Food Prices Are Going up. Here’s How I Cut My Monthly Grocery Bill From $99 To $63 at the Same Time
Here’s how I’m spending even less at the supermarket in 2021
Since the pandemic and extreme weather events across much of the American South last month, food prices across the board have been on the incline. Last month, CPI data showed that food prices have increased relative to the previous year by 3.60 percent. And this notable rise in food prices is expected to continue as fuel prices increase and global supply chains remain hampered. While my grocery bill was low to begin with, here are the strategies that I’ve put in place to combat the price hikes — before they can derail my budget.
Strategy #1: Ditch the all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating
For the most part, I’m a healthy eater. But since I also exercise pretty regularly, abstain from alcohol and cigarettes, and get plenty of sleep, I knew that my eating habits didn’t have to be perfect in order to maintain good overall health. Since much of my grocery budget was being eaten up by fresh produce and steamed beans, I decided to sacrifice a little bit of the health benefit and go for mostly canned and frozen produce instead. Allowing myself to be a little more flexible with what I buy at the supermarket has saved me a little over $15 a month — and even more when I can find a coupon.
Strategy #2: Focus on cutting sugar gradually
Sugary foods always fail to satiate me. Even worse, they often lead me to crave more sugar while wreaking havoc on my mood and energy levels. So while these foods may appear to be the cheaper option at the supermarket, they end up driving up my monthly bill considerably due to the rate at which I consume them, as well as the necessity to still consume other items in addition just to feel full. Instead of focusing on cutting my grocery bill in general or cutting sugar cold turkey, I decided to gradually zero in on the high-sugar items in order to sustainably bring down my spending.
For several months, every time I went grocery shopping, I challenged myself to put back at least two sugary items before reaching the checkout lane. Not only have I saved a few dollars per trip by forgoing at least a few items a month, but I’ve also been able to stretch my cart a lot further by consuming a higher ratio of nutritious foods. I now come home without anything sweet save for a few apples and have watched my sugar cravings vanish entirely.
Strategy #3: Avoid fake sweeteners
I used to love drinking Coke Zero and adding sugar-free vanilla syrup to my morning coffee, but I’ve had to cut these items out of my budget and diet for several reasons. First, sodas and sweeteners can be pretty pricey when bought regularly. For this reason, I stopped automatically repurchasing them about a year ago. Second, even when I would consume these items as a rare treat, I noticed an immediate uptick in the frequency and intensity of my sugar cravings. Often my “treat” turned into several days of wasting money on meals out or nonessentials from the grocery store just to satisfy those newfound cravings. Since cutting these items out entirely, my appetite has not only stabilized, but my nonessential grocery purchases are far less frequent.
Strategy #4: Think in terms of meals
I rarely buy snacks anymore with the exception of a few pieces of fruit and a bag of carrots here and there. While this strategy may seem counterintuitive, I adopted it because I noticed how few meals I was eating in favor of quick snacks while working from home. And as I ate a diet heavier in snacks, my grocery bill surprisingly shot up. At the same time, I was accomplishing less at my job while barely taking breaks throughout the day.
So instead of adding any snack foods to my grocery list, I got in the habit of pairing every protein item that I wrote down with at least one complex carb and a serving of produce. In doing so, my overall rate of consumption has declined while I have more energy during the day than I ever have. And by carving out the time to eat a full lunch at work, I’m much more efficient with my time when I return to my desk.
Strategy #5: Stretch the priciest ingredients
The most expensive item that I buy regularly is chicken. While I used to eat whole chicken breasts with brown rice and vegetables for most of my meals and go through at least a pack of chicken every week in the process, I’ve been able to stretch one pack of chicken through nearly the whole month by making chicken fajitas and soup instead. While my meals may be slightly more caloric by going this route, cutting sugar and snacking less more than offsets my meals being a little heavier. No matter which item is having an outsized impact on your bill, finding a few alternate recipes to make that item last longer can cut your overall food costs substantially. Just by bringing my chicken consumption down, I net $16 a month and enjoy my meals more.
Strategy #6: Never stop shopping around
Since I already visit a number of different supermarkets when I do my bi-monthly shopping, I have a pretty accurate running list of the items that are cheapest at each store. But when a Wal-Mart neighborhood market and an Aldi both opened up in my area, I did a bit more comparison shopping and updated my list. Since those two stores opened, adding them to my rotation has allowed me to buy coffee grounds, tortillas, beans, pasta, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cheese at a significant discount. And since these are big enough staples in my diet, I’ve saved a few dollars per trip by getting steep discounts on items that were already pretty cheap to begin with.
Even if you already shop at a store that advertises rock bottom prices, chances are that not every item you’re buying from there is a steal. For example, Wal-Mart sells coffee at a much cheaper price than even Target for the generic brand, but Target, Aldi, and Costco still offer much better unit prices for chicken, eggs, and a number of household items. If you don’t mind a little inconvenience when you do your shopping, you can save a significant amount of money on a monthly basis when dividing up your grocery list and picking each item from the store with the best price for it.
Strategy #7: Apply the 24-hour rule to nonessentials
One of the biggest mistakes that I used to make with grocery shopping was not drawing a clear line between needs and wants. And this is a rather common mistake since we all need food, but we don’t need sweets, prepackaged snacks, or other off-list items at the supermarket. While I’ve managed to cut out most of my discretionary spending by waiting at least 24 hours before buying new clothes or eating out, I didn’t think to apply the same rule to food shopping until a few months ago. But by delaying unplanned grocery purchases and still allowing myself to buy them if they’re still on my mind after 24 hours, I’ve avoided a little over $10 in unnecessary spending every month while still giving myself some flexibility as I shop.