For anyone looking to save money, the standard advice is always to make a weekly shopping list and stick to it. You’ll save even more if you’re able to plan your weekly menu based on the store’s sales.
I know that works, but I’ve also had another idea in the back of my head for quite some time.
When I lived in Japan, I had about a 20 minute walk from the nearest grocery stores. Luckily, the grocery stores are always close to the train stations, so I’d always stop at the store on my way home from work and grab a few things.
It always worked well because I could just get whatever I was feeling like eating, and I didn’t have to worry too much about forgetting something. I could just easily grab it the next day.
At that time, I was mostly cooking for myself. Kitchens in Japan are a pain in the butt because there’s only one or two burners you can use at a time. For the half-year that I was living there married, my husband and I frequently went out to eat, and his mom often sent plenty of leftovers for him.
My expenses were pretty low in Japan. I was able to pay off all of my student loans, and my husband and I saved $30,000 before we moved back to the states.
This got me wondering if perhaps those multiple grocery trips could possibly mean spending less money than doing a big weekly shopping trip. As a family of four, now, the cost of my usual weekly trip is staggering.
I also often find myself forgetting things and going back to the store the next day to pick up the things I forgot or the new requests that weren’t on my list. I go to the store a lot.
I thought perhaps if I actually tracked my expenses, I’d gain fame by revolutionizing the thinking behind frugal shopping. I’d introduce people to a better way of shopping.
Boy Was I Wrong
OK, so I didn’t actually sit down with a calculator to prove how brilliant my plan was.
We actually overestimated our medical costs for the FSA by a lot because we switched to a dentist who was more conservative in his treatment suggestions. This meant that I’ve been scrambling to find things that we’ve spent money on.
As part of this search, I’ve been going through every grocery receipt from the past year, looking for eligible expenses. Every. Single. One.
(Luckily, I have a member card at the grocery store and they store everything online for me.)
It took me like two hours to go through everything and it was a real pain in the butt.
It really opened my eyes up about how much I’m spending and how often I go. There were at least 10 shopping trips each month…and this was only to one store. I often shop at other stores as well.
My theory definitely proved to be wrong.
There were few shopping trips that cost me less than $20. Most cost $40 or more. Sometimes, I’d go to the store three or four days in a row, spending $50 each time. I also noticed all the stupid things I spent money on in those “short” shopping trips.
$8 for organic cotton candy?!?! What the heck was I thinking?
If You Want to Save, Plan
We’re not hurting financially, but I definitely could stand to spend a bit less on groceries. OK – a lot less.
A few weeks ago, my friend was asking about whether it was possible to get a family of four’s grocery bill down to $100 a week. I talked about the times when I had to do it out of necessity and how miserable I was. After hearing some advice, she upped her budget to $125 and started a Facebook group for her friends who were interested in it.
I declined at the time, but another friend added me after I mentioned what I’ve noticed about how often I go to the store.
I’m happy to say that the first week I did it, I planned for my shopping trip, and I ended up spending about $125 myself. Woot! I’ve also been able to keep the subsequent weeks fairly low simply by trying to plan what we’re going to eat for the week.
I hope to continue this trend with good planning. That’s hard because there’s always something that I forget when I’m shopping. Even this time, I tried mentally adding paper towels to the list and ended up forgetting them.
However, I hope that as long as I add things to the shopping list on our Amazon Echo when I realize I need them, I’ll be able to minimize the forgetting.
Wish me luck!