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STEPHEN HEMELT — Simple tips for saving big at the grocery

We’re all watching our spending these days, and one of the first places people are looking is the grocery store.

One of the easiest ways to keep a budget in check is to focus on how much is being spent on food. Chances are grocery bills can be reduced dramatically without upsetting daily routines.

A Business Insider story using statistics from 2017 and 2018 showed Greater Houston area families spent an average of $681.83 per month on food.

This included dairy products, fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cereals and bakery products. It also included money spent on dining out.

Financial advisor Mackenzie LaHaye of Edward Jones in Port Arthur says when spending is down consistently, you see a pattern of “unused” money. By only following a budget here and there, you don’t capitalize on the prime reason for being on a budget — which is saving money.

“In theory, if a family of 4 is spending $1,000 on food a month including dining out, take out, groceries and the occasional happy hour drink (whether this is alcoholic or not) you can typically see a reduction by half when placed on a budget,” LaHaye said. “Planning is the No. 1 money saver. When you don’t have a plan, that’s when you see frivolous spending. For example, I bought a 6-pack of soda at the market. I have one at my office, so I don’t have to go on a Sonic run to get my afternoon caffeine fix and spend double or triple the money.”

The following are some tips to help get started on the path to decreased food spending:

  • The average price for one meal enjoyed in a restaurant is still much more than the cost of cooking the same meal at home. Incorporate more home cooking.
  • Rather than planning meals on a whim, let sales guide what you eat each week.
  • Meat tends to be more expensive than produce and grains. As a result, vegetarian-inspired meals provide an easy way for shoppers to trim their grocery bills.
  • Anything that is premade, prepackaged or already sliced and diced is bound to cost more per unit than the same items that have not been prepared.
  • Making a list of items needed before setting foot in the store is a great way to stop impulse buys that can foil a budget. Only purchase items on your shopping list.
  • Don’t be wasteful with food. Practice portion control so you are not wasting food and consume leftovers before they spoil.

Reducing grocery bills is a great and simple way to save money.

“When you take the time to save over a period of time and invest that money in something that brings you joy (a family vacation or seeing the fruits of your labor increase because of market fluctuations), it can be so much more rewarding than the purchases you may have had to bring small satisfactions throughout the year,” LaHaye said.

Statistics show most Americans don’t have savings for a $500 emergency, according to LaHaye.

For those who aren’t savers, she challenges you to start small.

Put away $100 a month. Start a budget.

“We have many tools for the lay person to help get them on track to a brilliant financial future,” LaHaye said. “If you’ve struggled with following a budget, have an accountability partner. Maybe this is someone at work that you usually spend lunch out with. Challenge each other to bring a lunch for most days of the week, and then reward yourselves when you achieve it.

“If you are serious about saving and want someone to really hold you accountable, reach out to a financial advisor that can put a plan in place. Get second opinions on what you’re doing and see where you can cut spending.”

We are in uncertain times, and the COVID-19 crisis has put our spending in the spotlight. Sometimes, the simplest decisions repeated over and over have the best results.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.