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Four Steps to Creating your Grocery Savings Goals

by Tara Kuczykowski on May 22, 2009 · 23 comments

The following is a guest post from The Coupon Project.

Grocery SavingsPhoto by mhunter111

As a newbie couponer, it was exhilarating leaving a store knowing I'd just saved more than I spent.  But a couple months in, I knew it was time to buckle down and get serious about formulating a real plan to transform my entire grocery bill.

So at the start of this year, I decided to do something a little different.  I decided I was going to track my savings and spending more carefully.   That way I'd know in any given month how closely I'd hit my goals, what my savings ratio was like, and if I was making any improvement as the months moved on.  Using this information, I could also create goals for what I wanted my spending to look like for the months ahead.

In retrospect, my process for doing this has involved four steps.  Here they are:

STEP ONE - determine how much you are spending now. In order to set a goal, you need to know where your starting point is.  Try to get a 3-month average of what you typically spend on groceries.  You also need to establish what you are going to count in this category.  Household products?  OTC medications?  Baby necessities?  Gifts?  And if you don't have actual numbers to deal with, estimate what you think you spend and then see how close you come to that figure the following month.

STEP TWO - set both short- and long-term goals. Keep it simple and straightforward.  As an example, my long-term goal is to spend no more than $200/month for my family's groceries and household items.  Since I just started couponing and stockpiling in November, I knew that this goal might take awhile to achieve.  So I'm easing my way to that goal with short-term (or midway) goals.  For instance, this month my goal was to spend no more than $300.  I can't say I achieved that, but I will go ahead and keep that $300 goal until I am successful in meeting it.  Once I've met that goal, I will lower the monthly budget amount to say, $275. 

You might also decide to set a goal around the percentage you save each month.  Right now, I'm running around a 65% savings rate.  Maybe I could try to work towards a 70% rate, as an example.  You want to have goals that push you - but you don't want to be so unrealistic that you just set yourself up for failure, either.  There's a balance and it may take a while to find it.  Be patient and don't give up!

STEP THREE - create a method of tracking your spending and saving. I am a Microsoft Excel nut, so a few months back, I created a spreadsheet so I could just plop in the data from my receipts and leave the calculating to the spreadsheet.  Yes, it took some work upfront, but now it's quick and easy for me to track my goals.  If you prefer a more manual method, that's fine.  Just do whatever you can to make the process as intuitive and easy as possible for you.

STEP FOUR - reflect on your progress. If you meet your goal for the month (or whatever time frame you designate), figure out what you did that worked for you so you can replicate your success.  Didn't meet a goal?  Take the time to determine what went awry.   Were your goals unrealistic?  Did something unexpected come up?  How could you do better next time?  Whatever you do, don't just throw in the towel and say "to heck with it!  I give up!"  Remember that every dollar you save is one less dollar you now have to earn.  (Remember that old adage, "A penny saved is a penny earned?")

Yes, saving 50% or more in a single shopping trip is exhilarating.  But knowing you are saving 50% or more on your entire grocery bill for the month is even more satisfying.  I hope I've given you some practical advice (and maybe a good dose of inspiration!) for creating your own goals and tracking your spending.

Deal Seeking Mom here: What methods do you use to track your savings? What kind of goals do you have in place?

Angela is the author of The Coupon Project, a blog chronicling her real life couponing adventures.   Her goal is to encourage and educate other newbie couponers how to enjoy amazing money-saving success through easy-to-follow posts.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristin May 22, 2009 at 8:22 am

Just wondering if you'd care to share your spreadsheet with us? I'd love to do what you are doing but with a newborn and a 2y/o I just can't find the time to create one. And good job on the blog btw! I love visting everyday.

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2 Melissa May 22, 2009 at 8:22 am

Great article! Would you be willing to share teh spreadsheet you created?

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3 Michelle May 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

This is a great article! Thank you for your insight - I just started using coupons at the end of March and am completely hooked and amazed at the savings! It is great hearing someone else's perspective on the goals they set for themselves. With a longterm goal of $200/ mo, I was wondering how many people are in your family?

Thanks again for sharing :-)

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4 Jennifer May 22, 2009 at 9:54 am

I would LOVE to get to the $200 a month mark. I'm more around the $350 right now. I hadn't thought about setting the short-term goals for myself though. I just keep aiming at the $200 and being over. I'm going to try for $300 next month too and see how close I can get! Thanks for the encouragement!

Jennifer´s last blog post..Free Chocolate Friday Reminder

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5 Alicia May 22, 2009 at 10:19 am

Thank you for the informative posts. I think it's helpful for all of us to be reminded that just because we can get a great deal on something doesn't mean that we'll use it, donate it effectively, or that those tiny purchases won't add up over the month. Although I've only been seriously couponing since March, I too am trying to make sure that I'm having the maximum impact on our family budget with a minimal impact on our food choices, i.e. nutrition, ingredients, etc. Your post provides some helpful suggestions that are fairly easy to implement. Cheers!

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6 Julia @ The Frugal Find May 22, 2009 at 10:52 am

Thanks Tara for sharing this very important advice. My family is a cash only family using the envelope system. It is a great way to budget, you know exactly how much is being spent and you know if you're consistently short or over in any given area. We are currently at $60 a week for groceries for a family of 6 but I can see that very soon we will be able to slash that by at least $10. And we're not just eating rice and beans, I love couponing!

We have had some of the yummiest treats and quality foods in the house for the first time, and I am spending WAY less each week compared to just a couple of months ago, it's almost hard to believe. Not to mention the hair, makeup, and shaving products I could have never afforded before. I love good quality items, and getting them FREE or nearly free is even better!

Julia @ The Frugal Find´s last blog post..CoverGirl Lipgloss for $0.34 each at Rite Aid

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7 Rachel May 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I would love to see that spreadsheet also, in order to plug in my numbers.

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8 Good, True and Beautiful May 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Great info Angela! I'm using an Excel spreadsheet too and it really helps to keep me motivated. Great minds think alike (hee hee!)

If anyone would like to check it out the spreadsheet I've used, I posted it in the sidebar at http://www.goodtrueandbeautiful.com. You can download it and see if it works for you!

Good, True and Beautiful´s last blog post..Guess What?

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9 Allison May 22, 2009 at 12:17 pm

For those of us who are Excel challenged, would you be willing to share your spreadsheet? Thanks for the tips. I am new to coupons and working hard with them. Sites like this make it easier!

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10 Hillary May 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

For those of you with families of 4 or more....can you tell me if your budget includes stockpiling. I am finding that is what puts me over my budget. Thank you.

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11 Jen May 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm

We do our finances every single week. In the beginning, it was like pulling teeth to get one (or both) of us to sit down and look at everything---and I mean everything! Once a week sounds like a lot, but for us, it totally makes us accountable for every single transaction we made. Often times, when you look at things 3-4 weeks later, you can't remember what you spent that money on and perhaps don't know where to track that expenditure. So once a week it is--usually on a Sunday.

One benefit of looking at your bills, savings etc this regularly is that you can anticipate "leaner" times much earlier. Sometimes we have months where we have more bills (life insurance is paid twice a year, car ins etc. ). So when those months hit, we don't get to save as much. But we know this in advance because we can see our upcoming expenses in time to "reign in the purse strings" so to speak.

My husband actually created an excel sheet as well. We've been doing it for several years and it's been a wonderful tool for us. It's great to see your net-worth grow and grow every month...and it's actually quite empowering to know exactly how financially sound you really are. In a certain way, it's actually brought us closer. It's made us a TEAM working towards the same goal :-)

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12 JnLsmom May 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Hillary,
I have a young family of 4 and so far we seem to be doing good at $400 a month (next month I'm cutting it down some more... and eventually hoping to get down to about $200). Our budget does include stockpiling.
This month I have been using a budget tracker that I found at http://www.theobsessiveshopper.com (go to tools and click on budget tracker). It is just a sheet that I print out and stick to the wall so that I'm constantly reminded of where we are financially and it keeps me from making extra trips to the store. I would also love to see the spreadsheet Tara has worked-up because it would be nice to not have to sit and do all of the math.
What I try to do is split my budget into weeks. So, since this months budget was $400 (for grocery, household, & even a few family outings) I divided that into $100 a week. This way I was able to see how I'm doing on a weekly basis. If I overspent one week, I would do my best to avoid stockpiling too much during the next week and just focus on the necessities. I've been couponing since February and managed to stock up on quite a bit of stuff, which did push me over budget a the last few months. But now I'm realizing that I can slow down a bit and work on keeping it within my budget. So, I'll continue to stockpile, but it won't be my main priority. Once I get my stockpile where it needs to be I really think that $200 a month will be possible.

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13 Kari Campbell May 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I love this post. I have an excel spreadsheet where I document my spending and savings. I am down from $200 per week for a family of six to $100. I usually spend around $20 between Walgreens and CVS and about $40 at Publix and $40 at Winn Dixie. Those are my limits, so if I spend more at Publix, I can't spend as much at Winn Dixie. My spreadsheet calculates my percentage of savings and since March I have saved over $2,000! This is easily given to me at the bottom of my receipt, which includes the store sales and my coupon savings!

Kari Campbell´s last blog post..My Walgreens personal plan for Sunday May 24

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14 Sweet Serendipity May 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Great article with lots of useful tips. Thank you for sharing!

Sweet Serendipity´s last blog post..Friday Flashback Photo

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15 Elizabeth May 22, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I've been couponing for about 4 months and can only get my savings between 50 and 55%. How in the world is everyone doing so much better? Are your stores doubling the coupons? Here in Florida there isn't such a thing. I'm not giving up...hey 50% is way better than what I did in the past. Your site has helped me sooo much. Thank you!

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16 christina May 22, 2009 at 9:28 pm

My stores only double up to .50 on coupons and I save around 50% each time also that is with store sales AND coupons combined.. so how in the world can you get your savings to be 70%?? I already only buy sale items that I have a coupon to match (that we actually will use, not junk like cake mixes) Please inform me!

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17 Dawn May 23, 2009 at 7:11 am

Thank you so much for your time and effort in helping others. I love this article and not giving up is the key to all success in life but sometimes you need to hear it from someone else to make it really sink in, lol.....thank you again for all you do.

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18 Hillary May 23, 2009 at 8:53 am

Thank you JnLsMom that was helpful. =) This is a learning curve for me. Each month gets a little better so I am thankful!

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19 JnLsmom May 23, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Hillary,
I'm glad it made some sense. :) It's exciting isn't it. To feel like you have just a little (or maybe a lot) more control of your finances. This is a major learning curve for me as well. It's hard to deprogram the way we've been taught to gauge the value of something. I look back and think about all my trips to costco and how I could never leave without spending $100-$200 and inevitably I'd be back there in a month or less doing it all over again. I thought I was "stocking up" but all I was really doing was WASTING MONEY! :p I have only been to Costco once since February and that was to redeem my 50 free photos :) Otherwise I've had no more use for them. I no longer feel forced to spill 100's of dollars at any store let alone at Costco and I'm stocking up more than I have in my ENTIRE life. Just the other day it came to my attention that my friend was in need of help (as most are in this economy). Now 4 or 5 months ago all I could have offered was a few things and my sincere prayers, but for the first time in my life I was able to fill a large box with things and didn't have to give a second thought to how this would impact my family. I think this is amazing and wether it is helping us support our own family, help others or both it is SOOO worth the time it takes to learn and master it. Don't give up!!!

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20 Hillary May 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm

I get my produce, diapers, milk, and a few other things at SAM's Club....do you find better deals elsewhere? Thanks for your encouragement. =)

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21 JnLsmom May 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I usually price shop the grocery stores for those things. If you stock up when you find a good diaper deal, you are able to wait a while until there is another sale on diapers. I just ran out of diapers (oops) and I'm hoping that my walmart has the pure&natural diapers for around $8-9 so I can use my $3/1 coupon and get a decent deal.
I usually wait for milk to go on sale around $1.57 or so & then I buy enough for a few weeks (depending on the expiration date). If there is no good sales I use my walgreens RR or my gift card (with $ from rebates) and purchase the milk there.... although I don't think it's the best use of $ because Walgreens charges about $3 a gallon (I'd only buy one to get me through the week). It saves me from having to pay out of pocket though.

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22 Angela May 28, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Hi! This is Angela, and I actually was the guest poster of this article in case it wasn't too clear. I see some of you are interested in the spreadsheet I created...I will work to put up a version of it on my blog within the next couple weeks. Please visit me! Thanks.

Angela´s last blog post..Free Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm first 1000 daily

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23 Angela June 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I'm pleased to let you all know I've created a template on my blog that is available for free for your downloading pleasure! Please visit my blog at http://www.thecouponproject.com and look for the "Savings Tracker" in the left-hand sidebar.

Angela´s last blog post..Now available: my downloadable savings and spending tracker workbook!

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