2016 proved, with little room for doubt, that I’m hardly an inspiration for those looking to achieve significant life goals. I am too easily distracted by frivolous diversions such as chocolate, Candy Crush, and laying on the couch. Three things, I should point out, that are in no way mutually exclusive. And yet, despite my glaring weaknesses, I appear to be a fair bit more competent than your average Safeway executive.
My third big resolution for 2016 was to cut our grocery bill in half. It was a resolution inspired by a discussion with my friend Buzz at Dad-Camp in which he revealed a startlingly stingy grocery budget compared to the one I’d been gleefully enduring for years. A self-declared cheapskate myself, I set my sights on halving my suddenly exorbitant food bill. I failed, of course, but not without managing to put a serious dent in it. And while I’d love to share an inspiring tale of life hacks and personal sacrifice, the truth is I pretty much did it all simply by switching grocery stores.
A couple years ago Safeway sold its Canadian operations to Sobeys for big bucks. Safeway, an American company, was struggling mightily and needed money. Sobeys, a Canadian company, was looking to broaden its presence nationally, which they did, but has been bleeding money since the takeover. With the realization that I could save thousands of dollars a year simply by shopping at Superstore, I’m left wondering how the hell did the Safeway and Sobeys suits lose money when they were obviously charging me premium dollars for virtually the same products. That takes a special kind of talent. Or an MBA.
I, on the other hand, have minimal talent, even less patience, and a spreadsheet. I employed all three in my attempts to cull my grocery spending. When 2016 came to a close I found myself with a thicker wallet than I would have had had I continued with my previous shopping habits. How much I saved is about to be revealed here and even though it was far from my initial goal, the result was nonetheless impressive and soothed the cumulative disappointment from failing my other resolutions. So let’s get to the nitty gritty and see how much money I saved.
In the simplest terms, I saved just under $2700 compared to the average of the previous three years. Now that’s not too damned bad is it? I mean, if you’re going to fail at something that’s a pretty good way to fail. Sure, $7000 would have been nicer but $2700 will do just fine, thank you very much. I can concoct quite a celebratory chocolate binge with that kind of savings.
Ah, but there is more to this seemingly simply story. When I shopped at Safeway, I used my Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite credit card to earn 4% cash back on my groceries. I also made great effort to maximize my Air Miles haul as Safeway typically offered bonuses such as 100 Air Miles if spending over $100 in addition to many weekly specific product purchase Air Miles bonuses. When I moved my shopping to Superstore, I forfeited both of those rewards programs. Instead, I became a PC Plus member as well as acquiring a PC Financial World Elite MasterCard to maximize my PC Points accumulation with each purchase. In order to fully quantify my entire grocery budget savings this past year, I need to compare the benefits I gained with the PC Plus program versus those I lost from Air Miles and Visa.
I had only two full years with my Scotiabank cash back card, but the benefits were fairly similar each year. With almost all my non-grocery purchases using that Visa card in 2016, I forfeited about $231 by switching to the PC MasterCard for food. Conversely, for the same year I earned a little more than 574,000 PC Plus points which works out to $574 in free groceries from Loblaw’s stores (Superstore is a Loblaw’s banner). So by switching to the Mastercard (for groceries only) I actually doubled my return which is nice. That’s an additional $240 to add to my savings pushing me close to $3000 for the year.
Air Miles is a different story since this was an outright sacrifice due to the switch. My Air Miles accumulation suffered mightily in 2016 but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Air Miles only shows clients a rolling twelve months transaction history so I can’t give you solid numbers on how many Air Miles I typically collected annually from my shopping activities at Safeway. I can vaguely estimate though that I likely averaged 100 miles per week. For the sake of this experiment let’s say I average 5000 Air Miles per year. In 2016, my total dropped to just 962 Air Miles. That’s a significant drop and could add up to meaningful dollars. But what is an Air Mile worth?
That is a complicated question and one I don’t have the patience (I warned you) to figure out myself. Luckily some other folks on the internet have done just that. Using Flight Fox’s numbers, let’s say each of my Air Miles was worth 15 cents. My sacrifice of 4000 Air Miles in 2016 works out to … … looking for my calculator … … looking for fresh batteries … … keep punching in the wrong numbers … … $600.
Well that certainly eats up the remainder of my PC Plus loyalty money. If we view this swap one for one, moving my shopping from Safeway (Air Miles and cash back Visa) to Superstore (PC Plus Points and MasterCard) definitely caused a drop in my rewards collecting. I did, however, save a boatload of money in actual dollars spent on the food. It just goes to show you that you’re basically buying those Air Miles by shopping at Safeway. Whatever they give you in Air Miles is more than compensated for by higher food prices.
So let’s summarize. The math looks like this:
$2698.42 (savings) + $570 (PC Plus) – $231.35 (cash back) – $600 (Air Miles) = $2437.07.
That is nearly $2500 just from switching grocery stores. Okay, it wasn’t just that. I did make an effort to buy in bulk when expensive items, like meat, were on sharp discount. Taking Buzz’ lead I would buy lots of ground beef, for example, and divvy it up into smaller portions and store it in my freezer for future use. I also paid more attention to when items we regularly consume were on sale in a particular week and conjure up our meal plan accordingly. This is more effective in sticking to a food budget than just catering to your cravings on shopping day. We also made a conscious effort to be more prudent with eating leftovers and not letting them go to waste. Food waste is a terrible problem in society and while we were far from the most egregious offenders, we certainly had room to improve.
All in all, although I fell short of my resolution goal, saving $2400 feels like a win to me!
There are a lot of brands mentioned in this post. I received no compensation from any of them.