Supermarket Savings Tip #8: Focus on lowering your grocery bill by 1-3% each month

Missed the other tips in this Supermarket Savings series? Find them here.

When you discover the world of couponing and frugal blogs, there’s a tendency to want to go overboard and try to cut your grocery bill by 95% next week. While the savings and great deals can be thrilling, please pace yourself.

If you go all out and spend hours and hours of time, at the expense of other priorities, you’ll invariably burn out and land yourself back in a worse position financially than you started in. Instead, take it slowly.

Focus on lowering your grocery budget by 1-3% every month. While this might not seem like much, over time, this gradual change in a good direction will really start to add up to significant change.

Best of all, you’ll enjoy the process–instead of ending up exhausted from pushing too hard, too quickly.

Want some step-by-step help to lower your grocery bill? Be sure to check out my 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series. Or get a copy of my book, The Money Saving Mom®’s Budget.

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  1. says

    I used to read your shopping trips, and be discouraged that we don’t havve the prices you do (ours are much higher) and tt our stores don’t double coupons, or round them up.

    I chose to focus on what I could save, but I still read your shopping tips and wondered if I couldn’t do more.

    And, slowly, I got better at what I COULD do, even in a more expensive area.

    In 2010, I fed our family for .70 per person per day. It was a HUGE difference in what I had done before. In 2011, I got it down to .40 per person per day, by making more changes. They weren’t what I was seeing you do–they were changes that I could make where I live. Instead of feeling discouraged that I wasn’t able to feed my family for as little as you did, I learned to keep striving for less. Your posts were an encouragement to keep trying with the resources I had. I made changes that made big differences (buying dried beans instead of canned, for instance, and then switching to buying dried beans in bulk, at .65 a pound instead of $1.25 a pound, and much cheaper than $.75 a can on sale!)

    It took time–a few years of learning–but we are not going hungry despite our lack of income, since I kept striving each time to do better than the last time, and to look for more inexpensive meals and inexpensive ways of making my least-expensive meals.

      • says

        There are several sources for getting beans in 25 or 50 pound bags. Sam’sClub and Costco both carry pinto beans in 25 pound bags.

        If you want other varities, however, you’ll need to look elsewhere. If you live near an Amish community, you can check Amish stores (for other bulk items as well, such as wheat).

        I have a list of bulk sources on my site that might help you:

        http://www.theprudenthomemaker.com/index.php/pantry/bulk-foods-and-grains

        I get black beans (25 pounds for $16.80) and white beans (25 pounds for $16.00) from my local LDS cannery. I also buy oats in bulk there (25 pounds for $15.35). This saves us a lot of money. We have beans in lots of things, including soups.

    • Wendy says

      You are right and none of us should feel discouraged. We are all doing the best we can. Different families have vastly different appetites, tastes, budgets and are in different stages of life. Certain food items I read about others buying in bulk would waste me money because I know that no one in my family would eat v that. While my kids are good eaters (I made them try everything when they were young) as they have gotten to be teenagers, they now tell me that they really do not like certain foods so I take that into consideration when I buy and prepare meals and don’t make them eat something they truly don’t like. While others can get by with just feeding their kids fruit for snacks, my teen boys need much more and an apple or orange simpily won’t fill them up. I buy what I know my family will eat and try to stay within my budget and save where I can. What I do will look much different than what you do, but that’s o.k. Good for you that you are succeeding in doing what works for your family.

  2. Wendy says

    I think one of the most important things is to figure out your savings YOURSELF. Don’t trust the little “You saved $38.93!” at the bottom of your receipt – those numbers have no basis in reality. If you usually spend $100/week and you’re now spending $80, you’re saving 20%! If you usually spend $100/week but you buy a bunch of products you don’t actually need or use just because they’re on sale, you may spend more than your usual $100 in the quest to “save” a higher percentage – and that doesn’t help anyone.

    • Linda says

      great point. When I first started couponing I went after every deal regardless, and loved the “you save x amount” at the end of the receipt. But I soon realized I never used those bottle’s of beano that expired. We don’t use beano…ever. (one example of many products we don’t use) I now only go after deals of things we use regularly. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo (and only if we are running out, I don’t need 20 bottles) etc.

  3. Gloria Anderson says

    I just went on my first shopping trip, with coupons. My total before coupons was 144.57. After coupons was 23$ Ive been learning from my cousin, and reading your blogs for about 4 months now. So i think i prepared myself before hand, so that i could jump right in. Thank you so much for everything you do. You are a true hero, helping moms save a little at a time to feed their family.

  4. Krystal says

    Great post and a very good reminder! I get overwhelmed very easily with all of the changes I want to make. Trying to save money on our grocery bill is one of the things I am striving for right now. I also used to get discouraged when I would read how other people were saving, or hear people say that they are only spending so much money per week because of their coupons. I’m not sure if I just haven’t figured out how to use them yet or what, but there are some weeks when I just don’t find any good sales for the coupons. Then I wonder if it is worth it. I have been trying to be encouraged by the little bit that I have been able to save. If I get something for cheaper than what I would normally pay, then it is still a savings! I know it’s a process and a learning experience. I just wish I was more patient!

    • Liz says

      @Krystal,
      I’ve been following this blog religiously for years, and I USED to get discouraged also. Especially when I hear things like how a family of 8 only spends 200 per month on groceries. Yes, I am happy for them, but that put me to shame. However, we are all in different stages of our lives, we all have different dietary needs, all have different amounts of time to spend on saving, and most importantly, we all have different stores available to us and with a huge variance in pricing depending on what state we live in. So I chose to change to perspective awhile back, and try to learn ANYTHING from the people who are able to save a significant amount. This particular post really hit home, because this is exactly what I’ve chosen to do: To stop looking at other people’s numbers, and focus on my own, and just try to do a little better each time. It’s fun being in a competition with yourself. :P Anyway, this has really helped me a lot.

      Like you, I also don’t always find great deals and sometimes it won’t save me anything to use certain coupons when things aren’t on sale. However, as I am not stockpiling at the moment, my general rule of thumb (in order to lower my grocery bill) is to just use coupons on products that I faithfully buy every week. If it is something I am going to buy anyone and I have a coupon that is for a quantity of one, then those coupons are my best friend and I use those. I’ve stopped buying extra just to use coupons. However, if you shopped twice a month or once a month, then I’m realizing that I might be able to utilize more of my coupons this way.

      Sorry for the long comment…just wanted to try to encourage you that every little bit makes a different, and also thanks to Crystal for another fantastic post!

      • JuliB says

        “I’ve stopped buying extra just to use coupons.”

        The only caution I have is that food is going to continue to go up. You may see a longer term return on your investment if you spend the money now. We all need to eat, and I doubt it will get any cheaper in the future.

        • Liz says

          @JulieB,

          That is a great point, and I used to buy LOTS of extra. My stockpiles got so large that I ended up just GIVING most of the stuff away to friends and family. I was out of control, so I have temporarily stopped stockpiling. I also noticed that when we had stockpiles, we were going thru items faster because we knew we had plenty. Now I do realize that is MY issue and something I can work on, but I was just stating above what works for ME at this particular moment. Also, in my opinion, prices don’t continue to rise every month, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to stock up due to rising costs unless I was going to purchase 6 months or more of an item, and I’m not in a financial position to that right now. I guess I realized that for me, if I was always stockpiling, then I was always spending more money than I needed to. So for me, it made sense to pretty much stop for a bit and focus on spending the least possible amount each week on my grocery bill. Again, this is what works for me at this time.

          • Wendy says

            Liz, the decision to stop stockpiling is one I made last week. My husband gets paid twice a month and on weeks he gets paid, I was really focused on stocking up on those good deals and spent a good portion of my grocery money stocking up and didn’t have much to spend the second week. I think I had been in the frame of mind that that particular item won’t be on sale ever again so I better get it now. I have now made a decision to simpily buy what we need for the week making my decisions by what is on sale at that time and using any coupons I have for my needed items not buying things simpily because they are on sale. I don’t have room to stockpile anyway. I am going to see if I come out better this way in the coming weeks as compared to my old way.

          • Andrea Q says

            The butter I buy went up 60 cents in January, organic milk is up 30-50 cents per half gallon and our favorite cheese is up 20 cents per pound. Apples are up 20 to 30 cents per pound, baby carrots 10 cents per pound and the regular price of pasta is up 10 cents per box. Those are the increases I can remember off the top of my head…I notice many more recent price increases every week at both of the grocery stores I frequent.

            Logically, food will not get cheaper, except the variance from seasonally available things.

  5. becky says

    When I met your blog I was a strict Aldi shopper, for everything I could possibly get there. I found that changing from that strategy to stockpiling/shopping sales/using Qs had an initial cost. Week one I stocked up on stuff we use alot–spa sauce, breakfast items. But I still needed to buy what I needed for that week. Fortunately my cash flow was great and it wasn’t an issue–just remember to factor in savings over time rather than just week to week. Second, I made alot more errors at first. Bought stuff and forgot the coupon, bought stuff I thought I would use but didn’t, tried new brands that weren’t worth it, or missed the best deals for sorting through all the deals out there. So know that there’s a learning curve, and finding what works for you to save you the max in your situation with your needs will take time.

  6. cathy S. says

    Liz, I do the same thing. I go through periods of time of stock-piling and then stop and spend the least I can, pulling from my pantry and just buying the items needed for the week. I might not use coupons that week because I’m usually buying the fresh items needed to go with my freezer and pantry items which were bought on sale and with coupons. Even so, I try to buy the fresh items that are on sale and that will work with our needs, but it doesn’t always work, it just depends. I def try to buy seasonal fruits/veggies. There are times that we just don’t have time to do a lot of “deal shopping” too like during times of illness or with chaotic schedules so it’s good to have the stockpiles for those particular times and also for times when money is really tight.

    • Liz says

      @Cathy S,
      I’m glad you understand where I am coming from. Besides, what’s the point of having a stockpile if you don’t utilize it? :P Also, I find that eventually my stockpiles get full, so those are the times I focus on just buying the bare necessities.

  7. says

    Saving 1-3% is so much more reasonable than trying to get 1000 boxes of Total for free, or whatever various extreme couponers are claiming they are doing. I decided to look at what I was spending on food as a whole, and spend more in the grocery store and less going out to eat. DiGiorno frozen pizza isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than ordering pizza from Dominos and tastes as good.

    • says

      We actually prefer frozen pizza! We put whatever toppings we have at home on it- olives, frozen broccoli, etc. I like banana. (Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it;) We don’t pay any extra for toppings, and it’s always still hot when we eat it. We use a pizza stone so the crust is perfect for us. It’s not as frugal as making it ourselves, but we don’t eat pizza to be frugal. We eat it because we are too exhausted to make anything else and we’re trying to keep ourselves out of the drive-through lane.

    • Liz says

      @Laura…so true. And about the extreme couponers, I really would like to know how much they SPEND on some of their extremely high-value coupons, especially when they hundreds of copies of them.

      • says

        @Liz – that was one of the most ironic parts of the pilot of TLC’s Extreme Couponing for me. This lady paid $70 to a clipping service and claimed she spent 70 hours couponing to cut a $1,175 bill down to $52 or so. Great. But since she didn’t have kids, she was just buying for herself and her husband. For $122, you could have fed two people for a long time! And you wouldn’t have had to spent 70 hours cutting coupons. The extra grand just went to the stockpile. Which took up like 2 rooms of the house.

  8. Shelly says

    From looking at your receipt, I’m amazed that your wholesome and organic foods are that inexpensive! Around here, eating organically costs a lot more, even in a rural area.

    I’ll have to check out your series! I shop at a place that doesn’t double coupons, because we only have one or two places in this entire region that do that I am aware of. Even though I’m single and on my own, I would like to cut costs, especially as I’m unemployed and I’m unsure of whether or not I’ll have a job by the end of my severance pay. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Anna says

    I have looked at the stock piles of some couponers on the internet that are so GIANT and wonder how they use it all. I do have a stock pile but I am rethinking the stockpile philosophy. I’ve decided I am not going to buy any more to stock pile and reduce mine considerably (and mine is not that big!). I am going to donate to the local food bank and use what I can over the next few months. My stock pile is well contained but I want to rework how I stockpile and store food. I want to be much more selective about what I stock pile and much more realistic. I have switched our menu selections considerable so we don’t eat some items I have stock piled anymore. I guess I just want to take a more minimalist approach to my pantry in a stockpiling way. :)

    Excellent posting!

    • Meredith says

      I was an avid couponer and I had a nice stockpile….but not like the ones on TV maybe 1/20 of what they have. I was spending our entire grocery budget on coupon goods. It got silly. I stopped couponing, except on things we use on a daily basis (i.e., sometimes I find milk and egg coupons, etc). That stockpile has lasted us a year and still going….since then, now I just buy what we need and I dare say I won’t go back to full couponing. I may pick up some extra necessities here and there but I’ll leave the extreme couponing to the people who need/want it!

  10. Helen says

    Stash Earl Grey Tea is the best!

    Also, I have found myself limiting my coupon usage. I am not bananas for them as I used to be but I am still saving money, it’s all about balance!
    We have also stopped eating out. This was, well IS, hard for us. We have a disabled son who can’t (or doesn’t want to) participate in a lot of activites so going out to eat was a way for the family to go out together and have fun, but it’s just gotten way too expensive. I have started focusinf on amking fun food at home.

    • K* says

      It has to be hard when you are so limited in what activities you can do as a family. Maybe finding kids eat free nights in your area would help to cut costs?

      Recreating the restaurant atmosphere at home can be a lot of fun, too. Good luck! I hope you are finding ways to spend time together as a family, even with your son’s challenges. I used to work with a woman whose son was schizophrenic, and his condition wasn’t well-controlled with medicine, so she and her husband basically had to jump through hoops to do anything as a family, because he would randomly decide that certain places had started putting poison in the food (due to his condition).

  11. says

    I’ve been re-reading through a lot of your old posts (and talking to Renee ;) ) and I’ve come to the conclusion this is what I need to do for now until I get a better grip on couponing. I tend to take and all or nothing approach, so this is probably a good place for me to break that habit!

  12. Leighann says

    When I first started couponing and strategic shopping, I had high hopes for getting those 80-90% offs like I was seeing everyone else doing. I started out with Coupon Mom, and her thing is “Everyone can save 90% on their grocery bill!” Well, when I was only able to save 10 or 15% on my bill, I was getting really discouraged. I tried everything I could to get it to a higher percentage of savings, and no go for me.

    When I met some other couponers in this area and talked to them, I found out that they, too, had trouble getting the good savings in this area. It’s harder here because the stock up price for ground beef is $2/lb! However, you can usually get shrimp fresh off the boat for less than $1/lb. So I had to learn and accept that my needs weren’t the same as Coupon Mom’s needs. I learned to be happy saving *anything* on a grocery bill, because something saved off the bill is wonderful!

    Now for me a good week is saving 20%. We don’t have the access to fresher foods like many other parts of the country has, so getting good organic stuff is costing my family extra money, but saving us health-wise in the long run. I appreciate the hard work you put into this blog, because this blog directly helps my family save what little money we can save. Thank you!

  13. says

    I think this is great advice.

    Our grocery bill is still way larger than everyone else’s but for the past two months my goal has been to drop it by $100 a month – so far I’ve exceeded that goal. So now as I get ready to enter April, I’m down $200 from what we were spending each month previously. Don’t worry though, we still have hundreds of dollars to cut but I feel really good about the changes we are making.

  14. says

    It’s easy to become discouraged if you compare yourself to others who are seeing far more significant savings than you are. When I first started to use coupons, I would spend hours getting prepared for a shopping trip to save a few dollars and then read about someone else who bought groceries for a week for $5 or less. I still don’t see these types of savings! However, now I focus on buying healthy foods for my family at the lowest price I can find in my area (no CVS, no Aldi, no double coupons, etc). I might save $2 or $40 but I’ve stopped the comparisons and I’m feeling good about the savings I do see.

  15. K* says

    This is a great post, Crystal. I live in an expensive area, where there is an Aldi, but it’s in a bad neighborhood. Our food prices are higher, and we don’t often get the regional high-value coupons that others do. It was frustrating at first, but then I decided to not stress, and to focus on ECBs at CVS first. I learned that system using your instruction posts, and allowing myself $10/week for about a month until I got the hang of it. Once I did that, I branched out to Rite Aid. I skip Walgreens because I can’t stand the place, it’s dirty and they’re often out of the good deals. I also found their system horribly confusing.

    I did eventually manage to save 55% on a grocery bill, but I haven’t had that sort of luck in a few months. ;)

  16. Kristin says

    I have been able to cut our grocery budget by almost $50 a month by reducing portion sizes to healthy norms. I always used to make enough food for seconds and even thirds and often had leftovers that sat in the fridge until I threw them out. Now I cook just enough for everyone in the family to have one healthy portion of meat and starchy foods like rice or potatoes. I always put vegetables and salad on the table and encourage people to take seconds if they are still hungry. For desserts, I make small individual servings 2 or 3 times per week. I only buy one bag of chips and one bottle of diet soda and one bottle of reduced sugar fruit juice per week–when they are gone, there is no more until the next shopping trip. I encourage the family to snack on fruit, air popped popcorn, and peanut butter instead of expensive processed junk. I was motivated to make these changes because 3 of us are overweight, but the drop in our grocery bill was a nice bonus.

  17. Meredith says

    I was feeling discouraged, as well. I’ve learned to do what I can and stop comparing it to others. I’ve been keeping all of my receipts organized by month, so I can break it down by week. It helps me to see what I’m spending and I’ve found that I can’t get it much lower, so I just have to go with it. I also decided to start adding up how much I’m saving and that’s been great to see.

    • Liz says

      Love your attitude, Meredith, and how you are finding the positive and focusing on that!

  18. says

    I agree, gradual change is better, you don’t feel discouraged if you don’t save 90% right away. It’s a good idea to write down your grocery budget, or budget goal, and lower it little by little each month. Another good way to see how much you are accomplishing is tracking how much you are saving. Most receipts show you either percentage saved or amount. It really boosts your confidence and makes you want to do better.