Why You Can’t Save Money on Groceries

7259669024_61fc5a98f6_zHey friends!  This post is a part of a terrific new series that Kayla from Shoeaholic No More is putting together in order to help people save money on groceries.  The group involved in this series has a heart to help readers slash their grocery bills.  There are many components to teaching people to lower their bills.  Income is a factor, as is accessibility to stores, along with the problem of varying prices on products from area to area.  Together, we’re working to teach people what they can do, given their individual situations, to cut their grocery bills while still eating healthy.  Hope you enjoy the series, and that it helps you to save money on groceries.

Comparing Grocery Costs: Where it’s Really Expensive

As personal finance bloggers, we tend to always think our area is a high cost of living area, which may not always be true when compared to other places throughout the world. To discover where the cost of living truly is high, a group of bloggers got together and compared the cost of a few different grocery store staples, things like a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, to find out where the cost of groceries is truly highest. The full results of this study can be seen below.

Of course “high cost of living” is also relative to how much money you make too, but that isn’t as easily comparable as not everyone is comfortable sharing that information with the world. 😉 But, we all know that one of the budget areas people tend to struggle with the most is keeping grocery costs under control.

Femme Frugality in Pittsburgh, PA, Laurie at The Frugal Farmer in Minnesota, Natalie at Budget and the Bees in Brooklyn, NY , Mrs. FW at Frugalwoods in Cambridge, MA, and myself in Kansas, put together our price lists for comparison. Here is what we found:

Item                                                      High Price                Location        Low Price      Location      Average Price

Gallon of Milk                                 $4.19                  Pittsburgh, PA     $2.59         Cambridge, MA          $3.50
Loaf of White Bread                  $2.19                   Pittsburgh, PA      $0.99         KS/Cambridge, MA  $1.33
1 lb of stick butter                         $5.79                 Pittsburgh, PA      $2.49          KS/Cambridge, MA  $3.79
1 lb of 90% lean hamburger     $6.99                 Brooklyn, NY        $4.99          KS                                $6.01
1 box of Cheerios(per oz)          $0.48                 Brooklyn, NY        $0.19         Cambridge, MA         $0.30
5 lb bag of potatoes                    $3.47                   MN                          $1.99           Cambridge, MA        $2.65
1 dozen large eggs                      $3.79                    Brooklyn, NY         $1.79           Cambridge, MA       $2.42
12 can pack of Dr. Pepper       $5.50                   Brooklyn, NY         $4.98         MN                             $5.09
1 lb boneless, skinless chkn breasts $4.99     Pittsburgh, PA       $1.99         MN                             $3.19
whole chicken(per lb)                  $1.59                 Pittsburgh, PA      $1.09         MN                              $1.33
5 lb bag of flour $                           2.79                   Pittsburgh, PA       $1.49         Brooklyn, NY            $2.01

Overall, the price of the grocery staples we compared seems to be highest in Pittsburgh, PA and Brooklyn, NY. As one might expect, that is especially true for most meat products. In fact, only one product’s highest price was outside of these two areas.

On the low end of things, Kansas, Minnesota, and Cambridge, MA seemed to have the lowest grocery prices out of the places we compared. This does seem to make sense as generally these areas in the Midwest (KS and MN) are lower cost of living areas. We were somewhat surprised to see that Cambridge had such low grocery prices, maybe this helps to make up for the inflated prices they see in other areas that make up the cost of living, like housing.

Bargain, generic brand and sale shopping does make a different in these prices as well and can greatly affect how much you spend on groceries each month. If you decide to hop around and view each blogger’s post, you’ll see that we all have tips to help you save on groceries.

Laurie’s tips on why you can’t save money on groceries:

You Have No Plan to Save Money on Groceries

Saving money on groceries isn’t simply about buying what’s on sale.  It takes a well-thought-out plan to save money on food purchases.  While this may seem like a lot of work, the good news is that once your plan is in place, saving money on food is pretty painless.

A good money-saving grocery plan has GOT to start with a menu plan and a grocery list.  Buying willy-nilly as you wander through the aisles is a surefire way to go broke.  A good menu plan will consist of 15 or so meals that you/your family loves, and that are reasonably priced (we go for a $5 limit).  Not sure what to cook?  Think back to old family favorites, your fave restaurant meals, or check great Internet sites such as Food Network and All Recipes.

On your grocery list, only list the items that correlate with your menu plan.  Then add in essentials like milk, butter, etc.  This will ensure you aren’t putting extra fluffy stuff on your list that will drain your savings account.

You Have No Give in Your Grocery Budget

A common problem with busted grocery budgets is that they have no wiggle room.  A budget that’s too strict is almost certain to induce an anarchy uprising in the house, leading to a $100 splurge on junk food goodies.  Two ways to put a little wiggle room into your grocery budget:

1. Set aside a certain amount for junk foody treats that you/your family love.  Not a huge amount, just enough for some treats each week.  Want to maximize savings while having your treats?  Make them from scratch.  Cookies and cakes from scratch are dirt cheap to make, and better for you, too.

2. Have a few “fancy” meals in your monthly menu plan.  Make a meal based off your fave restaurant meal each week.  Or splurge on a great new recipe you’ve found.  Balance this out with cheap meals, such as rice and beans, and you’ll be sure to stay on budget yet still be able to enjoy a nicer meal on occasion.

You Allow the Excuses to Set In

It’s easy to make excuses for a higher-than-necessary grocery budget.  Excuses like “I deserve” or “We already spend less than most people”.  While your excuses may be valid, that extra money you spend each month on food does take away from your financial goals.  If you’re okay with that, that’s fine, but if early retirement means more to you than splurging on food, it’s time to kick the excuses to the curb.

You Have No Vision

Vision, or hope, can be hard to come by, especially if you have set financial goals that are lofty.  It’s easy to give up on a lower grocery bill if paying off debt or early retirement still seems or is years away.  It’s easy to say “Oh, what’s the use.  I’ll never reach my goals.  I might as well enjoy that second bottle of Chardonnay/extra steak night/ice cream splurge”.  Remember that every single dime that you put toward your financial goals adds up, and that every single dime you take away from your financial goals delays your dreams. Don’t let discouragement and doubt pull you away from your dreams, instead, keep those dreams fresh in your memory.  As an added boost of hope, choose to track the money you save each week on groceries, and put that money toward your financial goals.  You’ll then be able to see how your grocery savings are making an impact for the better on your goals.

I hope you enjoyed our grocery cost comparison. We really enjoyed putting it together for you and we hope you’ll take the time to learn how each of us save money on groceries.

Femme Frugality’s Money Saving Tips
Natalie’s Money Saving Tips
Mrs. FW’s Money Saving Tips
Kayla’s Money Saving Tips
How do you save money on groceries? How does your area compare price-wise with all of ours?

*Photo courtesy of Sodanie Chea

 

 

 

 

70 comments

  1. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini says:

    I agree with Laurie in regards to not having a vision. Until I started to imagine what my life good be like without debt it was hard for me to change my mindset. If you can imagine it, there is a chance you can achieve it.

    • Laurie says:

      “If you can imagine it, there is a chance you can achieve it.” MUCH wisdom in that statement, my dear friend. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Nice comparison Laurie and could not agree more about having a plan – at least a plan to save money that is. 🙂 For us it really comes down to knowing our prices and what is a good deal vs. not a good deal. We also eat a lot of the same thing these days so it makes it fairly easy to do that especially as it helps us stay away from giving into temptation at the store. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Agreed, John, about knowing prices. That is HUGE. Otherwise it’s tough to know what’s truly a sale and what’s not. Temptation at the store is a huge one too. This is why I don’t bring Rick grocery shopping – he falls for all of the “pretty” stuff like ice cream and candy. He’s worse than the kids! 🙂

  3. Kathy says:

    When you find a great sale and stock up on those items, remember to use them! My downfall is that I often forget to look in the pantry and use what is there so I purchase something else for a meal. Some of our stores have occasional sales on buy 10 for $10 and get the eleventh one free. You can really stock up on pasta, canned goods, boxed potatoes (boxed potatoes work for my hubby and I….no kids at home), and bags of salad if you will use it up before it gets bad. And if you don’t need 10, our stores will let sometimes let you mix and match. Cake mixes are often on sale for less than a dollar and they keep for a really long time. Sometimes I find them for 88 cents which is even less than the cost of the accumulated ingredients to make it from scratch.

    • Laurie says:

      We have started running our stockpile like a grocery store so that I don’t forget what’s there, LOL. We buy stuff at the store, then bring it directly to the stockpile to exchange out if there’s one of that item in there. Otherwise I was ending up with 2 and 3 year old stuff. 🙂

  4. I love your take on why people CAN’T get their grocery bill down! I agree that planning is crucial. Putting together a good grocery list and meal plan takes some forethought. The time it takes is worth it to me because saving money and eating healthy are things I live by.

    • Laurie says:

      It sure seems like the NYC prices are ridiculous, but it seems like everything is more expensive there. SO glad for Midwest living myself, in part for that reason. 🙂

  5. It’s always interesting to see how much the same thing costs in different place. Canada is generally more expensive than the States, but c’est la vie. I’m learning to stock up the pantry during sales and then SHOPPING from the pantry until goods run out. I’m pretty good with the non-perishables, but I tend to forget about what I put in the freezer (out of sight, out of mind). I’m also not good at eating leftovers. Ultimately, my goal is to waste less, so I’m working on it.

    • Laurie says:

      Emily, you guys are doing great. I hear you on the freezer. I just went in ours the other day to see what we could use up. It takes time, putting together all of these tips! 🙂

  6. Being from Pittsburgh, I was very surprised to see them listed as the high price for so many items (especially over a place like Brooklyn or Cambridge). Maybe the overeducated hipsters are on to something.

  7. Amy says:

    Tracking expenses was key for me. I was very surprised at how much I was spending on food when I first saw the hard numbers. Using what I have and limiting impulse buys have also been key to cutting my grocery bills.

    • Laurie says:

      Same here, Amy!! I was stunned to find out that we were spending over 50% more than our allotted food budget! Things are SO much happier now that we are spend tracking. 🙂

  8. Even Steven says:

    While I think it’s great to save money on groceries, I think the underlying factor for us is how much we save on eating out and that has been our focus. If we are spending $500 on eating out, saving $50 on groceries each month is not a game changer, but if we increase our grocery budget a $100, but it brings down our eating out budget by $200, then we have our game changer. A lot of this has to do with planning as well. Healthy life, Happy life right!

    Allrecipes.com is a go to, having a couple meal plan staples ie Taco Tuesday, etc. Costco helps with getting high quality and and high quantity for our meat selection, and household goods as well.

    • Laurie says:

      You’re right, Steven, some people have a real bugdet-buster in eating out. It adds up SO quickly. A single dinner out for our family of six can run $75 easy, so we tend to keep eating out to a minimum. Great tips too on Taco Tuesday,and Costco. We buy our meat straight from a local farm. Grass-fed, and about $3.50-$4.00 a pound, but you have to have a bigger deep freezer to store that kind of a purchase.

  9. Mrs. Maroon says:

    I actually don’t make a meal plan. I like to go to the store and see what is on sale, particularly with the produce. If I’m really on top of my game, I look at the ads ahead of time to know what I’m after. Then again, I am very conscious of what we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, so I know what to plan around, and what not to over-buy. I’m very much a planner, so this approach is a bit of a departure for me. But, I do think we keep our costs down by planning meals around buying what is on sale as opposed to buying around our meal plan. Also, knowing your prices is critical to success. For most items I have a max price I’m willing to spend. If it’s higher, we eat something else for the week…

    • Laurie says:

      We make our meal plan based on what’s on sale – it’s SO much cheaper that way. Or, we plan based on what’s always cheap, such as rice and beans. I have the “max price” on a lot of items too. Having that top price helps one to know what is a sale and what isn’t. Great tips, Mrs. Maroon. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I’m curious now … we don’t buy a lot of the staples you compared but I am curious to see what the price difference is here in Washington state. I’ll be checking them out next time we shop! We tried the whole meal planning thing but seem to do better by buying our staples and eating our usual favorites. We shop at WinCo once a month for shelf stable items, Costco about twice a month, and supplement organics and health foods from Fred Meyer. It seems like we load up the first of the month and the rest of the month is supplemental. I can’t say our shopping is super frugal though. We buy what we need and what we feel is best for our health (even if that means spending a little more).

    • Laurie says:

      We do big shopping at the beginning of the month too, Jayleen. If you’ve got usual favorites you live by, that’s kind of like a menu plan. And I agree about buying healthy – buying junk just isn’t worth any sacrifice.

  11. Love the comparisons… Very interesting! I definitely cannot grocery shop without a meal plan list. My memory is terrible so for the sake of my budget and my sanity, I need lists. It’s also nice to know which meals to look forward to in a week. I’m very much a need to have something nearby to look forward to type of person.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I hear you there, Chela – if I haven’t written it down, it likely means I won’t come home with it. 🙂 I agree about the menu plan too – for me it’s much too stressful to not have any idea of what we’re going to be cooking during the week.

  12. ARBM says:

    This is an interesting series to read through. Each of you has very different and useful tips to add.
    I especially like your tip about having some give and allowing for some junk foody treats or a fancy meal. That really helps with sticking to the budget friendly menu options the rest of the time. Let’s just see if I can actually apply it.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, ARBM! Glad you’re enjoying the series! We absolutely have to have some fancy stuff/junk stuff in our menu. It just doesn’t work otherwise.

  13. To me, meal planning is so important. Otherwise I end up with lots of things I don’t need in my grocery cart. 🙂 And I also think it’s good to plan for some treats and special meals too. It’s helps meals from becoming boring and you can still make “indulgent” meals affordable if you shop what is on special. Prices are high in LA, but if you can shop the sales, they become much more reasonable.

  14. Vanessa D. says:

    Since the start of January, I’ve been trying to reduce my grocery bill and it hasn’t budged a bit. Prices here in my part of Canada are pretty comparable to the prices above, perhaps because of my proximity to Detroit and the temptations of cross border shopping.

    • Laurie says:

      So, what do you think is the issue with not being able to reduce your budget? Do you think it’s already as low as it can go? I’d be glad to help you with this if you’re interested.

  15. We were comparing prices in the Walmart down here to the prices back in Upstate New York. Surprisingly, they were almost identical. The one exception was the usual bag of frozen burgers we get. They are $9.99 in New York, but $11.99 here in Florida. Yikes!
    Love this post! I love finding out what other people pay. Great idea! 🙂

  16. One of the biggest reasons why I realized I wasn’t saving money on groceries was the fact that I had NO idea what things cost or what they should cost. If you don’t know if you are getting a deal or not, then the odds are that you are overspending. I now know the “deal” price of every item that we would typically buy and it saves me thousands of dollars a year.

  17. I totally agree with you on building in splurge meals. That’s been a key aspect of our no eating out approach. Without some treats to look forward to, it’s way too tempting (for me anyway) to buy goodies at random. I like to plan my indulgences :).

  18. LOVE this comparison chart! I’m very good about knowing how much things cost, which is why I stick to Walmart (or now Kroger where I just moved to). Less expensive > experience until I’m debt free!

  19. When I was a broke student, I lived on about $30 a week of groceries. Anything that was not necessary was excluded: no desserts and unhealthy snacks, no caloric drinks. I ate very healthy and felt wonderful. My wallet liked it too. 🙂 It’s possible!

    • Laurie says:

      It can be done, and your experience proves it! Fruits and veggies aren’t really more expensive than processed junk food. I can get a decent amount of fruits and veggies for the $5-$6 it costs for a 12 pack of pop.

  20. Interesting – our prices seem to be in-between the high and the low. Honestly, the sales seemed better in NY compared to here when we first moved. It was tough to actually increase our grocery budget, but I am all about making a plan and sticking to a list (and sales). I’m always determined to save more on groceries, which helps! I also don’t mind buying generic or at least trying it if there’s a big enough price difference.

  21. I love this article and it really shocks me price-wise. I am living in Romania, where the average wage is about $450, but for some reason our food prices are similar to what you have on the list. And I also compared the cheapest prices – our cheapest milk, for example, is more expensive than the cheapest milk in the US and your chicken prices are also lower than ours. Sometimes, things don’t seem to make sense :))

    • Laurie says:

      I found that when I was reading your article on Romania prices. Yes, it definitely seems like things should cost more here, which gives Americans one less excuse to be in rotten financial shape. 🙂

  22. Great tips Laurie,I always check the unit prices. This is to ensure that I am really getting the best price on an item, checking the unit price of every product, which can be found on the item’s price tag. I realize that I need to not only compare different brands, but also different sizes. While buying a bigger package often costs less per unit, that is not always the case.

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  25. Joy says:

    When I was a kid there were food rules. 1. Eat what is served or, go hungry.
    2. No in between meal snacks. This caused me to be a very thin, low energy kid.
    I was hungry often as, many of the foods served tasted awful to me. Too, snacks are needed to help sustain energy throughout the day.

    I ended up with a mouth full of cavities, cold intolerance, and constipation. My health as an adult has always been less than optimal.

    This caused me to have a “need” for a kitchen FULL of groceries and, snacks.
    I never even looked at the price of any food. I wanted to be surrounded by things
    I enjoyed eating. Too, I wanted my children to have free access to foods when they were hungry.

    One may think that this will cause your children to over eat and, become fat.
    My children (3) were all normal weight. Too, they were healthy. When they left home all 3 of them had a beautiful smile and, not one cavity among them.

    Now, at 53 with an empty nest I don’t worry about having just the right foods for anyone. I keep a much smaller supply of food on hand. Too, I may eat the same meal for lunch all week. No problem.

    I guess I felt the need to share because saving on groceries is nice. But, please to save to the point that your children suffer.

    • Laurie says:

      So sorry, Joy, to hear that your parents took what is a good concept to such an unhealthy extreme. It’s so important when staying within your grocery budget to provide healthy foods that EVERYONE in the family likes. I too remember being forced to eat veggies that made me feel as if I was going to barf. Therefore, we make our kids eat veggies at every meal and we make them eat what is served, but if we’re serving a veggie that repulses them we let them have a different veggie of their choice. And also, we try to have at least one thing on the plate that every kid enjoys. There is a big difference between a child not wanting to eat b/c they’re having a rebellious tantrum and not wanting to eat b/c the food makes them gag. I have one who has hated peas since the first time I gave them to her at 3 months old. It’s evident that peas repulse her, and as such, we never make her eat peas. I have another who hates potatoes. Always has. Therefore when we serve potatoes we work to serve other things with them that she likes. We as parents need to work together with our children to accustom them to healthy foods that they enjoy. Glad you have overcome the wrong messages that you were taught about food and are able to eat well now. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  26. Larissa in Australia says:

    i am struggling with keeping our food spending down. I added up the trips to the supermarket and was really disappointed. It’s the height of summer here so lots of fresh fruit has been bought so this has made the basket price jump. (We are in a tiny country town with one shop, no alternative or farmers markets near). Although we have a different weighing system and dollar I’m going to convert (AUD $1 = USD 0.79) your staples and post below my prices for my store (the ones I buy). Just for interest sake.

    1gallon milk $3.96
    1 loaf white bread $2.33
    Potatoes 5lb $3.52
    1lb boneless skinless chicken breast $8.09
    Whole chicken per lb $6.74
    5lb Flour $8.30

    The only things I actually buy are flour, milk and potatoes. I prefer the better whole grain breads which are $4.44 a loaf. We no longer eat meat and save a ton (except when everyone is filling up on fruit loaded smoothies!)

    So I will be making a plan (again) and adding alternatives for nights when it’s too hot to cook, like tonight because it’s currently 109f outside.

    Thank you for the inspiration to get on track this year.

    • Laurie says:

      Best of luck to you, Larissa, and keep up the great work. You simply choosing to keep re-working your plan is a sign that you will indeed continue to succeed with lowering your grocery bill, my friend!

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