When you’re the type of person that uses budgeting to keep track of your finances, you have likely noticed how your grocery bills take up a large chunk of your monthly income.
Unlike your fixed expenses that stay the same month-to-month, you can make changes to control your spending when it comes to groceries and meals.
Money is a huge stressor for most families but saving money can be hard without a plan.
Instead of trying to refanaggle your entire budget in order to make ends meet, you can cut down on your grocery bill and free up some extra money for more urgent areas of spending.
Doing so isn’t complicated. In this article I’m going to lay out 4 ways you can reduce your food-related spending and create a drastic change in your tight budget.
1. Flyer Shopping to Save Money on Groceries
I know we all have that one go-to grocery store we enjoy – the one where we know where everything is and which cashier stashes candy for the little ones.
However, the name of the grocery shopping game is to save money and you can do this by using flyers to organize your plan of attack.
Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of running around your community just to scoop us the best deals. Sometimes, it’s not worth the gas you burn to save a dollar or two on a particular item.
What I do is look for discounts on big ticket items such as toilet paper, cat food and meat. Whatever store has the best deal is where I’ll end up grabbing all of my groceries.
Instead of amassing a pile of flyers in your home, you can use apps to pin down the best deals. Here are two that can help you save money when you grocery shop:
I absolutely couldn’t live without Flipp. First of all, you can browse flyers by store. Second, you can search for items and see which store has the best deal.
The app also allows you to “clip” certain items into a list where you can comparison shop and create a grocery list.
Flipp is a must have tool and is available for Android and iOS.
Oh, and it’s completely free.
Checkout 51 isn’t an app that allows you to browse flyers but it is handy for finding coupons and earning an extra buck or two.
This app offers cash back savings, grocery coupons and rebates.
It works by allowing you to upload your receipt to earn cash back when you purchase certain items. You have to buy the items specified on their list and make sure it is visible on your receipt.
My only warning is to be careful not to buy unneeded or unwanted items simply because there’s a deal or rebate.
For example, it may be great to get $1.00 back on floor cleaner but if you already have some – or make your own – this is a wasted purchase and a waste of money.
Checkout 51 is also free and available for Android and iOS.
2. Meal Planning on a Budget
When it comes to meal planning, there’s 2 ways you can approach your grocery purchases:
- You can plan your meals and then flyer shop for deals, or
- You can plan your meals around deals and savings.
For instance, if chicken is on sale at your local grocer, you can plan your meals around chicken. Alternatively, if you want to have ground beef as your protein of the week, you can search the flyers to see who has the best deal.
Meal planning is not a complicated endeavor. The hardest part about meal planning is sticking with it but, once you make it a habit, you’ll notice the difference not only in your grocery bill but your health as well.
Planning your meals week-to-week allows you to take control of how much you spend on food as well as makes preparing fresh and healthier meals so much easier. You’ll be less tempted to eat out or grab a box of processed food.
Here are 4 simple steps that will get you started on meal planning:
Step 1: Grab a Weekly Planner
Your weekly planner doesn’t have to be fancy – even a calendar will do – as long as you can easily write in the meals you plan for each day.
Take into consideration your family’s schedule. On busier nights, you’re going to want to plan meals that are quick and easy to make.
Because meal planning encourages prepping your ingredients ahead of time (Step 4), you don’t have to sacrifice fresh and healthy just because your family is rushed that night.
If you have plans to eat out, you can take this into consideration when making your meal plan.
Step 2: Choose Your Meals
Think about the kinds of meals you would like to make for your family, focusing more on dinners than breakfasts and lunches.
Breakfast meals don’t tend to require a lot of ingredients or prepping. Simply having the right staples on hand – eggs, bread, bagels, oats, cereal, etc. – is usually enough to stay on track with breakfast.
Many dinner meals make for great lunch leftovers. Keep this mind when planning your dinners.
Also keep in mind recipes that require the same ingredients. A store bought rotisserie chicken can go a long way to making multiple meals, for example.
(And can make for some delicious chicken sandwiches for lunch.)
Once you have a list of meals you would like to make, pencil them into your planner.
Step 3: Make Your Grocery List
After your planner is filled in, make a list of ingredients based on the recipes you chose.
Before you hit the flyers or the stores, shop your own kitchen for items you already have. You can even do this before planning your meals to use up ingredients you’ve already purchased.
To make this easier, take inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry. You can keep a list of what you have or use a spreadsheet to organize your food.
Once your list is made, head to the grocery store and pick up your ingredients.
(Keep reading for some grocery shopping hacks to save money!)
Step 4: Prep in One Day
While this is not a required step in meal planning, it certainly will make your life easier.
When you do all of your prep in one day – chopping, mixing sauces, etc. – you save yourself a buttload of time when it comes to cooking the meals.
Having as many ingredients ready as possible will keep you motivated to stick to your meal plan, cook healthy meals and not default to Kraft Dinner and hot dogs 4 times a week.
Overall, prepping makes cooking meals quicker and less tortuous.
You may want to consider freezing extra ingredients for future meal plans, which will save you time prepping each week.
Using Your Freezer to Save Money on Meals
Speaking of freezing things, you can take advantage of your freezer to save money on groceries as well.
Freezing food is a great way to save time but it also helps to reduce food waste. Every time you throw out unused foods and ingredients, you may as well be dumping cash into your garbage can.
Using your freezer to store food prolongs the life of the food and gives you more time to use it.
This means that you can grab some groceries for a good price and freeze it to use later.
Here are some ways you can make your freezer work for you (and your bank account):
Tips for Storing Food in Your Freezer
In order to take advantage of the money saving power of your freezer, you need to make sure you are freezing your food properly.
If you don’t, you’ll end up just throwing out food from your freezer instead of your fridge.
Be sure to wrap your food tightly. Freezer burn is caused when air is able to access your food.
Wrap your food in cellophane or tin foil before placing in a zipper lock bag. Try to squeeze out as much air as possible before closing.
Hint: Depending on the food, I use a straw and suck the air out.
Before you freeze food, you want to make sure it is completely cooled. When you put warm food in the freezer, moisture is released and will form ice on the food.
Also make sure you label and date the food. You have no idea how many times I’ve planned “mystery meals” because I had no idea what I was thawing.
Foods You Didn’t Know Could Be Frozen
The foods you can freeze include more than just meats.
Here are some foods you can freeze for later use:
- Cheese. You can freeze entire blocks of cheese or shred it first. Just be warned that upon thawing it will be crumbly, so it is best used for cooking.
- Fresh spinach. Anything you freeze fresh will not taste the same if you try to eat it raw, but frozen spinach can easily be used in casseroles and smoothies
- Bread. Bread freezes really well and will still taste fresh when thawed. You can even leave it in the freezer and grab a slice at a time when needed (it will usually separate from the loaf).
- Chopped vegetables. You can freeze fresh vegetables, which is great when you are meal planning. Try laying out the veggie on a tray and freezing before placing in bags – this way they don’t all clump together and you can use smaller amounts at a time.
- Cooked rice. If you’re making a recipe that requires rice, cook up a bit extra and freeze it once it cools. That was you’ll always have rice on hand to throw into casseroles and stir fries.
- Corn on the cob. I know where I live, you can get corn dirt cheap toward the end of the summer. I wrap each cob in tin foil and toss them in the freezer. That way I can grab a cob at a time to complement my meal.
The more ingredients you can freeze, especially those you find on sale, the more time and money you can save.
Cheap Eating Hacks
Apart from planning, freezing and flyer shopping, there are other ways you can save money on grocery shopping:
Store Brand Names
Store brand names, those products that are produced by the store they are sold at, are notoriously cheaper than big brand names.
This is because store brand, or “no name”, products do not rely on advertising and marketing. For this reason, they are sold at a lower cost.
Overall, they do not vary much in taste and quality. To save some money, they are worth purchasing.
Shop On a Full Stomach
Do not shop when you’re hungry. There’s nothing that will tempt you to overspend more than being surrounded by food when all you want to do is eat.
Make sure you grocery shop after having a meal or snack. You’ll be less likely to purchase food that you don’t even need.
Make a List
Making a lost helps you to focus and stay on track with what you actually need to purchase.
You are less likely to grab superfluous items and overspend when you have a list to go by.
Plus, you want to avoid making extra and unnecessary trips back to the grocery store for forgotten ingredients.
Focus on Affordable Proteins
Protein is the crux of any healthy diet and you don’t have to blow your budget on expensive meats in order to incorporate it into your meals.
Pick up affordable proteins such as eggs, dairy (yogurt, cheese, etc.), dried beans and peanut butter.
Try limiting your consumption of meat, poultry and fish to 1-2 days per week.
Pick Up Cheap Staples
Staples are those items that are great to have on hand and can be used in many recipes.
Keep some cheap staples on hand such as beans, brown rice, frozen vegetables and diced tomatoes.
Check flyers for deals on these items and stock up when they are on sale.
Beware the Good Deal
While the basis on saving money on groceries seems to be flyer shopping, beware of good deals on items you don’t need.
For example, say you can get a great deal when you buy 2 bags of chips – yet chips are not on your list. While the sale sticker may indicate that you can save $5, you’re actually spending $5 more than you need to.
In the end, you are not actually saving money.
However, if you can snag a good deal on useful ingredients such as cheese and meat (even if it’s not in the week’s meal plan), you can always freeze them and use them later.
When shopping deals, use caution and consider how useful the item can be at a later date.
What are your money saving tips when it comes to feeding your family? Leave them in the comments!