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Category: Living Simply
Do you pay attention to the screen as your groceries are being rung up in the checkout lane? If not, you could be regularly being over-charged — and not even know it!
Case in point: See those bags of apples? They were in the Reduced Produce section at our Kroger store. And everything in the reduced produce section is just $0.99 per bag of produce.
Well, when I went to checkout at Kroger, the kind man who was ringing up my groceries didn’t know this and he punched in the code on one of the apples and charged me by weight — which was $3 more per bag of apples than it was supposed to be!
I caught it immediately because I was watching the screen and I asked him if he could fix it, which he did.
But it was a reminder of how important it is that we pay attention to what we are being charged, know what the prices are on items we are buying, and ask for something to be corrected if it’s not accurate.
These simple actions could save us hundreds of dollars every year!
Do you struggle to get dinner on the table every night? Do you feel like you’re constantly waiting until the last minute to figure out dinner and then sort of going into panic mode when 5 p.m. rolls around and the people in your home are hungry?
(I know. What is it about people wanting to eat every single night?? I always say that if we didn’t have to eat, sleep, or wear clothes, it would save us so much time and effort! I mean, no laundry, we could use all 24 hours in our day, and we wouldn’t ever have to make food or clean up dishes!! ;))
If making dinner every night is a challenge, here’s my #1 tip for getting dinner on the table every night:
My #1 Tip: Plan & Prep Your Dinner in the Morning
Don’t wait until 5 p.m. to think about what you are going to eat for dinner. Don’t even wait until 5 p.m. to start making dinner. Get into the habit of planning and prepping your dinner before breakfast or right after breakfast.
I know that you have a lot to do in the morning. I know you might just feel like, “I gotta get out the door! I don’t have time to think about dinner in the morning!”
But trust me on this: you will be SO glad you planned and prepped ahead later on in the day.
I’ve been experimenting with using my Slow Cooker almost exclusively the past month and I’ve been challenging myself to make dinner and have it in the Crock-Pot before 11 a.m. (Yes, that’s not really breakfast time, but I’m all about giving myself some grace! ;))
You guys! I cannot believe the difference that this makes! When I get dinner made in the mornings, I go throughout the rest of my day feeling like I’m so on top of things (even if I am kind of a hot mess the rest of the day) because dinner is DONE!
In addition, it encourages our family to eat healthier since we aren’t tempted to grab quick food or take out, it saves money because we are eating at home, and it encourages our family to be more consistent about eating dinner together. Plus, it just makes me really happy to be making yummy food for my family and having them love what I’m cooking!
3 Resources to Help You Get Dinner Done Early
- Follow Me on Facebook — At least 3-4 mornings every week, I’m doing a live video on Facebook in the mornings as I’m making dinner. This is not only public accountability for me, but I’ve heard from my followers that this morning video reminds them to get dinner prepped and gives them some great ideas of very simple recipes they can make. Follow me on Facebook here.
- Join the Eat at Home Challenge Facebook Group — Need more encouragement to get dinner on the table every night? Join the Eat at Home Challenge Facebook Group. It’s a group full of women who share what they are making every night for dinner. It’s filled with great ideas and inspiration! Go here to request to join the Eat at Home Challenge Facebook Group.
- Sign up for the Eat at Home Menu Plan — I cannot sing the praises of this menu plan enough! We’ve been using it for our family for the past month and just love, love, love it! The recipes are so simple, so yummy, and have been a hit at our house. Plus, it’s only a few dollars per week and you get three different menu plans for every week — which is so worth it if it saves you a lot of time, money, and stress! (We use the Slow Cooker menu plan and highly recommend it.) Find out more about the Eat at Home Menu Plan service here.
What tips and advice do you have for getting dinner on the table every night? I’d love to hear!
We are trying to get out of debt and after going over numbers again today it never seems like it’s gonna happen, and after spending time crying today, I just need to get up and make it happen one step at a time. -Amber
Amber left this comment on my Instagram back in December and it’s one of those comments I’ve thought about a lot since reading it. I think many of you can probably relate.
Maybe it feels like you’re working so hard to make progress on paying off debt and for all your hard work, you have little or nothing to show for it.
You’re worn out.
You’re sick of having to say no to extras in the budget.
You’re exhausted from working extra hours or having a spouse who is working extra hours.
Maybe you just got one credit card paid off and then you had a medical emergency and now you have the same amount of debt — or more! — to pay off.
It feels like you are fighting a losing battle.
You just can’t ever seem to really get ahead.
You’re frustrated that your husband didn’t get that raise he thought he was going to.
You’re tired of living in a less-than-desirable apartment that is too small for your family.
You’re overwhelmed by all the bills coming in, the rising costs of living, and just trying to make ends meet.
You just want to give up and give in… and maybe go shopping without having a bud
get, for once.
Can I just encourage you today? You are not alone.
There are many, many others out there who get what you are feeling. I read their comments and emails every week. And my heart hurts for you and the financial struggles that so many of you are going through.
Here’s what I want to encourage you with: Don’t give up. Don’t throw up your hands and give up on your budget.
You might feel like you are stuck, like there’s not a lot that you can do to fix or change your situation. But there is always something you can do!
What You CAN Do
- You can choose to make the most of today, exactly where you are. (“Bloom where you are planted!”)
- You can choose to look for the blessings and be grateful for them. (The more you look for something, the more you’ll usually see it!)
- You can choose to approach saving money as a game or a challenge. (“Let’s see how little we can live on today! Let’s see how far we can stretch this meat to last this week. Let’s see how creative we can be with what we have in our pantry!”)
- You can choose to celebrate any win, no matter how small. Because a win is a win! (You stayed within your small grocery budget this week? Totally a win! You put $5 extra toward your debt? Absolutely a win! You found a way to make do with what you had? 100% a win!)
- You can choose to focus on the next right thing you need to do — instead of being overwhelmed by everything you need to do, want to do, or feel like you should do. (When you start feeling completely overwhelmed, ask yourself: “What’s the next right thing for me to do?” And then just focus on doing that.)
- You can choose to set small goals — for today, for this week, for this month. (Stop focusing on big picture of how much debt you still have to pay off. Just focus on paying off the debt you can this week and this month.)
- You can choose to make the right decisions to help you make progress today. (How do you replace bad habits with good habits? By making one right decision at a time! You can do this!)
Take baby steps. Live fully present today. Do the next right thing. Don’t give up!
What encouragement do you have for Amber or others in her situation? Share in the comments!
Looking for some quick and easy ways to cut your grocery bill? Here are five ideas…
I wrote a post a few weeks back with 10 simple ways to cut your grocery bill by $50 this week. I had so much fun putting that together, but I didn’t have room to share all of my ideas. So here are five more simple way to cut your grocery bill today:
1. Plan a Menu
Do you dread 5 p.m. because it’s when you have to try to pull something together for dinner or feel guilty about ordering takeout yet again? Do you often find yourself running to the store at the last-minute in a frazzled state rushing through the aisles and throwing random things into your cart in hopes it will magically create a five-course dinner?
The truth is, you could throw away the 5 p.m. dread and almost completely eradicate the frazzled last-minute grocery store trips if you sat down at the beginning of the week and made a menu plan.
I can’t even begin to calculate how much we’ve saved over the years through the simple act of menu planning. By planning ahead and buying all the groceries we’ll need for the week in one shopping trip, we save numerous trips to the store throughout the week. In addition, when you have a plan in place for what you’re supposed to be eating each meal and you’ve already purchased the ingredients for those recipes, it’s a lot harder to justify chucking the plan for takeout.
2. Go to More Than One Store
When I mention how I save a lot of money by shopping at more than one store, I’m often met with resistance:
“But I don’t have time to go to more than one store! I can barely make it into Walmart once a week.”
“That’s not saving money! You’re wasting all sorts of time and gas running around to fifteen different stores in one day. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective and efficient to just do all your shopping at one store each week?”
“I’m glad that works for you, but I don’t have near the patience or organization to even attempt something like that!”
Let me be clear: I am not advocating going to 15 different stores that are 45 minutes away from your home in order to save $2 at each store. That’s not saving money, in my definition. Instead, that’s wasting enormous amounts of time and effort and producing little to show for it but wear and tear on your vehicle and an exorbitant gas bill.
What I am advocating is taking a little bit of time to scout at your nearby stores each week and pick a few which have the best sales and deals. Then base your grocery trip planning on shopping only at those stores.
3. Shop the Markdowns
The very first thing I do when I walk into a grocery store is to go around the perimeter of the store and look for the orange markdown stickers on items. I hit the produce section first. Then the meat, dairy, and bread items.
By starting with looking for markdowns, I then can rework my grocery list if I hit on a great deal. For example, if I was planning to buy carrots and cucumbers to use as raw veggies during the week, but I found a big bag of marked-down colored peppers and a marked-down head of cauliflower, if they were less expensive than the carrots and cucumbers I was planning to buy, I’d likely swap them and save a dollar or two.
My favorite thing about buying markdowns is that they add some variety to our menu. While I might not pay full price for a roast or salmon, I’ll snatch it up if it’s marked down by 50%.
I often receive the question, “How do you find out when a store marks down groceries?” I wish I had some super-secret answer to tell you so that you could just magically find markdowns at your store. However, each store is different and often the policies vary widely even in the same store chain in the same town. Sometimes, a store doesn’t even have policies for markdowns and it is based upon whatever mood the produce manager is in as to what kind of deals you’ll find.
Some store chains have a policy against marking items down. The best way to find out is to just ask. Usually, the produce manager is the person to start with.
Inquire what they do with produce that is going bad or milk that is almost to its expiration date and see if they have a policy on marking these items down. If they don’t, ask if you could get a discount if you found a gallon of milk which was expiring in a few days or produce which was going bad.
Find out more of my tips for saving money by shopping the markdowns at this post here.
4. Buy in Bulk
You can save at least 20% off the price of many staple products by buying them in bulk. If you’re going to be using the bulk amount of something over the course of a year and it can be stored for a long period of time, you might as well purchase it in quantity at a discount, right?
I save around $27 per year by buying yeast from Sam’s Club instead of at the grocery store. However, I don’t find it is worth it to pay for the membership. Instead, I just go in on the get in free days that they have a few times per year.
Be aware that not all warehouse packages are a good deal. In fact, many times, you’ll pay more per ounce for buying the large package than you’d pay if you bought multiple smaller packages when they are on a great sale at the grocery store.
You can often purchase large quantities of produce seconds for great prices from local farms (check LocalHarvest.org to see if there are farms near you that sell to the public). And if you like high-quality meat, you’re almost always going to save at least $1 per pound by buying it in bulk.
If you don’t have freezer space for large amounts of meat or products, consider splitting a bulk order with a few friends. That way, you all get the discount, but none of you have to buy a new freezer to store it in!
If don’t find great sources for buying in bulk from health food co-ops and Azure Standard doesn’t deliver to your area, check and see if your health food stores or grocery stores would give you a discount for buying in bulk. It never hurts to ask!
You might also just buy in bulk by practicing the Buy Ahead principle — buying multiples of items at your grocery store when they are at their rock-bottom prices!
For more tips and ideas for how to save by buying in bulk, read my post here.
5. Use Cashback Apps
Each app works a little differently, but the cool thing is that you can use all of them at one time! Here’s the basic gist: Scan your grocery receipts every time you shop and then request cashback for any items you bought that qualify.
These apps often have offers for milk, bread, eggs, fruit, and so on. Even if you only earn $0.50 each week for taking a minute to scan your receipt, that adds up over time!
Also, if you shop at Walmart regularly, you’ll want to check out their Savings Catcher Program. Here’s how it works:
- Enter or scan your Walmart receipt. You can either enter your receipt number on the Walmart Savings Catcher website, or scan the receipt’s barcode with the Walmart App. Your purchase must have been made within the last 7 days.
- Walmart compares prices for you. Walmart will match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product.
- You get refunded the difference. If the Savings Catcher finds a lower advertised price, you get the difference.
To learn all about my favorite cash back apps, sign up for my free 5-day series on how to make and save money with your smartphone.
Do you want to take better control of your grocery budget? If so, you’ll want to read my newest eBook, 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget!
This eBook will give you all the tips, tricks, and practical advice you need to create a grocery budget tailored to your family’s needs that you can actually STICK to (because that’s the key!)
In this eBook, you’ll learn:
- How to create a grocery budget that fits your family’s needs and your finances!
- New systems to help you keep track of what you spend at the store!
- How to actually stick with your new budget and save money for years to come!
- Ways to save up to $50 off your grocery bill THIS WEEK by using the 10 simple strategies outlined in this eBook!
Read to get started? Just use the form below to sign up!
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!