Cutting down on food costs

Thanks to some great advice from other personal finance bloggers, I’ve decided that a good place to start cutting back is on the grocery bill. It makes sense; with so many options, it’s easy to take control of what you spend on food.

Grocery spending has always been a financial Achilles heel for us. We have no problem giving up meals out. I tend to think of them as a waste of money unless it’s a special occasion. It’s fun to celebrate with a meal out, but when you’re eating out three times a week it’s no longer a fun novelty; it becomes a burden on your finances and your waistline. Besides, we love to cook healthy meals.

Unfortunately, when it comes to meals at home, we have somewhat extravagant tastes. We’re environmentally and health-conscious, so we often choose to buy organic products despite higher prices. We’re currently spending about $85 a week on groceries. For just the two of us. Obviously, we need to start cutting back.

Because this is the one realm of our finances where my husband has shown a little stubbornness, I want to see how much we can save by putting in a little extra work rather than drastically changing our shopping habits. (The drastic changes will come next.)

We’ve always shopped the sales, tried to plan our meals around them, and avoided excessive amounts of packaged foods and unnecessary snack foods. Avoiding those foods allows us to eat healthier anyway.

However, we have been shopping exclusively at a high-end grocer. I’ve always known we were overpaying, but since my husband is the household chef and he had strong feelings about his grocer of choice, I convinced myself that we were still spending less by eating at home. As long as we were making an effort by planning meals and buying sale items, I considered that a fair compromise.

This weekend, we decided to try shopping at two stores. We did the bulk of our shopping at a lower-priced chain, and bought only sale items at the high-end chain.

I’m using a price book to track prices. My “price book” is a 3×5 card file with a separate card for each item. I’m using dividers to keep the cards in alphabetical order. I considered using a notebook, but ultimately I wanted control over how it’s organized, and I want to easily add additional items and keep them alphabetized. I’ve only used it one week, but it seems pretty easy so far.

My husband actually liked the cheaper store. He liked the way it was organized, and he agreed that the prices were lower. Even though he gets a 5% student discount at the high-end grocery store, I still think we spent less without the discount. It’ll take a few weeks of price book entries before we can be sure, though. To account for the discount at the high-end store, I’m entering items that we buy there at the discounted rate.

We only spent about $12 under our average ($73) by splitting our shopping into two trips, but I expect to lower that gradually as we get the hang of using our price book and planning our meals around two sales instead of one. I’m hoping to get the bill down to $50-$60 a week eventually. I think that should allow us to continue eating some of the organic foods we enjoy without overspending excessively.