Food Budgeting: An Experiment in Spending Less [Month 1]


Last month I wrote a post about how we budget for food. You can read it here. In it, I shared how much we spent per month in 2015 on groceries and eating out for lunch. I really enjoyed reading all the comments on that post. Many of you said you spend more than us on food, but there were some who said you spend even less, and that really inspired me.

At the end of January 2016, I added up our budgeting spreadsheet and saw that our food spending was almost exactly the same as the monthly average for 2015! In 2015 we averaged $277 on groceries and $83 on lunch (for this post, I am not including entertainment/date night food because that's not the part I am experimenting with). 

In January 2016, we spent $277.51 on groceries and $83.11 on lunch! I realized that if I didn't make a change, we would continue to average the same amount on food. And it's not that we are spending a lot on food anyway (according to some of you we spend a crazy low amount), but again, I was inspired by those of you who said you spend less than us and wanted to see if I could get our number even lower. 

So commenced my food budgeting experiment of 2016. Before I get to how much we spent in February (month 1 of this experiment), I want to share a few things I focused on in terms of trying to spend less.

1. Cook through the existing items in my pantry and freezer
I have a tendency to go to the  store and grab things I want to stock up on. This isn't bad, but there is also no need to buy more chicken when I have some sitting in my freezer. So in February, I tried to buy as few as new items possible and only use what I already had.

2. Only buy things on the list
Another shopping tendency I have is to grab random items while I'm walking through the aisles. These are things we will eat but not necessarily things we need. Example: ice cream, chocolate chips, multiple varieties of wheat thins and cheese-its, etc.

3. Price check
For part of my experiment, I wanted to see which stores were cheaper to buy from and whether or not this matched up with what I thought in my head. Where I live, I have essentially 4 stores I buy food from: Walmart, Target, Homeland (local chain), and Aldi. I have always assumed the hierarchy of price went like this (least expensive to most): Aldi, Walmart, Target, Homeland. I wanted to know if Homeland actually was the most expensive or if I was just making that up. If one store was significantly cheaper, I wanted to know about it so I could buy food from there.

What I did was write down a list of a few items we buy regularly, and then I went to each store and wrote down the price. In doing this, I confirmed that Aldi is significantly cheaper than the other 3 stores, which I already knew. And I don't mind most of the food at Aldi, but there are name-brand items you can't get there, so what about the other stores?

Target came out overall to be cheaper than Walmart! And that's without adding in deals from Cartwheel or getting 5% off for using their Red Card. This surprised me. Homeland was the most expensive overall (like I thought), but some individual items were cheaper than or the same as both Target and Walmart, which was a pleasant surprise. 

For example:
-Sara Lee brand Honey Wheat Bread is $2.49 at both Homeland and Target and $2.58 at Walmart.
-A 16oz block of cheese (store brand not name brand) is $4.49 at Homeland vs $4.96 at Walmart and $5.19 at Target! 
-Digorno pizza (same crust/topping type) was $4.50 at Target vs $5.86 at Walmart and a whopping $6.59 at Homeland.

What did I learn from all that? Aldi is definitely the cheapest. Also, it's not worth it for me to drive all the way to Walmart (the farthest of all 4 stores), because Target is actually cheaper (which surprised me). Homeland is the most expensive, but not everything is, and really it's not actually too much more than Walmart (but I'd say significantly more than Target).

4. Try grocery rebate apps

Have you heard of these? You guys NEED to get on this immediately as in yesterday. I'm thankful to Kari who first introduced me to this genius concept. Coupons can be kind of a pain to remember to use, but it's super easy to get cash back for buying groceries using rebate apps!

Ibotta is my favorite, and you can get $10 just for signing up and earning your first rebate by using this referral link or the code vkyogbc. (I get a few dollars too, so help a friend out, would ya?) I've made $24.50 so far in just one month! Three words: more hair bows. Just kidding. Maybe.

Seriously, do it. Mobisave is another app that doesn't have quite as many options but is still super easy to use. Try them and see what you think!

Month 1 Results 

I am proud to say that month 1 was a success! Just from implementing the above goals, we ended up spending $185.26 on groceries and $43.46 on lunch in February

Compare that to $277.51 and $83.11, respectively, and we saved $132 total on food purchases! That number does not include the $24.50 I got in rebate money, so we actually saved over $150 in one month! Go me.

Now, the fact that I employed rule #1 means that I didn't really have a giant trip to stock up on essentials. As we begin March, our pantry and freezer are pretty empty, so I do not anticipate such a low spending number this month. But I am hoping that rules 2-4 will help limit spending, and I can keep our average lower than it was in 2015. Check back in a month to see how I did!

Questions? Feedback? Want to tell me how big a dork I am for tracking all of this? Leave a comment below!

Carolann said...

Wow! I am seriously impressed. I spend A LOT more than that on groceries every month. But one way I started to lower my spending was to keep my receipts. I go through them to figure out how much each meal costs. That way, when I am meal planning, I try to plan for meals that are a little bit more expensive with meals that are cheaper in the same week. I try to balance it out, so we don't spend too much each week but can still splurge on things we love.

Bethany Carson said...

Wow!! Your grocery/food bill dropped over $100! That is great!! Thanks for the pointers on how you did it. My family (of 6) is doing a similar grocery budgeting project this year.

Ali said...

So honestly, I am SHOCKED that your grocery bill is that low. Flabbergasted. I spent just under $500 on groceries in Feb, and that is pretty typical! I use the Checkout 51 app for rebates, but we buy a lot of store brand stuff, so it doesn't always have much for me. I am impressed with your savings!

The Girl who Loved to Write said...

I've found Target to be the cheapest for us! Cartwheel is nice, especially now that you can just scan the things in your basket instead of having to type them in. Plus, once I realized that a red card wasn't a credit card, we've saved a lot. Sticking to what's on the list helps a TON.

a m b e r said...

i am going to check out that app for sure! jared and i spend over $400 a month just in groceries - for TWO people. (technically 4 if you count the dog food. ha!) i have been trying to find ways to cut back lately. there is a grocery chain up here in wichita called dillons. hubs has shopped there for years, but i'm convinced they are similar to homeland's prices. what i need to do first is your rule #1 - cook everything that is just sitting in my pantry. thanks for these tips!

Tiffani P said...

I need to know more about the rebate apps.... do I really to scan my groceries when I get home? that seems like a lot of extra work - especially since I'm usually solo on grocery trips and unloading/putting away... while a toddler and pre-toddler try to get into all the things in the garage. Convince me its worth it. :D

Ashley said...

I've really got to start studying up on all this since I'm getting married in August and my parents won't be buying the food anymore. *has mini panic attack because I don't know how to adult* My mom and I have started using the Walmart Savings Catcher lately (but we're not always very dedicated about it) and (if it's being honest) Walmart is pretty much the cheapest route around here. We live in a very rural area, though, so it's pretty much between Walmart, Winn-Dixie, and a TON of Dollar Generals. I've got to read up more on meal planning, budgeting, and saving in the next few months. Lol.
Thanks for sharing!

Caroline @ In Due Time said...

I used to be a huge coupon-er. Now that we only eat veggies, fruits, eggs, meat, and nuts that isn't the case anymore. Wish there were more discounts for the fresh stuff ;) Because we always eat the same things our grocery bill doesn't change much, minus the showers + parties when it starts to add up quickly!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I use coupons and rebate apps too, but you've inspired me to challenge myself to try to be more frugal! I think my problem is that I don't stick to JUST the grocery section of Target when I shop... I use ibotta and Target's Cartwheel app & mobile coupons, along with their Red Card, which helps out a lot, especially because you can scoop up more savings by stacking coupons (manufacturer & Target) on the same item and then scan your receipt for the rebate on multiple apps at home. It usually only takes me about 15 extra minutes (max) at the end of my day. Plus, you can get $.05 off for every bag when you bring your own bags to shop at Target. In addition to ibotta, I use Find&Save, SavingStar, & Checkout51. ReceiptPal & ReceiptHog are also good because you can scan almost any receipt from your day and earn either gift cards or cash!

The Lady Okie said...

A valid question! Although I will say $24.50 speaks for itself ;)

With Mobisave, all you need to do is take a picture of your receipt and then it will ask you to check the products you bought all within the app. They will verify your purchases and deposit money into your PayPal account within 24 hrs. So for that one there is no scanning involved.

For Ibotta, it depends. Some stores have a membership card (like Homeland for me), so when you scan your frequent shopper card at the register it will automatically verify those purchases with Ibotta, and all you'll need to do is take a picture of the receipt (also within the app). However, for some stores you will need to scan the actual item to verify your purchase. But honestly it's not that big of a deal because you're not going to be scanning 15 things... you probably will only be getting a rebate on 5 items total in your shopping trip, so if you just remember what they are, you can always put your groceries away and then do it later that night. For Ibotta, you have to have a $20 minimum to cash out (unlike Mobisave, where you get $ almost immediately).

With Ibotta and Mobi save, they have "any brand" rebates, so you can by any dozen eggs or any gallon of milk and get a rebate. You don't have to buy THIS particular brand, etc. They do also have actual brand rebates, but I like the any brand a lot for bread, milk, eggs, OJ, and things like that.

Also, it's just kind of fun, to be honest.
Also x2, they have stuff other than food! I got $5 rebate on buying DIAPERS recently with Ibotta! And Mobi currently has like $.25 off bar soap or Kleenex.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that to "unlock" each rebate you have to do a task like answer a question, so if that type of thing annoys you, then you have that to consider. But it really is just one question like "what's the highest degree you have" or whatever.

Hope that helps with your decision! ;)

The Lady Okie said...

Ibotta has rebates for bananas, eggs, milk, tomatoes, onions, and apples... those are ones I've used recently :)

The Lady Okie said...

I NEED to get better at couponing! That is one area I haven't taken the dive into yet. And wow more apps to try out! I haven't heard of those!

Kristen @ See You In A Porridge said...

i love this! i really want to shop at aldi more, but i always forget and then when i do remember, i don't need to do a 'big' shop. does that make sense? i just did a big shop last weekend so i won't need to do a big one for a couple weeks. anyway. i'm rambling. this was very interesting to read. i will join ibotta using your link.
funny story (possibly not actually funny): we got a walmart gift card from one of KC's students for christmas and we didn't know what to buy besides groceries so i googled 'best things to buy at walmart' (and first i have to tell you that i got a lot of search results showing things to steal at walmart, which i was very confused by) and i read countless articles that actually showed how they are not the cheapest at basically anything. they just have that reputation, and i think they do price match, but people just keep going there because they don't check their prices against other places. i thought it was very interesting. end ramble :)

Paige @ Reasons to Come Home said...

I've got ibotta on my phone but never use it but it sounds like I need to start! Good job on lowering your budget! Cory and I have to get better about this!

Breenah A said...

I use Ibotta, SavingStar, and Checkout51 (that one takes the longest to be able to cashout because there's not as much that I buy).

Veronica Lee Burns said...

I'm super impressed by your monthly budget on groceries...though ours is off because we include personal items like toothpaste in ours...I'm really tempted to break it down now! haha

Any idea where Crest might fall into the mix?? We like using Crest for fruit/veggies

Rach said...

I'm really surprised by your Target vs. Walmart findings! When I did a cost comparison 5 years ago, Walmart was definitely cheaper than Target on our staple items. You have me curious about whether or not our Walmarts here are still cheaper than Target. It's been a long time since I did that comparison so it might be different now! Or of course we're in different parts of the country too so that might be it as well. However, like you found - Aldi was by far the cheapest so I typically buy my staples there and the rest at either Sprouts (health food store - most expensive) or Kroger. Walmart would be a better store for me to go to as a second spot to pick up groceries after Aldi, but Walmarts in Memphis are pretty rough. So I pay more $$ for groceries in order to not have to deal with Walmart, ha! Congrats on your month of cheap spending! I look forward to hearing how you do next month! :)

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

This is awesome!

I have Ibotta but have not signed up! I'll use your code =)

Hooray for Aldi! If we get the house we are trying to Aldi is like 5-7 minutes from there so I'll be frequenting it there a lot. Did you know Trader Joe's and Aldi have the same owners?

Do you use Walmart's app? Did you know you can scan your receipt and you can get rebates? I haven't done it yet because we haven't been shopping much but we will soon.

Rachel Emily said...

Oh man, I think you have finally convinced me I could be saving a lot on our groceries. Food is one of our biggest expenses too, and I hate that!! Downloading those apps seems like the best place to start!

Kayla MKOY said...

You've totally inspired me! Caleb and I keep our grocery costs pretty low (like $50-60/week) but sometimes, like you said, we'll snag things we don't really NEED that week. Which means we spent more than that! Ugh. I'm with you, I love Aldi! Now that we've moved its a bit further from us but totally worth it in my book!! Thanks for the inspiration!

Chelsea Phelps said...

Thank you for writing this post! I just signed up for Ibotta and used your referral code :)

Victoria said...

Thank you for taking the time to share these tips!!! I've clicked over to Ibotta to check it out. Have you done the Paypal cash or the gift cards? Do they charge to convert to gift cards rather than paypal? Also...What's the process of redeeming your items like if you're not using a club card to submit your info?

It sounds really great and every little bit of savings helps!!!

What you said about writing down items and price checking is super smart! I was just planning to do that. I do a big grocery run once a month right now and then go out a few times a week for things like milk, eggs, bread, and produce. It just so happens that I have options for the first time in my life and I've been playing the same mind game of thinking certain stores are better than others price wise. No more guessing! I'm GOING to do what you did so that I'll KNOW! :)

Do you like Aldi overall? We don't have them here, but I went to one with my Grandparents and my Aunt when I was in SC and it seems like a really cool place!

Rachel said...

Man, that's an awesome savings you got for this month! Great job! Price checking definitely matters. I love the math of figuring out which package is actually the cheapest per ounce. Food is my favorite way to save money, and Angel's least favorite way to save money (he thinks appetite is the one place where you shouldn't skimp). However, I cook all of his favorite foods so he loves my homecooked inexpensive meals so much he ends up saving money on food against his will. :P There's not nearly as much opportunities to save money on groceries, here, though, other than simply not eating exotic American food and expensive stuff like refried beans and ground beef. :) We buy all chicken, eggs, and produce at the local outdoor market, from individual stalls. It tends to be significantly cheaper than the grocery store, and sometimes the fruit lady decides she really likes you and she gives you an extra apple. Other than that, there are two grocery store chains--one with pretty much all local products, the other with mostly imported. We go to the local one, but occasionally give in to cravings for tortilla chips and go to the fancy imported foods store. Generally it's just good for the wallet to stay out of that store. Now that the 'local' supermarket sells tortillas, we don't have so much reason to go to the fancy place. Life without tortillas would be a difficult life indeed.

Sarah said...

I am a HUGE Aldi's fan, I try to do as much of our shopping there as I can. Then I add on with Kroger and Costco.
Someone else just told me about Ibotta the other day, I need to check it out.

Jenny Evans said...

I use Checkout 51. We used to live near an ALDI, I loved it. Thanks for posting real info with numbers - I always like to see what other people are doing and how they're doing it. (Makes me sound rather nosy, I guess...)

Laura Darling said...

That's awesome!! I have been really trying to watch our grocery/food spending lately too. I love Ibotta. ReceiptHog is another decent one, and Walmart's Savings Catcher. You scan your receipt and then if an item you bought is advertised at a lower price somewhere, you get the difference! It's just a few dollars here and there, but that all adds up!

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

I <3 Ibotta! I just signed up with your code and am unlocking all kinds of coupons. We are going to have to do a major restock of groceries so I'm trying to get as many coupons as I can. =)

Tracy said...

When you add in coupons you can really save a bunch at Homeland since they double one coupon. I get a lot of stuff for free or almost free plus it is the closest grocery to me. I even will get stuff for free so I can donate it to the food pantry.

Use Saving Star and Ibotta and sometimes they have the same rebates so you can double up on the same purchase!

Amy said...

YES to shopping around for the right price! (although depending on how far the store is, gas could factor in).

Elizabeth said...

Man, I am proud if I find time to get to just one grocery store! I'm so impressed with your budget. We eat out a bit and that makes it go up. I'm so so impressed and I think I need to try to be better at the store!