Food defines us. The kitchen table is where families have been gathering for millenniums.
However, groceries take up a big portion of the average American family’s budget.
According to the USDA, Americans spend between 12.4 and 33% of their income on groceries.
That averages out to between $146 and $289 per week.
Many are spending as much on groceries as they are on rent or their mortgage. Food is a large, recurring expense. There’s no getting around it. You have to eat, and eating out will dent your budget even more than buying groceries.
Adding to the stress of trying to save on food is the notion that “cheap” food is unhealthy.
Is it really possible to eat a healthy diet on a budget?
Let’s walk through the shopping process with these 23 tips to show you how to save money on groceries.
1. Decide how much you can spend
Let’s say your family income is $2500/month and currently you are spending 20% of that on groceries, or $500/month.
You’d like to cut that to 15% or $375/month.
That’s going be about $94 per week that you will have to spend.
Get that number fixed in your mind before making your list, and definitely before stepping foot in the store.
2. Start with a strategy
With your weekly budget of $94, sit down and look through the weekly ads for your area. Note the items that are on sale, and develop a menu around what is the best value.
It may take a little more time to visit multiple stores. However, this strategy will definitely produce savings compared with designing meals then shopping for the ingredients all in one convenient place.
3. Make your list
Organize your list by store since you will most likely be visiting more than one.
Only include the items you need. Do a quick tally to see if you are on budget. You might even make a note next to each item, showing how much of the budget is allocated to that item.
For example, if chuck roasts are on sale for $2.99/lb, note that you can spend $10-$12 on this item. If you don’t see a roast that is 3-4 lbs, ask the butcher to cut one for you.
4. Know the rules
Every store has different rules for their specials.
For example, if an item is on sale for 2 for $4, some stores will let you buy just one for $2. However, some will only give you the sale price if you buy two.
Knowing this will help you avoid buying more than you need or getting overcharged if you only buy one item.
This is also something worth noting on your list. If you want an item on sale, note if you need to buy two to get the special price.
5. Just go once
Even if you only need one thing, it’s nearly impossible to get out of a store without buying additional items.
Plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Get it all in one trip.
Some families find it effective to even shop for two weeks worth of food, then just make a stop for fresh fruit and produce on the off weeks.
6. Stick to your list
Once you are in the store, stick to the plan. Avoid impulse buys.
One survey found that Americans spend about $5,400 annually on impulse buys, and 70.5 percent of respondents said food is the biggest culprit.
Don’t get trapped by those attracted end caps. Just get what you came for and get out.
7. Shop online
U.S. online grocery sales have already hit $17.5 billion in 2018, and are expected to reach nearly 30 billion by 2021.
There are two ways to shop online that are gaining popularity.
Many are saving through sites like Amazon that provide non-perishables to your door.
Other major outlets, such as Wal-mart, have started allowing you to pick your groceries and pay online, then simply pick them up curbside.
This is a great way to avoid those impulse buys and save time.
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8. Give discount stores a try
Stores like Aldi and Save-a-Lot might have limited selection, but their rock-bottom prices make it worth a stop on your grocery run.
Popular bloggers Penny Pinchin’ Mom, The Queen of Free and Living Well Spending Less recently gave MarketWatch a list of their favorite items at Aldi.
Get to know your discount store, and their prices. That way you’ll know how they compare to the advertised sale prices of other stores.
9. Check out wholesale clubs
Sam’s, Costco and BJ’s are the three most popular bulk wholesalers.
There is a need for caution. You can way overshoot your budget if you are dropping $10 on a huge bag of potatoes instead of paying $1.79 at Aldi for a smaller bag. However, some items are worth the huge quantity.
You might have to adjust the proportion of your budget. If you are shopping at a wholesale club, $94/week won’t work. You may need to spend more early in the month in order to spend less later.
Also, compare the other perks of the club. For example, clubs often offer discounts on auto and home insurance. They also offer cash back on your purchases. Include those perks in your evaluation of whether the membership fee is worth it.
10. Use what you have
If you are nearing the end of your grocery cycle, and what’s left in your fridge doesn’t sound appealing, resist the urge to just go buy your favorite craving.
Instead, create a meal or pack your lunch from what you have on hand.
When making your one-week meal plan, start with what you already have. Don’t feel like you need to run out and buy something just because you are out of it. Look for substitutes. Get creative.
11. Freeze and store meals
If there’s a great deal on the ingredients for your favorite meal, make a double batch. Freeze it for a quick meal down the road.
You’ll save in two ways.
First, it’s cheaper in the long run if it’s a meal in your regular rotation. The next time you want to make it, the ingredients might not be on sale.
Second, when we don’t have time to cook, we often order out, and spend too much. Having meals ready in the freezer will avoid that scenario.
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12. Don’t let things go bad
If you made a meal and leftovers are still sitting in the fridge, go ahead and freeze it. Nothing is more wasteful than having to throw out food because it’s too old.
Keep tabs on what’s in your fridge, and have a process. If it’s not eaten in three or four days, freeze it.
Apply the same rule for individual ingredients.
Did you buy too many vegetables? Freeze them before they go bad. Frozen veggies are great for stews, soups, quiches or casseroles.
13. Explore drugstores
Smaller stores like Walgreens or CVS often get a bad reputation for being expensive. That can be true in some cases.
However, these stores also run specials that can be pretty good. Look through their flyers.
CVS has a great cash back rewards program and usually prints out several feet of coupons with your receipt.
14. Don’t be afraid of generic
Being a grocery snob will cost you more. Store brands are often comparable. Give them a try.
You might be surprised to find that the ingredients are identical.
15. Cut the junk food
We all like to have a treat, but cutting junk food can dramatically decrease your bill.
Think about how much you spend on chips, cookies and other junk foods.
Instead, keep your pantry stocked with inexpensive staples like flour, sugar and cocoa. If you want a treat, make it.
This process will ensure you eat less junk and you save money.
16. Shop alone
Leave the over-spenders at home.
You’ll be more successful sticking to your list if you don’t have children or a spouse asking for additional items.
17. Decide on a payment method
Yes, how you pay can affect your budget.
Some families choose to charge groceries, getting cash back that offsets their grocery bill.
However, some find having credit available makes them more likely to overspend.
Using the envelope system is effective you find credit too tempting. Simply put your grocery allowance in an envelope, in cash.
This approach forces you to keep up with how much is in your cart. If you get to the cashier and don’t have enough for all your groceries, you are going to have to put something back.
18. Go meatless
You don’t have to become a total vegetarian.
However, going meatless once or twice a week can shave $10-$30 off your weekly budget.
There are a lot of protein-rich, inexpensive alternatives. Try quiches or your favorite beans. Veggie fried rice is another favorite for meatless eaters.
19. Take advantage of the holidays
The holiday season is the best time to buy certain items that are typically expensive, such as turkey, ham, lamb, nuts and cheese.
All these items will keep for months in your freezer. Store a ham or turkey for the next time you want to have a dinner party.
20. Know when to buy organic
Consumers are concerned about food quality, and there’s a lot of hype around buying organic.
However, buying all organic can bust your budget pretty quickly.
Review research such as the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This will help you determine what produce is worth paying a little extra for.
Also, check out your local farmer’s market. You are likely to find organic produce that is cheaper than your local store.
21. Eat in season
When you are on a budget, you can’t have anything you want whenever you want.
Strawberries are as low as $.99 in the summer, but can be $3.99/quart in the winter. However, in the winter you can get apples for under a dollar a pound.
You will save money, and you are likely to find locally grown options.
22. Use coupons wisely
We already mentioned the coupons CVS gives out with each purchase.
Manufacturer coupons can be great when you need a good deal on nonperishable or personal hygiene items.
However, they can also encourage you to buy prepackaged foods that you wouldn’t normally buy anyway. If you see a great coupon, always ask yourself, “would I buy this without the coupon?”
Spending $0 is always less than buying the discounted item.
23. Avoid pre-made food
Those stuffed chicken breasts or peppers look great behind the counter glass.
However, you are definitely spending more than if you would have just bought the ingredients and made them yourself.
The same rule applies to baked goods. They always cost more in the bakery, and often have preservatives.
Stock staple ingredients and do the work yourself.
Veggie and fruit trays are another example. If you are asked to provide a fruit tray for a school or work event, get your produce at a discount store and cut it up yourself.
You can easily spend double when you buy a pre-cut tray.
Refining the family budget is a challenge.
However, saving money on groceries is a great start.
Streamlining your budget will help you avoid unnecessary debt and pay off any debt you already have. Credit card debt in American has reached its highest point ever, over $1 trillion in 2017.
Develop a strategy to reduce your expenditures and get on the road to debt free living. Living on a budget doesn’t mean you must give up on enjoying a good meal.
Strategize and buy smart.
What have you done to cut your grocery bill? Let us know in the comments!