We live on a pretty tight budget, and (needless to say) the most important line item every month is food. Dave Ramsey says,“When it comes to money, take care of your household first. It doesn’t make sense to pay your credit card bill before your family is fed.” (You can replace “credit card bill” with just about anything.)
If it were just Clay and I, I’m sure we could live off canned beans and be fine, but having a child means I seek to have a pantry, fridge and freezer that are stocked with foods to make well-balanced meals.
I also think that eating should bring you joy. God created food and taste buds, and the act of eating can be worshipful (something about flavorful cheese stirs my affections for Jesus). I don’t think that shopping SMART means you eat a bland or boring diet, and it doesn’t mean you have eat the same thing every day.
Growing up, I watched my mom (who is a wonderful cook and an even better woman) waste time, money, and food because she had neither a plan nor an efficient method to shop and cook. I can’t tell you how often our fridge was full of raw food or leftovers that went to waste, or how many times my mom went to the grocery store each week.
As I anticipated being the manager of my own household, I came up with a plan to do things differently. Here are my tips for saving money each month on your grocery shopping.
Give yourself an amount each month that you can spend on groceries, and take it out in cash. If you don’t have a budget yet, you really should (but that’s another issue entirely). Whether or not you have a budget, you should definitely allot yourself a total dollar amount that you will spend on food each month in your household. I recommend making two totals: one for groceries, and one for eating out (if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that).
Our grocery bill was $300 or less a month, and with that we feed three adults and a toddler with a giant appetite. If our budget allows it, we also give ourselves $50 a month to spend eating out. This includes restaurants, fast food places, and even coffee shops or bars. You can decide whatever number is right for your budget, but make it reasonable.
Cooking and eating at home will save you so much money, and chances are it will be better for your health.
Cash is important because it means you’re much less likely to go over budget. This is another way to eat healthier as well. If all you have is $60 to spend on groceries for the week, you’re much less likely to spend $6 on ice cream because that’s 10% of your entire budget.
Use cash also when you go out to eat. And note: do not go out to eat if you cannot tip well.
2. Shop at home first.
Before you even go to the store, shop at home first. If you have some pasta left in the box, eat that before you go out and spend money on a whole new meal for which you have none of the ingredients. This is especially important for raw/fresh ingredients. Don’t let food go to waste. I make it a point to never get to the point where I’m throwing away food in my house because it has gone bad at the back of the fridge.
This is also true for leftovers: don’t cook if you have leftovers in your fridge!
3. Save your circulars.
Remember those ads for Walmart, Kroger, and Target that you always throw away because you regard them as junk mail? That was the old you. The new you saves them, looks through them, and plans your meals around them. If chicken breast is on sale this week at Kroger, guess what you’re eating this week? If you usually eat apples, but there’s a deal on grapes, go with the grapes. If you’re not eating the grapes fast enough, freeze them before they go bad. Frozen grapes are one of my favorite snacks.
Circulars run from Sunday to Saturday and are also great to use to match up a store sale with your coupons!
4. Use discount stores.
I love Aldi. I always shop there first, and like it best for dry goods/non-perishables, some dairy, and some veggies. I prefer other supermarkets for my fruits and meats, and I love the Nashville Farmer’s Market, but that’s not as pleasant in the winter (especially a winter as cold as this).
I know there’s a lot out there about eating a diet of foods that you can only buy at Whole Foods, but for most American families living on a tighter budget, it just doesn’t make sense economically. I’m (not) sorry, y’all: I’m not going to buy a tiny $4 bag of organic rice. I am not foolish or crazy when I say that you shouldn’t go into debt over your diet. It’s more wise to stretch your dollar and eat the best that you possibly can for your budget.
5. Create a meal plan system.
Growing up, my dad was always trying to implement systems to make our household more efficient. There was a system for the laundry, a system for chores, a system for toys. Of course I didn’t see it then, but as I get older I realize I have inherited his strategic thinking.
Create a system that works for you. I have a recipe box with recipe cards because I’m old school. It has all the recipes I love from home, some I’ve been given to try by friends and family, and ones I’ve made from Pinterest or blogs and adored.
I also did a very Pinterest-y crafty thing and made a weekly menu board with my husband. Each recipe has its own corresponding laminated card for the board, and there are separate boxes for meat and vegetarian dishes. I like to cook meat three times, vegetarian three times, and eat leftovers once every week. Cutting down on meat is not only good for us, but meat is expensive, so we can save money there as well.
My two-day system looks like this:
Sunday: Make a mental inventory of my fridge, freezer and pantry. Get my Sunday papers, clip coupons and shop the circulars for what’s on sale at the grocery store. Plan my meals for the week and write my shopping list based on the recipes.
Monday: Go shopping for the entire week’s worth of groceries. (Note: Sometimes I have to hit a few stores to make sure I’m getting all the best deals.) The only reason I would go to the store twice is if we are out of something important before the week is up. My house goes through bananas and milk like crazy, so sometimes I’m at the store on Wednesday to pick up those.
House managers–how much are you spending on groceries each month? Do you have other things you like to do weekly to save money on your grocery bill?