the saving tips. I like to buy different things at different stores, in an effort to find the quality I want at the best prices.