Oh grocery budget. How we abuse you so.
I don’t know about you, but for my wife and I, the single hardest line item in our budget to stick to is groceries!
So how do you save money on groceries?
Good question. I’m writing this article as much for me as I am for you – it’s a constant battle that we have to fight. But we have definitely found some things over the years that work for us, and I think they can help you too!
In fact, we’ve been able to cut our grocery budget even while adding 2 kids to our family.
Set a Realistic Goal for Your Grocery Budget
First things first, you don’t want to start out set up to fail. If you are spending $1,000 a month on groceries, you are not going to cut that back to $200 a month overnight.
If you want to start saving money on groceries, be realistic about your goals.
For example, here are some completely unrealistic goals (that I’ve unfortunately seen promoted by other bloggers):
- Feeding your family of 5 on $150 per month. Sure maybe this is technically possible, and I’m not denying that it could be done. But you’d have to be living in some pretty unique circumstances to do this. Like living on a farm and growing most of your own food, or subsisting on a diet of rice and ramen.
- Cut your food budget by 80%. Again, technically possible, but you would have to be spending an enormous amount on food right now. Like going out to eat 3 meals a day or having a private chef. If I was spending $3,000 a month on food, I could probably find a way to cut that by 80% pretty easily too…
PRO TIP: How much should I be spending on groceries?
Start with the USDA food cost reports that are published every month.
- For a couple, you could expect to spend somewhere in the range of $388 to $769 per month (they model 4 different plans from thrifty to liberal)
- For a family of 4 with 2 young kids, you could expect to spend $566 to $1,104 per month depending on your spending habits
In our experience, we’ve been able to stay very close to the bottom of the range (the thrifty plan) and still eat very well.
How to Save Money on Groceries
1. Plan Ahead and Make a List
Back in the days before we had kids, we lived in a condo near a higher-end grocery store. We also had the luxury (without kids) of coming home after work with no plans and no idea what we were going to eat.
So we would walk down to the grocery store, and buy stuff to make dinner (that is, on the days we didn’t just go pick up take-out instead).
The problem with that, is we could never leave that store for less than $50. I don’t even know what we bought. There was always something that caught my eye that we just had to have – some trail mix, or a new brand of chips, or fresh guacamole…
We never really learned our lesson when it was just the two of us, but fortunately once we had kids we HAD to plan ahead. Kids don’t wait for you to figure out what sounds good for dinner.
Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. If you want to get serious about saving money on groceries:
- Don’t go shopping without a list
- Know what you’re going to buy before you’re in the store
- The less trips the better – try to only go grocery shopping once a week if you can
If we had just followed those few tips when it was just the two of us, it would have saved us hundreds of dollars! I can’t imagine what our grocery budget would be if we still randomly walked to the grocery store whenever we felt like it without a plan.
2. Shop Rotating Sales and Use the Freezer
Here’s a little secret. Ok, it’s not really a secret, you just have to notice the pattern.
Meat goes on sale ALL THE TIME.
One week you can get ground beef for $2.99 per pound. The next week, chicken is $2 per pound. The following week, pork is on sale for whatever pork sells for (not a fan of pork…we don’t buy it much).
The point is, the sales rotate every 3-4 weeks, so when chicken is on sale, buy 3-4 weeks worth of chicken and freeze what you don’t need for that week. Then pull some of the beef out of the freezer that you bought the week before for a few meals.
Most people make a meal plan for the week and buy what they need just for that week. So they might get one thing on sale and pay full price for the rest. If you think ahead a little bit and have the freezer space, you can always buy what’s on sale and still have the variety during the week.
I used meat as an example because it tends to be a large portion of the grocery budget, but this works for almost anything. We buy frozen fruit, vegetables, and almost anything else that will keep for longer than a week this way.
3. Meal Plan, Meal Plan, Meal Plan
This goes hand in hand with planning ahead and making a list. In addition to that, you can save a lot of money on groceries by planning your meals in advance, and making an easy rotating meal plan.
I’m as much of a sucker for a good Pinterest recipe as the next guy (ok, my wife finds all the Pinterest recipes). And trying new things is great from time to time. But trying new things all the time tends to be expensive. There’s always at least one or two ingredients you don’t have, so you have to add them to the shopping list. And if you have leftovers from those ingredients, you won’t know what to do with them and they’ll sit in your pantry forever until they go bad.
So while we do try out new recipes every once in awhile, for the most part we have a stable of 10-15 meals we go back to over and over with slight variations.
It doesn’t have to be boring. I have some dietary restrictions, so we mostly stick to meat and vegetables. You’d think that would get pretty boring after awhile. But there are a million ways to combine vegetables in a stir fry, or cook up with a pot roast in the crock pot, etc.
PRO TIP: Set a Per Meal Budget
We use a rule of thumb and try to keep our per meal cost to under $2. We find it to be a useful measuring stick for meal planning, especially when you are buying in bulk and making multiple meals with a set of ingredients. You’d be surprised how cheap a good, healthy meal can be when you can make multiple servings at a time!
4. Shop at Aldi (or Other Discount Stores)
I’m not going to lie. Shopping at Aldi changed our life. Without changing the types of groceries we bought, we cut our budget by $100 a month just by doing most of our shopping at Aldi. It is just flat out cheaper than any other grocery store around.
I was a holdout on this one, my wife had to drag me on board. I hated their shopping cart system (put in a quarter, take a cart), the tiny aisles, and the crowded shelves. But after shopping there myself I have to admit it is a bastion of German efficiency. They have great quality products at crazy low prices.
If you don’t have an Aldi near you, shopping at other discount stores is a good option too. Compare prices at Costco, Sams, even Wal-mart. The key is to find somewhere to do the bulk of your grocery shopping so you are not going to 4 or 5 different stores (see #1).
PRO TIP: Get the Ibotta App (If You Don’t Shop at Aldi)
Ibotta is an app you can download on your phone that allows you to get cash back for scanning your receipts at grocery stores. Almost every grocery store imaginable is on there, but unfortunately Aldi is not.
I still use it to get extra cash back on the trips we make to “normal” grocery stores, and I would definitely recommend giving it a try! It is light years better than the old clipping coupons days of saving money on grocery shopping. Ibotta is one of the 3 cash back apps I am using to make an extra $500 this year.
5. Save Money on Groceries by Buying in Bulk
For any staples in your grocery shopping, try to buy in bulk when you can. Rice and beans are a good example. We also buy trail mix in the bulk section (and maybe some chocolate covered items from time to time…)
Word of warning – they have pre-packaged containers sitting out right next to the bulk bins. But check the prices, it is usually more expensive per pound to buy it in that package than the exact same product inches away in the bulk bin!
6. Track What You Actually Eat
Americans throw away about a pound of food per person per day, the equivalent of about a third of daily calorie intake! Can you imagine the grocery savings if Americans as a whole stopped wasting all this food?
If you’re at all concerned about saving money on groceries, tracking what you eat (or more accurately what you throw away) can go a long way toward lowering your grocery shopping budget.
This goes back to planning ahead, and trying to stick to purchasing food items that can be used in multiple ways.
We are by no means perfect in our household, but we’ve found that the simpler our diet, the less waste we have. We don’t buy a lot of single-use ingredients, and instead focus our shopping list on fruits, vegetables, and meats we can use in a variety of ways so nothing goes to waste.
I have to give the credit to my wife here – she is the queen of making sure nothing goes to waste, and gets creative when necessary to use everything before it goes bad.
7. Order Online (Or Don’t Bring the Kids)
If you plan ahead, make a list, and still find yourself leaving the store with things you don’t really need, then there is one more strategy you can employ.
A lot of grocery stores now allow you to order online and just drive in for a curbside pickup. That way you don’t have to wander the aisles and be tempted to add “just one more thing” to your cart.
And if you have kids like ours, they like to randomly throw things in the shopping cart when you’re not looking. There has been more than one time we’ve gotten home with something we didn’t even know we bought. Besides the cost savings, being able to pick up groceries without taking the kids out of the car sounds like a dream!
Saving Money on Groceries Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Keeping your grocery budget under control can be tough. But our family is living proof that if you can make a habit to plan ahead and follow a system, you can save money without sacrificing nutrition or quality meals.
With these simple tips, you should be able to save money on your grocery bill every month without having to resort to a diet of beans and rice!
What about you – what strategies do you use to save money on groceries?