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When I first started budgeting, our average food expenses were over $1,000 per month! We were spending over $600 on groceries and around $400 on take out. Those numbers completely shocked and embarrassed me. How could we be so out of control? I immediately searched and found a course on using coupons. Using the course I was able to cut our grocery spending by over $200! That was great and I still use coupons from time to time, but as our dietary needs changed, so did our shopping habits. I needed to come up with other ways to save on groceries that fit with our new lifestyle.
For the most part, our family tries to focus on whole foods and little to no complex carbohydrates. We choose to eat this way because of health reasons but also because of our budget. I’ve found that focusing on whole foods and using homemade copycat recipes is cheaper as well as healthier. Unfortunately there aren’t many coupons available for whole foods. I’ve had to revamp my strategies a little but have come up with 5 proven methods to save on groceries without using coupons.
This seems like a no brainer but so many people just don’t do it. This is the most basic step but its oh so important! Without a plan you are more likely to grab something from the drive thru on your way home from work or other activities than to come home and magically produce a meal. Without a plan, there is no meat thawed or you are missing an ingredient or two for a quick dish. Maybe menu planning seems intimidating to you? Start with compiling a list of your favorite meals. Then ask your family members to add their favorites to the list. You may be surprised at how uncomplicated their requests can be. When asking my 4 year old, i’m sure to get “chicken nuggets and fries” as a response but that’s ok! Add it and maybe add a few more easy, quick ideas of your own.
Dinner doesn’t have to be a 5 course production!
In fact, some of my family’s favorite dinners are hamburgers, spaghetti, tacos, chicken nuggets, chicken salad, breakfast foods. All of these are relatively quick and simple but leave us all satisfied and happy. If you are stuck for ideas or short on time, there are many menu plans on Pinterest that can get you started.
Menu Plan Using Items You Have
When planning your menu, take a look at your pantry, freezer, and fridge. What do you have that can be used? What do you have that needs to be used before it goes bad? According a paper by the National Resources Defense Council, American households throw out up to 25% of the food and beverages they buy. This translates to roughly wasting $1365 to $2275 per year for a family of 4!
The average American Family wastes 25% of the food and beverages they buy, costing $1365 – $2275 each year for a family of 4!
I don’t know about you, but I could do a lot with $2275 extra. In our home we tend to waste produce and leftovers. Now I make a plan to use them before they go bad or make sure they are chopped and frozen for future use. Turn leftover pulled pork into a hash 2 days later, use leftover taco meat for taco salad lunches. If you make a plan for the food you already own, less food and money will be wasted.
Menu Plan Based on Sales
Even if you don’t get the weekly sales flyers delivered to your door, hop online and check out your favorite stores to see what is on sale that week. You have already checked your pantry and fridge, but what is on sale that you can use to make a complete meal? Generally, I focus my proteins around what is on sale (or I stock up when there is a really good deal). Chicken is cheap? It is likely we will have it at least twice. Different times of the year you can find deals on whole turkeys or ham or chocolate or Mexican food. Many stores have $10 for $10 deals you can use to stock up on staples. Take a look, and incorporate the deals in your plan or stock up for weeks when you may not have the budget available.
Stick to the List
Once you have made your menu and grocery list, its time to head to the store. Now you have to stick to the list. This one is my downfall. If I shop in a store that has a little of everything, I tend to browse every aisle and soon I have my groceries and maybe a new mug, an area rug, a cute notebook, a toy for the kids… I can never seem to browse Target without a cart full of things I hadn’t originally intended to buy. (Oh Dollar Spot, how I heart you!) Focus. Stick to the aisles that have only the items on your list. And if a multi-function store is just too much temptation, stick to a store that carries exclusively grocery items. By going to a store that only has groceries, you are likely to save time as well as money!
Shop the Discounts
I already mentioned to shop the weekly sales, but there are other discounts out there. One discount that can save you a ton if you have a bit of flexibility is shopping the store markdowns. These can include meat, produce, and bakery items that are close to their “best by” date, overstock from a shipment, or the “ugly produce”. I love when I walk in and see those little sale stickers on packages of meat or baked goods! Always double check the dates and look over the items carefully, but they generally are a huge savings. I have gotten packages of chicken that were 2 days from “best by” dates for under $2! These sales are quite often just pure luck, but you can also ask the butcher or store manager when they usually do their markdowns to increase your chances.
But what if chicken wasn’t in the plan?
This is when you can stock up for a later week, or simply adjust your menu plan. Be flexible and willing to change up your menu plan if a deal comes your way. Also, many recipes work well for multiple different proteins with just a little tweaking. For example, you can use fish instead of chicken in a lot of recipes by just changing the cooking time.
Another way I shop discounts is to focus on shopping at discount grocers. My absolute favorite grocery store is Aldi. The prices are great, the store is small (saving me time), and they have store brands that are just as good or better than brand name. I always start my shopping at Aldi and try to get everything on my list there. I do usually have to fill in by going to Kroger because Aldi will be out of an item or they simply don’t carry it. (Fresh ginger – Aldi please make this happen!) I know there are some people who hate shopping there, but Aldi is my go to store every week.
So those are my easy 5 tips to save on groceries. There are a lot of other small things you can do, but these are the easiest that don\’t take a ton of extra time or energy to implement. Once you get the hang of grocery shopping this way, you add in apps and coupons to maximize your savings!