If you need to reduce your spending, the grocery bill is the absolute best place to start. You can save hundreds of dollars a month by cooking at home and menu planning. If you've never tracked your spending and have no idea how much you spend, I challenge you to load up your online bank statement, grab a piece of paper and list everything that you purchased for the last month that fed you. Everything from Sun Chips at the gas station, fast food, expensive dinner dates out, popcorn at the movie theater. List everything. Now add it up. What's your number? We spend under $480/month to feed 2 adults and 2 toddlers. We've spent as low as $260/month before with batch freezer cooking. Let's say that you had done things differently last month and spent $480, how much more would you have in your checking account right now? 5 years ago, when we started this journey, I did exactly what you just did. We were spending about $1,500 a month to feed two people. Ridiculous right? We would have groceries in the house and still eat most of our meals out or order delivery. At the time I thought we were normal. I remember searching online to see what other families spend on groceries in a month and not being able to find a real family's numbers. Now you can do a search on Pinterest for “grocery budget” and you will find tons of bloggers revealing not only their monthly grocery budget, but also their meal plans and shopping lists. In fact, I just did a post last week with our weekly grocery plan of breakfasts, lunches, and dinner for less than $70.
You can do this and now is the perfect time to start. Don't just scan over this and think you'll come back to it. You won't. You just need one step in the direction you want to go. Remember, you can't just go from spending $1,500 a month on food to $480 in a month or two. Set a goal. Aim to take 10-30% off your grocery budget depending on how much you're spending now. If your monthly spending is over $1,000 then aim to shave off 30%, if your monthly spending is lower, aim to shave off 10%. Try to continue that every month until you reach your ultimate goal. Dramatically changing your grocery budget involves changing the way you live, getting used to new routines and increasing your skill set in everything from cooking to organizing. Give yourself time to change and learn a new way.
What's a normal grocery budget?
What does the average American spend on groceries and eating out for their family? This differs a ton based on where they live, how many people they feed, what their schedules are like what they consider to be groceries (they may spend $50 a month in groceries but then spend $900/month in eating out), and how closely they track their spending. Here's a few places you can find some examples though:
The 7 Baby Steps That Will Transform Your Grocery Budget
1. Make a super simple meal plan.
Take a careful look at how you eat now. What are your tough spots? Are you scared of raw meat? Do you eat out for lunch every day? Do you come home from work starving and stop for a fast food dinner to hold you over? Do you have a weird schedule? You can menu plan for any of these issues. Don't go all out on this though! If you're used to eating out 7 days a week, then I want you to keep eating out 5 or 6 days a week. Plan a fairly cheap lunch that you can eat out ($6 subs at subway, bringing your own chips and drink). Plan really easy to make dinners (try my 15 minute meals) and super simple breakfasts (cereal, yogurt, English muffin sandwiches, or even granola bars). Plan lots of pantry meals (things that you can make without remembering to thaw something or do prep work), like ravioli, tortellini, breakfast for dinner, pizza, macaroni and cheese, sandwiches etc. Choose simple entrees and interchangeable sides (frozen veggies, salads, yogurts). Choose 1 or two snacks that everyone likes that you can buy in bulk. You can read more in depth on how to menu plan around any schedule here.
2. Stop eating out (or plan the times you eat out and adjust your grocery budget accordingly).
Eating out can instantly kill a great grocery budget. $10 at Chipotle, or $60 at a nice sit down restaurant could buy half a week's meals at home. You can eat just as well, (or likely even better) by planning to eat meals at home. Start by packing easy lunches for work. Invest in an insulated cooler, a few cooler packs, and a water bottle. Make it a habit to pack your lunch after dinner for the next day (even if you think you'll have the motivation to do it in the morning, doing it the night before is a great habit to get into. If you really want to eat out, and it's worth the money to you, then plan that in. Plan to spend a set amount for a monthly date night, or our favorite- a Saturday morning breakfast at Chick fil A, while the kids play in the playground.
3. Start batch cooking or freezer cooking.
This is such a game changer! I get it, you're busy and exhausted. You don't have time to cook all of your meals for a month in a day. You don't have any free days. No sweat! Do you have an hour to save yourself the trouble of cooking 8 dinners? I bet you do! There are so many ridiculously easy freezer cooking options that will save you a fortune! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Hot Dog Packs: Hot dogs, buns, hot dog chili, and cheddar cheese- freeze in separate quart bags, then place the quart bags into a gallon bag.
- Pancakes: Make 40 or even 80 with an electric griddle (you buy these as low as $18 on Amazon, see my affiliate link below) and almost no extra effort. We freeze the leftovers in packs of 3 wrapped in wax paper then place the wax paper packets in a gallon freezer bag (or several). Then just microwave from frozen in the wax paper for 90 seconds.
- Slow cooker meals: Gallon bags filled with a raw slow cooker recipe that you can just thaw and dump in a slow cooker for a super easy dinner. Things like baby back ribs, stew, chili, chicken dishes etc.
- Check out my “Super Easy Freezer Cooking” Pinterest board here for more easy ideas.
- Bagels freeze beautifully and make easy breakfasts!
Don't write off once a month freezer cooking though. At some point, you should really try this. You can read my review here of once a month freezer cooking. In the end, if you're looking for a ridiculously low grocery budget, few dishes during the week and no kitchen clean up, this plan's for you! There are even websites out there that will do the “prep” work for you, I've used “Once a Month Meals” and loved their program (This is my affiliate link, but I paid for the service and loved it. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to save time and money. Plus, they featured my 15 minute breakfast pizza and made it a freezer meal which I had never even thought of. They're genius!)
By batch cooking, you are using the best price you can find and buying in bulk. To make it simple, if chicken thighs are on sale for 99 cents per pound at your local grocery store, instead of buying pork, ground beef, steaks, and chicken like usual, we're going to buy 30 pounds of chicken thighs. Some of that chicken we'll freeze plain, some we'll make into super easy slow cooker freezer meals, some we'll make into frozen bags of prepped stir fry packs, and some we'll cook fresh. Then next week, when they have a huge sale on ground beef, we're going to do the same, and buy tons of that beef to mix in with our chicken thighs. Get it?
4. Pay less for more, using a method that works for you.
There are 4 basic ways to get awesome grocery deals. Coupons (specifically coupon matching), a discount grocery store (like Price Rite or a grocery depot), sale cycles, and Aldi (I have no idea how to classify Aldi except as “Awesome!”) I'm intrigued by coupons, but the few times I've invested time into it, I found that It wasn't worth my time. I plan to get more into coupons later, but for now, I'm pleased with the savings I've achieved in the other areas. I won't try to teach you something that I haven't mastered, so I'll send you over to Ruth Soukop at Living Well, Spending Less who has mastered coupons… Head here for couponing 101. I'm all about the other options though. Try each of these options one at a time. You already tried the sale cycles with the meat in the last baby step. Now check your local area to see if you have a grocery depot or a bread depot. This is a fantastic place to find great deals. We bought 5 pounds of pepperoni at our local grocery depot for about $3. They expired in a month. We took them home, packaged them out and froze them in dinner sized portions. Those pepperoni have been pizzas for quite a while! Always check expiration dates and don't buy things you don't need (like the 10 boxes of chocolate wafers that were expiring in a few days that I convinced my husband we had to buy because they were only a quarter). Aldi is a pretty safe bet (they aren't selling items close to expiration dates) that requires almost no work. Aldi is a grocery store that sells their own products at much cheaper prices than a regular grocery store. It's a little unique in that you have to “rent” your shopping cart for a quarter and pay for grocery bags, but the savings are well worth it. If you have an Aldi within an hour, stock up there on staples once a month and fill in with dairy etc. at the local stores.
5. Stockpile the basics.
I live by my stockpiles. They save me a ton of money, but much more important is how much time they save me! No more running out to grab something you're out of. You always have more in stock! Make a list of the basic things you use. Be honest with yourself about what you use. My stockpile list would be different from yours. Don't buy a ton of flour and sugar if you aren't a baker. Buy what you use. I don't care if it's Kraft macaroni and cheese or imported German mustard. Stock what you use a ton of and will buy again if you run out… DO NOT STOCK THINGS THAT YOU HAVEN'T TRIED AND EAT ROUTINELY. Sorry for the shouty caps, but that was super important. Even if you see a good deal on cereal that you've never had before, don't stock up on it. If you pay $1/box and buy 10 and hate it, you just burned up a $10 bill. Make a list of things that you use routinely, like, and that will never go to waste in your house. My list includes: pepperoni, chicken thighs, ground beef, shredded cheese, tortillas, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, duck sauce, Chinese noodles, rice, cream of mushroom soup, cheddar soup, canned fruits and veggies, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, spices, flour, soy sauce, sugar, chocolate chips, baking powder, frozen veggies, baking soda, cocoa powder, white cooking wine, seasoned rice vinegar, and pasta. Keep those in your pantry at all times. Get them at the best possible price and never worry about running out. As a bonus, these can make what I call “back up pantry meals”. I can make stir fry, pizza, pasta bakes or macaroni and cheese based on what's in my pantry alone, so if something goes terribly wrong with my dinner plans, I don't need to order pizza, I'm covered.
6. Start having meatless Mondays (or a repository of super cheap meals).
Protein is almost always the most expensive part of your meal. If you go meatless just one dinner a week, it can really add up in savings over the course of a month. Our favorite meatless dinners are broccoli cheddar cheese soup with asiago cheese bagels, pizza, macaroni and cheese with butternut squash mixed in, cheese tortellini or spaghetti with pasta sauce, ravioli with a butter sauce, yellow squash and zucchini. If you can't get your hubby onto this idea (hint: Don't call it meatless Monday, ask how he feels about having a pizza night every Friday- it's all in the presentation folks), then start a list of really cheap meals that you can include once a week. The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook is a great resource, and likely your library has it stocked.
7. Exchange junk food for homemade snacks.
This is the very last baby step. You've already seen a complete transformation in your grocery budget and you can't believe that you spend so little, but you can go lower. Chances are you still buy snack food. Things like cheese sticks, cookies, brownies, chips, popcorn, trail mix and yogurt. These are all things that you can make at home. Granted you need time. It takes about 30 minutes to bake a batch of cookies (although my personal philosophy is to spend 40 min and bake 3 batches to freeze). By replacing the high cost of convenience foods and packaging or making them yourself, the savings add up quickly. Not to mention the benefits of losing all of the unpronounceable ingredients. You can buy large containers of snacks and then package them individually, or make them from scratch at home. Also, if you find yourself buying water bottles while your out running errands, buy a case and leave it in your car. Now at least, you're paying 20 cents for something you were about to pay $2 for. Here are a few of our favorite snacks:
- carrots and blue cheese dip
- yogurt, bought in a large tub or make it yourself
- cheese cubes
- popcorn made on the stove
- chocolate chip cookies
- trail mix that you mix yourself
- banana boats made with chocolate chips and peanut butter (Just slice a groove out of the middle of the banana and stuff with a nut butter, then sprinkle with chocolate chips, raisins, or chopped nuts.)
- pita and homemade hummus
Follow those steps and you'll see drastic reduction in your grocery bill. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself grace if you end up caving and ordering Dominos at 11 pm. We're looking for a transformed grocery budget and a completely different way of feeding your family as an end result, not perfection every single day along the way. Just start, don't give up, and don't get upset with yourself. Keep taking steps in the right direction. Once you learn the skills, you have them for life.
Don't forget to let me know how you do! What are you planning to do with your savings?
You can also find this post on Living Well, Spending Less: Thrifty Thursday Link Up and Sarah Titus: Frugal Friday Link Up.
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