Budget Grocery Shopping: The How-Tos & How-Nots
With a bottomless pit of a child going through a growth spurt; a husband who works long hours and needs to eat a lot of food, our trashcan of a dog and finicky eater of a cat, I'm constantly on the hunt for ways to save money. We do plenty of things to save money every day, like not eating out as often, shopping sales when able and making a lot of buyable foods from scratch. However one area that I have managed to get down to a beautiful science is saving money when I grocery shop. With the help of constant meal planning and some added tips through trial and error, I'm able to keep my growing family's grocery bill down to a family cellphone bill.
I'm not perfect by any means and I don't do complicated really well. So I try to keep everything as simple and as streamlined as possible. So below you will find all of the ways I save money every time I go grocery shopping. There are times that I fail at following my own tips, I'm human. So while going through all of these how-tos and how-nots, take what works for you and your family and use them, change and flip them to fit your current needs and forget everything else.
Create a Meal Planner (bi-weekly)
Now this is "kind of" controversial so hear me out. To grocery shop on a budget, meal planning bi-weekly is your best friend. I say bi-weekly because this allows a type of "bye" week with leftovers from the meals the week prior. You can also use the leftovers to create new meals as well. So nothing is truly wasted and you can stretch your dollar that much further. There are multiple ways to create successful meal plans, however I use four apps to accomplish exactly what I want.
I use a combination of Yummly, Tasty Recipes and All Recipes to find healthy and family friendly recipes for the two weeks I meal plan. I believe they are both Android and IOS friendly and 100% free. I spend on average 20 minutes on each app the week before I grocery shop, bookmarking each recipe and adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I use the app Out of Milk to generate my grocery list from my chosen recipes, but I also use paper as well. The best thing about the app Out of Milk is that is also shops your local grocery store sales as well which is really useful as well as sharing with your significant other in the event you don't want to go.
In order for a meal plan to be successful, you have to plan for all meals and you have to stick to it, or you will blow your budget out of the water and waste any time and effort you put into making the plan originally.
Shop Your Local Sales
This is by far one of the best and one of the easiest things to do when grocery shopping on a budget. Why? It's because it really doesn't take much time at all, especially with all the technology and apps available to us today. The week before I find time to go to the grocery store to get the weeks sales, or if I can't make it, I ask my husband. If neither of us can go, which is usually pretty rare, I just go online to my local grocery stores and bookmark (write down or use a notepad app) the sales for the upcoming week.
Shop in Bulk
A lot of times, buying in bulk is more cost effective than buying in smaller quantities. Even if you won't use that 5 gallon of ranch dressing in one sitting, you can put it in old dressing containers or refill the empty container whenever it runs out.
I do my big hauls (once every 2-3 months) at Sam's Club. That's where I buy all our meat, dog food, cat food, litter, condiments, vegetables and fruit. Yes, even the fruit and vegetables in bulk are cheaper than buying the frozen bags at your local grocery store. With the fruit and vegetables, I separate them at home and place them in freezer bags so they don't go bad. A 3lb bag of broccoli goes quite a long way with a family of 3.
Keep in mind a Sam's Club membership costs 40 dollars, but they have quarterly membership sales where you can scoop a membership for 25 dollars, so just be patient. There are also other bulk wholesale companies so definitely do some research for the best deal in your area.
Now you don't have to extreme coupon to save some money. Sure you may not have a $2.99 grocery bill, but you can save some extra money where you need it. When I coupon, I try to pair them with my meal plan and whatever deal is going on the week I'm grocery shopping to get the most bang for my buck. I also only coupon for the items I use, not on items that will never be used by my family to get other items free.
So when I am preparing for coupons, I actually go and purchase a few newspapers. I even ask my husband to grab some as well. Then I go through them, looking for what pairs with my meal plan and coincides with really good deals the grocery store is having. Sometimes, I may save 5 dollars. Other times I magically pull a 20 dollar savings in coupons out of my pocket, which makes me feel pretty accomplished.
To make couponing effective, it should be paired with your bi-weekly and local grocery store deals. That's when you can save the most money without having to buy miscellaneous items your family never uses. Also check with your local grocery store to see if they double coupons, and if they do, when it happens. You also want to check with them on their coupon policies and practices. You don't want to be up a creek without a paddle come trip time.
Bake Your Own Bread
Store bought bread offers a convenience for those who are incapable of baking. I'm mainly talking about myself right now, but if this includes you too, welcome to club can't bake. I kid. Seriously though, I can't bake a cake out of a box, but I can somehow manage to make some bomb homemade white bread. Makes no sense, I know but I rock the backwards somehow.
Anyway, you can save a massive amount of money monthly, for my family it equates to approximately 40-50 dollars, just by making your own bread, pastas and even stocks. You don't have to be an experienced baker, and it does take patience and practice, but the payoff is well worth the multitude of failures you may encounter on your way to homemade connoisseur. Just to give you an idea; I can't bake and it took me approximately two months of recipe failures, yet edible failures, to master the perfect bread loaf. Stocks and pastas I got down pretty quick. Only one or two failures of each.
You can find tons of simple stock recipes, pasta recipes and bread recipes online.
How Not to Grocery Shop on A Budget: Common Mistakes and Misconceptions
Name Brand vs. Store Brand
Sure, you can usually save a few cents to a dollar by going with the store brand, but in doing so keep in mind one little aspect. Cheaper is not always better. Store brand items are usually made with inferior materials, therefore allowing them to keep cost down. So sure, that one dollar may seem too legit to quit, but don't fall in the trap. The only time store brand and name brand are similar is with prescription medication and over the counter medicines like vitamins.
Grocery Shopping When Hungry
It takes a very special type of person to manage grocery shopping while hungry and staying to their dedicated meal plan. I however, am not one of those people. I have blown every budget out of the water by forgetting to eat prior to grocery shopping by buying everything that looks even remotely good. So please, I urge you, don't shop hungry. Always find a few minutes to eat something small before you head out the door.
Using coupons to save a few dollars is a great way to budget grocery shop. However walking in with 100 coupons in hopes of buying everything just right to have an overage is insane and incredibly time consuming for the average shopper. This type of shopping can and usually does lead to hoarding and stockpiling, from which "sales" happen--which is illegal, but it continues to happen. Couponing to this degree also enables bargain shopping, which is where the not so great food for your family sits. On top of your constantly purchasing things that continuously go on sale anyway.
That and during this, you actually end up taking more than you need, taking away from those who do need one of the twenty items you just shelf hogged.
Not Using Perishables First
Whenever you meal plan, you must always cook the food that uses perishables, like fruits and unfrozen vegetables first. If you wait towards the end of your bi-weekly, the food will be spoiled and you just wasted money unnecessarily.
Straying From Your Plan
When you're creating a bi-weekly, staying as true to that plan is essential in cost saving. Even eating out once during those two weeks you planned for is a must in budget, as that is one night you aren't cooking.
Not Taking Servings Into Account
The biggest mistake made is not keeping track of servings. I did it for my first month until I got in the groove of doing it right. Always meal plan for three extra people. This allows for plenty of leftovers and doesn't really add to your overall grocery cost. So if you have a family of three, you want to find recipes for six people or double the recipes for three. Doing this allows for seconds during meals without sacrificing leftovers. Unless the meal is complete amazeballs, then there will be no leftovers.
How often do you grocery shop?
Sure, these tips and tricks won't make you a millionaire, but they will help you save quite a bit of money a month while making every mouth in your house happy.