The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do (to Save Money)

full grocery cart

That sounds really dramatic and important, doesn’t it? Well, I sort of wanted to get your attention, because as my readership is expanding (hooray!) to people I don’t actually know in real life (holy smokes!), I am feeling a greater and greater sense of responsibility.

If you are a real-life friend and if, due to reading my blog, you start getting deal-shopping-over-spend-itis (a very common ailment among newbie frugal shoppers), you can always ask me about it at shul. And I’ll say something reassuring like, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to do every deal. It’ll come around again. I don’t even do every deal I post about on my blog either. There, there…”

But if you don’t know me in person, well, then maybe you won’t be as likely to send me an email or write on my Facebook wall. And then, the next thing you know, you’ll be feeling totally bummed out because you spent too much money stocking up on supposedly good deals, plus you hate clipping those blasted coupons, and OMG, this is totally hopeless.


If you are feeling overwhelmed, just remember this: The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do to save money on your food & household items budget is… to pay attention to what you’re doing at the store.

That’s it. It really is that simple. If the coupons and the CVS extra care bucks and the stockpiling cereal are all conspiring to make you crazy, take a step back for now. For the next little while, don’t do any of that stuff. (You’ll get back to it, don’t worry.) For now,  just pay attention to what you are doing at the store.

No more mindlessly throwing in stuff because “it looks good” or “hey, I didn’t know that ____ had a hechsher!” (Guilty as charged.)

No more shopping when you haven’t eaten in eight hours and therefore end up buy $40 worth of convenience foods, because you must eat within 12 seconds of walking in the front door.

No more buying a jar of mayo, only to come home and realize that you had four other half-used jars of mayo already littering the top shelf of your fridge.

No more shopping without a list. No more magazines, candy bars, or cold bottles of water — unless they are on that shopping list.

The goal here is simply to be intentional about what you buy. Even if it’s a $6 jar of hearts of palm, know that you’re buying it because you need it for a recipe you plan to make that Shabbat — and not because of any other impulse.

Perhaps you already are intentional at the store. I know I think I am.

But when I really, really pay attention to what I’m doing at the store, you know what? I save some money. Maybe it’s only $10 a week, but hey, that’s 10% off my monthly grocery budget.

And if you’re spending $1000 or $1200 a month — which I think is pretty typical for frum families with kids (at least based on the comments in this post at Orthonomics) — a 10% savings is $120/month. (Although I’m guessing that there’s more “fat” that can be trimmed by paying attention to a $1,200 budget than to a $400 one.)

Pretty cool, huh? Almost $1500 a year just by paying attention.

Imagine what you’ll be able to do when you add back in coupons, stockpiling, CVsing and freebies!


  1. Paying attention is a lot of work! I just got back from the store and was super vigilant stacking coupons and only buying what we needed for shabbat. Then when I got out to the parking lot I looked at the receipt and realized the kid rang up my arugula twice because he realized we had a bag credit. So he gave us the 0.20$ bag credit while holding the arugula and then rang it up a second time. Sigh!

  2. Uch, I am so sorry. That stuff usually happens to me when I have all three kids and only realize it after they are all buckled into their car seats. I hope that arugula is doubly good 🙂

  3. I agree that there is no need to do every deal. Currently, my bathroom supply cabinet is stocked to the gills. I have shampoo and toothpaste coming out my ears, to say nothing of everything else. We aren’t getting the newspaper, so I don’t all of the ads. And that is OK. When the shampoo starts running low, I will get back on the bike because deals come along regularly enough. I don’t need to shop every great deal at every time. (Thanks for the link too).

  4. Hey Mara,
    Could you do a blog post on gift-giving? I’m staring at my Chanukah list and kind of freaking out. There is my Mom and Dad who do everything for me and I’m forever the most grateful for. There are my two kids – who already know I’m getting them one thing each (but what?). There is my sister, her husband and their three kids. So, compared to some people that’s not so many people but that’s not really the whole list that’s just the people who I want to make sure I give really nice Chanukah gifts to. I’m hoping you don’t say that you guys don’t give gifts on Chanukah – but just in general – what are your suggestions for holiday time when you have to give a bunch of gifts at once. I think you will say that you already have a bunch stocked up…
    Thanks in advance,

  5. Amy,

    Our family has been trying very diligantly to reduce the Hanukkah gift giving. My MIL would go way over the top. It was not what we wanted to teach our children about the hoilday. So we actually asked her to send smaller gifts, and if she wanted to send them more gifts to send them throughout the year. I also worked with both of my brothers to reduce the expectation. Together we decided to give a “family” gift. So I will get them a gift certificate to the movie theatre or a board game the whole family can enjoy. We all have a bunch of children and it was just too much to buy gifts for each and every one of them.

    Meanwhile, for our own kids we give them candy or something small on the majority of the night (they love Mike and Ikes) and usually only give them one gift of value (usually art supplies or winter slippers).

    The one thing we do do for our kids is getting tham a gift when they complete the school year (rather than oodles of bday or Hanukkah) presents).

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