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Cutting Your Grocery Bill in Half with Erin Chase from $5 Dinners

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast
41 min read
Cutting Your Grocery Bill in Half with Erin Chase from $5 Dinners

As a mom of (then) two, Erin Chase found herself shopping for groceries without a plan, picking up things that sounded good, but having no idea what she’d do with them once she got them home. They made their way into the refrigerator, then onto the trash after they rotted. She knew she had to significantly cut her grocery bill if she wanted to get ahead.

In this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, Erin shares how she cut her grocery bill in half—while adding two more kids to the mix. She gives actionable tips for significantly reducing your grocery bill without clipping coupons!

Don’t miss this awesome episode with Erin!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Scott: This is the BiggerPockets Money Show, Show Number 3.

It’s time for a new American dream, one that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have, or discover new paths for wealth’s creation, you’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more, this is the BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Scott: How’s it going, everybody? This is Scott Trench here with my co-host, Miss Mindy Jensen. How are you doing, Mindy?

Mindy: I’m doing really good, Scott. How are you doing today?

Scott: I am doing great. I’m excited to learn a lot about budgeting and grocery shopping and learning how to really make a dent in my food budget here.

Mindy: This show is fantastic. Erin Chase is the founder of 5DollarDinners.com, 5DollarMealPlan.com, TheGroceryBudgetMakeover.com, and she’s the author of The Five Dollar Dinner Mom cookbook series.

And before we talk anymore about her, I want to say that all of these five-dollar dinners are actually really good meals. She’s not sharing with you how to make beans and rice or how to make a peanut butter sandwich. She’s sharing really delicious meals using every day ingredients that you can find at your store. She doesn’t have those weird ingredients that cost like a hundred dollars.

She doesn’t have boring meal plans. She’s on a mission to help busy, overwhelmed home chefs learn how to spend less money on groceries and get organized in the kitchen. And I’ve made her meals. I’ve subscribed to Five Dollar Dinners myself. And they’re amazing.

Scott: And what are the reasons why we’re talking about this here—when it comes to your budget, when it comes to starting out an egg, cutting expenses, the three biggest expense categories for the average American are going to be your housing expense, your transportation expense, and your food budget. Housing is going to be 33%. This is data that I know off the top of my head because I’m a huge personal finance nerd.

Mindy: And you also wrote a book, right?

Scott: And I wrote a book. 33% of the budget is housing. 17% is transportation, and then the next 13% is going to be food. Of those three things, food is the one that you can probably make the biggest dent in in the immediate future. And who better to go to than an expert in affordable meal planning like Erin? That’s why we have Erin on the show and there’s nobody else that we can go to that would be a bigger expert in this space, in my opinion.

Mindy: And Erin shares these tips that are—I could do this today. I don’t have to—she doesn’t talk about clipping coupons and buying the newspaper and being one of those crazy coupon ladies. She gives us a lot of tips that you can start saving today, on your very next grocery bill with like five minutes of preparation.

Scott: Yep. And is this going to have maybe the same impact as house-hacking or earning an extra $100,000 a year? No, no. But this is the biggest thing you can do this week, tomorrow, today to save a lot of money.

Mindy: Perfect. Perfect. Yes. This is the biggest thing you can do today to start. If you’re coming from a place of negative wealth where you’re in debt, stop spending so much money on groceries. Erin is going to share some amazing tips with you, with us, and it’s not deprivation. She’s not encouraging you to just eat peanut butter sandwiches all day long. Let’s let her tell it.

Scott: Well, awesome.

Mindy: So, let’s bring in Erin Chase from 5 Dollar Dinners and 5 Dollar Meal Plans and 5 Dollar My Freeze Easy. Erin does everything for five bucks.

Erin: That’s right. I sure do.

Mindy: Welcome to the show, Erin. How are you doing?

Erin: Hey. Thanks for having me on.

Mindy: Thanks for coming.

Scott: Yeah, so you’ve got an awesome story here. Can you tell us a little bit about how you kind of got into this meal planning space and what kind of kicked off this journey?

Erin: Sure. So, nine years ago, which just seems like yesterday, but nine years ago, our family, our personal budget was feeling the pinch from the rising gas prices, if you remember. They basically doubled one summer from like two bucks a gallon to like four bucks a gallon. My husband had a long commute and I wasn’t working at that time so I just decided, I need to figure out how to spend less money on groceries if I’m not bringing in money, then I need to spend less money, right? I kind of took like a reverse approach, I suppose.

And so I just went and tried to tackle the grocery line item because it was the biggest line item that we had the most control over. And actually, I think that’s true for a lot of people. And so, I went after it with meal planning, with strategic couponing. I’ve never been an extreme couponer or like a whole a hoarder, just putting it out there because people ask me that all the time. And then just being really smart when you’re in the store. I think that’s where a lot of people trip up.

Plan—that can be like a four-letter word for some people, right? And then couponing, people are like eh. But really like, if you can dial in and behave yourself in the store and have like a good plan—there’s that four-letter word again—before you go in the store, then you’re going to find success and you’re going to feel less like you’re flushing money down the toilet as you walk out the store every week.

Mindy: That’s one of my biggest problems, is I go into the store even now—you’re rushed because you’re getting off of work and you’re like, oh, this looks good, this looks good. Maybe I’ll make something with this. And then you get home and you’re like, what am I going to do with a leek? I don’t cook with leeks. Why did I pick this up? And having a plan is so important. You said that this was the largest line item that you had control over.

That is what I hear over and over from so many women. I spent so much money at the grocery store. And you know, you really don’t have to but I don’t want to sit there and clip coupons all day. I don’t want to be an extreme—I tried the extreme couponing. That lasted, I think my husband was about to divorce me.

Erin: One minute. Yeah.

Mindy: We don’t need 76 tubs of mayonnaise. Oh, but it was on sale! We don’t have any space.

Erin: Yeah, I think you’re totally not alone in that, right? So, I think if you can just give me—give yourself—ten minutes a week to just look over the ad scan, make a quick list. If you want to dig so far as to make a meal plan to go with it, that would probably be more like 20 minutes. Then, you’re like going to be winning at the grocery game, right? You have to know what’s on sale and you have to know what you’re going to eat.

And I think what happens is, if you can set yourself up for that success, then you’ll follow through throughout the week of, oh, I have everything I need for this week. And then you’re less likely to grab that leek. Like, what are you going to do with that? Who cooks that gourmet on a weeknight? I don’t. But it’s like shiny object squirrel syndrome when you’re in the store, like, ooh those look beautiful today. Or they moved the display in the produce. Like, how many times do you walk into the produce department and the display or like where things are is different?

In my store, it’s like every other week, and they do that on purpose. It’s like part of the game because they want you to pick up that leek so that you think you’ll cook with it and then you end up throwing it away. So another thing that I recommend and do is like, and this happens to me, for us it’s usually strawberries. It pains me. We go through a lot of strawberries but it’s hard to estimate like how many we’re going to actually need for lunchboxes or snacks. Sometimes, we use them for dessert, right?

So like, there’s usually a couple in the container that have just kind of gone bad. But any produce like that, when I throw that in the trash, I equate how much money that was. Like, that was 75 cents’ worth of strawberries. One time is like eh. But like do that over and over, like the leek that you probably paid $1.50 for, or even $2.00. Oh, my gosh. You’re throwing money in the trash.

If you can kind of like mentally put that together, I think it’ll help motivate you to be more disciplined in actually getting what you need from the store and not getting what you think you need or shiny object squirrel items. Does that make sense?

Mindy: That makes so much sense.

Scott: So do you have any idea how much money you were spending on food in general prior to kind of undergoing this shift and then what your budget looks like now after kind of some years of optimization?

Erin: Yeah, so when we very first started, it was my husband and I and our two young kids, like toddlers, three and one. And I was spending about $500 a month at the store, which doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a lot for a very small family. Got that down to $250 on the regular. Added two more kids, nine years later. Actually not a ton of inflation. People think that food is more expensive but I have tracked grocery prices for nine years now and the sale prices are still pretty similar. The baseline prices or the regular prices have come up maybe a smidge but overall, we’re still seeing a couple of ingredients—like, beef went up a little bit with the drought a couple of years ago. Milk has gone up a little bit. But overall, the sale prices for a lot of ingredients are still the same. Like, you can still get a box of 50-cent pasta or even free pasta if you can match the coupon with the sale, right? So you can still do that.

So now, our grocery budget is closer to $600-$650, and that accounts for our growing family and our growing kids, and I also have in our budget some convenience foods that I used to not have, if that makes sense. And as our life’s gotten busier, I’ve kind of adjusted to be able to include some more convenient food-type snacks. I still do a lot of baking and making of batch cooking and freezer cooking and things like that but I also have added a little more into the budget that I didn’t have back when I wasn’t working and it was just the little kiddos.

Mindy: I want to jump in here and say that Erin has four boys. How old are your—I mean, I have two girls who eat like linebackers. I can’t imagine what four boys eat like. And when you say $600 a month, I’m like, that’s it?

Erin: Yes. Maybe $650. It kind of depends on when we go to Costco and when that falls in. I usually go like every five to six weeks so a Costco month might be closer to $700, but I’m still also very mindful when I’m buying in there as well, very intentional with that because that’s a bigger spend, that’s a bigger trip, right? So, I have four boys. They’re age 12, 10, 7—let’s call him 8 because he turns 8 this week, and 4. And so the two older ones for sure eat more than I do and sometimes the almost 8-year-old will if he’s in a growth spurt or he’s had a really busy weekend or something like that. He’ll for sure eat more than I do.

So yeah. But it’s, for me, it’s a game of I cook a lot, I like to cook, I want to cook for my boys. I want to feed them great food. And it just ends up being this game of like what’s on sale, what can I kind of mix and match? Sometimes, it’s fresh produce, sometimes it’s frozen veggies, sometimes it’s organic veggies from Costco. Like it really depends on what’s in the freezer and the fridge and what I’ve been able to get on sale at the store that particular week. So then for me, it’s that fun game of playing what’s on sale, what can I throw together for dinner?

Scott: I mean, to show that we’re playing with real numbers here, first, even with a small family, that was $250 a month—that’s $3000 a year. What do you think your bill would be currently if you weren’t doing this kind of optimization and we’re just going like the average person?

Erin: Easily $1000, $1200 a month. In one of our classes, we ask—we get real clear on what our numbers are, right? And I’ve had people tell me that they’re spending $2400, $2500 a month.

Mindy: On groceries?

Erin: Yes. Yes. On groceries, not including dinner out—that’s the highest number I’ve heard but we have a lot of people in that $1000-$1500 range who have four or five people in their family. They’re not feeding 12 people, let’s say. So I’ve been shocked and I think a lot of people fall into that $1000-$1500 range for groceries. Add on going out and if you’re doing drinks and things like that, then it really adds up real quick, right?

I always say, I think I can pretty well—unless you’re already a supersaver, I can pretty well save you $200-$300 a month if you’re willing to put in 10-20 minutes of work a week. But once you kind of get the flow of it and you experience the results of like, oh my gosh, I actually spent $50, $60, $75 less this week, then all of a sudden you have this new motivation and this new challenge to keep doing it week after week and then it becomes your normal, right?

Mindy: So wait, you’re telling me I need to trade 10 or 20 minutes for $50-$75? Sorry, don’t have time. I mean, who can’t—

Erin: That hourly rate is like way higher than most people earn in their jobs. So like that’s what I think it comes down to. That’s why I like to break it down like that. Like it’s not reverse engineering but it’s just like if you can think about it in those terms, it’s all about how you think about it—you’re throwing away a dollar when you’re throwing away the strawberries that are left over or that leek.

If you can think about the hourly rate of what this could be, you have to do it to see it and experience it. And I think that’s where people get tripped up, is all of other life’s things that are coming at you in life just kind of muddle it all down and it’s like food becomes an afterthought. Well, I think food should be like the forefront, right?

Mindy: That’s always another conversation.

Erin: But yeah, if you can invest a little bit of time, it doesn’t take much. The very first time, it might take you a little longer to get your bearings of it like where do I find the ads and where is this? Do I need to use a mobile app and things like that. But the very first time, it might take you a little bit, but once you figure out like, I just need to scan the front and back page of the circular. If you really want to go inside, you can. And then make a list of, okay, so chicken and steak are on sale this week. So we’re going to have two chicken meals, we’ll have a steak meal, and I bet I can find two or three meals out of my pantry. Right? And then you just spent $100 less at the grocery store.

Scott: So let’s use me as a test subject. I’m a single guy. I go to the grocery store. I buy food and I cook it. That’s my approach. How can I improve upon that in a meaningful way based on what you’re talking about here?

Erin: So do you look at the store ads before you go in?

Scott: Nope, I just show up and buy whatever I’m feeling like buying that day.

Mindy: So I think I see your problem, Scott.

Erin: Number one rule is you’ve got to see the store ads. Like I’ve said that already like four or five times, right? You’ve got to make them come to you. That’s what I advise. It used to be—they still do come in the newspaper, right? You’re going to have to fish through that. Get the store’s mobile app on your phone, right?

Scott: That’s interesting. I didn’t even know you could do that. This is all new.

Erin: Yes, put it on the front page of your phone, right? Like if you really want to get serious, put the app of the store on the front page of your phone.

Scott: I’m taking notes here.

Erin: No, take notes. Go download the app right now. Go refresh your Wi-Fi, Scott. Or, you can sign up for the store’s e-mail newsletter and it’ll show up in your inbox.

Scott: So, King’s Super has a mobile app and a newsletter that I can sign up for and just look at before I head over there when I make my list.

Mindy: King’s Super also has coupons that you don’t have to clip. They’re on the app. You just check, yes I want to use this coupon or yes, I want to use this coupon. And I think most grocery store apps are about the same. After we’re done with this, Scott, I’ll show you because I’ve already got it on my phone.

Scott: Alrighty.

Mindy: Yay. Because I’m not new. But I still don’t do all the things—I mean, I get the Five Dollar Meal Plans in my inbox every week. It’s really awesome. Click here to download. I open it up and it’s got seven recipes—is it seven recipes? Now I’m drawing a blank.

Erin: Six dinners plus breakfast, lunch, dessert, and like a snack. So just kind of like a variety of new things to try.

Mindy: Yeah, and I can go through there, oh, pork’s not on sale today. Okay, I’ll go back and use a different week’s meal plan because chicken is on Super’s sale so I’ll make all chicken dishes this week or whatever’s on sale. And King’s Super always has something on sale. So you go and you choose based on the meat and then you build—

Erin: Here’s a newsflash for you, Mindy. You don’t know that this is an option. So, you can go onto the website into the web app and like, if let’s say pork’s on sale but there’s like not a pork, you can drag out a recipe and drag in a pork recipe and then re-print out your meal plan. For real.

Mindy: Mindblown.

Erin: You can swap out recipes or you can go in and just be like, chicken’s on sale and steak is on sale. I’m going to pick three chicken recipes and one steak and just print that out. Does that make sense?

Scott: Well, let’s remind—

Erin: You can manipulate it based on the sale ads in your area. Because sale ads are different for everywhere. We can’t create a meal plan for everybody’s sale ads but now you can, so there you go.

Scott: And which one of the websites is the one that you can do this particular—

Erin: The 5 Dollar Meal Plan.

Scott: 5DollarMealPlan.com. Okay.

Erin: The ‘5’ is a number but yes. I don’t know if it redirects actually but the ‘5’ is a number.

Mindy: We will put a link to the 5 Dollar Meal Plan in our show notes so that people know what we’re talking about.

Erin: Awesome.

Mindy: You can go there and see it quickly.

Scott: All right, so just to make sure I understand what’s going on here. I sign up for my breakthrough moment, the grocery store newsletter and the app. I look at what’s on sale before I go to the store instead of while I’m at the store.

Mindy: Remember that four-letter word she said, the ‘plan’? You have to have a plan.

Scott: The 5 Dollar Meal Plan, yes. And then I go to your website and I have a list of recipes and I choose the one that makes the most sense based on the sale prices that are at my current grocery store and this will save tons of money over time.

Mindy: Oh wait, there’s more. At the end of these, you’ve got the six recipes? Or however any recipes. You’ve got a shopping list at the end that tells you exactly what you need. You just print that out. You don’t even have to print out all the recipes and take them with you and be like, oh I need three chicken breasts for this one and four chicken breasts for this one.

The shopping list will say, you need three chicken breasts for this one plus four, and you’re like, oh okay, here’s a package of seven. I’ve got what I need. Or you need two tablespoons of butter for one recipe and five tablespoons for another recipe so you grab butter if you don’t have it.

Scott, didn’t you write a book called Set for Life?

Scott: I go and I buy reasonable-priced food from the grocery store. I have clearly a lot more optimization to be doing in this department though. And I go to Costco a lot. That’s how I’ve been doing this. So this is mindblowing. This is like the travel-hacking thing where I just like didn’t even know that it existed.

Mindy: I need to jump in here and say, Scott is significantly younger than I am. He’s probably the same age as Erin—25 or 27?

Erin: Oh, you two are funny. Wait, how old are my boys again? No. I just entered a new decade.

Mindy: Congratulations. I’m halfway through one.

Erin: Haha, funny.

Mindy: So I graduated from high school and then Scott was born.

Scott: I was thinking that we were talking about ads in the newspaper to see what’s on sale on the grocery store and I was like, that is not happening.

Mindy: No, I still get the newspaper every day. I grew up reading the newspaper. I love the newspaper. It’s a dying industry and I’m going to support it until it’s dead. And I do get the newspaper with the circular every week and I’ll go through it and oh okay, this is what’s on sale. But right now, I have a touch of a hoarder in me and I am trying to shop my pantry and really get everything out of my pantry so I can go to Costco and get 12 cans of corn that I’m going to use up over the next three months. So I’m in a bit of a different spot right now. So let’s focus on Scott. Scott, just like travel hacking, you can save money at the grocery store by making a plan.

Scott: Fair enough. This is new information to me that I’m going to go out and implement immediately.

Erin: I love it. Changing your life, one grocery shopping trip at a time.

Mindy: So Erin, I have a lot of people in my life who are not frugal and they say things like, I don’t have time to clip coupons. I don’t have time to do all this. You said it takes 10 minutes. How much time do you spend clipping coupons or do you not even clip physical coupons anymore? Do you just use the apps?

Erin: I do a little bit of both and I don’t spend a lot of time on it. So like, if you want to layer it together, right? Write a meal plan and shopping list from your sales circular. 10, maybe 20 minutes. Clip coupons, another 5, maybe 10 minutes.

And with the cashback apps, what we recommend doing and what we have found to be the best for actually taking action on it is because you even leave the grocery store parking lot, like you’ve loaded your groceries into the car and you’re getting ready to leave, just sit there for a minute, snap the receipt or upload the receipt, whatever the app asks you to do before you get home. Does that make sense?

Because once you get home and you start unloading the groceries and then you see the pile of laundry and then you do this and then you do that and all of a sudden you forgot about that receipt and you need to upload or scan like, and then that doesn’t help you. Does that make sense?

Mindy: That does make sense but I want to go back to the beginning of this. What apps are you talking about?

Erin: Oh, my gosh. There’s dozens of them.

Mindy: What are your favorites?

Erin: My favorite is Checkout 51.

Mindy: Checkout 51?

Erin: Checkout 51. That’s my personal favorite. There’s a lot of cashback apps. You can just go into either App Store and just search cashback grocery apps. The idea is you upload or scan your receipt. Wal-Mart has a program like this now. It’s kind of like getting your savings after you purchased instead of before you’ve purchased.

There are a couple of coupon apps that you can do like before, Coupons.com just actually redid their entire app where you can print from your phone and use your phone to scan now. That’s brand new, even as of a week ago. And it might not be fully rolled out over all their platforms yet but it’s coming. You can use coupons on the front side. Grocery store apps, you can use coupons on the front side so you show them the little barcode before you leave the store. Like that would be the King’s Super App would do that. And you click the ones you want and you show it to them, they scan it, and then it takes that amount off.

So there’s two ways to do it. If you’re using the before transaction apps, you’ve got to plan that when you’re planning your meal plan or your grocery list. Does that make sense? So that becomes a part of that. Then there’s the after-the-fact. So it kind of depends on your M.O. It depends on how you think it would work best for your personality and your situation. You could also just put the receipts in a stack and at the end of the month, scan them all up and get the savings back. Does that make sense? So it doesn’t have to take a long time if you like plug it into your system, I suppose, at the right time. Does that make sense?

Scott: Supposing this was also a new concept to a listener or—

Mindy: Host?

Scott: Could you provide maybe a list of these apps that you scan your receipts for our Show Notes and also how long in the past can we go back and upload these receipts?

Erin: I do not know that off the top of my head. You’d probably have to look in each one’s terms and it might even vary by actual store but it depends. The offer are only like—probably not very long, actually, because the offers are usually good for a week, two weeks, four weeks. And so if you scan a receipt from two months ago that has a deal from something you bought today, it’ll decline it. Does that make sense? They’re all a little bit different in that sense. Checkout 51, BarryCart, Ibotta are the big ones.

Favado is different. It tells you what’s on sale from what coupons are available. So it would be one you use on the pre-side and the planning side. Coupons.com, you would also use on the front side where you’re planning and then of course any store app that, you know, whether it’s King’s Super or Albertson or Safeway, each store has slightly different programs and you would probably want to do that on the front side, the planning side as well.

Mindy: Can you combine them? Can you use coupons at the checkout and then scan your receipt on the back side?

Erin: You technically can. Is it allowed? No. It kind of depends on who’s issuing the coupons as well. If it’s a store-issued coupon and a manufacturer-issued coupon, you might be able to use both since the savings are coming from two different entities. But if it’s two manufacturer coupons, technically you’re not allowed to do that. And that’s actually the reason that Coupons.com is coming out with a new app, to prevent that from happening.

Mindy: Okay. I’m not trying to do anything shady.

Erin: No, it’s a good question. People ask it a lot. I have always taken the, if it’s two manufacturers’ coupon, so if it’s a manufacturer’s coupon coming through the Kroger app and a manufacturer paper coupon coming from the newspaper, do not use those together. They’re not meant to be used together. But if it’s a store coupon, let’s say it’s like a Target store coupon in their app or in their flyer, and then there’s a manufacturer’s coupon, those can be used together. Does that make sense?

Mindy: Right. What I meant was, can I use a coupon at the sale and then scan in the receipt for Ibotta?

Erin: Same story. It’s most likely manufacturer and manufacturer so I would say no? Can you technically do it where the register will allow you, yes? But I don’t want to promote bad couponing practices so that it ruins it for all of us, like an unnamed television show did. So anyways, I just have always erred on the side of, keep it clean.

Mindy: Okay. I wasn’t sure where the money was coming from, like the cashback. So let’s look at Checkout 51. You go in. You scan your receipt. After you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot. What happens after that? Do you get instant money?

Erin: So typically with the cashback apps, you would scan or upload your receipt according to their app. They’re all a little bit different. And then you basically have a balance that they owe you, the cashback that they owe you, and then you can cash that out when you want to. Most of them have a minimum threshold. I think some are even as low as $5.00 or $10.00. And you can either cash that out as you go, typically it would go straight to PayPal. Or you could let it accumulate.

Over the year, we have had some of our supersavers have been able to save like—I think I saw one with $326.00 not long ago that they’ve saved this year that she’s planning on cashing that out and then using it to help pay for Christmas. Does that make sense? So having an intention for that money I think is good as well. I think it gives you a little bit of extra motivation of like, it’s worth me spending that 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes to plan this out so that I can have some extra cash at Christmas and I’m going to get that extra cash by using one of these apps. Does that make sense?

Mindy: Mhmm. So I was a stay-at-home mom for eight years and I had noticed that, we’re spending a lot of money. We should start tracking our spending. And one thing I noticed was that I was going to the grocery store literally every single day. I know. I see your eyes. I didn’t have anything else to do. I had two young kids. I would go to the gym.

The way that my house was set up, I was like way out in the middle of nowhere and I had to drive to get to the gym and I drove right past the grocery store every single day. Oh, I just need this one thing. I just need this one—and you go in and you get that one thing plus three other things. Which isn’t a big deal if you do that once but if you do that every single day, you start having all this extra crap in your house.

And I read a book from Steve and Annette Economides America’s Cheapest Family: Cut Your Grocery Budget in Half. And they go grocery shopping once a month. Which is not enough for me. But it was really eye-opening to see how you could just make it work without going to the grocery store every day. How often do you go to the grocery store?

Erin: I go once a week. So that’s grocery store, grocery store, grocery store, Costco, tiny grocery store because Costco doesn’t carry everything that I would get for that particular week but then the Costco will spill over future weeks and then grocery store, grocery store, grocery store. Does that make sense? I mix those in kind of as we need to. And then I would just have a much lower, like I’m only going to grab four or five things from the grocery store that Costco doesn’t have that we need. It’s typically fresh produce that I don’t want a giant case of whatever produce, I just want a couple of pieces. Does that make sense?

Mindy: Right. So that’s how often I go. I’ve tried the every other week thing and we just eat too much produce that it doesn’t last long enough even when I try to intentionally buy like super not ripe mangoes, super not ripe pineapples. I want them but they still ripen up before and we use them before and by the end of the second week, you’re like, we have nothing fresh to eat and that’s not awesome. But you can substitute with frozen and on days like that I’ve been like, okay, everybody gets a fruit smoothie today because we have frozen fruit that we can kind of sub in. So you can kind of hack that a little bit.

But I prefer to go every week just for the fresh produce. And then I’m just really mindful of making sure we have the right amount of meat already and if I need to get any other meat for this week, I do a lot of bulk meat purchasing and so typically I don’t buy a lot of meat at the grocery store. I’m usually getting it in bulk so I kind of have to rotate through that game as well. But I like to go once a week.

Erin: It’s part of the routine, too. It’s like you get your plan, you get your meal plan, you get your shopping list, you get to the store like, as much as people say they hate going to the grocery store.

Scott: You have to go.

Erin: We just do it. If you want to eat, you have to go to the grocery store or you have to pay someone to bring you your food, right? Which is now an option. It’s a nice service but either way, we have to have food brought into our homes, right? And that’s why all these new businesses are popping up. Like, trying to make it easier to get food into your home whether it’s grocery delivery and now Amazon and Whole Foods or the Meal Kit boxes, like everybody’s trying to make it easier to get food into your home but like we all have to eat. Every single day, even if you have four boys like I do, like six times a day.

But like, I just—the cheapest, easiest for me way is to go to the store once a week. But everybody’s in a different situation. Like if I was a DINK, then I might be doing like meal kits two or three times a week because that’s cheaper than going out to dinner. A meal kit is more expensive for our family than going out to dinner is. So like you kind of have to just weigh all the different options and make it work for your situation.

Scott: A DINK, by the way, is a Double Income No Kids, right?

Erin: Sorry, yes. My brother. Yes.

Scott: So let me try to give a synopsis of your approach here. You’re saying download one of these apps or newsletters, look at what’s on sale and plan out your agenda, what you’re going to eat for the week in advance. Go to the grocery store and go to the various grocery stores and Costco that have the best deals on the various items in a well-thought out plan, attack, in a matter of an hour or a couple of hours. And then as soon as you’re done, upload all the receipts to these host shopping apps where you can get cashback and by doing this, you’re saving hundreds or thousands of dollars a year that I’m just leaving on the table right now.

Erin: Yes. But you’ve got to go and find it. You have to understand the approach so you can go find it and put it back into your wallet or put it into your savings account. Like that’s the other thing, too. I mentioned this a couple of times. You need to be thinking about food as money, right? And then what am I going to do with that money, right? Let’s be intentional with these savings. Am I going to pay for my kid’s pre-school? Am I going to pay for a vacation or am I paying down debt? What are you doing with the savings?

Because I think what that does is we can kind of keep that top of mind is that on the weeks or days or Sunday or Saturday, whenever you do it, like I just don’t feel like planning this week or I don’t feel like making this for dinner tonight. Well, I’m sorry, you don’t get to feel that way when you’re heavily in debt and you need to pay it off. Super sorry. Love ya, but no.

Mindy: If you want to pay off your debt, you really have to be focused on paying off your debt and you have to make sacrifices because not making sacrifices is what got you into the debt in the first place. Most likely.

Erin: And that’s easy for debt but it’s harder if it’s like oh, for a vacation. Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a couple of bucks off the vacation fund. Well no, yeah let’s go have a great vacation. Don’t skimp on that either, right? Does that make sense?

Scott: Yeah, I mean the three largest expenses for Americans is our housing, transportation, and food. And this is a very great way to significantly reduce that one and as you mentioned at the very beginning of the show, this is one that is under your immediate control. You can go out and implement this next week. As soon as this is over, I can go download these apps and go dig through my receipts and upload a bunch of them and get the cashback immediately and save money going forward.

Mindy: Yeah, I’ve got a neighbor who asks me for my receipts all the time and I’m like, here you go, I don’t have any of these receipt apps.

Erin: You’ve got to get them, girl. You’re leaving money on the table.

Mindy: I know. And I always think I’m so great with money. So many people say that to me, oh Mindy, you’re so good with money. Well, I guess but it’s not that hard. It is if you don’t know what you’re doing. Scott’s really good with money and apparently he—how much do you spend at the grocery store?

Scott: Like probably $70.00 a week.

Mindy: Okay, but that’s just you, right?

Scott: That’s just me, yeah.

Erin: We can cut that down to $50, pretty easy, I would say.

Scott: Yeah, I mean this is a very easy way for me to save a lot of money. And I thought I was doing it right because honestly, my approach is, I don’t eat out that much. I cook my own food. And it’s pretty reasonable stuff. I’ve got like 10 or 15 recipes that I like to make and I kind of rotate those and I thought I was doing pretty good on this stuff. It just never occurred to me that there was so much more stuff that was accessible.

Mindy: I love Erin’s take, changing lives.

Scott: I’m excited.

Erin: Changing single guys’ lives, one podcast interview at a time. Funny.

Mindy: Oh, my goodness. This is hilarious. Okay so, you have your meal plan. You have your ten minutes that you’re spending clipping coupons and finding coupons. When you say you go to Coupons.com, how do you use Coupons.com?

Erin: I personally search them out. I just go through. It’s real quick. I know, I print coupons for products that I’m going to buy already. There’s a big kicker right there. It’s easy to be like, oh, well I just want to try and score the deals. Well, you’re still paying a little bit most likely and you still have sales tax so don’t waste your time if you’re not going to use the product unless you’re donating. There’s always that little asterisk. If you’re donating things, like go couponing crazy, right? But I print the ones for products that I’m already purchasing and then I’ll print as many as I can and then I’ll take them with me to the store. Does that make sense?

Mindy: So you make your list first and then you go to the coupons.

Erin: It’s kind of a combo. It kind of all happens at the same time. Yeah.

Mindy: Okay. Scott, are you writing this down?

Scott: Yes, well I’ve taken quite a bit of notes here. I haven’t actually had a plan I’m ready to implement yet. Do you have anything else to add here before we go onto the our Famous Four and close out the show?

Erin: You know what, I think we’ve talked about a lot of different strategies, right? Like meal plans, shopping lists, coupons, cashback apps. That’s a lot. You’re internalizing it and you’re already thinking like, okay, I already do that but maybe I can get better at this, right?

So I would say pick one thing and try and get better at that one thing instead of trying to like go all in and try and figure it all out at once and then you’re all like, ehh. Fail. I’m not doing that again next week. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want you to lose that motivation. Pick one thing. Okay, this week I’m actually going to walk in the store with a completely written shopping list. That sounds like super simple but it’s shocking how many people do that. Not very many.

Like do that one thing, just pick one of those. Either make a meal plan or make a great shopping list or dig in on the coupons or cashback apps. Just pick one of them to get better at and then do another one in a couple of weeks, and another one in a couple of weeks, and then you’ll kind of—does that make sense? Like don’t try and rush into this. Unless you’re Scott and you really want to because he’s already written the book. Don’t go crazy. Be intentional and diligent about what you’re trying to do to make it better and then like just build on that. Does that make sense?

Mindy: So what would you think—what would you recommend as like the best thing? If I’m currently Scott and I just fly into the grocery store and just grab whatever looks good—

Scott: I make a list and I thought I was doing well because I make a list and I don’t go to the store hungry. Those are the two things that I needed to do to avoid over-shopping at the grocery store.

Mindy: Do you stick to your list or do you grab extra stuff?

Scott: I almost always stick to the list. I’m kind of an in and out guy.

Mindy: Scott’s pretty disciplined. I will give him that.

Erin: I like it. Yeah, I would say, you’ve got to look at the store ads before you make your list. I think that’s crucial and kind of planning around that because when you think about meat and produce, especially, like meat—for chicken breasts, you can pay $5.99 a pound or you can pay $1.99 a pound. That’s a pretty big price difference and like over a year, just the chicken savings alone can be hundreds of dollars, right?

So if you think about it like that, that’s a pretty popular meat. I always use that as an example because it’s so popular and there are so many great recipes with it, right? But like, think about it that way. You’ve got to check, I would say checking the store ads before you write your list would be, for Scott, and I think for a lot of people, the number one I guess tweak.

Mindy: Okay. And then after they do that, what would you recommend the second one to be?

Erin: The meal plan and shopping list. Those kind of have to go hand in hand. Here’s what’s on sale. Here’s what I’m making with what’s on sale. Here’s the shopping list. Behave yourself in the store.

Scott: And then, of course, the third thing is to go get all of your neighbors’ receipts and upload them to the Checkout 51 app, right?

Erin: Yes, do that.

Mindy: Okay. So check store ads then make a meal plan and a shopping list and then use coupons or receipt scans.

Erin: Yes.

Mindy: Okay. Thank you for sharing all of this really great information with us. You’ve already converted one person. We’re not even done with the show yet. Woohoo. And kind of half. I know what I should be doing but I don’t really do it all that much. But for ten minutes, I mean I’m foolish not to do it for ten minutes. 20 minutes.

Okay, Scott, you want to start the Famous Four questions?

Scott: Absolutely. These are the same questions we ask every guest and the first one of these is what is your favorite finance-related book?

Erin: Okay, this is business finance but it’s finance nonetheless. Profit First: Flipping the Accounting Model Backwards. That’s a good one. Highly recommend it if you have a small business.

Scott: Awesome, I have not actually heard of that one so I’ll have to go check it out.

Mindy: Yeah, I haven’t heard that either.

Erin: Mike Michalowicz, you guys don’t know about him and the pumpkin plan and—good stuff.

Mindy: Wow, Erin Chase, schooling us on everything today. You know everything. I didn’t tell you. We were just at a conference with Erin and I wanted to tell you, your keynote was fantastic. She talked about timeblocking and that is the subject of a completely different podcast. We’ll have you back for that.

Erin: Yes, there’s more of that coming. Don’t you worry.

Mindy: That was really, really helpful to me. And I have sat down and I have blocked out a few spaces simply because Erin Chase said do it. And she said it in such a way that really, really spoke to me. So thank you, Erin.

Erin: I’m glad. No, that’s awesome. I love it.

Mindy: Okay, back to the actual show. What was your biggest money mistake? I know my segues are terrible.

Erin: Money mistake. You know what, I can’t say it was intentional but looking back, it was a big mistake. I lived in the Dominican Republic on a missionary’s salary for six years in my twenties. And I set aside a little bit of money. We didn’t make a lot of money and we were living and working in pesos so we had to exchange it back to dollars, which wasn’t always great depending on the rate or whatever.

But I didn’t save for retirement in my twenties the way that I should have. And so, the last decade has been like, backtracking and trying to fill that back up. Does that make sense? So that crucial time when we should have been saving—we were saving a little bit. There was a little bit there and we’ve been able to grow it since then but that, in retrospect, I was just like, oh, I’m young and I’m just doing this great thing and I live in a foreign currency. The foresight wasn’t really there and in retrospect, I think that’s probably the biggest money mistake that we made.

Mindy: You’re not alone in that. I was not saving a lot in my twenties. Scott, can’t say anything, he’s got 27 apartment units.

Scott: Well, I’ve had the good fortune to just be able to absorb information from other folks and be able to avoid some of those—many of the mistakes that some people make. It’s not really being smart or anything. It’s just here it is. Here’s how to do it. Okay, let’s do it. Right? I’m not going to go be smart by going to do exactly what you just told me to do today with the grocery shopping. It’s exactly what you told me to do and it’s clearly better than what I’m doing. I’ll go execute it. There’s no challenge to it. It doesn’t take a genius to do any of this stuff, right?

Erin: Right.

Mindy: That’s the thing. You don’t need any special skills to do this. You just need to actually do the work. Okay, Scott.

Scott: Awesome. Moving back to the very important Famous Four questions. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Erin: Oh, my gosh, ya’ll. I’m so not funny. I’m so not a joke teller. Like it would be something really inappropriate. Can I be inappropriate for a second? Not wildly inappropriate. Little boy inappropriate. Can I be little boy inappropriate?

Scott: Yeah.

Erin: So probably a joke that I would tell at a party now is I would teach people how to make Alexa, you know Alexa the little device, actually I think she’s unplugged—

Scott: Is that the one who spies on your family from Google?

Erin: Yeah, it’s the Amazon—we have one. It’s hysterical.

Mindy: Allegedly.

Erin: Right, allegedly. We mostly use it for music and reminders and alarms and stuff, but if you want Alexa to fart, you can ask her to but you have to ask her in a really funny way—I can’t believe I just said this on a podcast. But like, it’s really funny. It’s not what you think. You can’t just straight up ask her. You have to ask her in a funny way. So like, I feel as a mom of four young boys, I’m on this mission to like educate people about all that Alexa can help you with.

Scott: So how does one get Alexa to fart?

Erin: You say, ‘Ask me for a fart’. Which is so not like, English language, right? You have to say, ‘Alexa, ask me for a fart’ and then she will make the noise.

Mindy: I cannot believe this is being public—you guys.

Scott: Can you show us? Can you give us a demonstration?

Erin: Do you want me to? Well I have to plug her in. I don’t know how fast she’s going to come to life but, I had to unplug her for my computer.

Scott: Oh, well maybe in the next episode we have you back, we’ll timeblock something for that.

Erin: You guys are so bad. Other fun things Alexa can do, you guys. That’s about as inappropriate as I’m going to get here.

Mindy: My friend has an Alexa so I’m going to go over there and ask her for a fart.

Erin: No, you should. And like, it’s the funniest thing. I’m sorry, but we’re humans. It’s silly. It’s funny. And I have a warped sense of humor because I have four boys.

Mindy: I have two young girls. They’re the same. You would think they’d be all like delicate and blossom-like and you’d be completely wrong.

Erin: Well, there you go. It’s not really a joke but how about that.

Scott: I enjoyed it.

Erin: Good.

Mindy: Oh, dear. Scott was once a young boy. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Erin: With money or with groceries?

Mindy: Let’s go with groceries.

Erin: I think this answer applies to both. How about that? You have to measure and track if you want to improve whatever it is you’re measuring and tracking. That’s just a blanket statement for life. If you want to lose weight, you have to track and measure what you’re eating and how you’re exercising. If you want to be better with your money, you have to track and measure what you’re doing, right? Does that make sense? If you’re not tracking and measuring—time. Going back to timeblocking. I didn’t even get to that part in the keynote.

Like, if you want to be better about time, you have to track it. Does that make sense? Take that statement and apply it to anything in your life. I’m not a numbers person either. Like, I’m just not naturally—I like math and I’m good at math but I’m not naturally like a numbers, data tracker kind of person. But like, really, when it comes down to it, if you want to improve whatever it is in your life you’re looking to improve, money, groceries, weight loss, fitness, whatever, you have to track if you want it to improve.

Scott: Awesome.

Mindy: That is the best, best piece of advice that I’ve ever heard. That’s amazing.

Scott: Awesome. Well, where can people find out more about you, Erin?

Erin: We have everything available at 5DollarDinners.com. So that’s the number ‘5’ Dollar Dinners.com. You can get more information about the 5 Dollar Meal Plan there as well. But everything is right there on our main 5DollarDinners website.

Mindy: And we will include a link to that in the Show Notes for our listeners to find. Erin, this has been eye-opening. This is—I thought—

Scott: For some of us more than others.

Mindy: This is very eye-opening for me. You know, you’ve gotta do the work and I knew that but ten minutes, 20 minutes, that’s nothing compared to how much you can save. And it’s just heartbreaking to throw away the groceries that I bought and I had big plans for and this was great. Erin, thank you so much for your time and thank you for sharing all of your information with us.

Erin: Sure. Thanks for having me on. This was a lot of fun.

Scott: Awesome. Thank you.

Mindy: Awesome. Well, a huge thank you to Erin Chase from 5DollarDinners for coming on the show and sharing her grocery tips. Scott, one of my favorite parts of this show was watching you and watching the lightbulb go off on top of your head. Oh, my goodness. I can cut my grocery bill in half. These easy, easy tips. The receipts, the shopping from the sales flyers. You’re going to do that the next time you go to the grocery store and you are going to save so much money and it’s not going to make you feel like you’re depriving yourself of anything. It’s not going to feel like a chore or anything. It’s just the easiest thing that you can possibly do.

Scott: Yeah, you know, I thought that I was doing it right because I was just shopping for most of my meals with reasonable food from reasonable grocery stores. And how very wrong that was. She just blew my mind. I did not realize that there were always different things, all these additional ways I could optimize on top of that. Right?

Mindy: Yeah, you call yourself frugal.

Scott: I just scratched the surface of this and you know, since that podcast, I’ve downloaded a couple of the apps on my phone. I’m starting to realize some of these savings and it was like, why wasn’t I doing this before? Why wasn’t I optimizing this? You can go, and like I mentioned in the intro, this is the expert here. She has so much experience and has put so much thought and study and discussion into optimizing meal planning.

Mindy: And she packages it all up into a very easily digestible format. You go onto her site and oh, here’s something I can make with chicken. And I have all the rest of the ingredients in my refrigerator or in my cabinet. She doesn’t use these weird ingredients. She doesn’t make odd things that like, oh, my kid’s never going to eat that Ethiopian goulash. No, my picky kids aren’t going to eat that. She makes kid-friendly meals that are easy and quick and wow. If you have not yet checked out 5DollarDinners.com, you need to go there right now.

Scott: Awesome, yeah. And this can make a big difference, not just for folks like you who are maybe shopping for a whole family, but also for single guys like me. Maybe I benefit more from a little guy because I eat a lot of food. Maybe perhaps larger than the average man. Regardless of how you’re shopping, this can be real money and it can add up real quick over the course of the year.

Mindy: Yes. The thing is, this isn’t hard. This is one of those small tweaks that you can do to your life that yields huge results and you’re not even going to feel like you’re doing anything. But your budget, your pocketbook, will definitely see huge results.

Scott: So as a takeaway from this show, go ahead and plan out meals using the tips that Erin suggested. Buy it from a reasonable grocery store and then save your receipt. If you just do those three things, you might make a couple of bucks from listening to this show and start a great new habit that can save you lot of money over the long run.

Mindy: Yes. Okay, Scott. Let’s go to a slightly selfish portion of this show now where we ask people to give us a rating and review. We currently don’t have very many ratings and reviews on iTunes because we are a new show. This is our fourth episode and we would love to get the word out that we’ve got this great new program. If you could go and leave us a rating and review if you liked our show, that would be really helpful in spreading the word that there’s a new money show in town.

Scott: Awesome, yeah. Please do give us reviews. We always love them and I check all of them. So even if they’re bad, it makes me feel bad but I love seeing all of the very positive reviews and I do read them.

Mindy: Yes. Okay, great. Well, Scott, I want to get out of here and go back to BiggerPockets.com. So I am going to say adios.

Scott: Awesome.

Mindy: For the BiggerPockets Money podcast, Episode number 3, this is Mindy Jensen, over and out.



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In This Episode We Cover:

  • What kicked off this meal planning career for Erin
  • Avoiding the “shiny object squirrel items
  • How much Erin really saves optimizing their meals
  • How easy it is to fall into the $1,000 to $1,500 spending trap for monthly groceries
  • Coupon hacks
  • Some of the cash back apps Erin uses
  • How often you should shop for groceries
  • Advice to those who want to start meal plans
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Having a plan is so important.” (Tweet This!)
  • “I’m budgeting. Food should be the forefront rather than an afterthought.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Erin

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.