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Grocery costs are one of the more expensive categories on a person’s or family’s budget. Food is expensive, and let’s face it, we all need to eat. Is there, however, a method to shop for groceries on a budget?
According to the USDA, the average monthly food expense for a household of four with children aged six to eleven in September 2020 was between $673.60 and $1339.80.
When you’re on a limited food budget, here are some ways to help you get more for less.
Table of Contents
How to Save Money on Groceries
I spend about $650 per month to feed my four children (ages 21, 17, 16, and 14). Furthermore, the majority of the food we consume is organic. How? By following advice such as the ones provided here.
These tried-and-true grocery-shopping tactics begin with an ancient strategy I learnt from my mother when she was raising three children on welfare:
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1. Always start with a meal plan
Creating a meal plan, in my opinion, is a crucial part of any smart and frugal grocery budget. Why?
There are two reasons for this:
- A weekly meal plan will ensure that you buy groceries that are in line with your family’s nutritional needs.
- A weekly meal plan will help you avoid overspending on last-minute pizza orders and restaurant takeout.
Restaurants are pricey, even if you go to a neighborhood quick food joint. A full meal at a fast food restaurant is usually not available for less than five bucks. However, if you work hard enough, you can feed your family for two or three dollars per person at a fast food restaurant.
For a family of four, that’s at least $8. If you’re being practical, it’ll be closer to double that. It’s not uncommon for me to make a family meal for the five of us for about $5 or $6 using the meal planning approach I use.
Creating Together a Meal Plan
It’s not difficult to make a meal plan, but it does require a few minutes each week. Make a list of the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that your family will consume throughout the week.
When planning meals for my family, I strive to include a variety of low-cost options. Bulk buy quick oats porridge (a few cents per serving) and a few more expensive meals like chicken fajitas, for example.
Write down the groceries you’ll need for each meal as you make your meal plan. Many of the ingredients for your meals will most likely need to be purchased, but others (such as sugar or flour) may already be on hand.
Add extras like milk, bread, fruit, etc. once you’ve finished the grocery list that fits with your meal plan. Add in basic components like flour or sugar that you’ve ran out of or are about to run out of.
When you go to the grocery store to get the items for your menu, keep your menu plan in mind. Stick the list in mind and don’t be distracted by extras.
Extras, such as ice cream and bakery goods, are “fun,” not-usually-cheap, and rarely-good-for-you side items that will blow your budget.
These items are OK to include on your grocery list on occasion. However, extras like the ones stated above, as well as additional purchases like soda and chips, will wreak havoc on your grocery budget in the long run.
Maintaining a low grocery budget can be as simple as sticking to the menu plan and harmonizing the shopping list you’ve established.
Making It Easier to Plan menu
If all of this meal planning sounds like too much work, consider using a grocery meal planner like eMeals.
eMeals will help you plan wonderful meals for your family and make menu planning easier for as little as $5 per month (for a 12-month membership).
You can choose from a vast variety of recipes for every type of taste preference and nutritional necessity when you visit their site (you can test it for 14 days for free).
Here are a few of the meal options they have:
- Suitable for the heart
- Using a slow cooker
They also have a lot more to offer. Because the meal ideas are right there (complete with coordinating recipes), you won’t have to do much thinking. You simply select the meals you wish to prepare, and eMeals will make the necessary grocery list.
You’ll probably find grocery shopping easier if you start meal planning for your meals. And if you do it correctly, you’ll save money as well.
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2. Online Coupons and Rebates
Using coupons and savings applications will also assist you buy for groceries on a budget. I’m not talking about “extreme couponers,” but if you know where to search, there are a few easy and convenient ways to save money on groceries with coupons.
Using coupons used to include sifting through daily and weekend newspapers and browsing through stacks of coupons. After that, you’d have to carefully cut out the ones that were appropriate for you.
In today’s age of coupons and money-saving grocery deals, things are lot easier – and much more convenient. All you have to do is know where to look.
Here are two common ways for leveraging coupons and rebates to save even more money on your grocery purchases.
Coupons.com contains coupons for hundreds of common foods and home items that people purchase on a daily basis. That means that browsing their site will provide you with hundreds of opportunities to save money.
“Oh, just another coupon site,” I thought when I first heard about them. However, the site makes saving money so easy that I was immediately hooked.
On the home page, you’ll find a list of their currently available coupons. If you find a coupon you like, simply click on it to add it to your coupon cart.
A coupon is labelled “clipped” after you “clip” it, so you know you don’t have to click on it again. You’ll also remember which coupons you’ve put in your basket.
Simply click the “print coupons” option in the upper right-hand corner of your screen once you’ve finished scrolling through the coupons. The coupons will print directly from your PC at home.
Coupons.com is a free service, so you won’t have to pay anything to utilize it. It will, however, help you save money on groceries and other personal items.
Ibotta is a smartphone software that gives you cash back at the grocery store when you buy specified items. This is how it works.
You should check your Ibotta app for potential rebates before going to the grocery store. Ibotta allows you to search by store and works with Walmart, Target, and Hy-Vee, among other stores and big-box companies.
Ibotta presently works with over 270 retailers, so there’s a high chance your favorite grocery store is included.
One of the best things about Ibotta is that they frequently give rebates for items that aren’t brand specific, such as milk or eggs.
After you’ve chosen your store, you’ll be shown the rebates that are available for that store. The rebate you chose is saved in your Ibotta account. To receive a rebate, you may be required to complete a minor job, such as watching a movie or answering a simple question.
Choose and Shop
You go to the store and shop after you’ve selected all of your rebates. You take a picture of your receipt for Ibotta after you’ve finished shopping. The rebates are then deposited into your account, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
The great thing about Ibotta is that you can spend your rebate cash on whatever you choose. Ibotta provides out cash rather than points or gift cards.
That means you can do whatever you want with your Ibotta money. It can be used to buy more groceries. You can also use it to save shopping for school supplies, holiday gifts, or a trip.
It’s an easy and quick method to get cash back on your grocery purchases.
Click here to get the Ibotta smartphone app.
Do you want to learn more about how to save money on groceries? Continue reading.
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3. Learn to Cook from the Ground Up
It’s almost astounding how much money you can save by cooking from scratch. Take, for example, handmade tortillas, which are one of our favorite “from scratch” foods.
Here’s an illustration: According to Walmart’s website, a 10-count container of 6-inch flour tortillas costs $1.98.
You can make your own flour tortillas for less than a $1 by purchasing flour and combining it with a little oil, water, and salt. You can make them for less than a buck if you buy organic flour in bulk at Costco.
That’s a 50 percent discount on just that one item. Additionally, your homemade flour tortillas include no chemical preservatives. That means they have a superior flavor and are also healthier.
Making other items from scratch has the same cost-cutting potential. We virtually always make items like cookies, cakes, biscuits, pasta meals, and other foods from scratch, which helps to explain why our grocery bill is so low each month.
Rather than ordering pizza or buying frozen pizza, we make it from scratch. We also make all of our desserts from scratch. Instead of buying pre-packaged frozen burritos and chimichangas, we make them from scratch.
I understand how difficult it can be to find up your favorite commercial foods and replace them with homemade recipes. However, I believe you’ll find it to be a fantastic method to save money while still eating healthier, more delicious foods.
Recipes for Healthy Meals You Can Make From Scratch
Here are some meal and snack ideas that you can learn to make at home using recipes found on the internet (www.allrecipes.com is one of our favorite sites).
You can also ask friends and family for tried-and-true recipes:
Cookies, cakes, muffins, and cheesecake are examples of desserts.
Pasta dishes including lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and Alfredo Fettuccine
Chicken noodle, bean and ham, chili, or roast beef stew are examples of soups.
Breakfast foods like egg/muffin sandwiches or granola prepared from scratch
Although it will take some time when you first start learning to cook from scratch, I believe you will find it easier and more convenient once you have a system in place.
Many homemade foods, such as baked goods and soups, can be frozen and reheated at a later time.
We prepare a few dozen breakfast loaves of bread or muffins every now and again on Saturday afternoons at our house. We may then take them out of the freezer on weekday mornings to simplify breakfast preparation.
Alternatively, we’ll keep a couple freezer bags full of soup or soup stock on hand, ready to add our favorite meats or vegetables for a quick and easy dinner.
Learning to cook from scratch will save you money on groceries. It can also assist you in eating better.
4. Limit your intake of processed foods and snacks.
Processed foods and snacks are a popular grocery budget buster. I have a nasty tendency of peering into other people’s grocery carts to see how much soda, chips, and other processed foods they have in there.
I’m not passing judgment; it’s simply that I’m obsessed with America’s paycheck-to-paycheck living conditions and people’s inability to save.
For nearly two decades, I struggled with money issues, and I know what it’s like to be consistently in the red with your bank account.
I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through, which is why I’m so passionate about writing about personal finance.
Processed food and snack purchases are one way I see big sums of cash leaving people’s bank accounts. This is why it is critical to learn how to shop for groceries on a budget.
Buying soda, chips, and those delectable-looking cupcakes from the store bakery all add up to less money available to you to pay off debt and build wealth.
Consider exchanging those purchases for items that are good for your net worth and good for your health, such as bottled water or strawberries. Alternatively, air-popped popcorn with real butter can be substituted for the chips.
Getting rid of junk food cravings can be difficult at first. You’ll be better able to handle the changes if you conquer them one at a time.
Healthy Alternatives to Processed Snacks
For starters, you can cut drinks and replace them with bottled water. If youfind having trouble transitioning, start with flavored water or flavored mineral water.
Then, instead of chips, replace carrots and dip or buttered popcorn. The “crunch” of those pre-packaged snacks is frequently what makes them so satisfying. So switching from processed to healthier crunch may not be as difficult as you think.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Bananas, grapes, strawberries, or any other beloved fruit can be used to fulfill it. At the very least, make handmade sweets using organic ingredients to replace bakery-bought sweets.
The goal is to gradually eliminate your typical processed food purchases, reducing your grocery budget while eating healthier.
It takes time and effort to train your taste receptors to appreciate healthy foods. You might quickly find that you prefer carrot sticks to potato chips if you train your taste buds to prefer healthy snacks over processed foods.
5. Take advantage of the bargains
Another method I save money and buy groceries on a budget is to go to garage sales. Here are some pointers on how we plan our menus for the week based on what’s on sale at the grocery store.
Check the Ads
Check out which grocery items are on sale during the week at your preferred stores as the first step towards saving money by shopping the sales.
Sit down with the ads and list a note of which of your regularly purchased items are on sale, or write them down on a separate piece of paper.
Make a meal plan.
The second thing you’ll do is base your meal plan for the week on what’s on sale. If chicken is on sale, for example, you can plan largely chicken or vegetarian meals to save money on non-sale meats.
You may also plan to eat spaghetti, lasagna, and homemade pizza for dinner that week if spaghetti sauce and pasta are on sale.
The goal is to select meals and snacks based on current sales. If apples are on sale, for example, you can serve apples for more expensive fruits in the kids’ lunches.
You may save money on your grocery budget by organizing your meals around what items cost the least in a particular week.
Stock up on items on sale.
The third strategy to benefit from weekly sales is to stock up on items that you will use frequently. Here’s an illustration:
We usually make our own bread, but there’s a fantastic baguette bread at our local grocery store that we really enjoy.
The regular price of a loaf of this bread is about two dollars, but sometimes or twice a year they’ll offer it on sale for a buck. When that happens, I buy around twenty loaves and store them in the freezer.
The loaves are then ready to serve with soups and stews, and I’ve saved approximately half of what I would have spent on baguette bread.
During sales, I try not to spend a lot of money on stocking up on items. But if the sale item is something we use frequently and I know it will help me save money on groceries, I’ll buy it and put it away.
The following are some examples of foods I stock up on during sales:
- Kids’s juice (they drink it at breakfast a few times a week)
- I regularly utilize canned products, such as black beans or canned tomatoes.
- Flour, sugar, baking soda, and other ingredients for “cooking from scratch”
- Meats I cook with on a regular basis
Although stocking up on sale items initially costs more money, you will save money in the long run if you use all of the items as you would usually.
When a sale Isn’t a sale
Some supermarkets use the term “sale” when they aren’t actually offering a discount. Furthermore, some retailers’ “sale” pricing are higher than the cost of buying the item elsewhere.
As a result, I feel it is critical to have a clear understanding of what the items you buy on a regular basis sell for at their regular pricing.
Some people have a good memory and can recall standard pricing for many items.
Others choose to carry a list of standard pricing in their wallet or purse. That way, people can see what the typical pricing is for items they buy on a monthly basis at a glance.
You can recognize a “fake” sale and avoid falling for it by knowing the regular prices on items you buy frequently.
You may also utilize your “normal pricing” menu to find out which stores in your neighborhood are the cheapest for shopping.
Now that I know the typical pricing for the foods I buy on a regular basis, I know it’s better to do the majority of my grocery shopping at the local large box store to stay within my budget.
Certain canned goods, veggies, and even fundamental items like chocolate chips (yep, that’s a mainstay in our house) are cheaper at the local Aldi store, which is located across the street from our town’s large box store.
When I go shopping, I have two lists: one for large box stores and another for Aldi. This allows me to stretch my food money even further. Furthermore, knowing the typical costs for items I buy at both stores allows me to recognize when a sale isn’t actually a sale.
A Few Remarks on Warehouse Clubs
I also go to a warehouse club once a month in a city about 45 minutes away from my place. To save money on gas, I frequently make this run when I’m in the city.
Warehouse club pricing are sometimes a good value, and sometimes they aren’t. Several canned goods items are cheaper at Aldi than at the warehouse club in our neighborhood.
Block cheese, on the other hand, is significantly less expensive at the warehouse club than at the big box store or Aldi.
You’ll need to do some work to determine whether or not a warehouse club membership is a fair deal for you.
You’ll need to be able to answer questions like:
- How many food items would I buy at the warehouse club on a regular basis?
- How much money would I save on a monthly basis if I did this?
- Is the annual membership fee worth it for the cost savings?
If you can answer yes to each of these questions, a warehouse club membership could be an excellent way to save money on groceries while staying within your budget.
If not, avoid the warehouse club and stick to your regular shopping stores.
6. Reduce food waste
The statistics on food waste in first-world countries are staggering. According to a recent research, one-third of the world’s food is wasted each year. This figure, however, includes corporate food waste as well.
According to another survey, the average American home wastes $640 worth of food each year.
That’s a lot of cash, and it’s cash that could be put to greater use. What can you do to cut food waste? Here are a few ideas.
Make a menu plan and stick to it.
With a menu plan like the one we discussed before, you won’t waste money on food you won’t eat. Each food item is chosen to complement a specific meal or snack.
Be Conscious of Meal Portions
When preparing your meals, keep in mind that portion sizes are important. If there will only be one or two people eating the meal, don’t make the entire 16-ounce bag of pasta.
Make a plan for how you’ll use leftovers.
If you’re sure you’ll use the leftovers from a meal later, there’s an exception to the portion rule. If food from prior meals begins to pile up in the fridge, we designate a “leftover night” lunch or dinner in our house.
I’ll reheat the leftovers, and we’ll have a buffet-style meal where everyone gets to eat what they want.
You can also take your leftovers to work or school the next day for lunch.
Repurposing Leftovers is a must-learn skill.
Learning how to repurpose leftovers is another way to help reduce food waste in your home and save money on groceries.
For example, leftover pot roast can be used to make beef stew the next night. By adding mozzarella and Parmesan to leftover spaghetti and baking it in the oven, leftover spaghetti becomes a spaghetti casserole the next night.
You can cut food waste while also being more creative with your meals by recycling leftovers.
It will take some work to avoid food waste in your home. However, knowing you aren’t throwing food (or money) into the trash will feel great (and save you money).
7. Meal Nights That Are “Cheap and Easy”
To some of you who grew up in families where complete and fancy meals were always served at the dinner table, this may seem inappropriate. However, I save a significant amount of money on my grocery cost by serving a couple of cheap and easy meals each week.
Here are some inexpensive and simple meal ideas:
Night of popcorn
Broccoli and buttered noodles
Vegetable soup cooked from scratch
Black beans and homemade chipotle rice
fried potatoes and eggs
You get my drift. Simply select some cheap menu items such as noodles, eggs, and so on, and keep it simple.
For a family of four or more, many of the meal ideas indicated above can be produced for around three dollars.
And don’t feel bad about serving a cheap-lot meal to your family; I can guarantee you that many people across the world eat even worse. In reality, your kids may occasionally find cheap-cost meal selections.
But It’s Not cheap
For example, I’m a stickler for serving a variety of vegetables and less processed foods. So my kids think buttered noodles are a special treat, even if they’re paired with broccoli or another vegetable.
Popcorn night (complete with juice boxes and a favorite family movie) is usually a hit. Even with the organic butter and non-GMO popcorn I use, it only costs me $2 to make.
A few cheap meal nights can develop into a super easy meal-making experience for you (or the kids) while also saving you money if you find ways to make it entertaining.
It doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming to learn how to shop for groceries on a budget. You can start by using some tried-and-true ideas and tricks, as well as putting in some effort to include some streamlined procedures into your grocery shopping.
It’s feasible to save a significant amount of money on your grocery bill by doing so.