|Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who currently writes
about family finances and edits
The Dollar Stretcher website
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My husband and I live alone. My mom comes over
for dinner and breakfast 3 days a week, and I send her lunches for work 2 nights
a week. We are spending over $400 a week for groceries. I am not buying
extravagant things, and I really don't buy a lot of "junk" food. Where on earth
are we going wrong? I see in the Tips section this week, a girl from Oklahoma
says that she spent around $130 a month on groceries for herself and her
husband?!?! How?! What is she eating? If someone could explain this for me. I
feel like we are beyond help. What are we doing wrong? Is she adding everything
into that bill??
Diane asks a great question.
Groceries are the largest category of spending that we can affect
without making major lifestyle changes.
According to the U.S. Statistical
Abstract for 2002 the typical family of three spends $6,093 on food
each year. And that includes $2,407 for food eaten away from home.
So Diane's total is significantly above the norm.
But, as Diane points out, everyone
doesn't include the same things in their grocery bill. The Abstract
shows typical spending of $553 for 'housekeeping supplies', $693 for
'personal care products and services' and $399 for 'tobacco
products'. Those are not included in the $6,093.
In fact, nine items (laundry
detergent, peanut butter, fabric softener, toilet tissue, diapers,
coffee, toothpaste, paper towels, shampoo) will account for $17
billion in annual sales. With the exception of peanut butter and
coffee, none of these items are 'food' items. Other bill boosters
are pet food and liquor products. And don't forget greeting cards
and video rentals!
Many people buy non-food items at the
grocery store. And even think of them as part of their grocery
budget. With the rise of 'supercenters' more people are combining
their grocery shopping with their 'other' shopping. Often it is more
convenient to buy everything in one stop. But it's often not the
If Diane wants to control her grocery
spending, it's probably not going to be helpful to compare her bill
to her neighbor's. Every family situation is different. And some
families are even able to grow or raise their own food.
A better way to reduce her bill is to
study her own habits and see where changes could save money.
Start by analyzing your receipt. What
items are the most expensive? Work on them first. Can they be
eliminated entirely? If not, are there lower cost alternatives?
Buying junk food is not the only
thing that can drive up your grocery bill. Your diet also makes a
big difference. Vegetables and starches cost less than meat. A diet
heavy in meat will be more expensive. Likewise low calorie, low
sugar, low salt foods will add heft to your bill.
For instance, according to the
Organic Trade Association consumers are willing to pay up to 25%
more for organics than they would for non-organic equivalents. Some
consumers will pay up to 100% more.
The grocery store is often not the
best place to buy those specialty items. If you buy them often, look
for more direct, lower cost alternative sources.
Another grocery bill booster is our
desire for convenience. Most of us are short on time. Grocers see
this as an opportunity to increase their profits.
Most are offering
'everything-in-one-box' type of meals. Others are experimenting with
a menu plan. A portion of the store is stocked to allow the shopper
to buy everything they need for a specific meal on one shelf. In
either case, the consumer pays for the convenience of not planning
their own meals and buying premeasured ingredients.
While you're waiting in line, take a
look at your grocery cart. How much prepared food is in the cart?
You may not have time to clean carrots. But you will pay extra for
the little prepared ones. If you know the difference in price you
can make an intelligent decision whether to save your time or your
Finally, Diane needs to be able to
compare prices so that she can identify and stock-up when she finds
a true bargain. The best tool for this is a price book. It's simply
a listing of items that she commonly buys and the lowest price(s)
for each item. That will help her identify the true sales. Shoppers
who use a price book regularly claim to save up to 20%.
Diane will probably never get her
bill down to $130 per month. But if she works at it, a lower bill is
possible without a significant impact on her lifestyle.