Do you feel like you’re eating your money?! Many people spend more on groceries than almost any other item in their budgets. I know, because I used to be one of those people.
In fact, five years ago when I started this journey, I was spending about $1,500 a month to feed two people (this was pre-kids). We had groceries in our house that went bad. I’d go to the store and buy food we’d never eat because we’d end up going out. We’d buy food at the movies and on road trips, and we went out to dinner regularly.
Now, of course, some of this was fun and enjoyable. We had some great date nights and ate a lot of delicious food! But when I sat down and looked at what we were spending on food, groceries and snacks, I was pretty shocked. I knew we were going to have to make some changes.
I tried a lot of methods. I took a very helpful class on grocery budgeting from Erin Chase (the Grocery Budget Makeover), and read a lot of online resources. There are a few takeaways that almost anyone can try. These tips help immensely and they aren’t hard.
By incorporating these tips, we now come in at under $480/month for four people (two adults and two toddlers) and our lowest month was $260!
I know you can do this too. The best part is, it’s seriously not hard! It wasn’t like we were starving or eating the same PB&J every day for months on end. We still eat great meals and I don’t spend hours in the kitchen (not even close)!
So, if you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, streamline your shopping and cooking processes, and see savings in your own budget, here are a few really easy ways to get started.
Master Two Saving Skills
There are two skills you should master to be an expert grocery saver: meal planning and stockpiling.
1. Meal Planning
Meal planning sounds kind of daunting, right? Seeing those super-meal-planning-moms with all those spreadsheets, handwritten notes, cost calculations, and AHH! Well, good news! It doesn’t have to be that complicated!
To get started meal planning, follow my step-by-step instructions. Even if you just take ten minutes, write down some meal ideas for the week. (Try to think up leftover-friendly foods and meals that can be eaten more than once, like soups, chili or sloppy joes). Check your cupboards to see if you have the basic ingredients you need, and if you’re missing anything, add it to your grocery list.
When you begin, even planning for dinners alone will save you tons of money on groceries! You’ll be able to look ahead, so if you’re having stir fry one night and then Mexican the next, you’ll be able to make rice for both meals at once.
Looking at how you eat now, ask yourself the following questions:
- 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?
Take these things into consideration when you’re planning your meals—and hey, take baby steps! If you’re used to eating out 7 days a week, then to start, keep eating out 4 or 5 (or sure, even 6) days a week. The idea is to give yourself a break and gradually adjust. It’ll set you up for meal planning success!
The other simple skill is stockpiling. Again, this is something that might sound hard, but isn’t so difficult.
Make a list of the basic items you use, and be realistic. If you never bake, don’t think you need to have cake mix, flour and sugar on your list just because they seem like items someone would have in their pantry. This will be unique for each individual family.
One thing to keep in mind, too, is to only stockpile basics that you use! Don’t buy a bunch of cheap items or generic brands, only to find you don’t like them or your family won’t eat them. If you like name brand ketchup or a certain type of pasta, go with what you know. Buy one of the sale items and try it, but don’t stockpile 10 boxes of something you won’t use.
Your list will be different, but 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.
I buy these items whenever I find them on sale, and I really stock up when I find them at the VERY BEST prices. Many of these items can do double-duty or make a quick, easy meal in a pinch. I can go to my pantry and throw together a pasta salad or veggie stir fry in minutes and I don’t end up resorting to ordering takeout. Find your go-to items and stock up!
Other Ways to Save Money on Groceries
Once you’ve mastered those two secrets and you’re eating at home more frequently, chances are, you’ll be seeing significant savings in your grocery bill. By simply having a meal plan and stocking up on items you frequently use, you’ll be seeing less waste and more savings right away.
If you’ve made a commitment to eating at home more often, you’ll also see significant savings in your overall food bill. I want to help you find ways to be successful and stick to your plan. The momentum you’ll get from seeing results will help you continue to be successful.
Here are a few other great ways to save on groceries. As your comfort level increases, try to incorporate these ideas into your grocery savings plan as well:
1. Always stick to your list
If you have a meal plan and you’re working from a grocery list, you’re probably already shopping much smarter than you were before. When you go to the store, commit to sticking to your list.
To be successful at this, you may need to sit down with the current ads from your store (or check for them online) and use them as a tool as you create your list. This will help you determine if any of your stockpile items are available as a special deal, and you can buy a few more of them to keep your pantry ready.
It’s easy to impulse buy at the grocery store, especially when we see sales and if we’re shopping hungry or tired. Try to shop when you’re feeling full and energized. Eat a quick snack before you hit the store to keep you from “hangry buying.”
2. Include some fast-and-easy items on your list
When you’re trying to stick to your list, you might find you’re feeling virtuous, so you’ll want to buy all whole foods or avoid frozen pizzas. If you’re a regular convenience-food-eater, set yourself up for success by buying a few convenience items as well.
If you know frozen burritos will be a go-to item you can take for lunch or if you just love fish sticks and tater tots, keep them on your list! Yes, these “convenience items” can be more expensive, but if you’ve got a meal plan and some go-to items stockpiled, you’ll only resort to them as a last choice. Some nights demand nuggets and boxed macaroni. Keep them on your list, so you don’t end up in the drive-thru.
3. Know your base-price from your stock-up price
As your comfort level with meal planning and list-shopping increases, you’re going to want to work on a price list. This will help you determine if your go-to items are at “stock up price” (buy several) or at base-price (just buy what you’ll use this time).
It takes a little while to establish your list and get comfortable with the idea of following prices. If you’re already meal planning and eating at home more frequently, you’re probably seeing a big impact in your food bill. Watching prices will only help you save even MORE.
One thing to keep in mind: if comparing prices leads you to run around to several different stores, it might not be worth the time, gas and headache. Always look at your savings and make sure you can use up the item before its expiration date, otherwise stocking up (even if it’s only costing pennies) is still a waste of food and time.
4. Batch and freezer cook
Batch and freezer cooking are big savings helpers. You can double up on ingredients and add them to several different meals. If you find a great deal on chicken or beef, incorporate them into several different items and freeze the meals for a later date.
I have tons and tons of freezer meal ideas, so please visit my freezer meal post to find out how you can make 74 meals in 4 hours. (Seriously!) You can cook once and eat for weeks! This will help you save on time and on your grocery bill!
Here are a couple of other super-simple ideas:
- 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 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: These are gallon bags filled with a raw slow cooker recipes you can just thaw and dump in a slow cooker for a super easy dinner. These include great meals like baby back ribs, stew, chili, chicken dishes, and more.
- Bagels freeze beautifully and make easy breakfasts!
- Check out my “Super Easy Freezer Cooking” Pinterest board for more easy ideas.
5. Try homemade snacks
If you’re doing all the steps above, you’re already seeing a huge savings in your grocery bill. Another item that really adds up is buying individually packaged “snacks.” Little cheese sticks, those snack-packs, and individually-portioned bags are great timesavers, but you’re paying for the convenience.
If you’re ready to give it a try, consider buying large containers of things like cookies, chips and snacks, then individually packaging them at home. You can cut cheese into small snack sizes, fill your own water bottle, and pop popcorn ahead and simply bag it for later.
Try making your own trail mix or packaging cookies into snack-packs. If you like baking, make a big batch of cookies, then freeze them so you can eat for snacks later.
6. Save with “helpers” like Ebates & Ibotta
There are some apps out there that can really help you save money. Ibotta is a super simple app you put on your phone, then you just scan your receipt and you get a small cash rebate back. You can save on things like frozen vegetables, milk, coffee, cheese, and more.
You might not see a huge rebate (think $2-3/week), but over time it can add up to a nice chunk of change, especially if you buy name-brand foods often. It doesn’t take long to sign up and you can be on my team, which just means that I can help you earn bonuses and extra money. You can read my full review of Ibotta here.
Another way to save is with Ebates, if you shop online. You simply head to Ebates first, then search for the store you want to shop at, then click the link from Ebates and a percentage of your purchase will be credited to your account.
The reason I love this so much is that I’m a huge fan of automating my errands. Automating saves me a ton of time and money. I make all of my household purchases online and have them shipped directly to my house for less than the “base price” of my local Target or Walmart. When I add my Ebates savings, it’s even better! You need to have an Ebates account first (it’s free), and you can sign up for Ebates here.
Use these simple methods to save on your grocery bill and reduce your food costs each month. Most take just a short amount of time to incorporate into your routine, and they’re really pretty easy once you try them. You’ll see savings almost immediately, and you’ll be able to use that momentum to keep going! Reducing your food spending can really make a huge difference in your budget.