How I Saved a Fast 45% on Fresh, Healthy Food

After I heard how Syracuse mom Kara Riedl spends only $200 a month at the supermarket, I knew our grocery bills were much higher than they needed to be.

Yes, it’s true we just had a fourth child and I’m still getting to know the system here, but I knew I could do better.

So when anchorwoman Megan Coleman of the NBC news show, Today in Central New York, asked me to do a weekly money-saving segment — starting with a trip to the grocery store –- I knew it was time to get back in the game.

Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.

1. Peruse the Store’s Weekly Sales Flyer

Find it in the Sunday paper, at the store, in your mailbox, or online; usually valid from Saturday to Saturday.

When you have some downtime at work or the kids are tucked in bed, take a minute to jot down good deals on foods that you like or would like to try.

Most supermarket websites will let you make up your shopping list just by clicking on sale items.

2. Focus on the Deepest Discounts

Select as many “Buy One, Get One Free” offers as you can.

Then focus on deep sales ($4 off per pound vs. 10 cents off).

Keep in mind that most stores do not require you to buy 10 items to take advantage of a “10 for $10” sale, but check your store’s policy.

3. Spend 10 Minutes (At Most) on Coupons

To be done well, couponing requires the time and energy of a part-time job. But you can still slice off a few quick dollars if you focus on high-value coupons right there in the flyer.

My store, TOPS, offered four $1 coupons that would double the value of $1 manufacturer’s coupons.

 

So I went to Coupons.com and quickly printed out four $1 coupons for hummus, canned tomatoes, sliced deli meat, and eggs, saving me a pretty painless $8.

And that’s it.

I paid $82 for $147 worth of groceries.

I saved $62 or 45%.

The time I spent?

About 20 minutes on writing down a shopping list based on the sales flyer and printing out 4 coupons.

The food I bought?

  • Navel oranges
  • red grapefruits
  • cherry tomatoes
  • colored peppers
  • potatoes
  • mangoes
  • pre-washed salad
  • baby carrots
  • brie
  • Tilapia filets
  • frozen shrimp
  • New York Strip steak
  • all-natural sliced deli turkey
  • Italian bread
  • vitamins
  • canned whole tomatoes
  • mixed nuts
  • popcorn
  • hummus
  • frozen mozzarella sticks, and
  • eggs

Do you have ideas about saving money quickly on good food?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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14 comments

  • Jo@simplybeingmum October 29, 2011, 3:30 am

    Amy – This is great going. In July this year I did a cooking from scratch experiment and found that I saved 42% on convenience foods when I broke down the recipe and costed the ingredients. However the main feedback from my readers was they felt (when scrutinising my shopping purchases) that I could be spending less. This led me to reduce my grocery bill by 50% over the following weeks. I’m now spending £50 a week ($77) and when I look at my groceries I find it’s all basic ingredients, there aren’t added value products lurking in there. Not only am I saving money I believe we are eating even healthier! I don’t do couponing, it’s not for me as I have set products I want to buy, and I don’t want to be influenced to buy things that I wouldn’t just because they are on special. I’ve saved money just sticking to the essentials.
    Jo@simplybeingmum´s last post ..No Waste Tastes Great 28 Oct 2011 / Plus Pride Before A Fall

    Reply
    • Amy November 1, 2011, 9:35 pm

      Wow, $77 a week is awesome, Jo! I’m very impressed.

      And it’s really amazing that you are not using coupons and that you feel strongly about it. I agree that I don’t want to be tempted to buy stuff that I don’t really think is good, just because it seems like a good deal.

      Love your back to basics approach!

      Amy

      Reply
  • Paula@Simply Sandwich March 10, 2011, 4:47 pm

    This is such great information!! I used to coupon but was exhausted with the time required to do it and the clutter. You showed me that shopping can be easy and low cost! Thanks!
    Paula@Simply Sandwich´s last post ..Do As I Say…Not As I Do!

    Reply
    • Amy March 12, 2011, 8:11 pm

      Hi Paula,

      Great, I’m glad the post was helpful! I find couponing is too easy to get obsessed about, and plus so much of it is about gimicky new products that are more expensive, even with coupons, than store brands and lesser-known brands.

      Thanks for writing in!
      Amy

      Reply
  • Amy February 17, 2011, 12:10 pm

    Hi PP,

    Thanks for writing in. I am fascinated by your blog and your year on $50,000 near NYC. What a challenge!

    Let’s say we have spent various amounts on groceries depending on where we have lived, how many kids we had, and how anal we were about writing down only food items from the grocery in the food column of our budget.

    Right now, in Syracuse NY, with 4 kids (yes, one is very small), we are spending about $800 per month. I could do much better if I would take time to plan my shopping trips based on sales — as explained in this post — but I don’t always do, unfortunately.

    To save time, I also buy non-food items like lightbulbs, paper towels and wiper fluid at the supermarket. And we have gotten lazy about dividing those items out on our budget to the household department.

    Living near the City, your food costs are probably higher, so don’t be too hard on yourself. On the other hand, spending more time and effort will lead to palpable results.

    For example, have you tried CSA’s for produce?

    Good luck and please let me know if I can help more!

    Amy

    Reply
    • Poor Princess February 22, 2011, 5:07 pm

      Thanks, Amy!! Actually, I would love to try a CSA. I also have many non-food items on the grocery section of the budget (diapers, wipes, household items, birthday presents–pretty much anything we buy at Target or the like). I update my budget every day or two, but there’s a limit to how much time I can spend breaking down bills . . .

      Anyway, I am enjoying your blog. Many thanks!
      Poor Princess´s last post ..Magic Money Part III- Conclusion

      Reply
      • Amy February 22, 2011, 5:37 pm

        Hi PP,

        I’m glad this was helpful!

        I forgot to mention that, paradoxically, the more a family eats at home (as opposed to out), the higher their grocery bill will be.

        We eat out rarely and I also pack lunches every day for my husband and two school-age daughters.

        To get a complete picture, one would need to add up TOTAL food spending — grocery and restaurants.

        Check out this graphic based on figures from the Dept of Labor on where Americans spend their money:

        http://www.visualeconomics.com/how-the-average-us-consumer-spends-their-paycheck/

        Good luck on your adventure!

        Amy

        Reply
  • Poor Princess February 15, 2011, 7:46 pm

    Hi Amy,
    I’m fascinated. I have been reading various women’s magazines for years (my gym reading!), and I’m always shocked by how little women list as their family food budget. What would you say your monthly food budget is?

    We have 3 kids. We eat kosher meat–which is more expensive than regular meat–but we don’t eat a lot of meat (also, we’re in the NY area, where kosher meat is as cheap as it’s going to get). I prefer to buy my foods organic and hormone-free, but I am not a stickler about either (less the first than the second).

    We are on a seriously tight budget (which is what my entire blog is about). I am trying to cap spending on groceries (admittedly, including diapers) at about $850, but let’s just say we’ve never been close (today is Feb. 15, and we’ve already spent $602–and our fridge is all but empty). No room for bulk buying. Do you think $850 is realistic just by clipping/printing coupons? You have one more kid than do I, but presumably one that’s not eating much!

    Thanks!!
    PP
    Poor Princess´s last post ..On Saying Goodbye

    Reply
  • Kathryn February 11, 2011, 7:55 am

    Great job! Those weekly adds are marvelous. We’re in the throws of moving to another state so I’ve had an unintentional experiment about how shopping in small quantities and more frequently costs more money. We have 10 children and a few years back to save mostly time I started doing one big, big shop once per month followed by a fill in the missing produce and perishables shop two weeks later. I had forgotten how much money this saves me until I stopped doing it as our move date approached (not wanting to have to move a ton of food). Back when I shopped the weekly adds I was going in and out of a few stores every week, shopping in small quantities and spending time juggling coupons and ads. Buying 3 lb. bags of apples instead of a 25 lb. box at the beginning of the month or buying a tub of oats instead of 50 lbs. of oats twice per year or 2 cans of tomato sauce instead of a case at Sams Club is much more expensive even if I get the smaller quantities on sale. I do know that my method wouldn’t work for people with less space but from experience will say it saves a lot of money.

    Reply
    • Amy February 13, 2011, 9:43 pm

      Hi Kathryn,

      Yours sounds like the buying in bulk method.

      I love the idea of fewer shopping trips, but I guess I haven’t embraced your strategy because having huge containers of food stockpiled makes me feel a little overwhelmed. I find myself wanting to consume more just to get rid of all that stuff!

      But of course different approaches will appeal to different people. I appreciate your writing in!

      Amy

      Reply
  • Lauren @ I am THAT lady February 10, 2011, 7:10 pm

    YAY Amy! You did so great!!!! So excited to see you on weekly!
    Lauren @ I am THAT lady´s last post ..10 ways to know you have become THAT Crazy Coupon Lady!!!

    Reply
  • Jen @ Jen Spends February 10, 2011, 10:37 am

    Just watched online: http://www.cnycentral.com/news/video.aspx?id=579169

    You did a great job – you’re a natural! You are so right about coupons. Yes, you can save heaps of money, but 1. do you really want the processed gimmicky stuff? and 2. is it worth the time and effort? It’s nice to see more and more sales and coupons for produce and other healthy basics. I would love to learn more about how you feed your family. I feel so much better when I’m serving up fresh foods rather than processed stuff, but sometimes I get in a rut and can’t think of meal ideas.

    Reply
    • Amy February 13, 2011, 8:15 am

      Hi Jen,

      You’re so sweet! I think I did so-and-so, but for the first time, maybe that’s all I can expect.

      Fresh food does make me feel so much better too, although it does take more time to prepare. One thing I love to do, esp in winter, is oven roast vegetables. It is so hands-off, and it always tastes good. Just toss veggies in oil, salt and pepper and bake at high heat (400 or higher) for about 20 minutes more or less, turning once. Root veggies will take longer.

      I have some other recipes in the food section of my blog, in case that’s helpful.

      Thanks again for the encouragement!

      Take care,
      Amy

      Reply

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