In this post I want to share some tips on how to save money on groceries. Groceries are a very high percentage of our budgets and if we are not careful we can go overboard very easily.
Saving money on groceries does not need to be a painful ordeal but it requires some planning. There are things that you absolutely have to do if you want to make this happen. Here are a few of the things that work for me.
1.Obviously, the first thing you need to do is decide how much money you are going to allot to purchasing food every month. For this you will need to have a budget. Personally, I hate working on a budget but life has taught me that this is the only way to make things work – especially when things are tight.
2.Once you know how much money you will be using each week, get that amount in cash and shop with it. Leave your debit card or credit card at home. It is so easy to overdo things when you are using plastic. However, if you use your cash, you will not be able to spend more that you had decided to. You might have to return some items at the store if your math didn’t work but that is a lot better than spending beyond your means.
3.Always, always, always shop with a list. In order to do so you need to know what you are going to cook in advance and what you already have at home. As I stated earlier, we grew up with weekly menus. I have 4 siblings so that meant we all got to pick our favorite meal for one day a week. My mother hated eating the same foods over and over again so we had to be creative with our choices.
Creating a menu can be a fun family activity! It gives you new ideas and gets you out of the ‘what am I going to cook tonight ‘rut that so many of us suffer from! It also allows all the members in your family to have a say. In this case, this is a good thing. Believe me. It is easy to go blank when it comes to planning family weekly meals – over and over again!
If you can’t decide, simply look through this book as a guide. You will have a delicious array of meals to pick from. I like to plan my week with a beef dish, a chicken dish, a pork dish, a vegetarian dish and a pasta dish. That way I always have a variety of meals to feed the family. I try and make sure I plan around specific meals to use up all left overs. For example, if I make a pot roast in the slow cooker on Monday, I most probably will have enough meat to make a ragu for pasta and eat it on Tuesday.
Don’t forget to look into the fridge and keep your perishable foods in mind! If you have half a bell pepper, make sure your menu includes something with it! It is so easy to forget all those left over vegetables that are still great for you to cook with. Think about how many times you’ve reached into your vegetable box in the fridge and gasped in fear of being attacked by that slimy, hairy thing lying at the bottom of it! Gives me the shivers all the time.
Make sure you check your freezer as well. There are only a few times not following your list is OK. One of them is when you have killer deals in the meat section of the grocery store. If you happen to stumble upon a deal that is great, go ahead and purchase more than you need and freeze it when you get home. However, don’t get in the habit of stocking your freezer full of deals you do not use. This a very costly as you will probably end up throwing away frozen food so old you can’t even figure out what it is. Although the meat is safe to eat it will have lost all of its freshness.
Another thing to look for in the freezer is food you might have made in excess and frozen for another date. Sometimes, it is great to make a super large batch of spaghetti sauce or chili or an extra casserole. This saves you time and saves you on super busy days. But, it will only serve this purpose if you actually use it! So, check out what you have and work around those ingredients or meals as well.
Although pantry items are non-perishable, it is also a good idea to check these out while working on your menu. Say you found an amazing deal on canned tomatoes and stocked up on them; make sure you consume them before they expire. Ultimately the goal here is to eat fresh food and prevent waste from oversight – which is very easy to do.
One last thing to keep in mind is to work around your grocery store’s weekly specials. If you live in the USA you will most probably get a weekly flyer in the mail with all the sales for the week. If you do not get one, go ahead and check out my website – http://TheFrugalChef.com. You will find a tab called “Weekly Savings” on the top tool bar. Click on it and your grocery store should be on the list. You will find a printable, weekly flyer which you can use to help you out with your decisions. If your store is not on the list, go ahead and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily add it for you. Don’t forget to take your coupons with you and use them. They are, after all, free cash the store is giving you. Take advantage of it!
Once you have all this information, go ahead and create your list. I know this sounds like a lot of work but, believe me, this is something you can do fairly quickly if you organize yourself. This simple step will allow you to save a lot of cash through the year. You will be surprised at how much fresher your cooking will be and at how little food you will waste. It is truly worth it. I promise you!
4.Never shop hungry! This is such a crucial mistake. When you are hungry your mind plays cruel tricks on you. This is probably the easiest way to stray from your list.
5.If at all possible, leave the children at home. Nothing is more anti-frugal than bringing the kids along. It turns into a small war, with kids throwing things in the cart and you putting them back. It is also stressful because kids know exactly how to push your guilt buttons. If you are a softie, like I am, you will probably succumb to their pathetic puppy eyes.
6.Search your store for ‘Manager’s Specials’. These are items that are perfectly good to eat but must be sold as soon as possible. Without a doubt, the items you will save the most on are meats. These are typically hidden in some obscure section of the meat displays. You will be absolutely pleased at the deals you can find here. If there is something that is priced ridiculously low, and is not on your list, you can do one of two things: modify your menu a bit or, if you can afford it, purchase it and freeze it for future use.
However, you will find these hidden deals in most of your stores departments. Take a little time when grocery shopping to track these down. Most of the time, stores will have the items they want you to buy at eye level. Check out the items on the top or bottom racks. They will most probably be quite a bit cheaper. This is where you will find your deals.
7.Shop generic. You will be amazed at the difference in price between your favorite brands and the generic ones. What is more, you will be pleasantly surprised – most of the time – at the quality of these store brands. If there is something you can absolutely not compromise on, say Ketchup for example, buy the one you want. But don’t be afraid of giving the store brand products a chance. You will save lots of cash.
If you are using coupons, make sure to compare between brand names and generic. Sometimes the coupon will actually make the brand name product cheaper.
8.Shop seasonal. Every season has its stars. When produce is in season it is abundant and cheap. What is more there is always so many different choices that come with every season. Cook accordingly. A great place to find cheaper and super fresh produce is at your Farmer’s Markets. By all means, if you have one around, use it. You will get deliciously fresh food at a lower cost.
9.If you have a choice, shop at ethnic grocery stores. These tend to be so much less expensive than your local neighborhood one.
10.Take advantage of large sales on imperishable items. Sometimes stores will offer amazing deals on items like cereal. If you eat a lot of it, buy it. What is more, if you have a large family it makes sense to become a member of the BJ’s and Costco’s of the world. These large stores offer products in bulk and you will definitely save in the long run. You really need to budget well for these kinds of stores. I have been known to gasp at the final bill when I visit these – only to remember most of the products will last me a few weeks.
One recommendation on this kind of shopping – be careful of buying perishable foods in large quantities. If you are sure you can finish 24 mangoes before they go bad, for example, go ahead and purchase the case. I am exaggerating here for effect. It is easy to get trapped in the ‘wow, these onion are so cheap’ scenario, buy 100 onions, and end up throwing 80 away. So, unless you are going to be making gallons and gallons of onion soup and onion based dishes this super cheap deal is probably not for you. I guess the same applies to items like 5 gallons of mayonnaise. Who needs to eat so much mayonnaise? Just be careful!
11.Eat out as little as possible. This is a very expensive practice. Not only is it hard on your wallet, chances are you will eat better and, for sure, healthier at home. It is a common misconception that fast food is cheaper than homemade. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fast food is downright expensive and it is so absolutely bad for you.
12.Finally, make wise use of your leftovers. Left-over food that is wasted can become a great, big expense. If you can create a new meal from them, do so! Many times you will have left over roasted chicken or pot roast or braised pork. Make new meals with them. Or, use them for taking to work or sending to school the next day. Please, whatever you do, don’t throw your food away! It is very expensive and plain wrong. We will talk more about left-overs.
These are my twelve little steps for saving money on food. I promise you will see a difference in your finances and you will absolutely eat better, healthier and fresher food.