I feel like we do a good job of staying on a good grocery budget. My sister and I (hi Melissa!) were talking about grocery budgets, so I’ve been thinking about it more lately. So I’m going to “think out loud” here about my money-saving strategies… maybe I’ll figure out a way to save more money by thinking it through again!
We have two adults and three small children in the family. About the same as 3 adults in consumption… perhaps a little more.
Our grocery budget is completely separate from our home supplies budget and eating out budget. Not that adding in our eating out budget would change things much. (haha!)
$200/4 weeks for family groceries (that works out to $216/month)
$25/4 weeks saved up for summer produce expenses (blueberries, strawberries, peaches, sugar for canning, salsa ingredients, etc.)
1. Meal plan and shop with a list
I don’t think anybody would disagree that if you know exactly what you need to get through the month, you won’t spend as much money on just-in-case or easy but a little more expensive meals. 14 meals is enough to feed us for 28 days, the length of our budget cycle. You may make more meals than that, but it shouldn’t affect the cost of cooking unless more of the food is lost to waste. I make a list of all the ingredients needed for those 14 meals. I add on any staples we need, including breakfast foods. I never shop by memory and I don’t shop to get ideas for what to cook. I used to. It’s fun. But it’s expensive!
2. Shop as infrequently as possible
Something that definitely hurts my budget is running out of bread or milk. Because then I go back to the store. And I always see other things I need while I”m there. But when my grocery money is gone, I have to stop going to the grocery. If there’s still 2-3 weeks left in the budget cycle, then I sometimes have to get really creative with the food I have! It’s always better to shop once and have all the food you need for the whole month’s meals. Then you can save what’s left for a good sale on a staple you use all the time and stock up! But anyway, I try to avoid going to the grocery if I can wait.
3. Always eat all the leftovers
We would need a lot more meals than 14 per month if we didn’t eat all the leftovers. (I am afraid my meals are big enough for about 3 family meals… not that the kids help us significantly with eating much; picky things!) We regularly look through the fridge for anything that might be getting old. I put other meals on hold to make sure food I paid good money for doesn’t get wasted. We also tend to eat tried and true type meals, not that I don’t experiment too, because then I have fewer flops to throw out. Brian has a microwave at work, so his lunches (as well as ours at home) are almost always dinner leftovers. I have a pretty good list of inexpensive dinners, so I don’t buy much lunchmeat or other lunch supplies. Leftovers plus carrot sticks or dried fruit from the summer serve pretty well.
4. Rarely, if ever, buy snacks.
Because snacks aren’t worth FOOD money. Food is for nourishing you. Snacks are for whiney kids and those moments without self control. I have a little more self control when there aren’t snacks to choose from. haha But really, snack foods are much more expensive per calorie. And snack foods can be homemade or they can be simple… or both. Snack ideas: dried fruit from the summer, crackers from when they were on sale (ok, I do buy some fish crackers), muffins, carrots, applesauce (homemade)…. ummmm…. my girls have dried fruit every afternoon I think and we won’t run out for another few months. Hopefully not before strawberry season. For morning snack, they usually have crackers or yogurt or fresh fruit or some other random thing that needs eating. Sometimes it’s fun to make something special… you know if you put peanut butter and raisins on it, it’s probably more special because you did it yourself.
5. Never buy ingredients that are expensive, even moderately expensive foods take big bites out of your budget.
I don’t remember the last time I bought these things, even though I like them: out of season produce, water chesnuts, shrimp, most garnish produce, umm….. most things that come in a box or jar? Ok, so I don’t have a good memory. But there are definitely things I don’t buy that I used to buy. If you have favorite recipes that call for things that cost a lot (hey, I don’t want to spend an extra $.50 on green onions! Or $5.99 on a special kind of oil or vinegar that is really yummy, but is sooooooo expensive and can be substituted.) then I substitute or omit. Those examples aren’t “expensive” but they they each take a bite out of my budget that I’d much rather spend on hamburger, rice, cheese and so forth that is both tasty and filling.
Part 2 – coming next week! (There are 3 parts written so far as I thought of things… and I think I will finish it with a list of my favorite recipes. What do ya think?)