I recently wrote about how I got sloppy at budgeting towards the end of my pregnancy with our 3rd baby. Especially with our grocery budget! Oddly enough, even with 3 kiddos under 3.5, I have way more energy and mental stamina to think about budgeting (and blogging) again now that I’m not pregnant. That 3rd one just took.it.out.of.me. Phew. In the spirit of jumping back on the frugal grocery budget bandwagon, here are 10 simple ideas for how to save money on groceries.
#1 – SHOP AT ALDI
Aldi is now my all time favorite grocery store. I still shopped here while pregnant because it is SO convenient for me.
- It’s a half mile away
- It’s a small store which means it’s quick to get through… even with kids
- Our Aldi now has double-seater carts
- The prices are always cheaper.
I actually looked through the ads this week to confirm my theory that Aldi’s regular prices almost always beat the local grocery stores’ super duper sale prices. Yep. True. No hassle, no ad matching, no coupons… Aldi is just so cheap. Once of these days I’m going to go through my regular grocery list and price out the exact difference between Aldi & other stores. I’m guessing it averages 30-40% less than its local competition. Here are all the reasons I converted to mainly shopping at Aldi!
If you’re new to Aldi, search “Aldi meal plan” on Google or Pinterest; you’ll find tons of ideas to get you started.
#2 – PRICE MATCH @ WALMART
For a long time, this was my go-to grocery saving strategy. If you don’t have an Aldi, don’t like Aldi, or prefer Walmart for your one-stop-shop, check this post out with a SUPER EASY tip for the easiest way to price match at Walmart.
#3 – ADD CHEAP MEALS TO YOUR MENU
My easiest meal “plan,” if you can call it that, is a dinner of meat + veggies. That is basically what we eat for dinner all the time, especially in the summer when grilling is easy & fun. Depending on the meat and veggies we’re eating, that can run $5-10 for our family of 4… and that’s with me sale-shopping meat, and 2 little kiddos who don’t eat much. By adding a super cheap dinner each week, you would save $20-40/month. My go-to cheap meals are:
- rice and beans taco bowl
- pancakes + eggs (or omelet if your people like that)
- spaghetti + jar of red sauce (each of these is $1 at Aldi…)
- scrounge/ leftovers
We do a meal like that about 6 times per month which saves about $40-50 each month. If you have any other cheap meal ideas, share them in the comments below! We’d love some variety… 🙂
#4 – ONLY 1 STORE TRIP EACH WEEK
Another easy way to save money is to go to the store less. One way to limit this is to just have a day you go to the store. If you only allow yourself to go to the store Wednesdays, for example, then just force yourself to plan well and eat whatever is around until the following Wednesday. No cheating and making a quick stop for 1 thing. Just do without. Try it for a month & you’ll get the hang of it.
Warning: if you’re going to do this once-a-week thing, make sure you stock up on coffee. Running out of coffee would be the WORST!!!!!
#5 – DON’T GO SHOPPING UNTIL YOU’RE OUT OF FOOD
An alternative to going once a week is to only go shopping when you’re completely out of food. Completely. This means you have to use everything you have in your pantry, cabinets, and fridge before you go to the store. (With the exception of milk.) How long do you think you could go before going to the store?
I use this strategy more as opposed to going one day a week. I often meal plan for a whole month (tips about how to do that here), and do a bigger shopping trip towards the beginning of the month. Then I make one or two smaller trips when we run out of produce and milk. For right now, this works better for our family than me going once a week. We spend less and waste less. Do what works for you in terms of grocery store frequency. For me, less trips to the store = less money spent.
#6 – STOCK UP BUT DON’T GO CRAZY.
Most stores have a sale cycle for certain foods. For example, we have a store owned by Kroger (Baker’s) that puts pork tenderloin, chicken breasts, and ground beef on sale for $1.99/lb every 4-6 weeks. When one goes on sale, I buy about a month’s worth of each and freeze it. When we’re running low, I start to keep an eye on the ads for a few weeks until it goes on sale again.
Stocking up on meat & frozen fruits and veggies will save you money in the long run, as long as you don’t go crazy and waste food or forget about it… you probably don’t need a 6 month’s supply of chicken breast in your freezer.
Side note about stocking up: I don’t coupon or anything, so I don’t stock up on most other foods. I know that people who are really good at couponing claim to save tons of money on food by getting things like cereal & canned goods for next-to-nothing, but I never wanted to put time and energy into figuring out how to maximize sales + 2 different coupons. Plus we don’t have pantry space to stock up on stuff and we don’t eat much packaged food.
Instead, I buy cereal and a few snacks at Aldi each month, as well as canned goods I need for recipes. I’ve found they’re almost always as cheap as other grocery stores’ sale prices anyway.
If you have a full pantry and freezer, try eating the food you have until your cabinets, pantry & freezer are bare… who cares if it makes for hodge podge dinners for a while. That’s fun in its own way. Plus, if every week that you don’t buy food is at least $100 saved, that’s a pretty quick and easy way to save on groceries.
#7 – DON’T EAT OUT
I am not anti-takeout. In fact, I love eating out! And as soon as we’re out of debt, we’ll probably add a weekly takeout night to the food budget even though it costs way more to eat out than in. BUT, if you, for whatever reason, are in a season of being as frugal as possible, then it goes without saying that you should not eat out. If you’re too tired to cook, just eat cereal and scrambled eggs. That costs like 50 cents now that the hens are healthy and eggs are cheap again 🙂
A slightly less extreme idea is to reward yourself with your favorite takeout at the end of the month… if you leave enough money in your grocery budget for it! That’s good motivation to spend wisely at the grocery store all month long.
# 8 – SKIP THE SIDES
I mentioned this earlier, but we often just eat meat + veggies. Sometimes I’ll add rice, pasta, or potatoes to stretch the meal. But other than that, I don’t really cook side dishes any more unless we’re having people over. Sides are fun, but they’re not necessary if you’re trying to scrimp and save on your grocery budget.
# 9 – KNOW HOW MUCH YOU EAT
I’ve found it really helpful to know how much of a given item we go through in a month for planning ahead and avoiding impulse buys.
Let’s take breakfast for example. A regular size container of oatmeal and a few boxes of cereal get us through the month for breakfast. The kids know that once the cereal is gone, it’s gone. And if it’s gone, we usually don’t buy more till next month. We also have eggs and fruit smoothies (with frozen fruit + juice + almond milk + spinach) most mornings. And there’s always easy, home-made pancakes.
Another example is meat quantities. For 2 of us adults & 2 little kids, 2-2.5 large chicken breasts is enough for a main dish at dinner. Or, about 1.5 lbs. I always buy chicken on sale for $1.99/lb. Say we have chicken in our dinner meal about 10 times in a month. That’s 12-15 pounds of chicken, which is $24 – $30 on sale. That breaks down to about $7.50/week on chicken. Knowing and factoring that in when I’m meal planning, stocking up on meat, and figuring out my weekly grocery budget is helpful.
If you have no idea how much of the basic food items your family consumes in a week, pay attention and write it down this week. Then, you’ll be able to figure out a realistic weekly grocery budget.
#10 – KNOW YOUR BUDGET BEFORE YOU GO
Before you head to the store, check how much is left in your food budget. We use YNAB for our budgeting tool, and I check it when I’m making my grocery list. In the past, I’ve also used cash for groceries, and only taken a certain amount into the store with me so that I can’t overspend. Whatever your budgeting method, check the remainder in the food budget before you go to the store. I usually quickly add up the cost of what’s on my list to make sure I’m within my budget.
We budget $400/ month for food which is about $100/week. We end up spending less per week on our regular food, and use the difference for entertaining usually. Here’s an example from this month.
On July 1, I spent $150 on a big grocery trip that got us much of the basics we’d need this month: a bunch of meat, a couple week’s worth of dairy, and some pasta, rice, oatmeal, cereal, and snack food. That leaves me $83 for 3 more weeks of groceries. (Produce, dairy, lunch meat, etc…) We impromptu decided to have people over on the 4th of July, so I made a trip to the store and spent about $45. Now I know that my new weekly remaining amount for the rest of the month is about $68/ week. If I have to go to the store on July 10, and there are 21 days left in the month, I know I have $68 max to spend that day (which is plenty for a quick refill of produce and dairy).
Knowing the numbers before I shop, and mentally adding up the cost of the food on my list as I shop helps me make budget-wise impulsive decisions about extra stuff like ice cream and wine. Okay, let’s be honest, those are necessities… 😉
Ok. That’s it. That’s basically every grocery-savings trip I’ve ever tried. Summed up briefly (not) in 1689 words.
Do you have any tips to add? Share them in the comments below!
Have fun saving money! Boo yah.