This post, and probably many after it, will respond to a question post on the ThriftyMrsB Facebook page from one of my friends, Angela. Her question: “Girl, I’d like to know how in the world you managed a $200/month grocery bill…” Angela is a newlywed going through the same struggle most of us do when we first get married or move out of our parents’ house. How do I grocery shop and not spend a TON of money? Let’s talk about saving money on groceries.
As I brainstormed about some of the ways I save money on groceries, I realized that there is not one quick tip. I began writing down tips, tricks, and methods and came up with 22 different ideas to share with you, and that was just off the top of my head! This will take more than one post, so be patient with me. It will be worth it.
Pretty much everybody has to grocery shop. Whether you live on your own or you’re raising a large family, grocery shopping can be a pain. Personally, I like grocery shopping now that I have a system and a few “objectives” when I shop. It makes my life easier, cheaper, and more fun. I’m going to try to share a lot of tips with you that have helped me, but I understand that everyone is different. What works for me might need to be tweaked to work for you and your family.
Tip Number 1: Make a Meal Plan
I think the number one tip that saves me money on groceries is this: have a plan. Plan, plan, plan, plan, plan! If I go to the grocery store not sure of what I plan to eat for the week, I’m in trouble. I see things I like, things on sale, things I’ve never seen before. Then, I want to eat all of the things. Goodbye money. The first and most important tip of this series on saving money on groceries is to make a meal plan.
A meal plan does not have to be complex. It can simply be meal ideas jotted down on a piece of paper. I am to the point where I use an Excel spreadsheet to plan my meals, and I tend to plan about two weeks in advance. Even if you plan week to week, it will still save you so much time and money! Here’s why, when you plan your week of meals, then you buy the groceries you need for those meals. Period. You will find this keeps you from impulse spending which will spike your grocery budget.
Here is a sampling of my meal plan for the first week of August. In the first column I have the date of the meal, in the second the meal, and in the third column I have listed what ingredients I will need to purchase. This is not rocket science, obviously. You will notice that I didn’t write out breakfasts because I tend to grab a quick granola bar or yogurt and coffee, and my husband eats oatmeal or eggs and yogurt most mornings too. I just make sure I keep the oatmeal and eggs stocked and we call it good. We really only make breakfasts on Saturdays when we’re both home. I also stock snack things and staples like flour, sugar, and milk as needed of course.
|8/1 D||Crockpot Lasagna||Ricotta & Italian Sausage|
|8/2 D||Chicken Fried Rice|
|8/3 D||Chicken Meatballs with Cream Sauce|
|8/4 D||Macaroni & Cheese||Milk, Cream Cheese|
|8/5 D||Hungarian Goulash||Tomato, Red Pepper|
|8/6 Br||Breakfast Burritos|
|8/6 D||Cheeseburger Pasta||Ground Beef|
|8/7 L||Chicken Alfredo Pizza||Cream Cheese|
|8/8 L||Double Stuff Potatoes & Salad||Potatoes, Lettuce, Cucumber, Sour Cream, Bacon, Green Onion|
|8/8 D||Fried Chicken & Salad|
How to Choose Menu Items
You might be wondering how writing out your meal plan is really going to save that much money. I mean, you eat either way, right? A few considerations before choosing your menu items can help tremendously.
- Shop your cupboards first.
Simply put, look through your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you have on hand. Do you have produce that needs to be used? Tons of chicken in the freezer? A lot of extra rice and beans in the cupboards? Planning around what you already have will save you quite a bit of money and help you avoid wasting food due to expiration or rotting.
- Check out the store ads for sales.
Once you’ve looked at what you already have on hand, then you need to check the store ads. Personally, I shop at Sam’s Club and BI-L). I’ll explain more about why later. However, different areas have different stores. I recommend finding stores that run good sales, especially “buy-one-get-one” sales. Sam’s club and BI-LO also both publish there weekly sales and ads online, which means that I don’t have to get them from a newspaper or from the store itself. Easy.
When I’m looking at store ads, I read every page. I will never fully understand why store ads are organized the way they are. What I do know is that the flashy front page can have great deals. They try to put a few “loss leaders” on the front page to pull you in. Loss leaders are items the store is heavily discounting in order to get you to come shop and buy tons of other stuff. However, if you are smart in planning, you can buy loss leader items without going in and blowing your budget on other things.
A loss leader might be an item such as chicken breasts for $1.99 per pound or $2 large bags of redskin potatoes. When I see these types of deals, I try to plan some of my weekly meals around them. If they are meat or shelf items that I use often, I try to buy one extra and freeze it.
For instance, BI-LO has boneless pork loin on sale this week for $1.67 per pound. This is about $1.50 cheaper than full price. I might buy two small pork loins at this price, planning to use one in cooking this week and freeze the other for some time later this month. If I do this consistently, I am always buying meat at a discounted price, and I always have plenty on hand in my freezer.
Also, the really cool thing about shopping this way is that you end up saving a ton and being able to get most things for around half price. If I bought ground beef at my grocery store for the $3.99 per pound that it normally is, I would probably spend about $16 a month in ground beef. But, if I buy 4 pounds when it’s on BOGO sale, I only spend $8 for the same amount of food. The savings really ad up.
This same approach of stocking one or two extra could apply to aisle items like crackers and pastas and produce which is freeze-able. Freezing veggies and fruits that are in season allow you to have good produce on hand all of the time. This helps a ton with eating healthy while saving money on groceries.
- Write (or type) out your plan.
Once you’ve checked out your pantry and the store sales, it’s time to draft your plan. Personally, I do not like to eat similar things day after day, especially when it comes to meat. I don’t want a week of dinners that all contain chicken. I like to rotate chicken and beef with occasional fish, pork, or vegetarian dinners. Writing my plan keeps a variety of options available for meals.
When writing your plan, be sure to factor in eating leftovers. If you are not eating your leftovers, you are wasting a ton of money. Mostly, I don’t mind leftovers. Certain things I refuse to eat leftover. Leftover mashed potatoes are just disgusting, in my opinion. Solution 1: Ryan eats them. Win. Solution 2: I try to make just enough for our meal. Solution 3: I fry them into mashed potato cakes (which I will eat). All that to say, eat leftovers. Don’t waste the food you buy.
We typically eat leftovers for work lunches. This saves us from the temptation of buying lunch out and normally our “lunches” are nice. I’d rather eat rice and roast beef for lunch than a ham sandwich. Factoring in leftovers in your meal plan takes practice, but if you think through about how many serving one recipe will make, you can plan out lunch/dinner slots where you will eat the leftovers.
- Be willing to ditch your plan.
Wait, what? I know I’m messing with your brain, but hear me out. I can plan a beautiful week of meals that we love and enjoy, then get to the store and see an item on clearance that makes me want to reconfigure things a bit. Let’s say I plan to extra chicken because it’s on sale, but I get to the store and see ground Italian sausage on clearance. I might end up buying less chicken and more sausage, freezing it, and eating some awesome meatloaf or pasta that week instead of chicken alfredo. That’s okay! Be flexible when you find a killer deal.
If your life is anything like mine, it can change at a moment’s notice. My husband can get called into work, friends or family might come into town last minute, or it might be 100 degrees and way too hot to want to roast meat in my tiny apartment for hours. Okay, no big. Because I have a week or two worth of meal “options” available, we can be flexible.
I will often switch up days and trade my Thursday plan for Tuesday or whatever due to my circumstances. The cool thing is, I have ingredients on hand for both. It’s no big deal. Also, I tend to have a stocked pantry and freezer because of buying things on great sales, so if we don’t feel like having pork roast, I probably have burgers in the freezer. We end up eating only things we like only when we feel like it when I have things stocked up.
I have so much more to share with you, but I’d better wrap this post up and continue next time. Following these simple meal plan tips will help you start saving money on groceries.
If you had to guess, why do you think you spend so much money on groceries? I’d love to read your feedback!