Frugality is similar to mindfulness, you can easily lose it for a while especially with the busy way we live today, but fortunately, it’s always possible to regain your sense of frugality by bringing your attention to the appropriate things in your life.
In our case, our grocery spending has been steadily increasing since 2014 as we slowly let go of efficient planning habits due to various events that demanded a lot of our time and energy these past few years. However, we are fully aware that life will always be very busy and full of unexpected events, especially as long as we are still working. Therefore, it is very important to set time aside to plan and become proactive in order to regain control when we lose sight of our sense of frugality (especially since a reduction of our grocery spending could help us gain a lot more time by reaching financial independence sooner).
This article will lay out our plan to reduce the grocery expenses of the Modest Millionaires family.
This category of expense has been on my radar these last few months, especially after having watched the report from Banc Public on the phenomena of financial independence where Dominic J. Favreau from the francophone blog Se Payer en Premier indicated that he spends 5,525$ per year in groceries to feed his family of 5. Subsequently, the blogger Le Jeune Retraité (translates to the Young Retiree) recently published an article entitled L’épicerie pour les nuls on this subject and comments from readers highlighted that families of 4, like us, manage to comfortably spend around 140 to 160$ per week.
Although I am not convinced that we can reach the same level of spending as M. Favreau, any savings is more than welcomed especially considering that our weekly average of spending is presently higher than 250$ per week. I thereby challenge myself to reduce our grocery spending as much as possible by taking all the steps to identify the simplest and most efficient way for us.
I also plan on documenting our process here with regular updates to let you know how much we are spending on groceries per week, which will hopefully give us a bit of extra motivation to stay on course.
For every objective that we set ourselves, we like to establish a plan that sets out a series of specific and concrete actions we need to take in order to be successful.
Step 1: Reviewing our current habits:
I would first like to specify that our ‘’grocery’’ category of spending includes almost everything that we can purchase in a grocery store, therefore hygiene products are mostly included in this category. We do take the time to separate beer/wine, clothing or gift costs even if we made the purchase in a grocery store or at Costco.
These are our Grocery category expenses of the last 3 years:
|$8,460 (Jan 1 to Aug 20)
|$256 (33 weeks)
You’ll notice that in 2015 our expenses were much lower. Was this because we were only a family of 3 at the time? Nope, baby #2 does not eat almost 100$ per week of food, yikes!
Back in 2015, I was on maternity leave with baby #1 and allocated more time to planning weekly menus according to flyers, making sure I had a complete list ready before hitting 2 or 3 different stores to get our grocery shopping done. Thanks to an Excel sheet, I tracked the least expensive prices I could find for every item in order to maintain a price book. I was really dedicated at first but slowly drifted away from these good habits with the arrival of baby #2, returning to work and various life events.
Here is how we have been grocery shopping these last months:
- No weekly menu planning. Something I miss dearly as it is so useful on those busy weeknights to have planned what dinner will be!
- Sporadic use of grocery lists through the Keep application on our phones. Although lately I have been going through it once I am already at the store trying to remember what we still have in our fridge at home.
- Shopping once or twice per week at Maxi where I can take advantage of price-matching and visiting Costco every 3 months.
- We have a small ‘’inventory’’ in a cold room in our basement to keep non-perishables as well as a small freezer to stock meat/meals we’ve prepared ahead of time.
- Thanks to the Flipp application, I’ve been price-matching essentially items that, from memory, seem to be more expensive.
- I’ve been using the PC Optimum points card. We’ve also recently decided to get the President’s Choice Financial Mastercard (by using this link with which we have no affiliation to apply for the card, we got a 100$ gift card as a bonus when signing up).
- We cook a lot by also trying to fully use whatever we buy (for example when we roast an entire chicken, we’ll save the bones to make broth, etc.) and we rarely buy processed food. We eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, and we eat a lot of meat.
- Since January 2018, I (Ms Mod) have modified the way I eat a bit in order to lose the weight that I kept from my two pregnancies (with success hehe). The only main difference between what the rest of the family eats is that when they eat rice, bread or potatoes I will normally opt for substituts like cauliflower, sweet potatoes and squash.
- Waste: I don’t believe we waste a lot but by tracking this we might find ways to improve.
Step 2: The research
There are so many resources that cover food consumption and grocery spending. It’s useful to focus on examples that are comparable to your situation. Here are certain resources that I’ve consulted to learn what works for others as well as the main ideas that stayed with me from those readings:
Économisez 5000$ par an sur votre épicerie by Se Payer en Premier (Save 5000$ per year on your groceries) :
- Very good francophone article that should be read by anyone who wants to save on their grocery bill. It is written by Mr. Favreau from Se Payer en Premier who spends only 5,525$ per year to feed his family of 5!
- Don’t associate a lower price tag to a lesser nutritional quality.
- By paying attention to the amount of taxes on our bills, we can find out if we actually buy few processed foods.
- I’ve used Zweet and Checkout51 in the past but I did not know of Caddle or Lili on Magasine for coupons. I’ve rarely used coupons as I believe it takes a lot of effort but this resource seems to greatly simplify the task. By consulting the site, I also found a list of the best prices for items, which will be useful to start planing without having a complete price book. There is also weekly lists of the best prices at various stores.
Financial independence forums are also a great place to find recurring posts on how to lower your grocery bill. There was recently a Canadian looking to reduce his 400$ weekly grocery bill on the Mr. Money Mustache forum. Another member of the same forum has documented how he manages to keep his monthly grocery bill under 200$ USD (about 261$ CAD).
- Track your expenses by keeping and reviewing all your grocery bills as long as it takes to become familiar with your current habits.
- Maintain a price book to know the real value of all items and know when to actually stock up on an item when it’s on sale. It’s also possible to consult prices of items that are not in the flyers without actually heading to a store by consulting the online delivery services of some stores.
- Prepare weekly menus according to the sales and flyers and according to which produce are in season (here’s a pretty cool info-graphic that can be useful to get a general idea of which produce are in season).
- Prepare a list of low-cost recipes to use in your menu rotation.
- Use the various reward programs strategically (MillionDollarJourney has a good article specifically on optimizing the PC Plus points program )
- Track what you are throwing out.
Finally, I also consulted the local Facebook groups for mommies/parents in my region in order to research the recurring questions on this subject and was able to find lots of good recommendations specific to our community (for example suggestions of local farms that offer low-costs for products in season, shares of local rebates or sales, information on the price-match policy of local stores).
I’m sure that there are thousands of other resources but with those I believe we have a good base to establish our own personal approach to lower our grocery bill.
Step 3: Our Plan
Here are the major points of our plan:
- Prepare a weekly menu according to sales by consulting our price book as well as the list of best prices prepared by the On Magasine website. The preparation will be done every Wednesday or Thursday when most new flyers are available on Flipp.
- Prepare a shopping list from our menu thanks to ‘’Keep’’ and ‘’Flipp’’ by consulting what is missing in our inventory and fridge, and also consult Lili on Magasine to print out any coupon that may apply and the PC Optimum app in order to identify the savings that could be useful or that should be saved for the next week.
- Price-Match: use price-match as much as possible. Thanks to the menu planning as well as the list, the items to price-match should already be identified in Flipp.
- Always visit the discounted item shelves especially for produce (tip I got from the interview of Frugal Gene on the Fire Drill Podcast ).
- Use the invoices to get any Checkout 51 or Caddle discounts.
Zweet(Updated August 22: Just received a notifaction that Zweet will no longer work in QC… Zweet’s dead baby :P)
- For the first few months, keep all invoices to track every spending to identify issues and to update our price book.
- Write down on a magnetic list on the fridge any food we waste as soon as we put it in the compost.
- Finally, publish on the blog regular updates of our weekly spending as well as our new weekly average for 2018 in order to track our progress.
Step 4: Predicting potential obstacles and elaborating strategies to overcome these
To avoid expensive visits at Costco to ‘’refill our inventory’’ (I tend to rush to get out of there, which causes me to not pay attention to the prices of items, since I really don’t like shopping there):
- Be consistent in applying the plan mentioned above and space out our next visit to Costco to wait until we have acquired enough practice in planning our purchases, an updated price book and better knowledge of the real price per item.
- Make a list of things we really want to buy at Costco, and limit myself to only those items.
Last minute spending:
- Plan our menus accordingly, that is by including some meals requiring less preparation for week nights.
- Make sure that we always have a minimum of 2 meals in our freezer that we can defrost easily for a quick dinner on crazy nights where we might not stick to our menu (such as our delicious spaghetti sauce).
Loss of motivation/unplanned life event/etc:
- Keep on consulting inspiring sites on the subject, such as blogs or posts on forums like the member on Mr. Money Mustache forum that only spends 200$USD per month in groceries, in order to stay inspired to put in the time to plan while also being on the lookout for new tips.
Step 5: Tracking and adapting
Our updates on this blog will be a good way to make sure we stay on track. Our tracking will need to be done on a long term basis since we have an inventory and small freezer which are both pretty well stocked right now (happily so especially with our high spending until now for 2018).
To measure our progress we will therefore use our actual weekly spending as well as our annual weekly average which should decrease. This will give us a better idea of our long term level of spending for this category.
As for adapting, although it will take lots of effort and time to begin, the objective is to make this process as simple as possible for us. Our plan may change as we get used to these techniques to save on our grocery bill. I’ll try to detail whenever we encounter obstacles and explain any changes we make to our approach.
Finally, I hope that this preparation exercise as well as its publication on our blog with help keep us on track to stick to our plan. Especially now that my few readers have been informed that we want to improve in this area and that we plan on making regular updates on this ;).
If you have any suggestions or resources that could help us reduce our grocery bill, or if you would like to share your own experience in reducing your grocery bill, please share in the comments :)!