A few posts back, I mentioned making homemade snack bars in an attempt to cut down on packaged food prices in mine and Jimmy’s grocery budget. I also said I would post about how we try to save money on food if anyone was interested. A few commenters were interested, so here we are. I’m hoping this post will spark some ideas for you, and that you’ll share any of your own tips in return!
1. Set a budget. Jimmy and I looked at our expenses and set a dollar amount that we will spend on groceries per week. Having a budget makes everything clear, and it helps to know a specific number you’re aiming for when grocery shopping. With budgeting, think about what you’re willing to spend more money on for quality, build it into your budget, and go from there. If you’re into organic meat, set aside a specific amount of your budget that you know you’ll spend on meat each week, and then plan everything else out. Personally, Jimmy and I are willing to spend more on good eggs (like Eggland’s Best–no this is not sponsored, I just like their eggs, haha), good coffee (preferably Starbucks!), and soy milk because I’m lactose intolerant and soy milk is unfortunately more expensive than cow’s milk. If we know we’re going to spend $20 each week on eggs, soy milk, and coffee beans, it makes it easier to plan around the foods and beverages we consider personal must haves.
2. Meal Plan. Having a plan of what we’ll eat each week is a huge help. I know exactly what to buy at the store, which reduces the amount of trips I make (more on this in the next point!). It also encourages variety in our meals because when I’m planning everything out, I feel more motivated to change things up or try new recipes. I know some people plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for each day, but I like to be more flexible. I usually plan two to three meals and spread them out during the week. On the days I don’t cook a “new” meal, we eat leftovers or random meals (like egg sandwiches, breakfast for dinner, tortilla pizzas, or frozen leftovers from previous meals). This works well for Jimmy and I because there’s just two of us, and we have a lot of leftovers from each meal.
As for planning breakfast, lunch, and snacks, we keep things pretty simple. I’m an oatmeal gal, so I buy a big tub of oats about once a month and spice them up each morning with whatever I’m in the mood for–fruit, maple syrup, honey, nuts, nut butter, cocoa powder, etc. Sometimes I’ll bake granola or buy frozen waffles if I’m feeling frisky and have room for them in the budget. Jimmy typically rotates between bagels and cereal. For lunch, we either pack sandwiches or eat leftovers. In terms of snacks, we have a “snack bin” that we keep in our cupboard. After each grocery shopping trip, I fill a little bin with pre-portioned servings of pretzels, homemade snack bars, bags of nuts and fruit, and more. Whenever we pack our lunches or need a quick snack on the go, we just reach into the snack bin. This keeps us from eating a whole bag of Doritos in one sitting (and thus wasting money) and makes our lives easier. I try to make as many snacks and staples as homemade as I can, too. If I have time, I’ll bake a loaf of bread, make bagels, snack bars, peanut butter, or cookies. I try not to stress out about it, though. Making your own food can save money, but it also takes time–it’s all about finding a balance that works for you.
3. Shop once a week. I recently started grocery shopping once a week and I’m loving it. This saves money because I’m not going back to the store three times a week because I buy what’s on my meal plan and stick to it. The less visits I make to the store, the less money I spend. If I go back once or twice to get milk or bread, I am always tempted to buy a package of candy corn or whatever else looks good. This method also saves time. When I was shopping more than once a week, I would have many instances where I would start cooking and realize I didn’t have a specific ingredient on hand. I’m usually dog tired after work (or just in sweats and don’t feel like changing…) and the thought of getting back in my truck and using gas to drive to the grocery store for a can of beans just doesn’t appeal to me. Grocery shopping once a week also sparks creativity. It forces me to “shop my pantry” on the nights when I don’t cook a meal. I try and treat it like a round of Chopped, like okay, I have a a head of broccoli on its last leg, rice in the cupboard, and leftover chicken from last night… what can I do with this?! Ready, go! Jimmy just laughs and shakes his head.
4. Use coupons. Coupons can save a lot of money, especially if your grocery store doubles them. One thing to think about with coupons, though, is to only use them when they make sense. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of wow, here’s this hot sauce coupon for $1.50 off… even though I have two bottles of it that won’t expire for three more years. You know? Also, sometimes generic brands are cheaper than name brands, even with a coupon. In that case, I just buy generic and don’t use the coupon. I also scan weekly circulars while I’m meal planning and clipping coupons. If I see that pork is on sale this week, and I clip a coupon for a can of pineapple, I try and find a recipe that includes pork and pineapple. It’s like putting puzzle pieces together. Along with weekly coupon ads, there are also some great websites out there (like coupons.com) where you can print a wide variety of coupons at home.
5. Visit more than one store. It’s not always fun to drive from store to store to save money, but it’s usually worth it. I pretty much stick to our local grocery store and Walmart, which are in the same plaza. I’ll typically visit Walmart first and buy everything I can there–especially items like toothpaste, cleaning products, shampoo, and paper towels. Our Walmart isn’t a super Walmart, so I buy our meat, most produce, and any specialty items from the regular grocery store. If you don’t have a superstore (like Target or Walmart) nearby, it can help to make a monthly trip for paper and personal goods versus buying them at your local grocery store.