We all need food. Especially if you have a family, food expenses can take a big chunk from your budget. Groceries is one spending category that varies significantly from family to family, and there are simple techniques in cutting costs.
Some families of four have a monthly grocery budget of $1,000/mo. Others can cut down to $200/mo. We land somewhere in the middle and are consistently thinking about ways we can save money. Also worth mentioning is our grocery budget includes toiletries, cleaners, and dog food.
Develop a Love for Cooking
If you hate cooking, it will be tough to save on groceries and dining out. I’ve never considered myself a “chef” by any means, but I’ve developed a love for cooking because there is nothing like finding a recipe the whole family enjoys around our table. Also, having excess for leftovers has helped tremendously cut down on our grocery and dining out costs.
Buy Groceries in Bulk
Having a membership at Costco or Sam’s Club can save significant dollars. However, you should make sure that what you are buying is a good deal. Also keep in mind that if you are not able to eat/use the bulk items before they expire, you might be better in spending less on a lower quantity somewhere else.
Cook in Bulk
On days like Sundays, where I have extra time, I’ll set aside a few hours to cook in bulk. I’ll make a big batch of one or two meals that I can freeze for future easy dinners. It is a lot of work, but it saves time and money as sometimes I’ll have 4-6 meals ready in the freezer. My favorite meals to do this with:
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Pre-seasoned taco meat.
- Cooking whole chickens.
- Smoking meats (brisket, pulled pork, ribs)
There are a ton of sites listing meals you can make and freeze for later, which is an area I am actively trying to improve.
Buy Less Processed Foods
You can buy many different categories of processed foods. Some of them might be worth it and save time, but it can be easy to go overboard where most of your budget is purchasing pre-made items.
If you try to limit your shopping list to mainly whole foods, this will save a lot of money. And you usually can make better meals than what you can buy pre-made.
Go out to Eat Less
Dining out can be fun and relaxing, but going out to eat is expensive. If you are going out to eat with a limited budget, it can be easy to go with the quick and cheap options provided by fast food. Not only is fast food not healthy, but it is still more expensive than eating at home. It also has other costly effects, such as gas and using your vehicle.
As our recipe catalog grows, we are learning to live without going out to eat as much, while still having delicious meals. As I’ll talk about below, having an organized meal plan allows us to be intentional when we do go out to eat, and thus enjoying the experience more.
Organize your Recipes and Meal Plan
If you find yourself at dinner time without a general plan or a list of easy meals, it is going to be easy to justify going out to eat. That is why I use a free service called Copy Me That. It stores recipes, and I find its meal planning tool useful. Every week I plan out the meals and shopping list for the next 1-2 weeks. I look at the meal plan daily so that I can take out the required ingredients beforehand.
When I want to make something new and find a recipe I like online, I use the Copy Me That chrome extension to easily add it to our recipe list. It extracts all the ingredients and steps for the recipe, and it is a huge time saver.
I also have a list of quick/easy meals that I disperse in the meal schedule. Which includes chili dogs, mac-n-cheese, sandwiches, etc. Having quick options is vital in cutting dining out costs.
Being organized with a plan also can save trips to the grocery store. At most, we try to go once per week after we ironed out our list, and try to limit going to Costco every other week.
We love drinking soda. But even purchasing soda cans at Costco is expensive (around $10 for a 36 pack). You can often find canned soda cheaper at other stores. And if you want to save even more money, buy 2-liter bottles instead.
Benefits of Reigning in your Grocery Budget
Cooking can be stressful and time-consuming. But when you prepare with a plan, it can be a huge money and time saver. Also, developing a love for cooking is something that I want to pass down to my children, and I am learning to enjoy it more over time. Thinking about how to optimize your grocery spending is a key element to successful budgeting.
How you save money on your grocery budget? Do you have any favorite recipes?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.