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9 Week Financial Challenge – Week 5

Spending on food is typically one of the biggest expenses in a budget. How do we best cut back on this expense – beyond the obvious of stop eating out – is a good question? This week, we will discuss how to reduce spending on food with a focus on meal planning, couponing, and rebates.

Do we believe in meal planning and using coupons/rebates? YES. Keep reading and we will outline the process we used to save $8,000 on food last year!

Obviously, the biggest savings came from eating in versus eating out or grabbing takeout.

The behavioral change was a bit painful.

This article is part of our 9 Week Financial Challenge Series. The challenge is not a one-week boot camp that “fixes” all our problems.  No, we know that does not work.   This is about long-term financial wellness. The 9 Week Financial Challenge Series covers:

WEEKChallenge Article
1 ACHIEVING YOUR FINANCIAL BUCKET LIST
2 START PAYING OFF DEBT and SAVING MONEY
3 DECLUTTER and MAKE MONEY
4 HOW TO CUT MONTHLY EXPENSES
5 HOW TO REDUCE SPENDING ON FOOD
6 ACHIEVING FINANCIAL GOALS
7Become a Millionaire by INVESTING in YOU
8 INVESTING TIPS for BEGINNERS
9 DREAMS, GOALS and FINANCIAL NEXT STEPS

Though not required, we do recommend starting the series at Week 1: Achieving Your Financial Bucket List.

There is a free workbook to assist you during this challenge (almost 30 pages of goodness).  Please sign up via email to receive the 9 Week Financial Challenge Workbook.  Do not worry.  No spamming of emails from us.  Promise.  Remember the workbook is free and it really helps.

Money saving grocery hacks that will help anyone who buys groceries on a budget #savingongroceries #grocerystorehacks #grocerysavings
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Week 5 Challenge: How to Reduce Spend on Food

Key Topics for this Challenge:

4-STEP MEAL PLANNING PROCESS

  1. Develop 20 Basic Meal Recipes focused on the most expensive item – meat
  2. Storage Organized
  3. Meal Selection by Grocery Flyer
  4. Store Selection

COUPONING AND REBATES

  1. Basic Couponing Guidelines
  2. Start Traditional Couponing at Drug Stores
  3. The Couponing Strategy for Drug Stores and Grocery Stores

As mentioned above, we cut our food bill by over $8,000 in the last year.

88% of the savings came from using the 4-Step Meal Planning Process. The rest of the saving was derived from using coupons and rebates.

Guess where we recommend focusing to best reduce spending on food?

4-Step Meal Planning Process

1. Develop 20 Basic Meal Recipes focusing on the most expensive item – meat

Use the 20 Basic Meal Planner Worksheet in the 9-Week Financial Challenge Worksheet Challenge Packet that you received from signing up via email to create a list of 20 basic meal recipes. 

The goals of developing 20 basic meals recipes are: (1) cook and eat at home; (2) determine what should be in your pantry; and (3) reduce spending on food (maybe that should #1).  Consider the following:

  • Look at local grocery store ads to find what is typically on sale.

  • Meat is typically the most expensive item, so see what is on sale often at your local store.  Chicken, pork and ground meat are frequently on sale in the Midwest.

  • Try and limit the number of ingredients needed to create your 20 meals. No, we are not recommending 20 pasta dishes!    We are recommending staying away from exotic, expensive ingredients.

Need inspiration? Take a look at the Whippersnapper Finance Pinterest board on frugal recipes. We cannot vouch for the quality of all the recipes.  Good Luck!

Do you want to know how we cut $8,000 out of our grocery budget last year? Read on for the process we used to reduce spending on food.
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2. Storage Organization

Once determining your core recipes, it was time to clean out the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.  It is a good way to take inventory of what is in those cabinets.

This was painful for us. We had duplicates and expired stuff pushed to the back of the cabinets all over the kitchen.  We are pretty sure spices are not meant to be kept 10 years after best by date – Ugh. 

3. Meal Selection by Grocery Flyer

Don’t just blindly rotate through your 20 basic recipes and start over again at recipe #1. Grocery store sales should determine your meals for the week.  If chicken is a great price, eat a lot of chicken during that sale.

Do freeze some meat to use the next week because eating ground meat every day for a week is not particularly healthy!

Store Selection

There are three types of stores to consider shopping during the week that really help cut down the grocery bill – drug store, traditional grocery store, and superstore.  If you are not brand sensitive, a discount grocery store and a drug store could also do the trick.

For the best deals:

  1. shop by the flyer
  2. the loyalty card is a must
  3. coupons/rebates are necessary

But even without all that, you save more money by buying the products at the right store when the item is on sale. 

Lessons Learned from the 4-Step Meal Planning Process

  • Being organized allows you to make a realistic grocery list.  It prevents you from buying those extra jars of mayonnaise.
  • Having a set grocery list reduced the impulse buys.  Seriously, stick to the list.  It will prevent overbuying and throwing food away, which makes you more environmental smart.  Pat yourself on the back for that additional bonus.
  • Knowing where to shop is important.  We really were not using drug stores appropriately.  There are excellent deals at drug stores if done properly. Items to consider buying at drug stores include laundry detergent and cereal.
  • Loyalty cards are a necessity. Just sign up with the bare minimum personal information needed to get the card.

Couponing and Rebates

In the last year, we started couponing and we are now saving over a $100/month without being the nutty coupon people.  We don’t have an extra pantry to store a mega stash in case our family needs to bunker down for the zombie apocalypse.  So, we must keep it practical. 

The best place to use coupons is at retail stores – think Dicks, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Kohls, etc. 

The second-best place to use coupons is at drug stores.  Drug store savings will be much higher than at a grocery if using coupons, bundles, and rebates. 

Basic Couponing Guidelines

There is a time and place for coupons and rebates.  Take a pragmatic approach – resist extreme couponing.  We have some hard and steadfast rules regarding coupons and rebates:

  • Only buy what you use.  If you don’t use it, it is not a deal.  A great deal on cat food is no good if you don’t own a cat.
  • Don’t hoard.  Why hoard a year’s supply of toilet paper.  Seriously, you have nothing better to spend your money on?  Just think about the cash that you are tying up in toilet paper.  We will resist the toilet jokes, because they kind of stink 😊
  • Be Smart.  Products like shampoo, toilet paper, and laundry detergent are on sale every week.  There is typically an excellent sale on these products monthly.  There is no reason to have multiple months stashed away in your house.

Couponing & Rebate Strategy for Drug Stores

Combine offers to increase your success rate and the amount of money kept in your wallet.  The goal is to buy items that meet 4 criteria: (1) on sale, (2) coupon available, (3) rebate available, and (4) gets additional cash off a future purchase.

TIPS TO REMEMBER

1. Use your drug store or grocery store app.

Many drug stores and grocery stores have coupons online that can be attached to the loyalty card. This can reduce and/or eliminate the need for paper coupons.

2. Shop at the right store for the item. 

For example, shampoo and toothpaste are almost always cheaper at a drug store than a grocery store.

3. Buy the product on sale. 

Compare products on sites like KrazyCouponLady

4. Look to use rebates in addition to the coupon

Ibotta has the best rebate program. 

Another good rebate program is Checkout51.com

I saved $100 in the first 3 months that I used Ibotta versus $20 with Checkout 51 or $10 with Savingstar.com. 

These programs typically give incentives during the first month that improved your initial savings. 

5. Get the deal with dollars off a future purchase.  This is particularly true at drug stores.

6. Use Fetch Rewards and scan in your receipt. 

Fetch rewards is similar to a rebate app, but it works slightly differently as you don’t have to pre-select your rebates.  We saved about $5 after 3 months. It is easy to scan your receipt, so why not do it?

A word on rebates: There are many rebate programs out on the internet which you might want to investigate using.  We have only tried the ones above and won’t feel comfortable mentioning programs that we have not used.

Additionally, there are many rebate programs that require a bunch of personal or credit card information.  We are just not real comfortable with those programs. If you have ever gone through identity theft issues, I think you understand. 

Lessons Learned from Couponing and Rebates

  • Really be careful about shopping for the deal.  You can run yourself ragged and burn out jumping from store to store.  Remember saving $5/week for 52 weeks saves you more than saving $15/week for a month and stopping.  This is about developing a long-term savings habit to reduce spending on food.
  • Many store and coupon deals will repeat almost monthly.  There is no reason to go crazy on stockpiling.
  • Use the 5 free apps that are mentioned above, they will help you save money. 
    • Ibotta.com
    • Check51.com
    • SavingStar.com
    • KrazyCouponLady.com
    • Fetch.com

Summary

The best way to reduce spending on food is through meal planning. If you have limited time, put your effort into meal planning.  Eating out and take out are savings killers. 

Key Takeaways:

4-STEP MEAL PLANNING PROCESS – best savings for your time

  • Be flexible with your meal planning to take advantage of grocery sales.
  • Plan meals around meat sales as meat tends to be the most expensive item in a meal.
  • Shop at more than 1 store to utilize sales more effectively.
  • Know what is in your pantry, so you don’t overbuy.

COUPONING AND REBATES

  • If you don’t use it, don’t buy it.
  • Retail stores are the best for coupons as their coupons tend to be big $$ off.
  • Drug Stores have great deals for select items.
  • There are free apps that will help increase your savings.

Next week is a progress check-in week for the 9 Week Finance Challenge.  It has been a month and we want to see results.  If your current results are not awesome, no worries. We will discuss methods to refocus and jump-start your plans. 

We always appreciate people sharing our articles and hearing back from our readers. Let us know how you are doing on your financial independence journey. You got this!

Good Luck,

Whippersnapper Finance

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