3 I will cut our monthly grocery budget in half by the end of the year.
Recently I had a humbling experience whilst boasting about the wonders of my cash back Visa card. I’m a vocal proponent of cash back credit cards and strongly recommend them to anyone with the financial restraint to live within their means and pay off their card balance monthly. I currently have the Scotiabank Momentum Visa Ultimate card and I get 4% back on all my grocery purchases. With nearly $15,000 of food purchases annually for our family of four, this 4% cash back accounts for the bulk of what has become a yearly reimbursement of approximately $1200 from Visa. You just can’t go wrong with that kind of return on purchases you are obliged to make. Or so I thought.
My latest cash back update caught the attention of my buddy Buzz over at Dad Camp. He was surprised by the numbers I’d shared in my post, finding my monthly grocery bill a tad on the high side. Right, and Sofia Vergara is a tad on the hot side. Truth is, by comparison my monthly grocery bill towered over his, a realization that quickly killed my cash back buzz. Ha! See what I did there?
What’s Your Monthly Grocery Bill?
Buzz and I have essentially the same family, save for a minor gender difference with our respective offspring. We are both middle-aged patriarchs of families of four including two kids, eight and six years old. We both live in Calgary and we both eat typical Canadian diets of wild game, maple syrup and poutine. Oh how I jest. I just mean that neither of us is vegan, hooked on organics, or following any other such novelty diet. That, I’m afraid, is where the similarities end. For the past 3 years I have spent an average of $1165.13 per month on groceries feeding my family whereas Buzz manages to feed his family on about $500 monthly. That, for the mathematically challenged, is less than half my spending.
Having had my prideful frugality exposed as fraud so convincingly, I have set my sights on drastically cutting our food budget. For the past four years I have shopped almost exclusively at Safeway, now owned by Sobeys. Prior to our move, it was Calgary Co-op where I purchased our sustenance. In both instances the choice was made based on convenience, closeness to our home, and perks such as member dividends at Co-op and Air Miles and gas rebates at Safeway. I had become a master at accumulating Air Miles which we then used for a bit of travel, buying needed items, or purchasing gifts. I also heartily embraced collecting stamps in order to earn free knives or drinking glasses because, hey, “free” stuff! All the while I was becoming adept at recognizing good sale prices and purchasing such items in bulk when warranted, a method Buzz employs with gusto. I felt I had become a master grocery shopper. The reality is I had become complacent and burdened with a nasty case of the confirmation biases.
The source of my complacency was the assumption that all grocery stores were pretty much the same. A few years back I discovered this CTV website that compared prices on a selection of common grocery items at several of the major chain grocery stores. At the time, the results suggested that prices weren’t terribly different between stores or at least I didn’t feel a $10 total variance to be significant. Furthermore, each month the survey was done a different store would win, so to speak, and they would alternate between the four of them monthly so I just assumed that each month a different chain had a bit better sales and round and round it went. I regrettably assumed this to be sufficient evidence that shopping around had little benefit to my wallet in the long term.
I also follow financial news a bit and all I hear about the grocery industry is how cutthroat the competition is with margins tissue paper thin. When Walmart started selling foodstuffs in Canada you quickly got the impression that the cost of goods at every grocery store in the country would be cut to the most humbling profit margin, assuming competitors could even survive the evil price slashers from the south. There was just no indication that food prices could be anything but uniformly distributed amongst the major food retailers. Apparently that perception was a truckload of rotting, unsold produce.
Is That Guinea Pig Bacon?
My first inkling that something was awry in my assessment occurred just before Christmas when I ventured into Walmart to check the state of bacon which I’d offered to cook up a large batch of for a hockey team party. What I discovered chinked my armor. Maple Leaf bacon, typically priced at $8.99 at Safeway, sometimes on sale for $6.99, was being sold for $3.97! Brand name bacon for less than half what I refuse to pay. That’s either one hell of a deal or I missed the word “guinea” on the packaging. Unfortunately, it was Walmart and I really don’t wish to make a habit of shopping at that place, though it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid now that first Zellers and then Target have disappeared. Frequenting Walmart has a feel of supporting Darth Vader’s fundraising efforts. I also prefer to support Canadian companies if possible/sensible.
Thankfully this is when Buzz’s influence burrowed its way into my conscience. When I inquired as to how he was able to spend so much less on groceries he awakened me to the secret that is No Frills. I was vaguely aware of these stores but my haughtiness had led me to assume that they were purveyors of solely no name brand food and inferior produce. I’ve long been wary of no name and store name labelled foods. Sure, they’re cheaper, sometimes significantly so, but they often accomplish this savings by loading up on salt and sugar and generally poor quality ingredients. I want to save money but not by ingesting inferior products or diminishing our nutrition. Turns out my assumptions were off base.
Yes the discount grocers carry a lot of no name brand products, and in the case of No Frills, President’s Choice as well, but they also stock name brand products as well, sometimes at steeply discounted prices. One such shocking example is Jane’s breaded chicken burgers which are typically $14.99 a box at Safeway and I will buy when on sale at $10.99. This past week No Frills had them on sale for $5.47! I doubt Safeway would even sell me an empty chicken burger box for that little. I can pay for a lot of regularly priced gasoline and air travel with savings like that.
Green Before Green!
Sadly, there is no No Frills located in the south of Calgary where I live. There is, however, a BOX by No Frills. BOX is like a super discounted No Frills and it’s nearer my house. I ventured in there to explore and was struck by the savings potential. Packages of ten quality sausages for the same price I would pay for three. Selection is limited and I can’t use my cash back credit card but hell, I’m saving more than the cash back could ever amount to. Loblaws’ No Name packaged products dominate the shelves along with President’s Choice but I’m content to make some of those products work for me. Butter and spaghetti noodles are pretty generic items with only a limited way of making them. Buying those No Name won’t affect our health any. And where I need brand name stuff, those are available too and at much better pricing than I’m used to.
What this all means is that this resolution, which seems daunting at first blush, suddenly feels far more feasible. My eyes have been opened to a whole new world of grocery reality thanks to Buzz at Dad Camp. It will take a bit more effort in researching sales and looking through flyers, but considering the savings potential I’m happy to step up my game. If I truly succeed in cutting my grocery bills in half, I stand to save upwards of $7000 for the year. That is a substantial sum of money. Saving $10 filling up our gas guzzling Expedition once a month, earning a few thousand Air Miles per year, and getting $544.12 cash back pales by comparison. I’ll be required to drive a little further afield on grocery day, but with this kind of potential savings I’m more than happy to burn a couple extra litres of gasoline. Green before green!