Enjoying a dream retirement means having both offensive and defensive strategies. You play offense by taking deliberate, intentional steps—getting out of debt, sticking to a budget, choosing investments, and putting money aside for them every month. Playing defense means you look for any threats that could hinder your progress, like loans or credit cards. Some threats, though, are difficult to spot because they drain your wallet like a slow leak in your tire.
A grocery store is one of those threats.
Your grocery bill could be killing your retirement progress. When my wife and I first started to pay attention to our budget, we realized that we were spending $1,200 a month on food—for just the two of us! We made some quick decisions to turn that around.
Taking control of your grocery budget to make it work for you is easy, but it will cost time and effort. Get started with these easy hacks:
Separate Your Spending
Don’t lump your grocery budget and your restaurant budget. When they’re combined, you won’t have a clear picture of where your money is going. Take a look at what you’re spending on groceries and what you’re buying at the grocery store. You can’t change anything if you don’t know it’s a problem, so don’t skip this step.
Use What You Have
When my wife and I looked at our grocery budget, we decided to cut our monthly spending in half. We took everything from the pantry and set it out. We had enough food to feed a small city! Then we looked in the freezer. With all that we found in the house, we planned enough meals for a month of eating. Not all of those meals were my favorite, but I was saving money and I wasn’t wasting food.
Make a List and Stick to It
Now, I know you’ve heard this advice before, but it works. Before you go to the store, write down the items you need. When you walk through the doors, don’t get sidetracked. If it’s not on your list, it doesn’t go home with you. Yes, there are exceptions, but make sure they’re not just excuses.
No, I’m not talking about bringing your own bags (although that’s a great idea). I’m talking about paying cash for groceries. Set your monthly food budget. Then divide that by the number of times you go to the market. Take only that amount with you. You’ll discover how thrifty you can be when you know you have limited funds. This method also keeps you from spending up your food budget too early in the month, so it’s a win-win!
Make an Extra Stop
Most supermarkets carry everything you need, from toothpaste to lighter fluid. But not all items are priced the same in every store. You can get many household items cheaper at the big box stores. Yes, you’ll have to fight the crowds and the parking lot, but that extra money in your retirement fund over the long term is worth the effort.
I know saving a little bit here or there at the grocery store doesn’t seem like it would make a big difference, so let’s do the math. Let’s say you save 50 cents on 20 items at the grocery store. That’s $10 a week, or $40 a month. That’s $480 a year. Invested over 25 years at a 10% rate of return, that’s an extra $50,000 in your retirement fund! I can think of a lot of things I could do with that extra money.
Learning to control your spending when you shop for groceries will spill over to other areas of your budget. It teaches you to say no to your impulses and to slow down before you buy. If you keep at it, you’ll make serious contributions to your retirement fund!