How to Reduce Your Grocery Bill by $800 a Month without Starving
If you’re trying to reign in your monthly expenses, a great place to start is with your groceries. For most families in this country, food is our next highest expense after rent or mortgage. Many people try in vain to lower costs by clipping coupons, looking for sales, or cutting out high dollar items and still don’t see much in the way of cost reduction. I used to think that my ravenous clan would drive us to the poor house. I had a thin husband (read: can eat mass amounts of food and never gain weight, grrrr), 2 teenage boys (need I say more), and myself; a self-proclaimed professional dieter always trying to eat healthy, expensive diet foods. How could we possibly bring down our bill from the $350 per week we were currently spending to anything that would make a noticeable dent in the budget?
Well, I found a way. I managed to get our $350 per week down to $150 ($200 reduction per week, folks!) by utilizing several tactics that really work. I am going to share them with you. Even if you only implement 1 thing, you will see savings. If you use them all….watch out, baby! You’re gonna have some extra money in your pocket!
Sales and Meal Planning- They go together like peanut butter and jelly!
Alright, I am going to be upfront with you. This is time consuming, especially when you are just starting out. It’s going to take some time to do, but once you have gotten into the rhythm it gets quicker and quicker so hang in there. I am going to get my weekly flyers, my online downloadable store coupons, and my notebook and start formulating a menu based on the sales. First, I check out what meats are on sale (usually meat is your biggest budget buster at the store) and try to base meals around those. Now, I plan a menu for 14 nights (I shop once every 2 weeks, but I’ll explain more on that in a minute) and there are certain meals we eat every week. A time-saving tip here; keep you menus. You can create 4 or 5 of them and then just copy or repeat certain meals based on the sales so you don’t have to start from scratch each time or rack your brains to come up with something new.
We have 1 breakfast for dinner (lovingly referred to in our house as BFD) night each week, 1 hamburger night each week, and 1 leftover night each week. That means we only have 8 meals to create. I look through my flyers or electronic downloadable coupons and see what is on sale. I often find chicken breast either at Sprouts or Safeway for $1.67 per lb (and sometimes even cheaper). This is a great price, so I stock up and plan 2 nights of chicken meals for each week. If ground beef is on sale we have more tacos, spaghetti, or meatloaf. You just need to see what you can get for cheap. Another way to keep meat costs down is to incorporate a “meatless meal” night into your menu (I like to make pizza crust in my bread maker and have homemade pizza night) or check out the “manager’s” bin. This is a discounted meat bin filled with meat that expires after that day all marked down by 30-50%. I can get grass fed beef for $3! Make sure to freeze this meat until ready to cook and it will be fine.
Here is a sample of what my 2 week menu might look like:
Friday-Rice, Beans, Rotel tomatoes w/shredded chicken
Saturday-BFD (breakfast for dinner)-Sausage, biscuits, and gravy w/potatoes and fruit
Sunday-Honey mustard chicken w/rice and broccoli
Monday-Burgers, homemade French fries, and salad
Tuesday-Spaghetti and meat sauce
Thursday-Salsa Chicken over potatoes w/salad
Friday- Stuffed peppers w/rice
Saturday-BFD- Veggie Omelets w/bacon and fruit
Sunday- Burgers, homemade French fries, and salad
Monday- Salmon and green beans
Tuesday-Tacos on fresh corn tortilla w/refried beans
Thursday-Homemade chicken noodle soup
In this particular example, I was able to get chicken and ground beef on sale. I also eat Gluten Free so anything you see with pasta, I either use a GF version for myself or make Zoodles (spiralized zucchini). I also don’t eat the pizza or biscuits myself. I often meal prep on the weekend so many of these things are prepared and easy to throw together so we are not tempted to eat out on busy nights. I never buy a lot of processed food (note “homemade French fries”) because making your meals from scratch saves a bunch of money and is much healthier for your family.
Please understand, when thinking about your food budget, you need to consider ALL food, not just from the grocery store. Do you buy coffee on the way to work? What about breakfast? Do you let your kids buy their lunch from the cafeteria? What about your lunch? In our house, we make all meals at home. That’s 14 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners plus snacks for 4 people (plus kitty litter and food for 4 pets) for $150 per week. We brew our morning coffee at home and take it in a travel mug with us. I prep 4 work lunches to take with me (I work 4 ten hour shifts) and my husband makes a sandwich each morning to take with him as well. I have my kids make 5 lunches for school and bag them up on Sunday so they can just grab and go in the morning. If we didn’t do this and bought meals out, we’d spend hundreds more on food.
Cereal and milk
Eggs, sausage, and toast
Pre-made veggie egg cups
Sandwiches-egg salad (a weeks’ worth can be made for around $1.50), chicken salad (when the deli rotisserie chicken is on sale for $5), $5 Friday lunch meat and cheese, peanut butter and jelly. Serve with 1 or 2 of the following:
Carrot sticks and fruit
Celery and hummus
Because I don’t eat gluten, sandwiches are not a good option for me. As I said, I prep on the weekend and have turkey breast meatballs, ground turkey Mexican mix that I serve over zucchini, precooked chicken breast w/veggies, etc all ready to go. I will write another post on how I make my super-duper healthy lunches so keep an eye out!
Snack Examples (remember, you’re looking for sale items)
Tortilla chips and salsa
Fruit (always buy in-season and on sale)
Popcorn (to use in a hot air popper-very cheap!)
Veggies and hummus
My weekly shopping list doesn’t change much but the brands do depending on what sales are happening. I know my prices and what is considered a good deal, but if you don’t you may want to start tracking it. Most stores will have rock-bottom sale prices in 8 week rotations. For example, Nature Valley granola bars usually run about $3.49. Yea, I’m not paying that. Once every 8 weeks or so, they go on sale 2 for $2.98. Okay, so now they are $1.49 per box. That’s better. Now I buy. I buy as much as I need for my kids’ lunches that will last until the next sale. The same with cereal. I will wait until it is anywhere from $1.49 to $1.67 per box (depending on type and brand). This often shows up as something like 3 for $5 ($1.67) so I buy 9 boxes and then pair up with some coupons (buy 3, get $1 off). So now I’ve just gotten 9 boxes of cereal for $12. That’s $1.33 per box. NEVER pay full price! I keep a closet in my house for my stockpile items so that I have somewhere to keep my stash and we just pull from it each week as needed. I won’t need cereal again for 8 weeks and one of the brands always goes on sale during that time if we do run out. I don’t let my family dictate the kind or brand they want; the sales dictate the kind/brand I buy and then they can choose from those (I still purchase cereal flavors they like no matter what the brand).
To get the most bang for your buck (as seen in my example above) you should try to pair coupons with killer sales. I’m not talking the “extreme coupon” madness we’ve all witnessed on TV. I’m talking about 1 Sunday papers’ worth of coupons, free weekly coupon circulars that show up in the mail once a week, and electronic coupons most grocery store chains now have with their mobile phone apps. This will bring your bill way down.
Stick to the List
It is essential that you not deviate from your list unless you truly forgot to add something that you really need (like toilet paper). I add up my list items as accurately as I can by sort of guessing what the items are going to cost. I’m pretty damn good at it and I am considering trying out for the Price is Right! You want to try to hit your targeted budget (or slightly under) as closely as possible. My target is $300 for my 2 week list. If I’m over, I start removing non-essentials from my list.
You may wonder why I shop every 2 weeks. Well, I have found that if I try to just do 1 week at a time, I always seem to go over. Trying to get basic pantry staples while purchasing meal items on $150 is hard to do without exceeding your budget. It’s also easier and cheaper to buy bulk meats and I use the meat over a 2 week period for my menu planning. Once shopping is done for your 2 week time span, DO NOT return to the store. If you come up short on something, unless it is absolutely vital (like toilet paper) you have to find a way to work around it. Get creative, it’s only 2 weeks.
The last thing I do to keep on point is by making my grocery shopping a 3-stop process. I know, I know, who has time for that? Well, I work 40 hours a week, commute nearly 2 hours a day and I make time for it so I know it can be done. Now, I am certainly not going to hit 6 grocery stores just because each one has different deals. I want to have a life too. But I consider the Dollar Tree and Sprouts a crucial part of my bi-weekly shopping and here’s why. There are just certain things that are consistently cheaper at these stores and I can assure you it saves me anywhere from $20 to $30 per shopping trip. That is worth the inconvenience to me since my budget is so limited. I stop at both stores on my way home from work on Thursday night (I have off on Fridays and that is when I hit the grocery store). This really only takes me an extra hour and often I’ll pair up “leftover night” with this trip so I don’t have to cook when I get home. So what’s a good deal? Let’s take a look:
Toothpaste, kids shampoo and conditioner (my husband shaves his head and I make my own), ibuprofen, toothbrushes, deodorant, cards
Napkins, dishwasher tabs, liquid dish soap, baggies, freezer meal tin pans, Swiffer pads, kitchen sponges, kitty litter, cleaners
Tortillas, jalapeños, ketchup, breakfast sausage, turkey bacon, tea, vinegar, spices, coconut milk, canned soup
Most fresh fruits and vegetables (unless your grocery store is advertising a really sweet deal on something in which case that item may be cheaper there)
Bulk nuts (always choose the ones on sale, usually $4.99/lb)
Meat sales- Sprouts often has the best sales around on chicken and bulk cheeses
The next day, when I go to the grocery store, I usually don’t even need to hit the produce aisle at all. I have tried to skip this step and as I said, the cost jumps up by $20-$30 for my trip so I don’t do that anymore.
So there you have it. I do have some other tips and tricks but I’ll save those details for another post. This should be enough to get you started. Remember, the amount you choose is up to you, your budget, and how much you are looking to save. If you break it down, I am spending about $30 per person per week (I realize $150 divided by 4 is $37.50 but keep in mind some of that money is used for household cleaners/paper products and pet supplies so it’s not all going to humans or to food). This is for all 3 meals and snacks per day. That is pretty good. I guarantee if you attempted to go to the store with only $30 you would be hard pressed to buy 21 meals for yourself. With this method it can be done with relative ease. You can be looking at major monthly savings and the gift of one week off from shopping. Why don’t you get working on your list and give it a try. Oh, and don’t forget the toilet paper!