Review: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

Thomas Nelson
Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family: Includes So Many Innovative Strategies You Won't Have to Cut Coupons, Steve and Annette Economides, Thomas Nelson, 272 pp.

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half is the follow-up to America’s Cheapest Family, a very solid book on frugality by Steve and Annette Economides from 2007 that I quite liked.

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half seems to be a detailed expansion of the second chapter of their first book. The focus here is on groceries – mostly food shopping, but a little bit of overlap on buying other household products.

Is there really enough juice in that topic to fill up an entire book?

1. Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (or More)
The book opens by making clear the fact that changing your grocery shopping habits isn’t a magic wand that will instantly reduce the costs. Instead, it’s a combination of techniques, most of which become both easier and more effective with practice and repeated use. In other words, saving money on groceries will seem like a ton of work for less savings than you expect at first, but as the tactics become more familiar and natural, they’ll take less time and effort and earn more savings. I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own life.

2. The Power of the Plan
A grocery list. A meal plan. A pantry inventory. These are all tools that make it a lot easier to maximize your grocery dollar, but they all required advance work and planning before you go anywhere near a grocery store. Successful grocery shopping – at least in terms of bang for the buck – relies a lot on doing advance work. Of course, this advance work also saves you a lot of time when you’re actually in the store.

3. Shopping to Win
Here, the authors list a big collection of specific grocery saving strategies, devoting a page or two of text to each one. They’re quite varied, which means that some will be useless to you and some will be home runs but the two groups will be different for each person. The one I like is the one about aged beef – beef is often better with some aging, provided that you prepare it well when it’s actually ready in your kitchen.

4. Couponing – One of Many Ways to Save
Some people swear by it. Others find it useless. My take? Couponing works to a small extent as a component of a lot of other strategies. My opinion is that people often refer to couponing when they’re referring to a big pile of interacting strategies, of which actual coupon use is just one part. The authors address the big complaint that many people use against coupons, which is that they encourage unhealthy eating habits. They make a very good point countering that – coupons don’t cause bad eating habits, people do. Just because a coupon exists for an unhealthy food doesn’t mean you have to use it.

5. Cooking That Will Save You Time, Mone, and Sanity
This chapter is another big list of specific saving ideas (devoting about a page to each one), this time focused on cooking. Buy in bulk. Cook once a month and freeze. Spice, spice, spice. Cook with your spouse. Start a “meal swap” club (something we’re trying to get started… and something I’ll discuss in a future post).

6. Stocking Up and Organizing – Store It, Find It, Use It
If you buy lots of stuff in bulk, how do you find it when you need it? A big key to all of this is keeping the stuff you have on hand organized so you know what you have and can find it when you need it. The best way to do this is to simply keep an ongoing pantry list, where you list all of the food items you have stored along with notes on where to find them. You can also use this list when making a meal plan or a grocery list so you know what you have on hand without digging in the cupboard. Microsoft Excel is a great tool for this.

7. Economizing Equipment – Powerful Money-Saving Tools
It’s good to have some basic tools on hand to make cooking easier. The Economides list a lot of different items here, most of which I agree with. Surprisingly, one of the best things we’ve ever purchased is our KitchenAid stand mixer, which we use for all kinds of things from making homemade bread to preparing mashed potatoes and cookie batter. I’m also a big believer in eventually getting very good, very durable kitchen equipment. A Teflon-coated pan hits the trash in a few years, but a cast iron pot is forever.

8. Family Dinnertime – Building a Stronger Family at the Dinner Table
It’s statistically proven: families that eat dinner together have lower incidence rates of teenage pregancy and juvenile delinquency. If you have children – or even if you’re married without children – strive to eat dinner together and, ideally, prepare it together. Meals can be a very social event that goes far beyond the direct nutrition you put into your body.

9. Feeding Your Kids for Less
What do you do when you have a family full of mouths to feed? Have lots of low-cost snacks (what fruits are on sale this week?) and involve your children in the whole process of meals, from planning to shopping to preparation to setting the table, so they gain an appreciation for the whole process. Our oldest kids are four and three and we’re already integrating them into this process.

10. Where and How to Eat Out for Less
The easiest solution for saving while eating out is to not eat out. However, that’s not the ultimate answer for many, so how do you do it? This chapter offers a lot of advice – don’t be afraid to use coupons, take home a doggy bag, go simple with the beverages (I recommend water), don’t get “upsold” to more expensive versions of what you ordered, and so on. The best solution really is to just not eat out, even at a very “cheap” place (where you’re getting really dodgy food quality).

11. Gardening – Grow It Yourself and Be Healthy
Gardening can also save a lot of money, not just in the produced vegetables, but in the extremely low cost entertainment it can provide for many hours during the summer. The trick is to grow a variety of vegetables and, when you have excess, to store them properly by freezing them and/or canning them. There’s nothing better in January than having many pounds of garden-fresh tomatoes canned or frozen, just ready for use.

Is Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half Worth Reading?
If you’ve never even thought about your grocery bill and your dining out bill as ways to really save money, this book will be a home run for you. Many of the techniques you can use to trim your grocery bill are quite easy and this is a spectacular collection of such tips.

On the other hand, if you’re an experienced frugal grocery shopper and food preparer, you’ll find a lot of tips that make you say “No kidding?!” with a few tips here or there that will be of use to you mixed throughout the book. If you’re willing to search for some treasure, this one will still be a worthwile read.

I found several interesting ideas in the book that we’re going to try, even if many of the tips felt like repetition of the things we already do. Does that make for a good book? I say yes, because it has ideas for beginners and old hands alike.

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