Sizzling on the grill. Juices hitting the coals. That wonderful seared aroma meets your nose. Mmmm.
Now you’re hungry, let’s talk about food.
If you’re new to frugality (as I am) and new to the early retirement world (as I am) you’ll probably find yourself reading the seminal post by Mr. Money Mustache entitled killing your $1000 dollar grocery bill
I’m going to be completely honest here. My initial reaction was that the idea of reducing our bill to ‘just’ $1000 spent on groceries per month would be fabulous! How on earth does one do that? What magic and trickery do I need to learn?
Mr. PIE and I started tracking our expenses at least 2 ago years ago. Just the basics: Find out where the money goes, make some changes. This is where we became aware of our grocery bill, and it was averaging $1400 to $1500 a month. That’s for four people, and I really can count the small PIES as two full people when it comes to eating – believe me! Now let me make one clarifying argument. Our grocery bill includes all food, all household products and all beer and wine. I realize that many people split out these costs when tracking expenses, which makes for difficult comparisons.
Was this something to be concerned about? Probably. However, we had bigger fish (and steak) to fry at that point. There were other expenses that needed our attention. The groceries continued.
Step 1 – Understand Your Expenses
We made some changes to our grocery shopping habits. Small ones. Very small ones. We investigated the local Stop & Shop as an alternative to Whole Foods. We even did some price checking. We became aware. However, We didn’t seem to be able to make a big shift in our expenses. That’s most likely because we didn’t really change anything substantial. We continued to buy whatever we wanted to fit the recipes we wanted to cook. Fancy some steak? Sure! The grass fed dry aged ribeye will be perfect! Need that perfect pasta dish? Great! There’s that artisanal pasta that’s so delicious!
Now, the last thing I want to do is come across as ‘poor little rich girl’, but I’m not sure I can argue against the moniker. It’s as simple as this. If I didn’t have the money to spend, I wouldn’t spend it. If I had to feed my family on far, far less, that’s what I would have to do. As Aristotle tells us: “ we are what we repeatedly do.” I don’t imagine he was talking about grocery shopping, but you get the point.
It was not until about 6 months ago that Mr. PIE and I had a good handle on other expenses and the energy and brainpower was in hand to finally, really attack the grocery spend. It was time to develop some new habits.
We have made progress and here is the proof. This handy bar chart from Mint.com shows just under 1 year of expenses (we switched from Bank of America’s transaction tracking to Mint in May 2015).
After a halfhearted effort with some results seen in the summer of 2015, we hit the holidays with houseguests and related expenses. Please focus on January through April. Not only is this a trend in the right direction, we believe this is sustainable too.
Step 2 – Make Changes
Why is this sustainable? This is all about new habits. If you stop doing things the old way, you can start doing things a new way. Who knew?! This is a list of some of the strategies we have implemented:
- All grocery shopping is now done at BJ’s Wholesale Club and Stop & Shop
- Purchase more food at BJ’s not just household goods. This includes items we consume a lot of as a family. Milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, fruit, pasta, canned tomatoes, tortillas……
- Make use of loyalty programs and use targeted coupons
- Know what’s on sale and buy bulk when it is
- Shop the weekly circular: identify the deals for the week (I focus on meats, fish and fresh produce) and plan meals round these deals. This is probably the single change that has made the most difference to us
- Buy only what is needed and use all of it. Which leads into…..
- Don’t make a mid-week trip for a forgotten or depleted ingredient. Substitute what we have instead
- Learn new recipes. Mr. PIE and I have always loved to cook and try new recipes, so actually trying new recipes isn’t the big deal here. What is the big deal is the type and quantity of food we now cook. My go-to for great recipes are Epicurious and Bon Appetite. Want to know how to prepare that grass fed dry aged ribeye steak to serve two? Epicurious is the place to be. Want to cook a crock-pot full of pork shoulder for the family and left overs for the freezer? My new favorite is Budget Bytes.
- Eat less meat. This is hard. It’s a 3-guy household. At least two nights a week is eggs, home made soups or similar. We’re learning the joys of beans, especially the Budget Bytes Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas.
- Buy and drink less wine and beer. Easy. Don’t buy it, don’t drink it
Step 3 – Refine and Optimize
There is a way to go yet. These efforts have had our grocery bill close to $1000 a month and we’re pretty proud of that. What we do realize is that this is a learning process. New strategies become habits and the door is then open for seeing the possibility for further changes. Our next goal is to get this spend down to around $900 a month and to do this there are several things yet to be realized. It’s time to move towards the store brand goods: laundry detergent, storage and trash bags, cleaning products for example. We’ve found there’s an Aldi fairly nearby that we need to check out (my parents in the UK swear by Aldi), and we need to get better at bulk buying dry good like rice, beans, and flour.
This doesn’t mean the ribeye is off the menu. It means the ribeye only comes out for a particularly special occasion – and is even more appreciated when it does.
What grocery shopping habits have you found helpful? What pitfalls do you still succumb to? How do you like your steak cooked?