Why is My Grocery Bill So High? Your Complete Guide to Lowering It
In life, there are some things you can’t skimp on. Where you might be able to go without a car and take public transportation instead—depending on where you live—or make your clothes last a long time instead of buying a new wardrobe every few months, there are other things you just can’t live without. Like food. We need food to live.
However, though food is a necessity, you might find that it’s costing you a pretty penny these days—especially in the form of groceries. Have you been wondering why your grocery bill is so high lately? If you feel like you have been spending too much on food, you’re probably not alone. As it turns out, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), people are spending a lot more on groceries than they anticipate or than they’re actually paying attention to. When it’s a need, why bother looking at the expenses, right? Wrong.
The USDA Food Plans
The USDA split their most recent averages of U.S. expenditures on food into four categories: thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal. It’s then separated into categories of genders and family group sizes (ranging from individuals to families of four).
Individually, males can spend about $355 a month max on the liberal plan when they could be spending as low as $169. Females at most are spending around $315 a month at the high end with the potential low hovering around $165.
As married or living partners, two individuals have a liberal monthly rate of about $730 on average and a thrifty cost around $370. Bump the number of people in the family up to four and you get a liberal monthly rate of around $1,100 and a thrifty rate at about $600 a month.
The high-end, liberal numbers are no joke. Luckily, as the numbers indicate, some numbers are lower than the liberal set. And, if there are lower numbers, that means there have to be ways to shop for groceries that help to reduce expenses.
19 Reasons Why Your Grocery Bill is High and How You Can Lower It
When you go into a grocery store with a plan, a list, a budget, and the amount of cash you’ll be spending in-hand, you’re far more likely to keep spending at a minimum and reduce your grocery bill dramatically. On the other hand, being unprepared and hungry may end up costing you. Many of us do this or similar things that lead to a high grocery bill without even realizing it. The following is a combination of tips and suggestions that can help to improve your monthly expenses on groceries. The more aware you are of the things that are costing you, the more likely you are to choose alternatives that save you money.
1. Overeating/Eating Too Much Meat
There’s a chance you’re spending a lot on groceries because of how much you’re eating. Try and adhere to the recommended portion sizes; you might just find that your food will last longer and you won’t have to go shopping as often. Take a look at the standard serving sizes of the food groups and try it out for yourself—your wallet will undoubtedly thank you.
Next up is meat. Meat is by and large the most expensive thing you can purchase at just about any grocery store. Depending on where you’re from, meat is an important part of meals, so it’s understandable that you buy it. However, reducing the amount of meat you purchase will definitely lower your overall grocery costs. Consider the following suggestions:
- Choose filling side dishes: The more filling your side dishes are, the less meat you’ll feel like consuming.
- Make meat a part of the main course: If you include pieces of chicken or beef in an enchilada dinner or beef stroganoff dish, then you’ll be cutting back on how much meat you eat and subsequently how much meat you buy.
- Opt for protein replacements: Beans are a cheap alternative to meat that will still get you the protein you want and need.
2. Ignoring Serving Sizes
Every item of food in a grocery store has a recommended serving size. If it comes in a box or bag, that serving size will be displayed along with the item’s nutritional value. Ignoring that serving size might just mean spending more money. How so? Because if you eat the entire box of macaroni and cheese for dinner that had three servings worth of portions inside it, you’re going to have to go back to the store sooner and you’ll end up spending more.
This idea goes hand-in-hand with the above concept of overeating. Try to control your portions and make your food and money stretch out a little longer.
3. Not Planning a List or Meals/Not Looking for Deals
Planning is crucial. Plan out a budget, plan out your meals for the week/month, plan a time to go to the grocery store. Plan to look for deals.
Making a budget for groceries and sticking to it can save you a lot of money. The same goes for making a shopping list. If you want something, but you know it’s not part of your budget or on your list, then it’s a no-go.
After you’ve planned out the meals you want to make and the amount of money you’ll spend, create a shopping list and stick to it. A basic shopping list should have simple sections including the following:
- Meat and fish
- Grains and bread
- Oil and fat
- Dairy and eggs
- Tinned/canned/dried products
A more specific list may look something like:
- Chicken breasts
- Whole wheat bread
- Corn tortillas
- Cheddar cheese
- Canned tuna
- Dried apricots
- Ranch dressing
If you’re not sure how to get started with making a grocery list or want an easier, more convenient way than writing it down with pen and paper, there are some excellent grocery shopping list apps out there. These apps can organize your list for you, provide recipe suggestions, and even assign nutrition scores to the foods you’re looking to buy.
4. Use a Cash Budget for Groceries
It’s easy to go to the grocery store, pile a bunch of stuff in your cart without thinking about the cost, and swiping your debit or credit card without a backward glance. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s going to cost you more.
When you don’t have a set limit on how much you’re going to spend, and when you use a card, you’re enabling yourself to buy more and spend more—completely negating the use of a grocery list or a grocery budget.
Your solution? Cash. Consider using cash when you go to the grocery store. It’s not as convenient as a card, but when you only have the amount of money you will spend in your hand, you can’t go over budget.
5. Eating Food Out of Season
When food isn’t “in season,” that means the grocery stores had to ship it in from further away and at a higher cost to them. Subsequently, the price of that item will be higher in cost than it would be if it were in season. Buying out of season items might be one reason you are leaving the store saying “why are groceries so expensive?”
This happens quite often with certain types of produce—berries and other fruits in particular. Apples are prevalent around the end of September into October. Strawberries are a summertime thing. Clementines are available in the winter months. When the thing you want to buy is a lot more expensive than it normally is, you have a couple of options. For the sake of not spending too much and staying within your budget, you can purchase some of the items but not a lot of them. Or, you can look to see what is in season—and therefore more affordable—and wait for the other items to have their time in the spotlight of affordability.
The battle is only half won after you’ve successfully purchased your groceries. The second half plays out in how well you organize your fridge and freezer space.
If you don’t have a method of organizing your groceries, you’ve likely experienced that feeling when you’re looking in your fridge or freezer and aren’t sure what you even have. And, when it comes time to make a dish, you might not realize one of your key ingredients has expired until it’s too late.
Don’t push old items to the back of your fridge or freezer. Take stock of what you have on hand, look at the expiration dates, throw away what you need to, and keep it organized. This will save you money as well as time when it comes to purchasing groceries.
7. Shopping While Hungry
Shopping while hungry is always a bad idea. If you go to the store on an empty stomach, you’re more likely to make expensive, unplanned purchases that you don’t need. It’s very difficult to think about that in the moment when you just got done with work and lunch was hours ago or if you’re swinging by the store after a long, arduous workout at the gym.
Plan ahead. Know when you want to get your groceries and make sure it’s a time when you’re not going to be hungry.
8. Shopping at a Pricey Store/Warehouse Stores
Some grocery stores are more expensive than others. You can get the same products and produce for significantly cheaper if you do your homework and find the cheaper grocery store. Doing so will save you money immediately.
Warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club are certainly fun and you can save a lot of money buying bulk on certain items. However, if you purchase all of your groceries in bulk, there’s a higher likelihood that you’re going to have produce or other food items that will go bad before you can use them. Don’t waste all your money buying in bulk; be strategic about it.
9. Buying Disposable Goods
This might seem like a strange thing to include in a list of why your grocery bills are high because the disposable items we’re referring to are just that: disposable and not edible. But when you spend your money on paper towels, paper napkins, disposable sponges or any other type of accessory for eating in or cleaning the kitchen with, that money goes down the drain fast.
There are reusable alternatives to all of the above-mentioned items that you can use for months or even years that will cut your expenses way down. Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Choose to go with a regular cleaning cloth rather than spend your money on the sponges you throw away within a couple of weeks of purchasing. The same goes for paper towels; you can find lots of alternative cloth options to use and reuse.
10. Buying Non-Grocery Items at the Grocery Store
Grocery stores are grocery stores. If you go into a store that sells food looking to buy a mop or a broom, you’re likely going to end up paying way more for that mop or broom. Stick to buying only groceries at your grocery store and avoid extra costs that will punch up your monthly bill.
When it comes to the other types of household essentials like dish soap or laundry detergent, you’ll likely find better prices for those at a store equipped for selling more than just groceries.
11. Buying Too Many Beverages
Drinks cost a lot. And the reality that many of us aren’t willing to acknowledge is that the only beverage we really need is water, which you can get from your tap, for free.
If you can’t give up your apple juice or Gatorade, or if you have an addiction to soda, consider cutting back on how many you buy each month. This will save you a lot in the long run and will be better for your overall health.
12. Stocking Up on Items with a Bad Price
You undoubtedly have your favorite staples that you can’t live without. Regardless of what food item you almost always leave the grocery store with, if you’re spending your money stocking up on anything that has a steeper price, it’s going to cost you.
Many grocery stores will offer various brands and prices on the same item, usually right next to the item of your choice. Shop around and see if you can find something similar to what you love for a cheaper price. Or, maybe it’s a seasonal thing and it will go on sale later on in the year. Try exercising your patience and wait until you can stock up on whatever it is that you want when it’s at a better price.
13. Overshopping Deals
Sometimes grocery stores will have great deals on food items that you love and consume all the time. That’s not necessarily a reason to buy loads of it. It’s not a deal anymore if you buy quadruple the amount you normally would. At that point, you’re just spending more money with the excuse that you’ve saved money in the long run.
The opposite is actually true. Your grocery bill will be higher than you planned for thanks to deals. Try sticking to purchasing the amount you normally need or use, and enjoy whatever deals you might get without purchasing more than you intended.
14. Batch Cooking
When you purchase something like beef or poultry in bulk (which you should do), consider making and freezing a bunch of your meals in advance. Batch cooking will save you time, and prepping your meals for a week or two in advance will save you money. When your dinner is ready to go each night of the week, you’ll be less likely to eat out or run to the store.
15. Fewer Snack Foods and Prepackaged Food Items
Snacks and prepackaged foods are always going to cost more. They’re convenient, they don’t require you to clean, prepare, or cook them. They’re just there, ready for you to consume. However, that prepackaged element automatically means they’re more expensive.
Sure, treat yourself every once in a while or have one or two items on your list every time you go grocery shopping that could be labeled as “splurges.” But, if the bulk of your list is made up of snacks, your grocery expenses are going to skyrocket. And maybe this goes without saying, but you also won’t be getting the healthy nutrients your body needs.
16. Not Buying Store Brand
Don’t get trapped by the idea of needing to buy certain grocery items because of their brand. Brand-name items like Coca-Cola or Folgers Coffee are going to cost you more than the grocery store’s brand. The same goes for other items like cheese or pasta. You’ll save money buying the store’s brand as opposed to buying the brands you see on TV, and everything will basically taste the same regardless.
17. Purchasing “Healthy” Foods
Organic foods are expensive. It’s easier to stick to simple, whole foods and you’ll enjoy the benefits of eating clean and healthy as well as saving money.
If you do prefer buying organic, do your research and find the grocery stores that offer the lowest prices on their organic produce and other products. A little bit of effort on your part can go a long way toward saving you money on your grocery bill.
18. Having Recipes in Mind
Knowing recipes you like is the same thing as knowing the types of foods you prefer to have on hand (staples). When you’ve got a selection of tried-and-true recipes that you’re familiar with and love, you’ll prevent aimless wandering around the grocery store aisles while trying to find that one ingredient you need. That’s a recipe for disaster as it might lead to you getting fed up and just buying those chips instead.
19. Remember Your Financial Goals While Grocery Shopping
If your grocery bill is higher than you would like, you might come home from the store feeling quite defeated. You might feel like your financial goals don’t match your grocery shopping habits. As you implement some of these money saving ideas, remember to keep your financial goals in mind while wandering the aisles. Financial goals can be used as mental motivation to make smart choices in the store because making some small changes over time can have a big impact!