Sunday, 11 January 2009

How I cut my grocery bill by 75%

Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I used to be very proud of what I spent on the weekly shopping, as if it was a mark of my commitment to my health. In fact, I remember not so long ago telling a friend I couldn't cut my grocery bill because I buy all organic and free range and I was committed to making healthy choices. Then suddenly, I found I could in fact still continue my same health and ethical commitments and yet save money. I started small, trying to shave £5 off my bill each week, but within a month I'd slashed my grocery bill by 75% - from £60 a week to around £15. Here's my top tips for how I accomplished it:

Week One:

1. I stopped buying sauces, salad dressing etc. I instead purchased a small balsamic vinegar and an olive oil and began making my own, this is not only healthier but it helped me save money off my bill!

2. I did not purchase any water, juice, pop, soda water, tea or coffee. I knew I really wanted to work on this, I was getting too many calories from drinks and I was having too much caffeine.

3. I decided I would not buy any pre-packaged snacks - instead I was focusing on veggies, fruits, cheeses etc for snacks.

At the end of week 1 I had already saved approx £12 - approx 20% of my grocery bill.

Week Two:

1. I'm a vegetarian, but I was buying meat alternatives. So, I began cutting out meat alternatives and instead focusing on lentils, chickpeas, beans etc. If you eat meat, try starting with two no meat days a week, then up it to three, four etc.

2. I made a list of everything I had in my cupboards and built a menu plan around it. This means I started using all those good ingredients I had sitting around and adding in fresh ingredients from my weekly shop.

3. I menu planned backwards - instead of planning what I was going to have and then purchase it, I had my list of what I had, purchased items that were on sale (organic, free range when possible) and then when I returned home put together a menu plan for the week!

Week Three:

1. I started going to local markets, farmers stalls and health food stores. This allowed me to get seasonal fruits & veg cheaply and cupboard items in bigger quantities. It also meant I was supporting small & local business!

2. I started taking my calculator with me to the shops.

3. I began making a homemade soup, casserole or stew twice a week. I would eat one portion, keep another in the fridge for next days lunch and freeze the rest! This means in a pinch I have a healthy meal (with veggies) ready for me to eat and don't need to eat out/order in etc.

4. I started taking a moment or two to review my trolley/basket before purchasing my items. Looking at the health content, looking at my list and menu plan and deciding whether I really need something. Usually I put back at least 1 thing, if not 2 each week.

By week 4 I was pretty much there, give or take a few pounds. I'd probably cut my bill by 65% and then through tweaking and getting better at it, I've increased it to 75%. I live in England, I used to complain we didn't have coupons like North America does, but now I don't mind because I really don't need them!

I really keep my focus on getting 5 fruits & veg (ideally I'd like 3 fruits and 3 veg a day) as recommended by various health agencies, making sure I get dairy at least twice a day, eating low GI foods so that I have energy slowly released throughout the day. I used to think this meant I had to spend a lot of money, now I know it just means I have to make good choices, be creative, start enjoying baking and cooking and wake up a part of me I never knew existed!