11 Tips (That Really Work) To Save Money On Groceries

 

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If you like reading personal finance articles and blogs as much as I do, chances are you’ve read the same tips I have. Many are valuable, but if you read that much, odds are you have tried many of them already.

One thing is certain. We are all spending a lot of money on groceries and eating out! This is a great area to try to get under control to save some cash.

Here are some tips I have found to be useful. Some I have read before and you may have too; others maybe not, so read to the end. I have found them all to work and save me money. I can’t say that you will save thousands in a month, but you will save a lot of money over time if you implement them and stick with it!

Plan your shopping around sales flyers. This is one we have all heard before, but it works. Not everything in a sales flyer is a deal, however. You can save money this way but you can expand it by reading on.

Plan your meals. I know we have all heard that before, but it cannot be denied. If you don’t plan what you will cook for dinner, not only will your kids and spouse ask “what’s for dinner” every night, you will respond with “what do you want” and they will say “I don’t care” and you will get mad! Then you will get takeout! At the end of the day we are all tired from working. If we don’t plan we either get takeout or eat something that isn’t very healthy. When I plan, nobody asks because it is on the calendar and I have everything available and just start on it when I walk through the door. It makes my life easier when I do it, and more difficult and expensive when I don’t.

Know your pricing. Several years ago I took a day off from work, went to all the local stores and did the literal and proverbial pricing book. I wrote prices down and got asked by store employees what I was doing! This was a lot of work! It helped me figure out in general which store had the best pricing overall for the items I buy, so if there wasn’t a sale, that was where I would go. It also gave me a baseline of how far down prices go and how often at which store.

Use coupons. When I make my list I check online for any coupons that are available for what I am getting. I do clip coupons from the paper but I also do searches online. Most of the time I find an extra I can use for my order.

Use store specific and coupon/cash back apps. I won’t do a list here (post for another day) but use any apps you can to save money. My go to local store has one of their own which gives me 2% back on their store brands. They also give me offers for free items based on other items I have purchased in the past.

Shop at more than one store. I take several flyers and mark them up at home in the kitchen. I make abbreviated lists and plot my route out and go to each to get what I need.

Stick to your list! There is nothing worse than writing that list and getting sidetracked by something in the store and blowing up your budget. Be a “man or woman on a mission” when you go in and stick to the plan!

Spend a little to save a little. I am a busy working mother of two girls and I will admit that sometimes I don’t have time to do all of this. My local grocery store offers to-go shopping for a $5 fee if my order is under a certain amount (free if it is over that amount). When I am time strapped, I place my order online and get everything there (this is my go to store when I am not shopping sales). How does spending $5 on a service fee help me save money? It saves me time and when I shop online I stick to the budget! It is easy to shop online from my kitchen on my laptop. I typically find that I don’t end up buying things I already have (since I can check my pantry and fridge while I shop) and if the total goes over, I remove something from my cart. I have never once gone over my budget ($100/week for a family of four) by shopping this way. When I pull up to pick it up, I can still use coupons and they put them right in my trunk. This also saves me from a night of takeout on my way home from work if I didn’t have time to go to the store over the weekend.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. My local store has a lot of competition and on one occasion I arrived to pick up my order and I found they have given it away to somebody else! They said they would immediately go pull it again and ended up giving me $15 off my order and a $25 gift card for my trouble waiting. I waited 20 minutes so the $40 reduction was definitely good compensation for the inconvenience. If you have a local store competing heavily and have never been there, give them a try

I can also price shop and do the same from a local Wal-Mart (who only has a minimum $40 order for no fee but doesn’t take coupons yet). If I don’t have coupons Wal-Mart grocery pickup can be a better deal. They also will substitute a better item at no additional cost to me if they are out of what I chose.

Use those leftovers up. This was difficult in our house. Like most people I would pack up the leftovers and put them in the fridge to die. Clear containers, not so clear containers, top shelf, bottom shelf, it didn’t matter. We wouldn’t eat them. We would forget them. We would look right past them. My daughter solved it. She posted a list to the front of the refrigerator (we had to tape it because it is stainless so don’t let a lack of a magnetized front stop you!). The list says “Hey family list the leftovers here”. So we do and they get eaten (or frozen if we aren’t going to eat them). Problem solved. It was amazing such a small detail made such a big difference. I also list items that go bad quickly (fresh fruit) just to remind us all it is there.

Pack a lunch for work and for school for the kids. While school lunches seem to be priced low, you can make a healthy lunch for less and include all the things your kids like. As for work, if I don’t pack lunch I am guaranteed to have to get something from a local deli or restaurant usually between $6 & $9. Typical the portion sizes are too big so I end up eating more than I would otherwise. The leftovers work great for me. I find the most productive time for me to pack my lunch is right before I go to bed the night before. Then I only have the kids to deal with in the morning.

Trade out your freezer bags for sandwich bags when freezing small portions. That’s right-it’s not a typo! How would you avoid freezer burn you ask? Put those bags in a gallon freezer bag. You will save money on freezer bags which are more expensive and easily be able to pull one serving out at a time without the contents freezing together.

Admittedly most of these aren’t anything new. They really do work if you do them, especially if you do all of them. I used to think some of these things didn’t work for me for whatever reason I came up with at that time. I finally looked in the mirror and admitted it didn’t work because of the person I was looking at!

Habits are so hard to change but if you don’t stick with it and do it, nothing will ever change. So change them and keep more of your change!

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

7 Things You Can Do With an Expected or Unexpected Year End Bonus

 

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‘Tis the season for an expected or unexpected bonus payment at work. Many people are fortunate enough to work for an employer who recognizes their hard work.

What to do with it? Depending on your situation there are different answers.

Save it – Saving it would be a smart option. Beefing up (or starting) an emergency fund is a great idea. Read most any article and you’ll see this is a foundational step. How much to save? That depends. Dave Ramsey says 3-6 months; Suze Orman says 9 months. I am a fan of Suze on this one. There is nothing like having some cash when things don’t go as expected.

Invest it – Adding additional funds to your retirement savings is always a good move. Whether you can defer more into your 401(k) or IRA, your older self will thank you for doing so. I frequently ask myself when I am thinking of spending money needlessly whether my older self would care that I spent money on XXXXXX. The answer is always no. This helps me clarify needs vs. wants. Not to say I don’t spend on wants, I just don’t get into the stupid zone with it.

Pay Down Debt – If you have debt you are trying to clear, then this might be a great opportunity to gain some ground on it. Using an annual bonus to make an extra principal payment on your mortgage can reduce your interest in addition to scheduling that “burn the mortgage” party earlier!

Education –  Have you wanted to take a class or start on a degree program? This might be the jumpstart you need. Have kids? You could put it into their 529.

Home Repairs – There might be a home repair you’ve been putting off that you would love to tackle over the New Year. This has the potential, depending on the repair, to increase the value of your home. You could do something big like a new furnace or something small like replacing your kitchen cabinet knobs with something new.

Spend it – Maybe you had plans and were saving up for something special and this puts you over that magical amount. Balance out your spending with other priorities. While items are nice, sometimes spending on experiences is well worth it, especially with family.

Donate it – I have a friend who donates her annual bonus every year split between her local church and a variety of good causes on her list. Some good ideas are food pantries, hospitals, conservation groups, homeless shelters or even a friend, family member or neighbor in need. There is no better feeling than being able to help somebody else.

Any of these or a mix of them would be great choices. The important thing is to plan out whatever you are going to do with it. You will then avoid that awful feeling of regret.

Do what you do intentionally. Your employer gave you the bonus to reward you for your hard work this year. Follow through and continue to do a good job for yourself.

 

Why Dave Ramsey is right about using cash

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I have listened to Dave Ramsey since late 2007. My husband found his TV show on Fox Business one night. He came down the stairs and said “there is this guy on TV you might like”. So I watched and was hooked. Since then the TV show went off the air but in the interim I found the podcasts and listen to them regularly.

Dave Ramsey is a huge advocate of using cash and rages against credit card use. He has rational and logical arguments against this. I agree that they are really are a convenience.

In early 2008 we decided to make the switch from using credit cards to cash. I had used credit cards since I reached theoretical adulthood at 18. I thought it would be a minor change and in some ways it was, but not in others. Here is what I discovered when I made the switch.

Spending cash requires pre-planning. With a credit card I can go anywhere conveniently. If I am to spend cash, I need to go to the bank (or an ATM), and take out the right amount of money. If I don’t take enough out, or even if I do, I am limited. This resulted in the next thing I found.

I spent less. I had always budgeted but as many studies have shown, I spent more by using plastic. There is just simply a bottomless pit of money there. You are limited by your credit card limit but really, who thinks about that when spending? You would only think about that if whatever you were buying would bump up against your limit. If you are buying dinner for $65 and your limit is $3,000, you won’t give a thought to ordering a dessert. You will rationalize that it is only $8 and order that chocolate cake. How much would it cost you to bake a chocolate cake at home and save money? Next to nothing.

I had a hard time parting with my cash. This was quite surprising to me. This made it real. There was more of a connection between “feeling” my spending than with a credit card. I naturally limited myself because I wanted to hang on to the cash. This was probably the biggest benefit I found by doing this.

I stayed on budget. Really this statement is a no brainer. I only had so much cash to spend and when it was gone, I was done. The time I would need to spend to go out of my way to go get more money just wasn’t worth it to me. I am a busy person and didn’t want to do that. Inertia works in my favor there. The trip is not worth it to me. This was a built in buffer or “time out” from spending aimlessly.

The loss of the credit card rewards really didn’t matter. When you are using the cards, you think that you are being smart since you are getting some money back. Not using coupons but using your credit card? That’s okay, you’ll get rewards points. When you stop using them, you find that those rewards are much smaller than what you save by staying on budget.

I felt relieved. I handle all the money in our home. I use Quicken for our finances. Each credit card charge requires me getting a receipt, bringing it home, entering it into the software, reconciling the bill, then paying it on time. It was so liberating not to have to do all of that or keep track of it. I felt free.

I had no purchasing guilt. This is one of the things I heard on Dave’s show and it is real. He says having a budget gives you permission to spend. I agree except that I always had a budget. I didn’t always follow it, but even when I did there was always something “there” and I never noticed it until I switched to cash. It was stress. Stress for spending and not having the tangible cash in my hand. Even though I knew I had enough in my checking account to pay for it because I planned on spending $100 at that store, it was still there. I never knew it until I switched. Then I could feel it leave.

Freedom. I have never looked back. Try it.