The New Year is when people often reflect and determine they are going to make changes in certain areas of their life. One of the areas I really wanted to focus on going into this year was our grocery budget. Groceries are a catch-22, right?! You gotta eat! My kids keep eating more and more and it seems like the cost of everything keeps going up and up. We’re a family of 5, technically 2 adults, but the older 2 kids eat at least as much as I do. We all either eat at home or pack 3 meals every.single.day. Which doesn’t help our grocery situation. At all.
It’s hard to balance groceries and the actual nutritional needs of my active family, especially when we’re trying to CUT what we’re spending.
These are 10 things I’ve applied to help me make the most out of our grocery budget, without sacrificing most of the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to.
1. Meal plan. Start with meals that you didn’t make last week and then items you may have stocked up on during sales. I really like the Paprika app for storing my recipes and meal planning. You can easily add recipes into the in-app meal calendar. Then with the click of a button, you can load the meals and the needed ingredients into a shopping list. Once I populate my menu calendar, I like to take the completed shopping list and go through my pantry and refrigerator to make sure I have everything I need.
2. Know how much you’re going to spend before ever stepping foot in the store. I use the Grocery Gadget app to help me with this. I load everything I need into the app, you can add a price to each item. As you mark them off your list, it keeps a running total of the amount in your cart, and what’s left to purchase. I always have a predetermined amount I do not want to go over each week. Keeping the total at around $5 less allows me some wiggle room incase I estimated the prices incorrectly, and if there is a sale that I wasn’t expecting and I want to buy a few more items to keep on hand.
3. Stay out of the store! This one is really hard for me. We’re busy, and sometimes things change last minute. It got too easy to make changes to the meal plan and stop for a few quick ingredients resulting in picking up a few more items that were not in the budget. I’ve avoided the store by having a few quick options already on hand when our plans are changed up (this also keeps us out of restaurants!). We always go through a lot of milk. To avoid extra purchases at the grocery store, we often buy milk at UDF, at 2 gallons for $5. Although this is slightly more than we would pay at the grocery store, for every 5 gallons we buy, we get 10 cents off in gas, which makes up for most of the difference. You may want to try one of the in store shopping services to keep the impulse purchases down.
4. Coupon wisely. Looking through the coupon booklets in the paper, you’ll find a whole array of things. But I usually only find 1 or 2 things that I actually buy that has a coupon available. I decided this was a huge waste of time for me to do every week. By not clipping the coupons, I’m keeping those unneeded things out of my mind and I’m not tempted to buy them on the premise that I’m saving money.
5. Buy meat in bulk. Specifically, I buy meat exclusively at Costco. We like their ground beef and the Kirkland individually packaged chicken breasts. Their ground beef is technically 87/13, but I rarely need to drain any off. I freeze it in 1 pound servings, either raw or cook the entire package (usually 6+ pounds) in my Instant Pot for quick thawing. We have also been very impressed with the chicken breasts, at $2.79 per pound. It seems more than what you can get on sale at the grocery store, but there is literally not any waste. They also often have other cuts of meat on sale. After Thanksgiving, they had large pork loins for $8 off per package. We got 3 meals out of $5 pork loin.
6. Eat your leftovers. This is something we were not very good at in the past. My husband doesn’t really like most leftovers and I always seemed to have things I purchased specifically for my lunches. Now, I’ve started sending leftovers in the kids’ lunches and I’ve stopped planning my lunches. I always eat something from leftovers. I also plan a leftovers dinner for the nights we are most time-crunched.
7. Make your own convenience foods. Think cereal, cookies, granola bars, and breads. To replace cereal for breakfast, I make and freeze muffins and pancakes. I bake cookies and keep them in the freezer to keep them fresh. The kids like when I make granola balls. When I have a chance to make, (and us eat) a nicer dinner, I make homemade rolls or a loaf of bread for less than 50 cents. You’ll find recipes for most of these from ingredients that are already in your pantry. Changing this cuts our groceries by $15-20 per week.
8. Double recipes. During the winter this is super easy. Chilis and soups are all easy to double and freeze. As the weather gets warmer, it is harder to find things that don’t lose their integrity when frozen. I like to freeze enchilada and taquito filling, so that when I want to make them again, I just have to stuff and roll the tortillas, giving us another quick option when we’re short on time – again keeping us out of the store.
9. Don’t make meat the main attraction. Meat is going to be the most expensive part of your meals. A completely meatless meal isn’t something that would fly in my family. Instead of 2 pounds of ground beef for hamburgers, make sloppy joe sandwiches with 1 pound of ground beef. Instead of a chicken breast for everyone, make chicken tacos with 2 chicken breasts and black or refried beans.
10. Buy store brand canned goods. I’m a brand snob as much as the next person. Double O’s just aren’t as good as Oreos. Big K isn’t as refreshing as an ice cold Coke! And I won’t even mention toilet paper. But I’ve found the store brand canned goods to be just as good (or better) as the big name brands, for sometimes up to half the price. This minor change could turn a $10 pot of chili into a $5 pot of chili.
We’re still a work in process, but these have helped me narrow down where my grocery budget was leaking money.
What are your favorite tips for saving money at the grocery store?