How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in More Than Half

When it comes to my spending, I’ve resorted to reviewing everything in detail once a quarter. During the quarter, my customized version of a budget is put into motion. This quarter, I resolved to find ways to reduce the amount of money I spend on food. After some high level changes and a few smaller tweaks, I successfully reduced my grocery bill by more than 55%. This post will detail my top five frugal tips that helped me spend less on the all-important “food” category.

I’ve heard plenty of ideas out there on ways to reduce spend on groceries, but I finally took some of those practices to heart. I hope you find one or two that you can put into practice yourself and let yourself move one step closer from employee to investor, as I am always trying to do.

Rice, Lentils, Quinoa & Farro

I’ve started to incorporate these four ingredients as a staple in my weekly meals. Naturally, they have a plain taste, so these ingredients are open to trying various types of sauces and spices.

Each of these contains a lot of carbohydrates (lentil less so) which supplements my cardio focused workout schedule. When I need a few extra grams of protein, I can remove the rice and rely on the other three.

I plan on incorporating beans into my diet and they would also fall into this same category.

Potatoes over Ramen

On a similar note, many “struggling artists” will discuss how they live on nothing but instant ramen noodles as a sign that they can’t afford more nutritious meals.

Ironically, instead of buying ramen, opt for the often less expensive and more nutritious option of potatoes. There are dozens of ways to make potatoes and similar to the items listed above, you can include all types of sauces, spices and even cooking methods to vary it up.

Buy in Bulk

This one may be obvious, but I have recently incorporated a new method for being able to take advantage of buying in bulk while living in a large city.

Many readers have their own car and are able to drive to pick up large amounts of food. Since I live in the city without a car, I barely have access to traditional grocery stores, let alone wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.

To alleviate this, I have signed up for a service that delivers grocery items for my door. I stock up about once a month on items that will last me the whole month. By doing this I’m able to save about 10%-20% on the items I buy, even after factoring in the additional costs of delivery and tipping the driver.

One of my favorite purchases is when I save 65% by buying a large container of mixed nuts instead of the smaller individual containers. For $13 I’m able to pick up 56 ounces, instead of buying the smaller 8 ounce containers for $5. This small purchase makes me feel good each day during those few minutes where I’ll snack.

An additional benefit is that the stores near me that sell in bulk require membership fees that I can bypass by paying for a monthly delivery charge instead.

Essentially, instead of paying for annual membership fee, I am paying for a service to deliver these goods directly to my door.

Not a bad deal.

If you have a car and a delivery service available, you may want to review the trade off available here. This combination might only work while living in a large city where maintaining a car can be expensive due to paying an extra $200-$300 a month for parking.

Another benefit is that the delivery service removes all possibilities of impulse buying while shopping in such a large store.

Treat Meat as a Garnish

By far the largest driver in reducing my grocery bill was treating meat as a garnish instead of the main course.

Before applying this approach, many of my meals contained a large amount of meat (including fish).

Naturally, as you remove meat from your plate, you are left with needing to replace it. That’s where my last tip comes in handy.

Shopping on the Perimeter of the Store

When it comes to your traditional grocery store, the freshest and typically healthiest items are located on the perimeter of the store. This includes fruits & vegetables.

With the gap left by meat, I’ve opted to fill this with fruits and vegetables which has led to an overall healthier diet.

Not only is my body happier by implementing these grocery bill tips, but so is my wallet.

Have you incorporated any of these tips in the past? Are you working on reducing your grocery bill by using other tips?

Master Distiller

30 comments… add one
  • Jon Jun 22, 2016, 5:53 am

    Matt these are good tips and for most people I would think that food would be a big budget item, so incorporating these tips should have a big impact. I’ve been fortunate in that my wife is a vegetarian, so we have never had a lot of meat in the grocery cart and we’ve been shopping the perimeter of the store for many years now. The only downside to going for lots of fruits and vegetables is that they rarely go on sale. You’ll notice that the big discounts and coupons are usually on all of the junk food! Enjoy your savings!

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:13 pm

      Thanks Jon. On our end, I think we both want to gear towards a more vegetarian diet, but it definitely isn’t happening anytime soon.

      I’ve also noticed the same with regards to sales. The fruits and vegetables at my local store are rarely on sale.

  • The Green Swan Jun 22, 2016, 6:24 am

    Good tips, Matt. And good idea with the delivery service, I am sure that is very useful in your situation.

    What we have done in recent years is skip the regular potato and use sweet potatoes which are even more nutritious and delicious. They are very versatile as well and can be used in many of the same ways as regular potatoes.

    • [email protected] Jun 22, 2016, 6:50 am

      Definitely! We only use sweet potatoes! They are great baked in a little olive oil or on the grill too!

    • Martin - Get FIRE'd asap Jun 23, 2016, 8:29 pm

      Yeah, we use sweet potato far more than ordinary potatoes now. They contain more fibre and are a more complex carb so are better for you.

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:14 pm

      The sweet potato idea is great. Thanks for sharing.

  • [email protected] Jun 22, 2016, 6:55 am

    It makes total sense that you don’t have a car, but that one made me really stop and think. With two kids at home – we go to the store a few times a week because we always seem to be out of something. The rush of work & school leads to unhealthier eating for sure and this is something I want to focus on soon. Your suggestions are great – and we always try to add one new recipe a week, especially when using those “staple” foods a lot.

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:17 pm

      I find myself in a similar situation where I’ll rush over to convenient store to pick up the one or two things I left out. Over time, the premium price at the convenience store adds up, so I try to write down everything I need during my trips to the store.

      The nice thing about some of these staple foods being bland on their own is that it inspires us to seek out new recipes. We’re in a similar place now where we try 1-2 new recipes a week.

  • Mrs. PIE Jun 22, 2016, 7:17 am

    We’ve been working on our grocery bill too. we haven’t cut by half, but have made some significant inroads. The biggest change for us was planning meals around on-sale items, and making sure to use everything up rather than just for one recipe and wasting the rest. It’s been a noticeable difference as the fridge is now pretty empty at the end of the week, meaning our wastage is now much, much lower

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:19 pm

      Food waste has also been key for me as I started to be more conscious of anything I was throwing away about 6 months ago. I used to always buy two big things of mixed greens but I only ever ate one. It felt like a mini defeat when I recognized I didn’t eat as many greens as I wanted, but at least I’m not throwing away any food now.

  • Stefan - The Millennial Budget Jun 22, 2016, 9:24 am

    How can you cut Ramen out? That is a college staple! Joking…. I think potatoes are a great substitute and you can cook them in so many ways, I love a great baked potato! The hardest thing for me to cut down on eating is meat. I need to eat a lot of meat for protein and because I simply like it but I am trying to reduce the amount I eat to stretch out my meals, this will reduce my overall cost. Will try out some of your other suggestions!

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:29 pm

      Hah, I was waiting for someone to mention the Ramen part!

      If you’re looking for a heavy protein diet, check out quinoa and farro. They both contain protein which can help. When I find myself working out more, I plan to sub in those two items along with beans to find more protein sources outside of meat. I’m already snacking on nuts which contain protein and I happen to love peanut butter and banana sandwiches (with a little cinnamon added).

  • Amanda @ centsiblyrich Jun 22, 2016, 10:12 am

    All great suggestions! The area we really need to improve on is buying the meat. I have two guys in the house that love their meat and potatoes. We live in the Midwest and have access to grass fed beef at a very reasonable price from a local farmer, so I don’t see that going anywhere, but we could still cut back on the frequency we eat it and stretch it out longer. We are also fortunate to be able to eat from the garden for a few months out of the year.

  • KeechiMan1 Jun 22, 2016, 3:13 pm

    Living on a fixed income is a swell way to trim down you list of food items to the essentials. My biggest income falls on the first, ‘Working, Day” of each month. I buy as much of my new month’s food items as possible then. I can expect a Social Security Check before the 15th – so a portion of that is earmarked for my second monthly store march. Perishables are the primary need to be refreshed by mid-month. I’ve quite the Ramen and went more heavy on potatoes – especially after watching, “The Martian ,” Hah! I stay away from salt, soda & cigs for near 30 years now. I do use SodaStream to spritz my water – I find sparkling water helps with digestion, & B-12 helps absorb more nutrients …

  • KeechiMan1 Jun 22, 2016, 3:15 pm

    What’s required for your Pic Avatar?

  • FinanceSuperhero Jun 22, 2016, 3:53 pm

    Ah, the grocery bill – the bane of every budgeter’s existence!

    Mrs. Superhero and I lived on a very tight grocery budget (about $300 per month) when we were first married, and gradually, that has creeped up to around $600 today. Our biggest costs tend to be meat and organic fruits and vegetables. I am to be blame for the meat costs, as I’m the carnivore in our house.

    Lately, we have been eating a lot more chicken and using it as a garnish, as you suggested. Our two go-to meals lately are Chicken tacos (with lots of salsa and lettuce) and Chicken Tortilla soup. I’m going to have Mrs. Superhero write a guest post with both of these recipes very soon.

    • Paul Andrews Jul 26, 2016, 7:58 am

      Ditto on being the household carnivore. I really wish there were a way to get good cuts that aren’t $6-12 per pound. My first can go without meat for days, but I need at least a chicken or fish serving daily. Matt’s right though, potatos can be a real budget saver, and quinoa is as close as we can get to a “superfood”. Awesome post, thanks for the tip!

  • Martin - Get FIRE'd asap Jun 23, 2016, 8:36 pm

    We do have meat with most main meals but it’s generally chicken which is cheap here, or cheaper red meats such as mince, brisket, or blade or chuck steak. The resulting dishes all depend on how imaginative you can be and whether you have some good kitchen skills. Since myself and Ms MM are both good cooks, we don’t want for restaurants as we have as good here at home.

    My suggestion, look up recipes online that use the cheaper cuts and try at least one new dish each week. You’ll soon have a repertoire of great meals that will easily fit the budget.

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:33 pm

      That sounds interesting as I’ve never cooked with some of those meats you mentioned. We’ve been trying new recipes but it has been with different sauces/spices, so this will open the doors for new ideas. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Rudy SMT Jun 24, 2016, 7:00 am

    Hi Matt,

    i like the potato diet. Potaoes are very nutritional and was the main dish of the 2WW soldiers.

    One more dish for you; Polenta.

    Just google it. This dish is so cheap but offer high carbohydrate for a working day.

    • Distilled Dollar Jun 26, 2016, 2:37 pm

      Nice! I checked it out online and it looks good. I’ve added it to our, “foods to try” list, thanks for the suggestion!

  • FireSign Feb 3, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Another thing that is normally not thought of or covered by younger people learning to live cheaper, is planning your meals for the week. Buy in season, of course. By planning your meals ahead of time, you avoid buying fruits and veggies you may not use that go bad, and you know what you’re going to eat for the day if any prep needs to be done (such as using a slow cooker). I can’t tell you how many times poor planning has torpedoed my food budget. Planning ahead is a winner.

  • Marie GK Apr 18, 2017, 7:54 am

    Great strategies for retirees, too!

  • Sarah De Diego Jun 12, 2017, 9:10 am

    Great tips and a reminder that you don’t have to turn into an episode of “Extreme Couponing” to save money.

    The only area where non-FI interested/able people might have an issue is with the bulk buying. It assumes that people have their grocery budget saved up at the beginning of the month (or whatever your pay schedule is).

    We’re rice over potato people but a friend recently told me that they contain tons of minerals/vitamins too. French fries are a vegetable right 😉

    I’d never thought of the delivery service concept, thanks for that.

    Looking forward to reading the other ideas you come up with #newsubscriber.

    Besos Sarah.

  • Remi Sep 28, 2017, 10:17 am

    Hi Matt,
    My wife and myself just moved in Chicago and we are trying to keep our cost of living as low as possible. We will be living in an expensive neighborhood (but tiny apartment of 500sqt) so we won’t have access to Costco.
    Could you let us know the name of the grocery delivery service you’re using?

    • Distilled Dollar Sep 28, 2017, 12:05 pm

      Hey Remi, for sure! We utilized InstaCart a lot as they offer delivery from those bulk discount stores. Nowadays, we don’t utilie the service unless we are planning a big event or need a large inflow of booze, meat or anything that’s typically more expensive.

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