The Bible indicates that God will provide for all of our needs, including food (see Matthew 6:31-33 and Philippians 4:19). However, there is no indication in the Scriptures that we don’t have the responsibility to use good judgment in managing the money that God provides for our food needs. The information that follows is provided to help you in making prudent decisions regarding your spending for food.
Before we discuss ways to reduce grocery spending, consider this: The average American family spends approximately 30% of their “grocery” money for non-food items. Since these are usually high mark-up items, it generally is wise to avoid purchasing most non-food items at regular prices in a grocery store. The following comments focus primarily on ways to reduce spending for food.
1. Before you go shopping for groceries, prepare a list of what you intend to purchase. Such a list may save you extra trips to the grocery store for items that you need but otherwise might forget to purchase. A shopping list also might help you to reduce your impulse buying. Unplanned purchases often account for one-half to two-thirds of the grocery items that people buy.
2. Comparison shop for groceries.
Compare stores. Some grocery stores usually have better prices than others, although not necessarily every week or on the same items, since higher priced stores tend to offer a lot of special prices. If prices are less of a consideration, one store may have better quality meats or produce, while another store may have more specialty items. Be careful not to offset your grocery savings with the extra cost of gas for your car by shopping at stores that are several miles apart. And, generally, convenience stores should be avoided, since most of the items they sell are substantially more expensive than at other stores. However, if you need to purchase only one or two items, a convenience store may be a practical alternative, if it saves you a significant amount of time and/or money for gas.
Compare brands. Private brands will usually be less expensive than nationally advertised brands, and nationally advertised brands sometimes differ significantly in price.
Compare unit prices. The largest size is not always the least expensive on a “per unit” basis. For example, sometimes a larger size may cost more per ounce than a smaller size.
Compare price per serving, especially for food with inedible parts, such as bone and/or fat.
3. Try a team approach to shopping. If the stores where you shop are several miles apart, team up with a friend or a neighbor to make grocery purchases. This can save both of you time and gas.
4. Pay close attention to grocery sales. You can plan your menus on the basis of what is on sale and you can “stock up” with items that you use frequently. However, beware of items that are not actually on sale. Just because an item is advertised in a newspaper or prominently displayed in the store does not mean it is selling for less than its usual price. And, be careful to limit purchases of sale items that are excessive for your family’s budget. Many expensive grocery items are still relatively expensive even when they are on sale.
5. Take advantage of grocery coupons and use them wisely. Pay close attention to the net price of grocery items (i.e., after discounts) even when double or triple value is offered on coupons. Some stores that offer special deals have such inflated prices that you may spend more than you would otherwise. Also, avoid purchasing items just because you have coupons for them. You probably will save money by buying only items that are practical – pricewise and otherwise – for your family. And, you may want to consider trading coupons with people you know.
6. Avoid purchasing food packaged as individual servings, since extra packaging raises the cost of the food.
7. Do most food preparation yourself. Generally, the more food processing that is done for you, the higher the cost of the item to you, so you will need to decide if the convenience is worth the added cost.
8. Consider having family members take their lunch regularly to work or school, rather than purchasing it away from home. Lunches brought from home are likely not only to cost less, but also are often more nutritious.
9. Don’t waste leftovers. This includes leftovers when you eat at a restaurant. You can use them as part of a lunch to take to work or school, or for supper on an evening when you don’t feel like spending much time preparing a meal.
10. Check the date on perishable food to determine if you are likely to be able to finish consuming it before it spoils. For meats and other items that you put into your freezer, it may be helpful to you to write the purchase date on the package.
11. Speak up when there is a problem.
When the quality of a grocery item is not satisfactory, let the store manager know and request a refund or a replacement.
If a store does not have an item it is advertising, request a “rain check,” which will entitle you to purchase the item at the sale price within a certain period of time.
Watch the prices as they are entered on the register or check your receipt before you leave the store. You may be surprised how often incorrect prices are entered.
12. Having your own garden may be an attractive option for you, provided that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to purchase the necessary gardening tools and equipment.
13. Be very careful before making a decision to participate in a frozen food plan. The best that most people can expect from a frozen food plan is that they will pay a fair price for more expensive items than they usually would purchase (i.e., they upgrade the quality of the food they consume, and, as a result, they spend more for groceries). At worst, a frozen food plan can be a disaster to your budget, especially if you need to purchase a new freezer for the food you will be receiving under the plan.
14. Low income families may be entitled to receive food stamps. Therefore, low income families should contact their county’s Department of Social Services to determine if they qualify.
Until now, we have focused on ways to reduce spending for groceries, but if you are seeking ways to reduce your total spending, it may be beneficial to spend more for groceries. Examples of expenditures that can be reduced by spending more for groceries include lunches at work and/or at school, as well as eating out at other times, including when you are on vacation. Since eating at a restaurant, including the sales tax and the tip, generally costs from two to eight times – and sometimes even more – what it costs to eat a meal prepared from groceries that you have purchased, the potential for savings may total many hundreds of dollars during a full year.
Concluding comments: For a family of four people, saving only 10 cents per person per meal for three meals a day adds up to a total saving of $438 in one year. This saving is equivalent to $547.50 pretax dollars, or a pay increase of $45.63 per month, assuming that the family would ordinarily pay a combined federal and state income tax rate of about 20% on each additional dollar of its income.