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Once you’ve set up your grocery budget and created some accountability to actually stick with it, it’s time to start considering some simple ways you could shave off some of your grocery expenses.
Groceries are one of the budget areas that are the very easiest to cut — and it’s the first place I encourage people to start if they are looking to get their finances in better order.
Why? Because the majority of Americans could make some simple changes in their lifestyle and grocery purchases that would pretty easily reduce their grocery expenses by $50 or more!
Now, here’s the thing: some of you don’t need to cut a penny off your grocery budget. You have worked hard to keep your budget low, you are couponing ninjas, you cook from scratch, you plan inexpensive menus, you cook with beans and rice, and you eat up all your leftovers.
This post is not for you (unless you want to share some of your wisdom in the comments — which we would love!). This post is for the average American who is feeling like they know they are spending way more on groceries than they should, but they just need some ideas as to how to get started lowering their budget.
I thought through a lot of grocery-saving strategies and came up with 10 simple techniques that could save you $5 per week if you employed them — for a total of $50 in savings every week!
If you’re looking for a little wiggle room in your budget, try a few of these ideas:
1. Use Up What You Have on Hand
When I plan our menu, I look through the cupboards, pantry, and fridge and freezer and see what we already have on hand. Maybe a recipe only used half a carton of something, maybe I have extras from an item I got marked down, or maybe there other items we didn’t use the week before.
I take note of these items and try to incorporate them into the menu plan for the following week. If you need some ideas on how to incorporate these ingredients into your menu plan, check out RecipeMatcher.com, SuperCook.com, or MyFridgeFood.com.
In addition, I often get creative in substituting items I already have on hand instead of buying something. Learning how to substitute ingredients has saved so much money and extra trips to the store. Here’s a great list of recipe substitutions. You can often Google for ingredient substitutions and get some great ideas.
2. Look at Your Grocery Fliers Online
Planning your menu based upon what’s on sale at your local store(s) is where you really start to see the savings happening! Most grocery store chains have their weekly sale fliers available online. If not, you will often receive a copy in the mail. Or, you could even pick one up at the store if you’re going to be driving right by it.
Quickly browse through these sale fliers and see if there are any exceptional deals on items like meat or dairy or produce. Whenever possible, plan some of your menu based upon these sales!
Most of the time, the hottest deals of the week are listed predominantly in the front page of the flier. Oftentimes, these front-page deals are “loss-leaders”.
(“Loss-leaders” are deals which the store is actually breaking even– or losing money on! They are designed to be good enough to “bait” you into shopping at that store.)
Don’t neglect to look through the full flier, though. Sometimes there are great deals which are hidden on the middle pages. However, remember that just because something is listed in the sales flier it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great deal. Over time, you’ll start learning what are the “rock-bottom” prices for items you buy and how often they go on sale in your area.
3. Only Buy the Produce That’s on Sale
Produce prices can kill your budget — but they don’t have to! One thing we try to do is pretty much stick to buying what produce is in season and on sale. (You can print a Seasonal Produce Chart here.)
For instance, when apples are on sale, I’ll buy a few bags of them and that will be our go-to fruit for the week. When grapes are on sale, we mostly eat grapes for fruit that week. When carrots are on sale, we eat a lot of carrots.
Sure, this means that we eat a lot of the same kinds of produce in one week. It might seem boring, but it sure saves a lot of money. And over the course of the year, we’re eating lots of different fruits and veggies!
4. Print Some Coupons
Once you’ve made your shopping list based upon the weekly sales fliers, check the Coupon Database and Store Deal Match-ups on our site to see if there are any printable coupons available for products you’re planning to buy.
If you’re not familiar with these resources on our site, here’s how they work:
Coupon Database: Just search for the product name of what you’re already planning to buy and the Coupon Database will automatically generate a list of all coupons available for that product. It does all the legwork for you–all you have to do is type in the products you want to buy and print the coupons!
Store Deal Database: We have a listing of the best weekly sales and coupon match-ups at over 100 grocery store chains nationwide on the Store Deals Section of our site? Find and click on your store(s) logo here and it will take you to this week’s best deals list for your local store(s).
Quickly scan the list to see if there are any deals you’re interested in doing and print any coupons you’ll need for those deals. You can also click through the link at the bottom of each list to see an extensive sale and deal list put together by a blogger who lives in your area.
(Note: If you don’t want to mess with checking the Store Deal Section every week, you can sign up to have the list of the best deals for your local stores emailed to you each week when the sale ads come up. We’re all about saving you time–and money!)
Taking five minutes of your time to check the Coupon Database and Store Deal Match-ups when planning your shopping trip could easily save you $5 or $10–or more!
5. Ditch Breakfast in a Box
You can save a lot of money and feed your family more wholesomely if you ditch breakfast out of a cereal box! I’m a big fan of make ahead breakfasts — that way you don’t have to worry about cooking a hot breakfast every morning!
Pancakes and waffles can be made ahead of time and frozen. Just whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles, let cool, and then stick in airtight freezer bags. When you’re ready to serve, you can warm them in the oven, microwave, or toaster oven.
Breakfast burritos are a hearty grab-and-go food that teenage boys and men seem to especially love. Make a big batch on the weekends, freeze individually in foil, and then they can just be pulled out and microwaved before heading out the door in the morning. (Be sure to remove the foil before microwaving!)
We love muffins at our house! To make them ahead, just bake your favorite muffin recipe, let them cool, and stick them in an airtight freezer bag or other container. When you’re ready to eat them, just pull out however many you need and microwave or let them thaw for 15 or 20 minutes and they are ready to eat!
Find a bunch of other Make Ahead Breakfast Ideas here.
6. Have One Meatless Dinner
If you cut your meat consumption by one meal per week, you’ll usually save close to $5! For most families, it wouldn’t be too hard to cut back on $5 worth of meat each week — especially if you’re willing to get a little creative.
Meatless doesn’t have to mean tasteless. Try making Bean & Cheese Burritos, breakfast for dinner, or even meatless lasagna. Need more ideas? Check out this list of 52 Meatless Meals that I posted earlier today. You can also read my post on How to Live on Beans & Rice for a Week.
If your family isn’t keen on the idea of going completely meatless, stretching your meat with legumes is a great way to save money while still eating meat. Mexican dishes, bean soups, and chili are recipes that you can pretty easily add in extra beans to replace some of the meat without most people realizing it.
Lentils hide especially well in taco meat, too. Just add in cooked lentils to your ground beef along with your usual seasonings and there’s a good chance your family won’t even notice!
Also, stop centering your meal around meat as the main thing and instead view meat as a garnish. Use it as a topping for pizza or salads, or stir some into stir fries or soups. The less the meal’s focal point is a big hunk of meat, the more you’ll likely save.
7. Cook 2 Things From Scratch
You can save so much money off your grocery bill by cooking from scratch. However, if you’re cooking from scratch solely for the purpose of saving money (not for the health benefits or because you enjoy it), make sure it’s worth the return on your investment of time.
If you spend hours in the kitchen and it’s only saving you a $1 or so per hour to make things from scratch, it’s likely not worth your time. That’s why I don’t make homemade tortillas.
I have a personal policy that I must be saving at least $20 per hour to invest my time in any money-saving tactic. This helps me to focus my energy and effort on those things that are really going to make a difference in our budget, instead of exerting half a day on something that really doesn’t change our bottom line.
It’s easy to think that cooking from scratch has to be a huge time investment, but that’s often not the case. In fact, in 10 minutes, you can easily throw a big batch of beans in the crockpot to cook and a loaf of bread in the bread machine.
You’ll never know how much time something will take you or how much you’ll enjoy making it until you’ve actually experimented with it. So go ahead, try making homemade refried beans, homemade go-gurts, freezer-friendly breakfast burritos, homemade baking mix, or homemade pizza.
8. Have a Leftovers Night
We try to have at least one or two leftover nights per week. It saves time, because we don’t have to plan a dinner or make dinner or clean up the dishes from dinner. And it saves money, because we don’t have to buy the ingredients for another lunch or dinner.
It’s such a simple, no-brainer thing, but saving money in simple ways on a regular basis adds up over time! We’ve also found that serving leftovers for dinner on busy nights cuts down on the temptation to grab carryout. So on busy nights, I’ll often set out all the odds and ends in the fridge and declare it a Leftover Buffet night.
For those of you who wish you had leftovers but it seems like your hungry teens or growing kiddos eat everything you make, consider doubling a casserole or soup recipe you’re making a couple times per week and sticking half the recipe in the fridge or freeze before you eat dinner that night. That way, you’re guaranteeing you’ll have “leftovers” to eat later in the week! 😉
My favorite part of eating leftovers for dinner? Less kitchen clean-up!
9. Save Up Your Swagbucks
When we buy specialty ingredients — such as protein powder and olive oil — and we get these with Amazon using gift cards earned through Swagbucks. It’s a great way to be able to afford a few of those high-quality ingredients we love to use in recipes.
I signed up with Swagbucks years ago and have since earned many, many gift cards from them. While much of my Swagbucks credit now is earned from referring readers here (thank you, all!), as I’ve written about, you don’t need to refer others to still earn at least $25 to $40 in Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks — which can be a huge help to your grocery budget!
10. Don’t Impulse Buy
Finally, the best way to save money on groceries is to make sure that you only buy what you planned to buy. Make a menu plan, make a grocery list, and stick with the list.
Also, you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: don’t grocery shop when you are hungry or when you feel like stress-eating. And, if you have family members who encourage you to impulse buy, leave them at home. 😉
If you’re new to budgeting and to saving on groceries, please do not go and try to do all of these things this week. That’s a surefire way to set yourself up for overwhelm!
Instead, pick one idea and commit to do it for the next 4 weeks. If you like it and it saves you money, then make it habit. Once it’s a habit, add in another idea. And so on and so forth.
Don’t try to radically overhaul your grocery budget overnight. Focus on cutting it by 1-3% every month. It’s much more doable and sustainable this way — and there’s a good chance you’ll actually stick with it!
What are YOUR ideas for simple strategies to cut your grocery bill by at least $5 per week? Share them in the comments!
“You drink a GALLON of lemon water every day?!?!”
Yes, I do! And it’s completely changed my skin, my energy, and my overall health. (Well, that combined with a bunch of other dietary and lifestyle changes. You can read more about those lifestyle changes here.)
As I’ve alluded to this online and offline over the past 21 weeks I’ve been doing this, many people have asked a number of questions on how I manage to do this, what advice I’d have to help them drink more water, and if I spend all day long in the bathroom as a result! 🙂
For those wondering how on earth this is feasible, here are my tips:
1. Use a Gallon Jug
I’ve found that it’s so much easier to track how much I’m drinking if I fill up a gallon jug every single morning and just drink from that all day long.
Because of the health benefits, I drink lemon water. So I fill up a gallon jug with approximately 10 Tablespoons lemon juice to 1 gallon water. I use bottled lemon juice most of the time, just to save time — and because I’d be going through a TON of lemons otherwise!
I buy a new plastic gallon jug every other week. I know some people recommend using glass instead of plastic, but because I take my jug with me much of the day, it’s more practical to use plastic. If I were home all of the time, glass would totally work.
2. Find a Tumbler You Love
One of the keys I’ve found for drinking more water is to drink from a tumbler that I love. I recommend getting a tumbler with a lid and a straw. It makes it easier for taking it with you everywhere, makes it more fun to drink, and prevents spills!
I use the Contigo tumblers. They are a little pricey to invest in but I use one all day every day, so it’s been very worth it to me. Plus they come in fun colors!
3. Sip Water All Day Long
Start sipping on water as soon as you get up. Your body is typically pretty dehydrated in the morning and drinking a tall glass of water within 30 minutes of waking will do wonders for your energy and will likely help you feel better, too!
I keep my tumbler next to me pretty much all day long and just sip on water as I’m working, as I’m cleaning, as I’m out running errands. I take my tumbler with me pretty much everywhere — even if I’m just running in somewhere for 30 minutes. And I take my gallon jug of water with me anytime I’m going to be gone for longer than an hour.
It makes me so happy to see the gallon jug of water going down all day long and I always do a little happy dance when I get down to the “bottom of the barrel”!
Note: I try to drink more water in the mornings. I find that I’m thirstier in the mornings — especially because that’s when I work out. Plus, I’ve found that it’s easier to drink more in the mornings. So I aim to only have 2-3 more tumblers of water to drink after 3 p.m.
In addition, this will help you sleep better at night — especially at first before your body has adjusted — because you’re not having to wake up every three hours to use the restroom.
4. Give Your Body Time to Adjust
It will be hard at first and you will feel like you go to the bathroom all. the. time. But don’t give up. Keep with it — even when you feel like you’re crazy for drinking so much water.
Your body will adjust over the course of a few weeks and you will no longer be heading to the bathroom twice every hour! 🙂 I promise!
In addition, if you’re anything like me, within a few weeks, your skin will start to look healthier and less dry, you will discover you have more energy, you have fewer aches and pains, you rarely ever have headaches, your digestive system is really regulated, and you are hungrier and thirstier — all while you may even lose a little weight!
And, if you’re anything like me, you realize that you probably have been dehydrated all of your life and you now love and crave the taste of water and don’t want to go anywhere without having a good supply of it with you!!
How Drinking Water Saves You Money
If you typically spend money on soda or coffee every day, switching to mostly drinking water instead can save you a significant amount of money!
For instance, let’s say you spend $1.50 per day on a coffee or a soda. If you switch to water or lemon water, you’ll save at least $450 per year. And that’s even adding in the cost of buy a bottle of lemon juice every other week (about $50 total — depending upon where you buy it from) + investing in nice tumblers ($20).
In addition, if you switch from soda or coffee to mostly drinking water, you’ll likely have fewer headaches and cramps, you’ll probably have more energy, you’ll likely lose at least a little weight. Without spending a dime!
Note: I’m not giving medical advice here, just sharing what has worked for me. Please do what is best for you and your body and get the advice of medical professionals if you’re not sure whether drinking more water is right for you or not. I’m just answering the question I’ve been asked over and over again the last 21 weeks I’ve been doing this!!
So far in this series, we’ve talked about: how there is no one right way to set up a grocery budget, how much you should spend on groceries, and how to track how much you’re spending.
Today, I want to tackle one of the most important parts of sticking with a grocery budget… namely, how to actually stick with it!
You can have all the best intentions in the world, you can set up an amazing grocery budget, and you can create a really good accountability system, but if you don’t actually follow through with it, you’ll never be successful at grocery budgeting.
Before we talk about some practical tips on how to actually stick with your grocery budget, I want to first address three things I don’t want you to do. Because if you do any of these three things, it could keep you from being successful in following through with your budget.
1. Don’t Make Excuses
I often hear people say things like, “I can’t have a grocery budget because we live in a high cost of living area.” Or, “We can’t stick to a grocery budget because we have variable income.”
Here’s the deal: You can sit there and make excuses or you can get up and do the best you can do with the situation you’re in and the income you have. It’s your choice.
If you need encouragement for setting up a grocery budget — even if you have a weird or difficult current life situation — be sure to read the comments on this post where folks all over the country tell about where they live, how many people are in their family, and what their grocery budget is. I think it will really inspire you.
You can do this, too! Nothing’s stopping you from success except your own excuses!
2. Don’t Stress Over Making Mistakes
Remember, if you’re brand-new to budgeting, you will make mistakes. You will probably find that there are times when it’s more difficult than you think it should be.
You will probably go over-budget some in the beginning. This is normal. This is how you learn and grow and get better.
When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t call yourself a failure. Don’t throw up your hands and decide that this grocery budgeting thing isn’t for you.
Remind yourself that this is part of the learning curve, think about what you can learn from you mistake, and consider what you need to change or do differently so you don’t make the same mistake again. And then give yourself grace and get back in the game!
3. Don’t Worry if You Have to Tweak It
You will likely need to tweak the budget as you go — especially if you are new to budgeting and just picked a number that you think will work. As real-life happens and you are actually trying to stick with this number that you had initially thought would work, there’s a good chance you’ll find you need to change it.
That’s totally okay and acceptable. In fact, I always tell people that it usually takes 3-6 months when you’re brand-new to budgeting to really figure out what a good number is. Tweaking is part of the process!
In addition to the initial tweaking, you’ll also want to tweak your budget as your needs and your family changes. As time goes on, if the number you have chosen just isn’t working and is making your life miserable, it’s 100% okay to tweak that number again.
Like I said earlier in this series, a good grocery budget is one that works for you and your own family. So be sure to regularly re-visit the number you’ve chosen to see if you need to change it.
We’ve significantly increased our budget the past two years because that is what was best for our family. I don’t feel guilt about that. Instead, I’m grateful that we can do what is best for our own family and that we’ve found a grocery budget amount that works best for us right now.
2 Simple Tips on How to Actually Stick With Your Budget
Plan Your Menu With Your Budget In Mind — Think about how much items cost and keep this in mind when you are planning your menu. If you have no idea, start keeping a price book to help you learn the general prices of items so you can better gauge how much the recipes you’ve chosen on your menu plan are going to cost.
Use a Calculator At the Store — One simple way to save money on your grocery bill is to always bring a calculator with you when you shop. Since I use cash when I shop, it’s important to keep a tally of how much I’ve spent so far so that I don’t get up to the register and not have enough money to pay for my groceries. Keeping a running total also encourages me to carefully evaluate all purchases as I put them into my cart — and it helps ward off the temptation to make impulse purchases on things I don’t really need to buy.
For more inspiration:
- Brigette’s $39 Grocery Shopping Trip + Weekly Menu Plan for 6
- 2 Proven Systems to Track How Much You’re Spending on Groceries
- 6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low — Without Using Coupons
What help you to stick with your grocery budget? Do you have any great tips or tricks? I’d love to hear!
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