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It’s a cold, hard fact: food is ridiculously expensive! The average household spends anywhere from 5-20% of its monthly budget at the grocery store. Why exactly is it so hard for most families to save on food?
Like most life and money problems, poor habits are often to blame. You and I have great intentions to be the hero our spouses and kids deserve, but it can be hard to change and transform new practices into permanent habits. You may need to step back and re-evaluate your routines from time to time. Your grocery list is no exception.
The solutions to spending too much on groceries may surprise you. Extreme changes are rarely lasting – that’s why most diets fail – but smaller, manageable changes can make a huge difference. So skip fasting, fad diets, and eliminating occasional sweets from your grocery list and try the tips below instead. As you’ll see, you can save on food without suffering!
How to Save on Food – 11 Tips to Tame Your Out of Control Grocery Spending
If you’re struggling to save on food, find yourself staring at a full pantry yet have nothing to eat, and can’t figure out why there is always too much month left after your grocery money runs each out each month, read on. These 11 tips will help you save on food costs, eat better, and save time each month!
1. Create a Plan – and Stick to It!
If you’ve ever found yourself grocery shopping without a list, you have probably experienced the pains of shopping for groceries without a plan. In my experience, this leads to
- wasting money buying ingredients you already have at home
- wasting time back-tracking throughout the store
- buying expensive prepared food items on impulse
Before grocery shopping, take stock of ingredients remaining in the refrigerator and pantry. If you have items that will soon perish, plan meals which will make use of them right away.
From there, continue to make a list of the items you will need to cook your remaining meals – again, be sure to buy only what you need.
2. Buy Diverse and Purposeful Ingredients
I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has opened up the pantry to door to find 8 cans of diced tomatoes, a bag of croutons, olive oil, two boxes of saltine crackers, and a can of baked beans. Staring into a full pantry yet seeing nothing to eat is an awful feeling.
You can save on food every week and curb hunger by making sure you keep diverse and purposeful items in your pantry at all times.
These go-to items may be different for your family, but they are consistent in our household. At any given time, our pantry and freezer contain:
- spaghetti/other red sauce
- white and brown rice
- various frozen vegetables
- frozen chicken tenderloins
- chicken broth
- farfalle noodles (or similar noodle)
At any time we are able to prepare 5-6 unique meals from these on-hand ingredients alone. These items have a long shelf life, and they are usually purchased on sale (see number 3).
A diverse stash of in-stock ingredients helps eliminate costly last-minute trips for missing ingredients.
3. Buy In Bulk During Sales
The best way to keep diverse items on hand and save on food is by buying in bulk during sales. It’s important to avoid going overboard, but savings add up quickly during sales. For example, we have taken advantage of buy-one-get-one-free sales on frozen vegetables and purchased bulk family packs of meat to save money.
4. Use Ibotta to Save
If couponing is too time consuming and boring for you, we have a simple solution that will allow you to still save money without developing a nice scissors induced callous on your thumb: the Ibotta app.
The Ibotta app is a free money saving app that helps you save money on food, other groceries, new clothes, or ordering food.
Saving with Ibotta is simple. Here’s how it works:
- First, sign-up for free using my link - you'll receive a $10 welcome bonus just for signing up.
- Then download the app (available for Android and iOS) – you’ll need it later to scan your receipt.
- Next, find your go-to stores (click here for a list of 365 participating stores) in the app, link store loyalty accounts, unlock available rebates, and go shopping.
- When you’re finished, scan the bar codes of items featuring a rebate, snap a picture of your receipt, and submit.
- You’ll receive cash back into your Ibotta account within 48 hours.
Ibotta offers rebates on a wide range of products, including $2.00-$5.00 rebates on many varieties of beer/wine, toiletries, snack foods, and over the counter medicine, among other items. It’s by far the easiest way my wife and I have found to save money on things we already buy on a regular basis.
Again, Ibotta is FREE to use and you'll receive a $10 BONUS if you sign-up today.
4. Shop at Aldi
If you haven’t visited Aldi recently, you might be pleasantly surprised if you give it another chance. The growing store has expanded its offerings, including organic options, to help shoppers save money on food and live a healthier life.
Across the country, Aldi stores are being renovated and redesigned to compete with grocery giant Whole Foods. Aldi is currently investing $1.6 billion to remodel 1,300 of its 1,600 stores by 2020. Low prices and won’t be affected by these changes, the company insists.
So far, that seems to be 100% true as of September 2018. We haven’t noticed any sizable price increases at Aldi, despite the extreme face lift our local store received over the summer.
5. Develop a Freezer Meal Strategy
When my wife was pregnant with our son, we knew that the last trimester would be a big challenge. She was going to be tired (duh), and I’m frequently working during dinner time. Honestly, the only reason we survived during that stretch was because we planned ahead and saved freezer meals for this exact time.
Our secret? We plan ahead, cook freezer meals in bulk, and carefully label and date them to make sure we use them while they’re still fresh.
If this sounds overwhelming or hard to you, I promise – it’s really one of the easiest ways to simplify meal time for your family. The saving money part? That’s just a bonus, at least to me and my wife.
If you’re ready to try your hand at making freezer meals, we fully recommend the MyFreezEasy program. Members receive easy to follow meal plans and instructions, complete with shopping lists and videos designed to help you make 10 freezer meals or more in just an hour.
Here are a few more highlights of MyFreezEasy:
- Have picky eaters in your family? MyFreezEasy can take that into account.
- Need gluten free meals, slow cooker meals, or Instant Pot, Keto, Whole30 or dairy free meals? You’re covered there, too.
Now, here’s the ridiculous part: you can join MyFreezEasy for only $12 per month. Is that a worthwhile price to pay to never have to make a shopping list, look up recipes, or scan for sales?
Yes, yes and yes.
Try MyFreezEasy for one month – we’re confident it will wipe out stress and help you save money on food in less than one month.
6. Ditch Family Style and Plate Portions For Family
Have you ever prepared enough food to last for two meals only to have hungry family members take seconds or thirds, leaving you with you no meal for the next day? This was my wife’s biggest complaint about my eating habits when we were still newly-weds.
You can save money on food and ensure meals are stretched further by plating meals yourself rather than allowing family members to serve themselves family style. Controlled portions will ensure that your kids don’t waste half of their dinner, and as a bonus, everyone will avoid overeating.
7. Shop the Perimeter of the Store
Ever notice that fresh produce, meat and dairy, and seafood are located on the edges of your favorite grocery store? Marketers don’t want you to know this, but most grocery stores are designed to funnel consumers toward the middle of the store and keep you there until your cart is full. If you shop the perimeter of your grocery store, you will avoid expensive processed and prepared foods and save money on food by filling your cart with nutritionally-dense food.
Ready-to-eat foods are convenient, but the cost is steep, both financially and nutritionally. Fresh foods will make your wallet and body happy.
8. Eat Breakfast for Dinner Once Per Week
Experts claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not have it twice? Eating breakfast for dinner is an easy way to save money on food simply because many breakfast foods are inexpensive.
For a few dollars per person, you can make pancakes, American fries, and eggs into a great dinner. Steel cut oats and breakfast sausage or bacon can also satisfy even the biggest appetites at a minimal cost.
9. Cut Empty Calories
Isn’t it ironic that some of the least nutritionally-dense foods are the most expensive? Soda, candy, and ice cream are the biggest culprits, and even though they are delicious, they may be killing your grocery budget. Cut your spending in half in this area and you’ll notice a big improvement.
10. Use $5 Meal Plan
If you’ve tried all of the previous tips without success, it may be time to get more help – that’s where $5 Meal Plan comes to the rescue. If you’re skeptical, try it for FREE for 14 days and see for yourself.
The $5 Meal Plan process is simple. Each Friday at 11 AM ET, you’ll receive a meal plan in your e-mail inbox. The meal plan includes a shopping list and a detailed menu complete with the following:
- Five dinner entrees with sides – Each week they include one freezer friendly, one slow cooker, and one 20-minute meal.
- One lunch and one breakfast, plus,
- A random goodie each week – sometimes dessert, sometimes a beverage, and sometimes it’ll be a snack (sometimes more than one!)
- Gluten-free options (upon request)
When you sign-up you’ll receive access to a private Facebook group to share recipes and tips with other subscribers.
If meal planning just isn’t working out, I recommend giving $5 Meal Plan a try. Again, you have nothing to lose when you sign-up for their FREE 14-day trial.
11. Use the Cash Envelope System
I know many people who make a plan, shop with their list, and overspend their grocery budget week after week. If you find yourself here, don’t lose hope – the cash envelope system may be the solution you need to save money on food!
The cash envelope system is simple. Divide your monthly grocery budget by the number of weeks in the current month (or shopping trips you plan to take that month), place that amount of cash in an envelope prior to leaving for the store, and leave your debit and credit cards at home. You may only spend the cash you have in the envelope during your trip – and not a cent more!
This system is extreme and not for the faint of heart, and it will require discipline. It may cause embarrassment when you have to take a few items off the conveyor belt in order to stay under budget. But if you follow the system it is guaranteed to help you save on food simply because you cannot buy groceries with money you don’t have.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
It can be challenging to save on food, but you can do it if you follow the tips above. Extreme changes to your grocery habits will likely be short-lived, but the above tips are easy to implement and maintain over time. Print this list, implement a few suggestions, add in a few more, and your grocery budget will be in great shape in no time!
Recommendations to Boost Your Savings
CIT High Yield Savings: Looking for a great place to park your emergency fund and earn more than a paltry .05% interest return? CIT Bank offers 1.55% on their High Yield Savings Accounts and only requires a $100 minimum opening balance! This crushes most other savings accounts by 10-12x!
CIT High-Yield Money Market: If you’re looking for an even better place to sock away your emergency fund or sinking funds, check out CIT’s High-Yield Money Market Account. Their 1.75% rate will put your fund to work in a hurry, and with a $100 minimum account opening balance, anyone can get started!
Acorns: I have been using Acorns as an experiment in micro-investing for several months and watched my account balance steadily grow. If you feel like you don’t have enough money to invest, Acorns is for you!
You can start with very small deposits and work your way up over time, if you choose. And if you sign-up using my link, you'll start off with $5.00 in your account automatically!
Digit: Digit is a personal savings assistant designed to help make saving money easier and automatic. Their mobile app and simple platform helped me and my wife save over $1,500, and we used the money for a vacation. Check it out here.
What are your best tips to save money on food? Tell us in the comments below!