15 Easy Ways to Save Money on your Grocery Budget
(Without eating Ramen Noodles every day)
We have a large family and although we are fortunate to have our own organic produce farm, we find we need to watch our grocery spending to avoid waste. Over the years, I have learned many ways to economize on our grocery budget. Some are simple and quite well known like shopping sales and clipping coupons. Others are a bit less prominent, but nonetheless useful.
The average American spends $326/month on food; a modest budget for a family of four is $956 (source: brokepedia.com )
The following 15 methods are not the only ways to cut costs, of course. They are the most efficient that our family has found and work very well for most Americans. Some will be more useful to you than others. For instance, if you live in a city apartment, you may not be able to grow any of your own produce, but you probably have access to some very competitive markets.
Using these methods and carefully planning your family’s meals, you can reduce your monthly food budget and enjoy healthier, more flavorful meals!
- Purchase reusable food containers, preferably a sturdy glass type with lid. These can be used for leftovers, a home salad bar, or even single serving meals.
- Cook with plans for leftovers. Yes, we actually plan for leftovers that can be used in another meal or as lunch the following day. This saves preparation time and money as we save by purchasing larger units (be sure to watch pricing, however, as sometimes larger is not cheaper.)
- Plan meals around sales. Our preferred supermarket is not the least expensive, but we actually save money by planning our meals around the current “bogo” deals. I don’t buy things on “buy one get one free” specials that are not on our normal shopping (such as soda, candy bars, or even boxed mixes) but I do shop ahead and plan for even a week or more in advance when an item we regularly use is on BOGO.
- Use coupons, but only on items you would normally purchase. I’ve seen people clip coupons for pretzels and soda that they had not planned to purchase, and be extremely happy that they were saving money. If it is not an item you need to buy, or had planned to purchase, you are still spending more than you had planned, even if it’s offered at half price. Only use those coupons that will save on products you plan to use.
- Processed foods will cost you in more ways than the initial purchase. They usually cost more, but also are usually less healthy, costing you in nutrition and health. An added negative point is the cost of disposal. Most processed foods come with extra box, plastic, and packaging that will need to be disposed, and often is not compostable. Learn to cook from scratch!
- Similarly, unhealthy food choices, even if cheaper, are not saving if they do not contribute to good health. A good example can be found among children’s cereals. While the colored loops might look appealing and the sugary sweetness tempts kids, the detrimental effects of the food coloring and sugar make it more of a cost than a savings.
- Grow some of your own produce and herbs. This is not only economical, it can be a fun experience for the entire family! A salad is never quite as fresh as one plucked from your backyard minutes before serving. Even apartment dwellers can share in some of the fun by growing microgreens and herbs indoors. For more variety, get together a group of friends and each of you grow a few products, then share among your group.
- A major savings can be found in your drink purchases. Soda, sugary fruit punch, and other drinks may seem cheap to buy, but you are paying for sugar and food coloring. Water is still the best drink, but for other types, shop those that boost your nutrition, rather than compromise your health.
- Use your crockpot, and use it wisely. Overnight oatmeal is a luxury and probably uses a good deal more electricity than a quick morning prep. If your choice is overnight oatmeal or stopping at a fast food drive thru, the oatmeal will still win. But 5 minutes of morning prep will save you even more. But a crock pot full of chili and a pan of corn bread will create a very healthy meal at a low cost, especially if you choose a vegetarian version. Crockpot meals save you by cooking your food while you do other things, saving you time and the expense of those last minute pizza runs when dinner is late.
- Try some vegetarian meals, even if your family favors meat and potatoes. Some meals, like lasagna and soups, can easily be made to taste hearty like meat based, without any of the expensive meats. The added bonus is the health benefits you’ll reap!
- Use frozen vegetables when they are just as good. Frozen peas in a stew are just as wonderful as their fresh version, easier to prepare, and much less pricey. When you make cream of broccoli soup, frozen broccoli will combine in the same way fresh does, again with less work and less money. Of course, if you are serving fresh broccoli, there is a texture and flavor difference, so you might need to decide where to economize.
- Store leftovers properly (remember #1—you invested in those great storage containers!) and use them within a day or two. Nutrients dissipate over many days and you will reap the best flavor and nutrition by consuming them within a few days. If you plan your meals around them, you should have few that are thrown out.
- Plan your grocery shopping around other trips, whenever possible. I might plan a shopping day and try to schedule other tasks in town at the same time. With gas prices climbing and cost of maintaining a car always increasing, it makes sense to keep your trips effective. In the same manner, it is not reasonable to drive an extra 10 miles to save $1 on frozen vegetables. I know people that shop with their coupons at 4 different stores, taking all day and often spending a great deal more on gas and car expense than they save on the groceries. That doesn’t make sense. If one store has better deals on most items, or if you are able to split your trips and combine with other necessary stops, that might work. But if you are driving for miles to save pennies, you should consider finding the best overall store.
- Shop at farmers markets or your local farm whenever possible. Often items are less expensive, but even when they are not, you will find the produce incredibly fresher (and fresher means better flavor and nutrition) and you are helping the local economy and local families.
- Try new recipes, particularly those that are nutritious and use less expensive ingredients. While beans and rice might not bring the family to the table, a special Mexican night with burrito and seasoned rice probably will.
Meals were simpler before supermarkets came into existence. While I love having a Publix down the road, I have learned the benefits from seeking out the healthiest, most cost effective choices and avoiding the rest. We still buy the occasional extravagance, but only occasionally.
Coming Soon: more ways to save on your household budget and enjoy it!
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