Out of all the areas in the budget, the grocery bill can be the easiest one to spiral out of control. Before we lived on a budget, my husband and I spent close to $200/week at the grocery store! Sadly, we didn’t even cook much! A lot of the food was bought on impulse, with the idea that we would cook it, rather than the commitment to meal planning and cooking. Here’s how we knocked our spending in HALF and stuck to it.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure here.
1. We Plan Our Meals Weekly
This was a huge game changer for us in terms of the money we saved, and the time we saved. Not only were we spending way too much money on groceries, we weren’t even using them. Additionally, we made multiple trips to the store each week because we were always forgetting things we needed.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. In fact, I encourage you to keep it as simple as possible to start. Don’t worry about chasing the deals in your weekly mailers, focus on compiling a list of seven meals that you know you’re willing to cook for your family that week, that they will actually eat. To keep it REALLY easy, I’ve created this cute printable that I highly encourage you to download and use! Not only does it combine your meal plan with a grocery list, but you can keep it in a binder and reference it another week for huge time savings.
One thing to watch for when planning meals is expensive niche ingredients. These will blow your budget quickly. Stick to simple recipes (hint: Google “15-minute recipes”) with a short ingredients list. Finally, with your plan and list in hand, make sure you go through your fridge and your pantry to see what you already have on hand. Otherwise, you might end up pulling a Stephanie and buying an 18 pack of eggs every week because you SWORE you were out of eggs every time you went to the store.
2. We Use Our Coupons!
I intentionally listed this after the meal planning step because I don’t want the meal planning to cause anxiety – which can totally happen if you try to meal plan around your coupons, rather than coupon around your meal plan.
With your meal planning done and your grocery list in hand, now is the time to clip your coupons. I like to combine traditional paper coupons with Ibotta. Ibotta is an app that you can use to get cash back on your groceries. It’s pretty great and really easy. All you do is sign up here (BONUS: right now you get a $10 welcome bonus just for signing up!), choose your deals, then take a picture of your receipt after you finish shopping. Once you’ve accumulated $20 in savings, you can cash out via PayPal, Venmo, or a gift card. I save about $3 a week with the app. That might sound like nothing, but it comes to around $150/year. Another service I swear by is Ebates.com. With Ebates you get cash back from purchases at participating retailers. It’s great for the household goods that you may periodically purchase that eat into your grocery bill. We also load e-coupons from Kroger onto our card right before we grocery shop, which typically saves us another $5-$10.
3. We Eat Less Meat
Fresh meat is, by far, one of the most expensive items on your grocery list. If you are spending $5-$7 a day on meat, that comes to $35-$49 per week. Cut back your meat consumption to only four meals a week and you’re already saving $15-$21 on your grocery bill. Your health will thank you, too!
Vegetarian meals don’t need to be stressful, or gross. They can be super tasty and are easy to prepare. Here is where I bust out the slow cooker most often, which I use to make things like crockpot burrito bowls, vegetarian chilis, and vegetarian curries.
4. We Got Rid of the Drinks
Want to save a ton of money? Get rid of the drinks that add no value to your diet, and learn to drink simply. This means ditch the sugary soda, the diet soda, the alcohol, and the juice. Buy your family a gallon of water and then just refill the gallon when it’s empty from your tap. If your family is going to rebel against only water, consider iced tea. Purchase a large jug of tea and treat it just like the water by making your own iced tea to refill it rather than buying more of the tea from the store.
What kind of savings can this add up to? Well, my family drinks around 2 gallons of tea each week. If we bought it at the store, it would be around $10. Making it myself saves me around $9 a week.
5. We Substitute Cheaper Alternatives (when possible!)
I had this amazing looking recipe last week that I was just dying to try that called for fresh asparagus. Unfortunately, asparagus was $5.99/lb and the bundles were all 1.5-2 lbs each. That would have been an EXPENSIVE meal. When you find yourself in these situations, get creative and pick another vegetable. Look for what is on sale rather than following the recipe exactly. For my recipe, I subbed some potatoes because I knew that I could season them the same way as the asparagus, and a $1 bag of frozen broccoli. My recipe substitution easily saved me $7-8.
Some basic rules I follow are that I will always substitute vegetables if the one the recipe calls for is costly. I also always buy frozen vegetables if I’m just using steamed vegetables as a side dish. There is less prep involved and you can almost always find some $1 broccoli steamers in the frozen food aisle. Season it with some butter and lemon pepper and your family won’t be able to tell that it came out of a bag.
6. We ALWAYS Buy Generic
Always buy the generic store brands, unless, by some miracle, the brand-name product is cheaper. Having worked in food manufacturing, the generic brands are sometimes made in the exact same factories as the brand name product. The biggest difference is generally the packaging.
I can’t even think of a reason to buy the brand name product, can you?
Need more help creating your budget? Check out my step-by-step guide to getting started. And don’t forget to download that cute printable!