When a friend approaches you about saving money on food shopping, sometimes it can be difficult to get the conversation started. So many people think that saving money on groceries entails using the strategies of Extreme Couponing. They have visions of bringing in stacks of coupons and paying a few dollars for hundreds of dollars worth of groceries. Or, they may feel overwhelmed by the idea of using coupons and think this is the only way to save money. In reality, many people don’t use coupons (2.6 billion were redeemed in 2008 according to NPR) for a variety of reasons including time, lack of knowledge, and money. Depending on the types of food and products you buy for your family, you may not find coupons help you save money.
How do you start the conversation about saving money on the food bill?
Find out how they shop. It’s so easy to throw a bunch of tips out there, and we all have our favorites. A newbie is looking for something simple they can start doing now. Hook them with instant gratification, and they’ll be willing to listen to the rest of what you have to share.
Questions to ask:
- Do they keep a running list for grocery shopping?
- How often do they go to the store?
- What kind of storage space do they have? If they’re a large family but don’t have space to store a lot of milk, they may need to make a second trip during the week for milk. Ditto for fresh fruits and vegetables.
- When do they food shop? Someone shopping on the way home from work may not have the time and energy to use lots of coupons. They might be more interested in sitting down with the grocery store inserts Thursday evening and making a list of sales for next week’s grocery trip.
Once you’ve listened to your friend and understand what their needs and wants are, suggest that they start with a list, if they don’t have one. Having a list that you stick to prevents impulse buying from the beginning. A list can be organized by store layout or have like items grouped together. There’s lots of free printable grocery lists available online. Many grocery stores post their store layout on their website.
Then, for the next month, suggest that your friend keep all her food receipts – grocery store, big box store, or drugstore. These receipts become the basis for a price book, a record of what you paid for each item broken down into cost per ounce or pound. They also show patterns of buying over a month’s time. For example, your friend might think she only uses 2 gallons of milk each week, but it’s really 4 gallons because she’ll run out by Thursday and have to make another trip. She’ll have a basic list of items to buy each week along with the amount needed to get through the week.
Finally, suggest keeping a running total of how much is spent on groceries. The act of writing down the numbers makes the spending real for people in this age of debit and credit card spending. Another option is to use financial software, like Quicken and Money, to categorize grocery spending and run monthly reports.