I’ve been putting this challenge off for months, but the time has come. I’m going to take 12 weeks to see exactly what it takes to lower our monthly food bill and save money on groceries.
Everyone knows that food is one of the biggest monthly expenses and it probably has the most variability from person to person. Some people find ways to get by on $100 a month while others easily spend over $1,000.
Our challenge over the next 12 weeks is to track our grocery spending and make some reasonable changes to see how much we can save.
The “Save Money on Groceries” Challenge
My 5 Objectives:
1. Lower our food budget: We are hoping to lower our food spending (groceries and eating out) by 25%. This should be the easiest of the 5 to measure!
2. Healthy lifestyle: I’ve been unsuccessfully yo-yo dieting for the past 6 years and it’s time to be an adult and make being healthy a lifestyle not a diet. A healthy lifestyle is hard to quantitatively measure but my concrete goal is to lose 24 lbs and lift
3. Reduce food waste. My wife and I have an awful habit of throwing away food we’ve already bought. Not only is this a huge waste of money ($215,000 over a lifetime) but since we are lucky to have an abundance of food, I feel we should do our best to reduce our waste.
4. Identify tools / resources: I want to find, test, and review some of the best tools and resources out there to help you save money on groceries. Down below I’ve outlined a couple of the resources I’ll be using for the challenge. At the end of the 12 weeks I’ll evaluate their effectiveness.
5. Share: Publicly share my results and turn this page into a massive resource for people trying to save money on groceries.
Here is the question I think everyone asks themselves when they take a hard look at their grocery budget…
How much money can I really save on groceries without sacrificing quality and is it worth the effort?
My hypothesis that is the answer will be a resounding “YES” for most people, but the answer to that really depends on your starting place.
If you’re already conscious of your grocery spending then this guide will hopefully show you how to trim a bit more without sacrificing quality.
If you have never tried to save money on groceries, then I really think this could lower your spending by 50%.
My Starting Place
About 6 months ago we started tracking our spending using Mint. We love their service because it does all the hard work for us. Here is what the last several months of grocery + restaurant spending has looked like for my wife and I.
Based on that info, our baseline spending is an average of $700 per month. Our goal is to get this down to around $525 a month which would be a 25% reduction giving us an extra $175 a month in savings!
For a family of two we clearly have some work to do. We live in a big city with access to grocery stores and have a medium cost of living.
My Self-Imposed Rules For The Challenge:
1. Eat real food
I can guarantee you that I won’t be eating a rice and beans diet for a month just so I can come back with a click-baity headline “How I Reduced My Grocery Spending by 1000%”
I’ve never been a fan of the rice and beans diet to save money. Kudos to you if that’s how you save money but I like to eat real food.
I’m a bigger guy, topping the scales at over 260 (hopefully 240 by the end of these 12 weeks). These days I’m also working out 4x a week with an emphasis on powerlifting. I track my workout volume and will probably lift around 2,000,000 lbs by the end of these 12 weeks.
I definitely won’t be drastically undereating the next 12 weeks just to prove a point. I’ll still be eating over 200g of protein a day and on heavy training days I’m probably eating over 300 carbs.
I’ll just be eating real food, making small adjustments, and trying to reduce overall food waste.
2. Stay consistent in how we track
The baseline spending above includes the money we spend on toiletries and most household maintenance. We buy all of our toilet paper, paper towels, soap, toothpaste, etc at HEB along with our groceries. It would be easy for us to separate out our spending here to show a bigger decrease but it wouldn’t be honest.
That being said, I do plan to keep track of our receipts so I can get some data on how much of what we spend goes towards meat, vegetables, and other categories.
Tools & Resources to Save Money on Groceries
Ibotta is an app that gives you cash-back on purchases made at most major grocery stores! You can select stores near you, find offers, and then after you make the purchase you send your receipt!
This month I am planning to see how much money Ibotta helps us save and I’m looking forward to reporting on the results!
Other Meal Prep Resources I’ve Written:
- 46 Easy and Cheap Meal Prep Recipes You Can make for $2 or Less Per Serving
- 43 Easy Keto Meal Prep Recipes to Save Time and Eat Right
- The Ultimate Meal Prep Guide to Save You Time and Money
Update: Month One / April
Alright now! The time has come for my first grocery budget update for the month of April! Let’s get right to the numbers…
Our monthly spending on food in April was $556 which is an 18% decrease from the previous month and a 20% decrease from our monthly average spending of $700.
Overall, I’m super happy about this! It was my birthday in early April, so if we subtract out my birthday dinner, it would bring our total down to $506. If we’re being honest though, there is always something to celebrate or something random that comes up so I’ll keep it as is.
For this update I’m going to run through the following:
- What worked for us
- What didn’t work
- Our big win
- Our big fail
- Favorite recipe from the month
- One Lesson learned
We knew that if we were going to really save money on groceries, then we’d have to recognize our weaknesses and work on them or around them.
- We love convenience.
- On Friday nights we are too lazy to cook so we eat out.
- We throw too much food.
Now, I imagine most of you struggle in the same areas, so here are the things that helped us save money on groceries this month:
1. What worked for us
The biggest reason we eat out is for convenience. Not every meal needs to be a labor of love. Sometimes you just need to cook something, eat it, and get back to work.
Our go-to convenient meals:
- Omelet with vegetables (est. 10 minutes)
- Spinach salad w/ nuts, cranberries, and green apple
- Quick stir fry: Chicken & bell peppers w/ soy sauce, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of freezer meals, but I totally get the appeal. They can also be a huge life-saver on a rainy day when you really don’t feel like cooking. Whenever we started the challenge, this was the very first thing I did. I made 2-3 meals that I knew I could heat up in 5-10 minutes if I was in a pinch.
Our Two Favorites:
- Texas Chili
- Thai Chicken Noodle Soup
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of meal prepping. It has saved me hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars over the last few years. With full-time work and doing grad school at nights, I don’t have time to plan and cook every day.
I’ve been able to get my meal prepping down to 2-3 sessions a week. Saturday afternoon, Monday night, and Wednesday night. Every week I’ve been picking 2-3 recipes off my list of 46 Easy Meal Prep Recipes that are less than $2 a serving and giving them a try!
Kill the Snacking
One of the diet and wallet killers for us is unnecessary snacking. The big offenders for us are cereal, crackers, cheese, and chips and salsa. My wife and I both got in the bad habit of snacking right when we got home from work and later on after dinner. These calories add up pretty quick and so do the dollars!
We haven’t outright killed all of our snacking, but we’ve replaced them with things like carrots, celery, green apples, and peanut butter. Healthier and cheaper!
2. What didn’t work
This section isn’t as much fun, but we learned some valuable lessons this month.
Meal prepping vegetables: I’ll be honest… preparing & cooking vegetables ahead of time just did not work for me. Two day old green beans? No thanks. I’m happy to eat meat or carb sources a couple days after cooking them, but veggies lose their taste and texture pretty quick in my eyes. I will say though that chopping vegetables for future use and cleaning them all at once did save some time!
3. Our big win
Finals weeks usually tank my diet and crush my wallet. It’s like all of my good habits just disappear for a week.. I eat unhealthy, I eat for convenience, and I justify all my eating out with, “Its just finals.”
Well, I managed to make it through this round of finals with just one meal out and it was cheap & healthy! HUGE win for me.
4. Our big fail
This month we really tried our best to reduce our food waste, but we had one big fail this month! We had about 2.5lbs of ground beef that hadn’t gotten cooked yet. It was definitely a few days past the expiration, but I figured I would at least give it a try!
I whipped it up using our favorite taco meat recipe (beans, corn, onion, bell peppers, etc). It smelled great and looked great, but after one bite I could taste the sourness….
I ended up throwing away the whole pot of food. Easily 6-8 meals worth of tacos.
5. Favorite recipe from the month
My favorite recipe from this month was this Turkey Tortilla Soup from Laylita’s recipes. It was super easy to make and it let me use up some leftover turkey that had been sitting in our freezer for months!
Next month’s update will look pretty similar and at the end of the 12 weeks I’ll be putting together a full list of all the lessons we’ve learned on this “save money on groceries” challenge!
For the next 2 months I’ll be editing this challenge page with monthly reports detailing our spending, lessons learned, and advice that will help you save money on groceries.
Check back in mid June to see our first second update!
Your turn! Share in the comments below what money saving tips you have for everyone trying to save money on groceries!