Lately I have been on a mission to save money. Looming credit card debt, increasing real estate taxes, a daughter in college and two more children eventually heading down the route…my bank account is crying!
Even though I’m kind of late to the game, I have been trying to learn as much as I can about budgeting and paying down bills. There are quite a few fixed monthly expenses we all have that we cannot change much. Mortgage, car payments, taxes, etc – but the one thing we all have control over is our food budget! Even if you have a large family, it is feasible to cut your grocery bill in half if you are frugal enough. It can be done, I promise!
The first step is changing the way you think about food and grocery budgeting.
Here are some tips I have learned over the past few years that have helped me to cut my food budget in half for my family of five. Here is the honest truth…I was spending $850-1000 a month for groceries for my family of 5! It is not that I’m rich by any means, I wasn’t paying other bills and had no idea I was spending so much on groceries. Now I spend $500-600 a month (including dog food for my very picky dog!)
Add it Up.
Go through your debit/credit card statement and add up all the money you have spent on food this month (or last month). Include how many times you have eaten out or grabbed something quick out of convenience. If you don’t have access yo your statement, start adding it up in a notebook every time you hit the grocery store or convenience store for food.
Set a Budget.
I have been following Jordan Page from Fun Cheap or Free. She states that your grocery budget should be about $100 per person per month. So if you have a family of 5 (like me) your budget is $500. If you have a family of 4 your budget is $400/month or $100/week and so on. When you break it down weekly that comes out to roughly $125 a week for a family of 5, including consumables. I know – you may be thinking…that’s crazy. There is no way I can spend that amount of money a week and feed my whole family, never mind consumables! Don’t worry – IT CAN BE DONE!
Now I know that not everyone agrees with me here. I have done the monthly shopping thing, and every two-week shopping as well. I’m here to tell you – Shopping weekly will save you money! Let me tell you why. When you shop weekly – you aren’t panicking about not having enough of this or that because…next week you have to go back to the store. It is a lot less overwhelming (especially when you are a beginner) to shop more often and have a manageable 7 day meal plan. You shop once a week and DO NOT SET FOOT IN THE STORE AGAIN. If you need something, wait until next week. That way you are not stopping by the store 5 more times and spending $20-40 each time!
Inventory your pantry/fridge/freezer.
How many times have you picked something up just to see you have that same thing in your fridge or pantry? Before you go shopping or start to meal plan, go though the food you already have! Take a notebook and break it down by category. Write down everything you have in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, cabinets – any place you store food and consumables. This includes shampoo, conditioner, pet food, toilet paper etc. Write it all down the day before you go food shopping. Now you know what you have in your home and what you need to actually purchase.
Don’t be afraid. Meal planning does not have to be difficult or involved. It doesn’t mean you have to plan fancy meals. It could mean hot dogs on Monday, tacos on Tuesday and cereal every day for breakfast. As parents, we usually have the week planned out anyway as far as work, after school activities or other obligations. In the same notebook you took inventory with, write down the days of the week. For every day, think about what your plans are for that particular day. Write down breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas using your inventory list. As you are making your plan, take note of the things you need in order to cook/prepare that meal. BAM! Meal plan…check. Shopping list…check.
The most important tip for meal planning…Be realistic. If your kids are involved in after school sports and you know you will not be home until late, plan a crock pot meal. If you will be stuck in the car commuting to a dance in the next city – plan sandwiches and pasta salad on the go. Have a late meeting at work? Schedule a frozen pizza or leftover night. Plan a bigger, more involved meal for a weekend night when you know you have the time to execute it.
Look at the food you already have in your inventory list and plan meals around the things you already have. For example, if you have rice and a frozen bag of veggies, maybe all you need is chicken for a stir fry. Maybe you have a bag of potatoes you need to use, add meatballs or ground turkey for a meatloaf. Use the ingredients you already have to help you plan meals for week to save money.
Make a list.
Using your pantry inventory and meal plan, make of a list of the things you need to purchase. Try and stick to the items on the list only. When you are looking through the ads (next step) this list will help you figure out what items you actually need. That way you aren’t just picking up things because they are on sale or you think you might need them. Write it down and actually take the list with you. (If I had a dollar for every list I left at home- I wouldn’t need a budget!)
Scope the Sales.
Save the grocery ads you get in the mail and take a look at the first and last pages. If you do not get weekly ads, check out store ads online. The items on the first and last pages are the loss leaders. Those products will actually save you money and are the ones to stock up on. Use the items that are on sale to supplement your meal plan.
If you have a low-priced grocery store near you, check it out. Here in the Northeast, we have stores like Aldi, PriceRite, Save A Lot and Market Basket. These stores are critical to saving money on your grocery budget. If you are a loyal shopper to more expensive stores, check out lower priced ones. I am in love with Aldi! If there is an Aldi in your area, please check it out – it is totally worth it! Wal-Mart is a great option for household consumables as well. I personally shop Aldi for 90% of my food and get toilet paper, shampoo, dog food etc. at Walmart and I have cut my grocery budget in half.
Shop store brands.
Most store brands are just top name brands relabeled. That’s the honest truth to it. Especially for things like toilet paper, condiments, snacks, canned goods, baking products and much more. I have very few things I do not buy the store brand version of. This includes like two brands of cereal, coffee and particular body wash stuff for my daughter. (My daughter has some severe contact dermatitis allergies and can only use two different body washes and one type of sunscreen and lotion.)
Buy In Season.
Fruits and Vegetables are always cheaper when they are in season. Of course, this depends on where you live. If you buy something in the middle of the winter that is not grown locally, you will pay a hefty price for it. Most of the time, it will not taste as good. Learn how to use in season veggies for cooking. Introduce your kids to different fruits while they are on sale. My kids would only eat watermelon for the longest time – so I bought it all the time! It cost so much money in the winter and did not taste the same so I ended up throwing a lot of it out! If you can, head to a farmers market, they tend to have cheaper and better tasting produce.
Use coupons wisely.
Be careful with coupons! Sometimes you will buy the name brand version of something just to save $1, when the store brand version is $2 less! I tend to use coupons on things like pet food, shampoo, and body wash/sunscreen for my daughter. Keep an eye out for coupons that will actually save you money. If your local grocery store doubles coupons, watch for items you can use those double coupons on when they are on sale. Don’t spend more just to save a little bit with a coupon.
Use cashback apps.
There are some great grocery savings apps like Ibotta * (If you do – please use my referral code: geyjhmg)* and Checkout 51. While I do not spend a lot of money on store brands, there are sometimes deals on ANY brand. I know Ibotta especially has some deals where you can get money back for any brand of a particular item. These are good offers to use if you mainly shop at stores like Aldi. While 25 or 50 cents may not seem like much, it all adds up! I rack up and save my cash back earnings for Christmas every year.
Cook from scratch.
When you decide to save money, eating out or getting take out is one of the first things to go. Cooking at home from scratch not only saves you so much money, it is better for your family as well. Now I’m not perfect in any way but I do want my family to healthy most of the time. Buying processed and pre made meals is expensive and it can contain a lot of crap that isn’t good for your family. Making your own muffins and baked goods is much cheaper than buying them from the bakery.
*collective groan* I know so many people hate leftovers! But it really does save so much money. Even using leftovers for lunch or in a recipe the next day saves money. You can really get creative as well with leftovers so your kids don’t even know that they are eating last nights dinner. If you have black beans left over from taco night, instead of tossing them out – throw them in the fridge. Use them the next day for a black bean salad or breakfast burrito. If you make broccoli and there is a small bowl leftover, put it in the fridge and add it to some pasta with Parmesan cheese or Alfredo sauce. Have a leftover night once a week to help clear out the fridge and save money on a nights dinner!
Practice zero waste (or close to it).
The easy version is that zero waste is a concept where you don’t waste food. Not only does it save money, but it helps reduce waste as well. Instead of throwing away scraps from vegetables, save them in a bag in the freezer and use them for vegetable stock. If your kids only eat half a banana, cut off the other half and save it for smoothies. If you bought zucchini and didn’t use it in a meal, cut it up and freeze it so it doesn’t spoil in the fridge. Use the food you spend your hard-earned money on and don’t let it go to waste. Be conscious about the food you have and use it or freeze it before it goes bad.
Now I live in Massachusetts so there are maybe like 3 nice days the whole year (just kidding). In the spring, I plant vegetables that I will use all summer and early fall. I also plant herbs that I can chop and freeze and use all year-long. While I am not a “gardener” I definitely have saved money by doing a basic, small backyard garden. If you have the room, plant a huge garden. Even if you don’t have the room – growing tomatoes in pots on a porch, and frequently used herbs in a windowsill will help you save money. Never mind the fact that fresh herbs and veggies taste so goooood! Experiment with different seeds/products you can get from the produce you already buy. Veggies like peppers, chives, celery and green onions can be grown from seeds or roots you already have.
Batch / Freezer Cook.
If you are making a meal your family loves, make extra and freeze it. So many casseroles, soups, muffins, sandwiches and other things freeze incredibly well. Not only does this save you money because you are using ingredients you already have- it saves you time as well. In the morning if I make an English muffin sandwich for my daughter and notice the English muffins will be expiring soon, I will just make 2 or three more and freeze them. It doesn’t take much more effort and saves me from making one the next day. One night this week I am making stuffed shells for dinner, all I do is cook some extra shells (because I always seem to have enough filling). Then I take a foil pan and make 2 of the same dinner pans and freeze one for another night.
If you are like me, I buy a lot of produce and don’t always use it up like I should. Spend a half an hour cutting up fruits and veggies for the week. If you have a chicken soup in your meal plan – cut up onions, celery and carrots and throw them in one bag. You are saving time and money because those foods are less likely to go to waste now that you prepped them – you know you have them ready and at your disposal when needed. Cut up carrots for the kids to munch on. Have tomatoes and lettuce ready for taco night. Cut up peppers and mushrooms to snack on or to throw in a stir fry. Do not spend money on pre cut fruits and veggies! They are marked up by so much and tend to go bad quickly.
Stick to your plan.
After you do all this shopping and planning – use the dang food! Before I jumped on this bullet train of budgeting, I was famous for buying take out the same day I went food shopping! Does anyone else do that?? Or is it just me? I would be exhausted and just say – screw this, let’s get pizza! Make a meal plan and use the food you just bought!
Keep tabs on the amount of money you spend food shopping. Compare it the amount you spent last month and take the difference out. If you can use that difference to pay down a bill or save it for something your family needs. It really helps to see that all this prepping, budgeting and planning is worth the effort!
Don’t be completely overwhelmed by this list. Just start small and implement one change at a time and over time you will cut your grocery bill in half. Next time you shop, plan your meals. Maybe the time after, buy store brands instead of name brands. Check out an Aldi or another low-priced grocery store in your area to compare prices. Eat leftovers one night or one day for lunch instead of buying. Cook one extra dinner a month and see how it freezes.
Start small and you will see a difference!
Is there anything I didn’t mention? Let me know!! I’m always looking for other ideas to save money at the grocery store!