Personal Finance Interview with Tawra Kellam on Saving at the Grocery Store

Personal Finance Interview with Tawra Kellam on Saving at the Grocery Store

If you're looking for easy ways to save money on your budget, it seems personal finance bloggers and frugal living experts have a mantra about what not to buy:

"Soda, junk food, snacks and eating out," says blogger Tawra Kellam of Living on a Dime. "I know I keep saying this and all the money-saving gurus say this but that's because people just blow it off and don't really realize how much they spend buying snacks and going out to eat."

Tawra knows a thing or two about leaving a grocery store with only the necessities. She feeds her family of four on just $450 a month without using coupons.

We recently checked in her to get practical advice on everything from grocery shopping to talking to kids about money. Here's what she had to say:

Hi, Tawra! Can you tell us about Living on a Dime? When and why did you start your site?

I started our site in 1999 after I wrote our cookbook "Not Just Beans" (now "Dining On A Dime"). I was on a couple of frugal living boards when I was on bed rest with my first pregnancy. I kept answering questions on how to save money on your grocery bill and giving out recipes on how to make pretty much anything homemade.

I decided to go ahead and write and self-publish a cookbook on how to save money on your grocery bill without using coupons or living on beans. That's what the first name of the book was supposed to mean, but of course it was a bad name and no one got it so we later changed it.

We started the website to promote the book and then it later turned into helping people save money and get organized in all areas of their life.

Who should be reading it?

It's mostly geared toward families. We have mostly moms in the 30- to 45-age range, but of course we have women of all ages but that's our target group.

We're in awe of the fact that you can feed your family of six spending just $450 a month on groceries without using coupons ... have you always been such a savvy shopper?

I grew up with a single mom who had paid off all our debt ($35K including the house) on just $1,000 a month in five years. Then we became ill will Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and she raised two teens on $500 a month income. To me living frugally was just a way of life.

What's the one thing everyone can do to trim his or her bill?

The one thing most people can do to trim their grocery bill is to cut the junk. I know you hear it all the time but the juice boxes, fruit snacks, chips, sodas really do add up to the tune of thousands of dollars a year. The problem is people say "this box of fruit snacks is "only" $2" but that $2 plus all the other $2's add up over a year. You can see here how just cutting out a few things (not all) could add up to saving almost $10,000 in one year! Yes, $10,000!

So many personal finance sites tout the use of coupons ... so why don't you use them?

Frankly, I find them annoying and to me it's not worth the stress of trying make sure I remember them, have the right item with the coupon and figuring out a shopping trip based on the coupons that are going to be expiring or going when the things are on sale. Also, most of the times I would try to use them, the store would be out of the items from other couponers cleaning them out.

What's your typical pre-grocery store trip routine? How do you prepare for your shopping trip?

We cook from the pantry. Meaning I keep certain items on hand all the time and just cook from what I have on hand. For us the pre-grocery shopping includes just writing down on the list what we need when we run out. I do keep track of meat on sale and stock up when it's at its lowest. If I see roast for $3 a pound then I will buy five to six and put them in the freezer. Chicken at $1.99 a pound, I will buy 20 packages and freeze them. The just can just pull it out of the freezer when I need it. I don't spend a lot of time planning meals. We have 10 meals for summer and 10 meals for winter that we eat most of the time and just add something new and now and then. Most people do eat the same things over and over so why make it more complicated then you need to.

What do you think are the most common misconceptions people have about saving money at the grocery store?

That it's a lot of work to save money and you have to make everything from scratch to save. For me the biggest way we save is by not buying things on a regular basis that most families buy like soda, juice and snacks for the kids. I also keep it very simple. We eat mostly chicken, roast and hamburger. I make my 10 meals out of those on a regular basis and then add other things in now and then to mix it up a bit.

What do people do in the name of saving money that might not actually be saving them money?

Clipping coupons and buying things just because it's on sale. Just because it's a good deal, if you aren't going to use it or eat it then you are just throwing money away. They also justify buying things like fruit snacks and juice boxes so they can "save money" by not eating out. Really it takes me about five minutes to make a sandwich, put some water and ice in a reusable bottle, throw some applesauce in a reusable container and a cookie and put it in a lunch box. You don't need prepackaged (and expensive) fruit and snacks to make an inexpensive lunch. By the way, usually my lunches cost less than $1 for the entire thing.

You were able to pay off $20,000 in debt on a tight budget ... why did you prioritize paying off your debt? What did you do to reach your goal?

For me we would never be financially stable until we were debt free. We still owe half on our house, but my other than that we are debt free. It is so freeing not arguing with your husband all the time about money and not worrying how you are going to pay your bills because you are paying for things that you used up or did a long a time ago. I'm not saying that we are perfect and don't ever worry about bills but when we do have issues it's with unexpected things like medical bills and not an everyday stress.

How do you enlist your whole family in managing your family finances?

For us it's a lifestyle. The kids know that we try to save every way we can. All of them now are really good about saving and even help us save. A good example is our son had to pay for his own cell phone. He researched to find the best deal. When our cell phone died then he told us where to go to get the best deal on a no-contract phone and we saved at least half of what most people spend on their cell phones.

What advice do you have on talking to your kids about money?

I have three pieces of advice actually.

First, you have to set an example. If your kids see you out spending but you're in debt and always talking about how you never have money they are not going to be any different.

Second, talk to you kids about money. Don't hide your finances from them. Sit them down and show them when you pay the bills how much it costs for everything. If you are having money issues, tell them why and what you are doing to fix it.

And lastly, tell your kids "no." My kids pay for their own cell phones, gas for the car for work and fun (we pay for it for school since they go to school 30 miles from home) and we don't buy them a toy every time we go to the store. We also don't pay for college or buy the newest name-brand clothes, shoes or gadgets for them. If they want things like their own computer, tablet, cell phone, expensive clothes or college then they pay for it themselves.

This teaches them that you can't always have everything you want and how to manage money before they get out on their own. As for college they will work a lot harder for scholarships and getting better grades if they know it's their dime on the line.

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the "Dining On A Dime Cookbook". "Dining On A Dime" will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit