Groceries are my weakest area when it comes to budgeting. I've got a family of five and for the area of the Midwest we live in, I am on the really high end. I spend $250 every week, so $1,000 a month, but when I'm really off my game it can creep up to $400 a week. Yikes-a-roni.
I have to work really hard to be intentional in all areas of my life and meal planning is no exception. Where we get off track is when I just act like we don't need to eat the next day and take no steps to prepare. Out and about with no snacks...In comes some Culver's with gluten-free buns and fries all around! Didn't thaw out meat and it's 30 minutes before dinner, no instant pot, so I better go up to our local grocer for a rotisserie chicken. Someone holler if you hear me. My groceries are a mess.
However, when I'm really on my game plan for budgeting and saving and paying off debt, the FIRST place I look is here, because it's more than my mortgage! So here are the best tips I've got for you, for getting your grocery game together! Once you decide on a reasonable budget for the area you live in, try some of these!
1. When making your grocery list, see what you already have in your cupboards and freezer and refrigerator like an inventory list. I tend to make a list on notebook paper in thirds: MEALS FOR THE WEEK/HAVE/NEED
I know someone out there is looking at her phone like "wow girl seeing whatcha already got in your cupboard...genius...eyeroll." BUT FOR REAL! I'm a big huge fan of walking into a grocery store and buying anything I see that sounds good whether it goes with a meal or not.
2. Make a meal plan! Even if your meal plan is "order pizza" in Friday's slot, at least you've got a plan. I don't keep mine on any cute Pinterest chalkboard, it just stays on that grocery sheet in thirds usually crumpled up in the bottom of my purse. Making a meal plan helps you to use what you've got on hand and prevents those $40 for one meal trips up to your local grocer, or rely on fast food as an option. Pinterest is wonderful for this.
3. A super resourceful friend reminded me today to include outings in your plan, whether it's a few snacks or a cooler. If you know you're going to get hungry when you're out and about, bring food. I like to keep some grass-fed beef jerky and dried apple slices in my bag for the kids.
4. When making your grocery list, take a few extra minutes to check out the store's ads online.
5. If what you purchase has manufacturer coupons, use them. Duh! Couponing is NOT my jam and there are rarely coupons for what we buy anyways, so this isn't my strongest area, but I do know there are plenty of Facebook groups you could stalk with info on this.
6. Do your grocers have rewards programs or apps? In the Midwest, I use Meijer's MPerks which DOES have some occasional coupons for me, plus a rewards program. Kroger has an app for additional coupons as does Fresh Thyme. Never hurts to ask or google it!
7. Learn to cook what you can from scratch! It's healthier and cheaper. Reach out to a friend who is always posting her home made bread and ask if she can share the recipe!
8. Find alternatives to your fast food, restaurant, and pizza takeout. You can find a lot of recipes for chain restaurant classics online, and making a pizza takes just as long as it does ordering one!
9. Learn to garden! I have not had the chance yet, but I know that'll help our produce expenses a ton when I do. Canning or properly freezing your excess produce helps as well. If you don't know how, ask a friend, your ma, your aunt, a grandma at church. Someone would love to show you.
10. If you don't have a garden, does your neighbor? Could you weed once a week and buy him fertilizer and seeds in exchange for a helping of the crops? Could you get a tomato and cucumber plant for your deck? Take advantage of farmer stands and farmer's markets when in season? Or ask in your community's Facebook group if anyone has some produce to sell? Then can or freeze the excess of those yields.
11. If none of the above is for you, when you see a REALLY good sale on produce, go ahead and buy one or two extra to can or freeze.
12. Every couple of days, do some checking in on your produce to make sure it isn't going bad. In your meal plan, you should prioritize what goes bad the quickest produce wise to use first in meals. If something is nearing the end of freshness, make some muffins with a little carrot and zucchini and then freeze the muffins. Or chop and freeze the veggies for veggie stock. Or try to use them up quickly by sautéing a couple into each meal, and having them for snacks.
13. If you have extra taco meat (STOP READING MY BLOG, YOU'RE CANCELLED SIS), freeze it. It extends the life a lot. Same goes for the Bolognese sauce. In fact, when making spaghetti, keep your pasta and sauce separately so that you can freeze the extra sauce, and then add some veggies and Italian dressing to your leftover pasta for a nice side dish or snack.
14. Try to go one extra day before grocery shopping. Pretend your car won't start or whatever you have to do and get CREATIVE! I'm almost always able to think of about 5 more meals when I do this.
15. Get some friends together to make a huge batch of pasta! Or if you've got a friend who is an awesome baker, and you are an instant pot pro, swap tips and lessons!
16. Do some checking around for a local bulk store like Costco or Sam's Club. I go with Costco because they have more organic options. See if traveling and the membership cost is right for you, but be careful when you go because it is VERY easy to convince yourself you're saving money by shopping bulk, and then your total is $1,132.00. Yes I did that last week.
17. Are there any food outlets near you? Best by, Use by, expiration date, sell by, those are usually terms for marketing and NOT safety. Your nose is going to be your best judgement. There is one near me that always has organic cold pressed juices and grass fed organic steaks. It's not always mystery meat!
18. This sounds counter productive, but when it comes to meat...when in doubt, throw it out. I would MUCH rather throw away $8 in a pound of grass fed beef even though I HATE to, than I would like to have my three tiny children and husband and I down with food poisoning. You've got to weigh lost wages, and doctor visits against your meat in question.
19. Speaking of meat, could you do a Meatless Monday? Or at LEAST make meat a PART of the meal instead of the main course? It never occurred to me that I could halve a chicken breast by slicing it hamburger way, and it would be TWO pieces of chicken until about a year ago. We have wasted so much less chicken. Sometimes, I will make an entire meal for the 5 of us out of one large chicken breast, breaded in almond flour and spices and fried in ghee. With sides, it's always enough!
19. Pack your lunch for work! If you figure $10/day in lunch, that's $200 a month in lunch!
20. Sign up for IBotta for rebates from lots of stores.
21. Get the dry beans and learn to soak and cook them! Much cheaper, especially if you're substituting them out for meat in some dishes.
22. Oats can easily be ground into flour in a blender for about 45 seconds!
23. When buying meat, if you have no local butcher shop or farm store near you, ask the meat associate at your grocer when their mark down days are. If you can go on that day, do so! Freeze your meat and pull it out to thaw as possible. If you do have a butcher shop, venture out with adding a tiny bit of organ meat to your dishes for extra nutrition, and less cost.
24. Learn which cuts of meats are cheapest. Chicken thighs for example have wonderful flavor and are MUCH cheaper than breasts.
25. Figure out how to bulk up your dishes with vegetables or beans. For example, we usually need 1.5 pound of beef for tacos, but if I scale it back to .75 pound and add a can of beans, no one can tell the difference or complains.
26. Do you know someone who hunts deer? Could you barter a skill or item with him or her for some of their meat?
27. This probably seems real obvious, but generic brand foods are usually just as good as name brand.
28. Weigh your opportunity costs when "stocking up" for sales. If your grocery budget is $120 for the week and you want to use $30 of it for stocking up, be sure they are items you would use in the very near future or else that savings is not going to be reflected in a noticeable way. Likewise, if something is on sale that you don't have on your list, even if it's $4 and was $7, you're still spending $4 that you didn't intend to, you feel me?
29. Speaking of lists, STICK TO IT. Stick. to. it.
30. Do veggies and fruits for snacks! Whip up some hummus in the blender to serve with vegetables, or throw a banana, broccoli, berries into a blender for a smoothie, freeze banana slices or grapes, dry fruit out for a snack, make sweet potato fries, or sauté/roast some vegetables. You'll save money on pre-packaged snacks and increase nutrition.
31. Eggs! Eggs are so versatile from hard boiled with salt to deviled, scrambled, over easy. Lots of people around me have chickens and I can get 30 for $5 from my favorite pastured farm.
32. Cauliflower gently sautéed after finely chopping is hardly detectable in most dishes, unless it's like jello. Don't do that. And especially don't do that and say I told you to because I'm not. But mac and cheese, yes.
33. Back to produce here, sorry but most big box stores should have some produce keeper/savers if you feel like buying one to test out!
34. You likely have a friend with a similar family size and lifestyle and income. If you're close, you can say "Hey Lisa, I'm currently spending xyz a month on my groceries, am I way out of line with this or does that sound about right to you? Trying to get our budget in order! Thanks!!" This way you're not prying into anyone's financials, and are getting a good idea of whether or not you're on the right track with the grocery budget.
35. Make a list of everything you buy in a month from your grocers, butchers, milk shares, co-ops, etc. I discovered I was spending $32 a month on fermented pickles for my kids!! Doh!!
36. SO, if you're a fermented foods family, you usually just need water, salt, and the thing you're fermenting, unless you need some culture. If this is something you're into, try it out! Lots of articles online explain how and why.
37. Water things down! Shampoo, A1, hand soap. Whatever ratio looks good to you!
38. Simplify your beauty products. A bottle of castile soap works well for the whole family's body soap, apple cider vinegar works well as a toner for skin, and if your hydration and fat intake is good, you shouldn't need lotion for softness. Coconut oil helps a lot of things. Hey I'm not TRYING TO BE THAT MOM IF YOU LIKE GARNIER FRUCTIS AND ST IVES THAT'S FINE DO YA THANG SIS I'M JUST HERE WITH THE BUDGET TEA
39. Simplify your cleaning products too. Baking soda works awesome to get soap scum out and neutralize odors. I like a little essential oil with witch hazel and water to sanitize with. Ditch dryer sheets in place of a wool ball. Your health will thank you!
40. Old receiving blankets or cut up towels work well to replace or at least supplement paper towel, which gets pricey after awhile! We are a paper towel family because we are a "we have a puppy" family. Sigh...one day I'll get back to the old towel thing.
41. If you are ordering from a co-op, or if you decided to go with that Costco membership, see if there's a friend who needs similar things and wants to go half on the bulk items.
42. When you're nearing the end of your toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc. cut into it to get the very last bits out.
43. When it comes to razors, see what you think of the Dollar Shave Club! Each month on the same day, our bank account is charged $9, and a set of 4 razor heads each with 6 blades are sent to us. You can cancel at any time for no fee. This is NOT anything multilevel marketing or a tricky situation, it's just razors on the cheap. You're also able to skip a month or change your ship dates as needed. We signed up in February of 2016 and will NEVER go back. I've got a link here, if you sign up I get $5 as a credit for the referral thank you. If you share YOUR link and a friend signs up, they put a $5 referral thank you credit to your account too. Super easy! http://shaved.by/j9Qi0 Aside from the referral thank you, which is NOT because I blog, I am not being compensated or paid for posting this link.
44. Repurpose leftovers. If you make the first night's protein one that is easily versatile, you can season it up to tailor it more for the next meal. Example, I frequently dice up a couple chicken breasts and sauté it with salt, pepper, and lots of garlic. I serve it with a gluten free rice spaghetti and avocado oil to make a chicken scampi type dish. If I have extra chicken, I'll use it to top a salad for lunch and then I can use Mexican seasonings and put it in a taco bake or have chicken tacos, etc. for that night.
45. If you have some favorite brands of stores, you can usually email them and request coupons or to be put on a mailing list for coupons and offers.
46. If you are trying to go with organic produce, stick to the "Clean 15" and "Dirty Dozen" which are produced yearly by EWG.
Clean 15: www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php
Dirty Dozen: www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
47. If there are still specific organic produces you're not able to work into your budget, I really like this for washing, which I am not being paid or compensated to mention, by the way! It's just very affordable, sold in most large grocers, and does a good job. www.rebelgreen.com/product/fruit-and-veggie-clean-refill-34-oz/
48. Finally, if you are consistently unable to get enough food, food banks or government assistance programs might be something you need to check into until you're able to reorganize your finances. My best advice here would be to make SURE you don't get stuck relying on these provisions because you ideally want to be making enough to not need them, and if you have organized your budget in a way that does not have a grocery allotment, you would be in quite a pickle once your funding ended.
There are certainly many different circumstances families and individuals face that may make some of these suggestions unreasonable or difficult for your particular situation, but take what you can to help shave money from your grocery bill!
Do you have something you do to keep your grocery budget in check, or to save money in this area? Leave me a comment below!
Happy grocery shopping!!