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Food Spending Changes to Help Kill Debt

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Blogger with many niche specialties. I write about dogs, all things under homesteading, personal finance, how to blog, and beauty/fashion.

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I'm fortunate right now that I only carry a small amount of medical debt. I'm covered with good insurance, but they still stuck me with an extra $1,000 to pay off. This might not seem like a ton though it is for someone like me rebuilding my finances after divorce.

I hate debt. I hate debt with a passion. The most debt I've ever been in was when I needed to be hospitalized for a week without insurance. There was some weird lapse there between some arrangements I had that left me vulnerable before I could get on a new insurance plan.

They stuck me with a $15,000 bill and there was no way I could pay that off any time soon. I was 23 and married and neither of us made a ton of money at the time. It eventually got paid off and I hated every minute of dealing with it.

I complain about debt a lot and I'm curious about how normal it seems to most people. The reality we live in where it seems like everyone is in some degree of debt boggles my mind.

Do you want that nice wedding? Debt. Do you want that nice house? Debt. Do you want a pretty new car? Probably also debt. Want to go to school to get lined up for a nice job? Debt.

Debt Lifestyle

The thing about going into a ton of debt is to get out of it requires a major lifestyle change. It is key to reduce living expenses. For most of my life, it has been food that has haunted me.

I love good food. I will pay for good food. I will feel like I made a good choice until I look at my bank balance at the end of the month. Then I will fuss at myself for not adhering to my planned out food strategies.

Truly, food is a large expense for most people and you have to deal with it all the time. You need to eat. The first priority for a young or old person trying to get a grip on their food spending is to figure out a strategy to save as much as possible on groceries. It is also important to never waste your food. Efficiency is important.

I had a system worked out for cost-effective grocery shopping. I will admit my system was a bit boring because it overlapped with being physically fit. I'd often meal prep and have different flavors of cooked chicken, rice, and broccoli.

Your diet should consist of fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh or frozen fruits, lean meats, legumes, and optimal kinds of grains. The prepackaged and precooked processed food offerings should be looked at with suspicion as it is probably unhealthy for you.

The fresh foods diet isn't the cheapest diet. The cheapest diet is drinking soda and eating trash food. No, the fresh foods diet is intended to keep you with proper nutrition needs met and angled towards a healthy life for longevity. Food is fuel and you don't want to be running on trash.

With a good grocery shopping strategy, you can have a good fresh food diet and keep things trim so the savings factor is still there.

I've compiled some tips for different things that help with saving on groceries.

Plan Ahead

You can save significantly on cost if you think about what to do before you even enter the store.

How are you paying for food?

Something I was doing wrong for many years was to use my debit card for everything. Remember how I hate debt? I really disliked credit cards too. The thing is a variety of credit cards offer perks for certain purchases.

They will specifically reward grocery-related spending and either give straight cash back, airline miles, or hotel points. With a proper credit card strategy, you can take advantage of the most valuable rewards.

The cashbacks and perks can be huge over time as some of the cards offer a whopping 5% cashback linked to whatever their maximum quarterly spending amount is.

A popular thing to do is purchase the required amount for gift card purchases. If you purchase $1,000-$2,000 worth of gift cards to meet the spend requirement, the 5% cashback can be unlocked for all future grocery purchases.

My plan currently with my own thing is to figure out how to be like the cool kids and unlock travel rewards. Turns out the hotel credit cards offer 4-6 points per $1 that I spend on groceries.

Take Advantage of the Cashback Apps Or Rewards

There are several apps that exist that can earn you cashback. They will pay you for select purchases and usually you have to submit a receipt. The cashback apps work independently so sometimes the same receipt or purchase can give you multiple paybacks.

Usually, the process goes something like you download the app and make your account. You select the stores or offers that appeal to you. You go purchase your selections then do a photo of your receipt and submit it to the app. Then they pay you.

The main grocery app I use still is Ibotta. It is easy to use and there is almost always something worth buying on their offering list.

Another worthwhile app is Checkout51.

I've tested a bunch of other recommended apps. So far I haven't been that impressed with the rewards. If I have to scan 200 receipts to make a dollar, it isn't worth it to me.

Shop Around

Depending on where you live, shopping around might be a good strategy. I live in a dense metro so all the stores I could hit are packed in pretty close. When it comes to grocery stores it makes little sense to just shop one store if you can take advantage of the different local sales.

It also pays to look into any loyalty or reward programs stores might offer. You could end up with cash savings, points to use toward savings, or gas rewards.

Check Weekly Ads

If you switch to a more intentional and opportunistic way of thinking, it is possible to switch to only shopping around the weekly ads when there are massively discounted groceries.

You want to create basic grocery lists that focus around only the weekly sale items. You want to create meals based around the sale items. It works much better than to design meals and then shop for ingredients. The key here is the different grocery stores will have different weekly sale items.

Sometimes you will get lucky and find chicken or beef drastically on sale along with various vegetables. This is also where you can take advantage of bulk buying if you have space. You can buy in bulk and freeze for later use.

Shop online

Depending on certain factors, it can sometimes be cheaper to acquire food online. I like to use online shopping to get cooking oils, honey, dried beans, brown rice, peanut butter, and bulk spices.

This is also where I have implemented the website CamelCamelCamel to do price tracking for me. Some of the food items are seasonally cheaper depending on the up-down nature of Amazon pricing. I have many items set to track that will alert me when something is within my possible buy range. My family thinks I'm some weird price tracking wizard because I drop them tips on when to stock up.

Membership

Costco is my go-to bulk buy store. The store sells bulk staples for good prices and also have a wide variety of specialty items. They have the normal rotating sales and if leveraged properly can help reduce costs of groceries or other items. It is one of the few recurring expenses I'd maintain if I had a car still.

Discount Grocery Stores

I have a major affection for Aldi. Their prices are usually pretty nice and during the height of the Minneapolis riots, it was one of the few stores still open that was selling food. Dollar Tree is also a nice discount store. I generally stick to things that I can tell at a glance are good value because it gets annoying trying to unit price check everything against Amazon.

Farmer's Market

Farmer's markets were usually where I would clean up. You would have people standing around with their fresh vegetables selling for low prices. Though pricing for these markets depends on the size of the market, the size of your town, and the different vendors.

Some people complain that vendors in their area charge a lot for different foods so you will have to research. Keep a sheet with a list of grocery price averages.

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

A method I go with is to build a shop strategy for the day and hit the stores with the deals I want, then I go shop. I make sure to eat something first so I'm not tempted to throw in all the food that looks good. The key thing here is to have a list and stick to the list. The list is also to guard you against impulse purchases.

You want to keep track of what is on sale and keep records about the different seasons. My favorite sale is usually when the avocados are price really cheap and you can buy a ton. They free just fine so none go to waste.

If you do these "missions", you want to be sure your shopping partner understands the mission. Otherwise, you might find you do a better job shopping alone.

It also helps to keep a record of purchase prices. What I did was build an excel sheet and added to it a little at a time. I kept a record of how much I paid for grapes. Then closed it. The next day I might add how much I last paid for a bag of flour. I'd try to pick up generic brands where it made sense to and often they would add up into substantial cost savings.

Over time I ended up with a really good database of my food prices. Then I'd update with my record low price, average price, and notes about the high price.

Other items I had to do a bit of math to keep on top of the price per unit. Keeping track of price per unit is invaluable when sizing up a bulk buy and trying to determine savings. The thing with bulk buying though is you want to be sure it will all be used before it spoils if such things are applicable.

Figure Out Your Coupon Game

Coupons are one of those things you have to keep your head with. They are great sometimes on the proper goods you actually need. They also can seduce you into purchasing unhealthy garbage. So use your coupons, just avoid the trash offering.

Saving at Home

A thing I like to do is hunt Pinterest for recipes. I will do my weekly sales and then see if there are any Pinterest recipes that will work around my ingredients. I can usually find something to work with.

Another fun thing is to make a Google doc of some kind so I can keep a running list of what I have in terms of ingredients. This helps keep me organized and I can just load up on my phone what I have in terms of inventory.

Freeze, Freeze, Freeze

When you have a spare afternoon study up on the different ways to effectively freeze food. It does no good to get a lot of food in bulk if it spoils. Freezers are also useful for meal prep or dump meals. Your freezer is your best friend.

Easy Grow Your Own

If you have space, I'd always advise buying green onions with the root bulbs attached. You cut off the top onion greens like usual and then plant the bottoms in the dirt. Green onions are exceptionally hard to go wrong with. I had a pot of green onions in my backyard I didn't water or do anything with. They somehow survived it all.

Mint is also an easy to keep herb. My mother had mint growing wild in her garden that did well with attention or not. Oregano and basil are also pretty easy to grow. I used to clone my oregano by putting cuttings in water.

Otherwise, for crops I would always recommend peppers. They are resistant to both under watering and over watering. Their output is usually superior to other things too and they are functionally perennial-like if you can effectively overwinter them. If their growth stalls out, you just throw a bit of bonemeal around and mix it into the soil.

Become Friends With a Hunter

Where I used to live it was pretty easy to hunt people who had wild game meat. I had a friend with a lot of land and a couple of hog traps and a bunch of wild deer. He also had his own stocked pond. It might take a bit of work to source where to get your wild meat but it is well worth it.

© 2020 Raven Rae

Comments

Indra from India on September 29, 2020:

I like your writing style