You probably already know there are things you could do to tighten your grocery budget.
If you shop while hungry, for example, you’re more likely to overbuy. And if you load your cart with prepared meals, it will show not only in your waistline but on your grocery bill.
The tricky part, as always, is being disciplined and organized enough to stick to your best budgeting intentions.
If you need some extra motivation, the Credit Counselling Society (CCS) has estimated how much, exactly, you could be saving every year by implementing each one of a slew of time-tested grocery shopping saving strategies. The estimated savings are in the hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of dollars.
Based on numbers from Statistics Canada, CCS researchers estimate the average Canadian family of four with an income just over $80,000 spends about $10,000 a year on store-bought food. Then they used studies and their own internal research to estimate the potential savings from various changes in spending behaviour.
Here’s a selection of their findings:
Stocking up and skipping one grocery run every month — savings of up to 25%
Loading up on sale items and shopping three times per month instead of four could shave off up to $2,500 a year for a family of four, the CCS writes. The idea is to live off what you already have at home for two weeks in a row, which will probably require freezing some of your food.
You might not be able to pull this off every month, but even skipping a grocery run every two or three months can make a significant difference, according to the CCS.
Having a meal plan and a grocery list — savings of up to 23%
Quoting a study from the University of Pennsylvania, the CCS says shoppers who don’t sway from their grocery list spend up to 23 per cent less than those who wander into the supermarket without a firm plan.
For our sample Canadian family of four, that works out to a potential annual savings of $2,300.
Shop with cash — savings of 12-18%
Several studies have found that people who whip out the plastic at the cash register tend to spend more than those who pay with bills and coins. The CCS cites one study, in particular, that estimated the additional spending by credit card-carrying customers at between 12 and 18 per cent more than what people who shop with cash spend. Based on a $10,000 yearly budget, that means savings of between $1,200 and $1,800.
And in many grocery stores, you can keep your credit card in your pocket and still collect and use loyalty points.
Switch to a discount grocery store — savings of at least 10%
The CCS did a little of its own testing here.
Scott Hannah, who heads the CCS, told Global News he spent $24 on ingredients for his signature chili by shopping at Safeway. When he bought the same items at Walmart, the total cost was only $13.
“The real savings were on the canned products,” he said, although he added that Safeway has since introduced some lower-priced generic brands.
When CCS researchers carried some more thorough comparison shopping, they found savings of at least 10 per cent when shopping at no-frills grocery stores.
“These savings are based on comparing name brand items that every store carries,” they write.
The possible savings here work out to at least $1,000 for the average family.
WATCH: Gardening: Grow your own groceries
Eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables — savings of 8-9%
Canadians spend nearly 20 per cent of their food budget on things like red meat and chicken, according to a Global News analysis of data from Statistics Canada. That’s expensive.
Substituting some of those burgers, steaks and chicken wraps for fruit and vegetable will keep both you and your budget healthier.
The CCS estimates savings at close to $900 a year.
WATCH: Canadians spend a lot on processed food and meat
Avoid name brands — savings of 8-9%
Buying generic brands translates into a similar saving of $800-$900 dollars a year per family, according to the CCS. This makes sense especially for staples like flour, salt and sugar.
WATCH: How to eat well despite increasing food prices
Of course, few people would be able to stick to all of these strategies. If you have a tiny apartment, there’s nowhere to store months worth of toilet paper or frozen bread. If you’re a foodie, you probably won’t settle for the less-than-perfect produce you often find at discount grocery stores. And if you’re a working parent with small children, you probably won’t always have time to come up with a week’s worth of planned meals.
And most of us probably won’t want to suck all the joy out of our grocery lists, anyways. If you abhor generic-brand chips and salsa, it’s OK to treat yourself to Tostitos.
There’s also the question that these numbers are based on a national average. Food costs vary significantly across Canada, so the percentage savings — rather than the dollar figures — might be more useful for many shoppers.
Still, it seems that even an imperfect implementation of two or three of the strategies mentioned earlier could easily help a family who spends $10,000 a year on food cut $3,000 from their grocery bill.