I am going to digress a bit today from my typical topics of home decor and parenting advice to offer up a reader-requested guide to grocery shopping. When it comes to saving money on groceries, there are three things I hate: coupon clipping, budgeting, and meal planning. But these are the normal tactics to reduce your grocery spending. It has taken me a few years to really optimize our food spending and finally, I can write my guide to grocery shopping for you. What matters is what you eat, how you shop and where you shop. These 10 tips will help you make the most of your money at a food market.
1. Keep a Running Grocery List
Keeping organized is super important for making your grocery shopping more efficient. A comprehensive grocery list enables you to eliminate impulse buys at the store. As soon as I notice I am low on an item in my fridge or pantry, I write it on my grocery list. This also eliminates running to the grocery store multiple times a week. If you’ve crossed off everything on the list, you know you have everything you need.
My highly detailed grocery shopping list helps me keep focused in the store.
2. Stretch your groceries as long as possible
Because I have such a comprehensive grocery list when I shop, I can usually buy groceries for two to three weeks. That means I only go grocery shopping twice a month. Going to the grocery store less often saves money by reducing the number of impulse buys or purchases you made before you really needed it.
It always surprises me when people say they have “nothing” in the house to eat and have to go grocery shopping because I look in their fridge and it looks full to me. This is a comparison of my fridge before and after grocery shopping.
Eating every last bit of food in your fridge can help you stretch your dollars at the grocery market.
When I’m running low on food in the house, I do meal plan a little. I try to come up with as many meals as I can make with what I have left in the house and write them down. Usually, when I feel I need to get groceries, I can still make four or five meals with what I have on hand. I find meals with very few ingredients besides spices, like this noodle dish, this Mexican rice that uses mostly canned ingredients, salsa verde crock pot chicken, or cumin dusted chicken breast. All I do is look at what few ingredients I have left to eat in the house, plug them into google, and prepare the best-reviewed recipe.
3. Compare Prices
The places you might think are the cheapest, really aren’t. For instance, many people will pay for a Sam’s Club membership ($40/year) to get discounted grocery items in bulk. But a price comparison I did at our local Sam’s Club and Walmart of more than 80 items revealed to me there was no price difference. The only difference is at Walmart you can buy individual packages of the same item and at Sam’s Club you have to buy bulk. These companies are even owned by the same company and founded by the same person, Sam Walton. Compare prices of stores, but also the cost of groceries on a per ounce or per pound level. Many stores will have this math done for you right on the price tag, you just need to pay attention.
4. Shop At ALDI
I love ALDI because it has lower prices on everything and you save without having to think. Getting used to private label brands took some trial and error, but now we do 95% of our grocery shopping at ALDI only. Compared to Coborns, we are talking HALF the price. Compared to Walmart and Sam’s Club, about 20-30% less most of the time. Introduce yourself to ALDI through the eyes of my friend Jon, he gives a detailed first-hand account on his blog.
5. Buy Meat Deeply Discounted
When I do head to Walmart, I always check their discounted meat. We don’t spend more than $3 a pound on meat in our house. That means no steak or seafood. Sometimes I do get a pound of shrimp (and stretch it to make two meals). The only meat I buy at full price is chicken (at $1.50 a lb or less) and the other meats are purchased when they are deeply discounted and close to expiration. Then I freeze them in my deep freezer for another time.
6. Cut Back on Meat
In general, eating less meat will drastically reduce your food budget. Not only do I buy meat on discount, but we eat way less of it than the average family. I usually make recipes like casseroles, skillets, soups, and pasta where I use half the amount of meat the recipe calls for and it still feels proportionate throughout the serving. We also eat a lot of chicken and vegetarian dishes. Making chicken tacos instead of hamburger made that meal HALF as expensive. Some of our favorite vegetarian meals? These vegan burrito bowls, this coconut squash soup, these Asian noodles, just to name a few.
My favorite vegetarian meal, vegan burrito bowls, by Cookie & Kate.
7. Avoid Processed Meals
The first few years I began preparing meals every day for my family, I bought a lot of premade, processed foods. Pasta and stir fry already put together in a bag. Waffle fries and chicken nuggets, boneless barbecue wings and pizza rolls. These meals are fast, but that’s really all they have going for them. They are unhealthy with high salt levels and preservatives and they are SO expensive. When I started eliminating these purchases from my grocery bill, I saw a drastic drop. Of course, I had to cook more often and I needed a new way to make meals in less than 30 minutes.
These tips help me throw together meals really fast and also allow for inexpensive, real food to be prepared at every meal.
- I prepare cooked, shredded chicken breast and freeze. When I need a recipe for dinner, I grab out the bag of cooked chicken and run it under hot water to unthaw.
- I cook rice and noodles ahead of time. These stop cooking when they are cooled, so you can store them in your fridge until it’s time to eat. If I have to make dinner in a half hour time slot at night, I’ll cook my rice in the morning so it is ready to go. This is a fast recipe to utilize that rice.
- Crock pot meals are my go-to for hectic weekday nights. I make this recipe with chicken breast that is a complete meal you can throw together in the morning and forget about until dinner!
To cut back on costs, cook with real food. It’s healthier for you, too.
8. Find Better Recipes
If you think about it, a lot of staples in the SAD (Standard American Diet) are unhealthy and expensive. American tacos feature a meat that is $2.50-$3.50 a pound! Add in the shells, toppings, and a side you are looking at a really expensive meal, especially if you want guacamole. American hamburgers are the same. Why utilize ground beef? It is one of the least cost-effective meats possible, plus it is unhealthy! Shish kabobs, brats, and bacon are some of the foods too expensive for our house. Of course, we have them on occasion, but not on the regular. I search for yummy recipes online that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Two of my secret weapons are frugalnutrition.com and budgetbytes.com.
9. Eat Your Leftovers
I rarely, if ever, throw food away. In our house, we eat leftovers. I was shocked to find this is not the case in a lot of households. It’s a shame perfectly good food often molds forgotten in the fridge. My husband takes leftovers every day for lunch at work and whatever else is left, my kids and I eat for lunch at home. If there are certain things you do not like to eat leftover (for me, that’s mashed potatoes), don’t make as much the first time around. Think of how much money you will save by bringing leftovers for lunch instead of eating out every day!
10. Track Spending
I hate budgeting because it feels stifling and stressful to track when I’m in the store. But tracking my spending after the fact is not stressful for me at all. I save my grocery receipts and add them up at the end of the month. That’s how I know that my average monthly grocery bill in 2016 was $300.14. Knowing what you spent is enlightening. It reveals areas you can spend less on, cutting back on your grocery spending even further. Accurate knowledge is the first step!
This scatter plot charts our spending on groceries for the last few years on a month to month basis. My husband is a statistics nerd. But you can see that the trend line is down since we started tracking and I enacted these tips for saving. This stuff really works!
If you’ve made it through my whole guide to grocery shopping, I hope you were inspired, not inundated. Tell me which of these tips you see yourself enacting to reduce your grocery bill?