026: Save Money on Groceries with Erin Chase of $5 Dinners

Erin ChaseErin Chase is on a mission to help you spend less money on groceries and has developed the teaching resources and practical tools to help you cut your grocery spending. You can find more about these amazing resources at 5dollardinners.com.

In this episode, Erin shares her financial struggles, how she found early success with her money, her amazing tips for saving money shopping for groceries, and the big goals she has for her financial future. I know you’ll enjoy it.

So let’s dig in. Let’s meet today’s Master of Money….

Listen to This Episode with Erin Chase from $5 Dinners

I hope you enjoyed that. A big thank you to Erin for giving us the gold today.

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Long Term Vision and Delayed Gratification

Erin says that keeping the long-term vision in mind is the most important thing that helps her to be successful with money. An example of this is wanting to swing through the Starbucks drive-up window for a shot of caffeine. When Erin is using her long-term vision, she asks herself, “What else could I do with this $5.68?”

Living in an instant gratification world means that many of us don’t stop to consider the long-term ramifications of our actions. Something as simple as buying a latte or grabbing lunch at our favorite fast food place adds up though. We have to take a longer look at how we spend our money if we want to see a real difference over the long term.

In order to see the long-term vision, there must be one. Because Erin knows what goals her family would like to meet in the future, she can use that to curb her random desire for a pricey cup of coffee on a long afternoon.

As a matter of fact, it’s not only the cups of coffee that can kill our spending. Sometimes we spend money on big-ticket items without a second thought. Washing machine making a noise? We go buy a new one without a thought to having it looked at. Want a new couch? The credit is easy enough to get and you can be sitting on that couch in a couple of hours.

New Habits to Save Money

Delayed gratification is never easy. How do we develop the ability to have that long-term vision? Erin says we have to think about it at the moment. Write it down; keep notes on your steering wheel to not buy lattes this week. Consider replacing the money-sucking habits with a habit that saves money.

Things like making your coffee at home, starting the slow cooker in the morning in order to avoid ordering pizza multiple nights per week…these things can make a real difference in your budget. You have to plan in order to avoid the traps that you fall into on a daily or weekly basis.

Deciding to Master Her Money

From 6 years of living overseas, Erin learned to live without being able to visit an ATM for some quick cash. Working with a foreign currency taught Erin some lessons that have carried over into her life here in the States.

It was necessary to budget everything “down to the peso” so that limited free spending. They had no bank account, no credit card, no immediate access to any money except the pesos they held in their hands. Being forced to learn those things in her twenties meant that it was easier for her to continue them once they moved back here.

Using Cash to Get a Handle on Your Money

Shopping for food in the Dominican Republic with her pesos taught Erin that grocery shopping with cash cut down on how much she spent. She does use a debit card to shop now but is still adamant that swiping a debit card is an entirely different experience than handing over five $20 bills.

Erin says that if you want to see the difference for yourself, take cash to the grocery store and note the way you feel when you hand over cold, hard cash. This is part of the challenge she gives to students in her courses.

If you’re in trouble with your finances and you need to see an immediate difference, then using cash is a smart way to hold yourself accountable and get through that tough time.

Planning for the Future While Living Overseas

Erin and her husband were not aggressively saving for retirement while they lived overseas for 6 years. Their employer organization did offer a small match for their savings, but there just wasn’t much to save.

When they came back to the US, it was clear that they had to get serious about planning for the future.
Erin says it was quite a wake-up call to realize that they had “just wasted half of their 20’s not saving anything for retirement.”

Returning to the United States After 6 Years Overseas

Erin’s family returned to the US by moving back to Ohio, and while it wasn’t all that different, there were obviously some monetary differences to get used to. They continued to track their money down to the dollar. And while there were more dollars to track, the living expenses were another story. The differences weren’t huge, but there was a different level of income and a new set of expenses.

Erin spent the first two years back on the mainland at home with her two children, and then “accidentally started her site, $5 Dollar Dinners” and all of the related products.

An Accidental Start-up

It was 2008, and gas prices were going through the roof. Erin’s husband had a 25-mile commute each way to work, so she decided to cut their grocery spending. She went from spending $500 per month down to $250. In her excitement, she wanted to share what she had done, and the blog was born.

So how did she cut her grocery bill in half? She used a combination of meal planning from the store sales, couponing, and made smart choices in the store.

Meal Planning

Meal planning can run the gamut from actually having a written plan for every meal you will serve for the week, to as simple as having a theme for each night and filling in the actual meal once you see what’s on sale. And those sale prices are the backbone of Erin’s success in saving money at the grocery store.

Meal planning starts before you leave your house; Erin says you should spend at least 15-20 minutes getting ready…getting your plan together before you even get in the car. Grab your coupons, write your shopping list, plan around the meat that’s on sale. Planning around the meat on sale will make the largest and most immediate impact on your grocery budget.

If it’s true that groceries are the third-largest discretionary expense in a household, then it’s crucial to get a handle on that spending. You can certainly buy too much car, too much house, too much anything. But the one area where you can see an immediate difference is at the grocery store.

The way to avoid all of the last minute eating out is what Erin mentioned earlier- make a plan. But how do you make a plan if you don’t know where to start? Erin gives us a few ideas to make it easier to begin.

  • Write out 5 meals you are going to eat next week.
  • Make those meals.
  • Do it a second week
  • Then and only then, add in store circulars or coupons.

Using Tools and Apps to Cut Your Grocery Spending

There are many sites online that do coupon match-ups; in other words, matching available coupons with sales at specific stores. You can just search “your store name+coupon matchups” to see what is available in your area. This is a great way to stockpile your pantry necessities by purchasing them when they are not only on sale but also have a coupon available.

$5 Dollar Dinners Becomes Profitable

Erin began her site in August of 2008, and she got her first ad revenue check in October for several hundred dollars. She began her business just as the recession was beginning for our country, there was an election coming up, and people were feeling the pinch in their wallets.

In the beginning, her family needed that money to offset some of the rising expenses from the recession. But soon, circumstances weren’t as dire and the money could be redirected to other areas. The first area was hiring an assistant for Erin, which she did fairly early on.

They became increasingly aggressive in saving from that income as well, in order to afford a home more suited to their needs. And a move to Texas provided the opportunity to use that money to purchase a home there.

What Dining Out Does to a Budget

Dining out feels like a treat we give to ourselves, but too much can really do serious damage to our budget. So how can we dine out without guilt?

“You plan for it!”

If you have a night that you know is going to be crazy with sports, meetings, classes, etc., then you make a plan for dining out that night. It becomes part of the food budget instead of being something that happens on random nights because there is no plan.

Future Financial Goals and Learning Financial Lessons

Erin’s family would love to be able to purchase a ranch property. She plans to achieve that by working not only harder, but also smarter. She knows they need to be aggressive in saving for that, so in addition to retirement savings and college savings for their sons, they are saving towards this goal.

Erin’s family has had some unique experiences, living overseas and dealing with foreign currency, then coming back to the states and putting those lessons into practice. Those lessons she learned have come full circle for her with her business. She now teaches others the same things that she learned through those experiences.

Show Notes

  • 00:30 Erin’s mission to help you save money
  • 01:20 The #1 thing Erin does that contributes to her financial success
  • 02:40 The dangers of living in an instant gratification world
  • 03:30 How having future goals can help curb your spending
  • 04:45 Developing the long-term mindset
  • 05:50 Changing habits to save money
  • 06:25 How to replace your Starbucks habit
  • 07:35 How living in a foreign country affected Erin’s ideas about money
  • 10:20 Is Erin an advocate for using all cash?
  • 12:15 Budgeting in the Dominican Republic
  • 13:10 Planning for the future when living in a foreign country
  • 15:38 Coming back to the United States after 6 years overseas
  • 17:20 “Accidentally” starting $5 Dollar Dinners
  • 18:13 How Erin cut her grocery bill in half
  • 18:43 What does meal planning mean exactly?
  • 20:30 Planning meals around sales
  • 23:55 First steps to eating at home more
  • 26:45 Tools and apps to cut your grocery spending
  • 28:25 How long it took Erin’s site to bring in an income
  • 29:35 Where the new income went
  • 31:45 The one area of personal finance that Erin isn’t involved in
  • 33:00 Ways to make dining out fit into the budget
  • 35:00 One financial goal Erin has for her family’s future and how they will achieve it 36:00 Looking back on the financial lessons she has learned

Show Sponsor

This episode was sponsored by our list of The Best Personal Finance Software and Budgeting Tools. Visit ptmoney.com/budget/ for more information and to get started for free.

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Erin Chase Interview

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Last Edited: July 26, 2017 @ 11:05 pmThe content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, financial writer, podcaster, FinCon Founder, husband, and father of three. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Listen to the new podcast, Masters of Money!