I’m not the crazy coupon lady. I don’t have it all figured out.
But what I do know is that my family eats well on a $75 a week budget. We have fancy international meals. We eat steaks and seafood. We enjoy holiday treats.
I’ve come to learn recently that sticking to a moderate food budget is difficult for a lot of families, so I’d like to share what I know in hopes of helping your family eat well and spend less.
Note: I do not have kids, but I do live with two full grown men who also enjoy chicken nuggets and ice cream. Do what you will with that information.
Here is my list of tips to help you stick to a grocery budget:
Make a grocery list
This is the single most important thing you can do to save money at the grocery store.
A lot of people like to wing it and just pick up whatever they see that looks good. Those same people have to take two or three trips to the grocery store each week because they didn’t get all the ingredients for that meal they suddenly decided to prepare.
And you know every trip you make to the grocery store results in you buying more items than you planned to…
I like to sit down once a month (yeah, I’m crazy like that), and plan out 5 suppers per week. Then I write down the ingredients on four grocery lists, one for each week that month.
This usually takes me less than an hour, and then I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the month!
Having a list ensures that a) you don’t forget what you need to buy and b) you don’t buy more things than you need
Some quick hints about meal planning:
Think about the shelf life of your ingredients. Some fresh produce will spoil before the week is out. Planning accordingly prevents food waste (and an extra trip to the grocery store!).
I also try to mix things up so we’re not having two pasta dinners back to back, or eating red meat three days in a row.
I just told you to make a grocery list, and now I’m telling you to be flexible. What?
Hear me out.
On my grocery list, I have some specific items, and some general items.
For instance, whole milk in my household is non-negotiable. It doesn’t matter if 2% is buy one get one, no one in my household would touch it except me.
However, when it comes to things like fruit or cereal, no one is very picky, so I buy whatever is in season or is least expensive.
This is actually healthier as well because it ensures that we get a good variety of fruits in our diet.
Don’t get too attached to brands. Be flexible and see what deals you manage to snag.
When are the pumpkins on sale? In autumn. When are the berries on sale? During summer.
Eating seasonally isn’t just some hipster notion of good living; it’s a smart way to save money on your grocery bill.
Grocery stores typically put their seasonal produce front and center when you enter the store, so stop and see what items you can check off on your grocery list.
Know your clearance sections
I personally like to shop at Kroger.
I’ve tried Publix, Ingles, Bi-Lo, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s. And while each store has certain advantages and disadvantages, I like Kroger because it delivers the best combination of value and quality for my family’s needs.
Kroger also has multiple clearance sections. These can differ slightly from store to store, but here’s a breakdown at my current branch:
- Main clearance, by the checkout area.
- Freezer clearance
- Dairy clearance
- Meat clearance
(the Kroger I used to shop at also had an awesome fancy cheese clearance section that I loved)
Oh yeah. Shop those areas and see what you can check off your list.
BUT! Don’t buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need just because it’s on clearance! That won’t save you money.
Even if you’re not at Kroger, locate the clearance section/s in your grocery store. Publix usually has one or two tables set up around the store.
Which day of the week is best?
Each grocery store has different days of the week when new merchandise comes in and they want to get rid of the old stuff quickly.
Experiment by shopping on different days of the week to see when you can get the best prices. You can even ask a store employee what day the food in the section gets discounted (note: I’ve never tried this because I’m socially awkward, but I hear it’s a thing people do).
I won’t say too much about this since most people are already aware of how much they can save with a rewards card, so… If you don’t have one and you shop at a store that offers them, get one.
You can also load coupons onto them. Super helpful.
Whoever said that eating healthy is too expensive is doing something wrong. Produce is the cheapest thing you can buy at the grocery store.
I don’t specifically eat organic, but if you do, you just have to be a little savvier with your shopping. Some organic produce is actually cheaper than its non-organic counterparts. Familiarize yourself with the produce section of your store, but check out a couple other grocery stores too.
Kroger has a pretty good organic section, and I bought organic apples and carrots this past week for below non-organic prices.
Sprouts and Trader Joes are also great options. If you’re willing to be flexible about what fruits and vegetables you need, they have incredible sales. I saw organic blackberries at Sprouts a couple weeks ago for 88 cents a package!!
I’m told Aldi also has good prices on organic food, but I’ve never personally shopped at an Aldi before.
Here’s another way to eat healthy and save money:
Decide what you need and don’t need based on what’s good for you.
If my grocery list looks like it’s going to exceed my budget, I cut out ice cream before I cut out broccoli. There’s a win for my body and my wallet.
Stay away from pre-packaged
This goes right along with healthy eating, but it also makes sense financially. Compare prices on pre-grated cheese and block cheese. What about sliced watermelon vs. whole watermelon?
Sometimes the difference is negligible, and in some instances, pre-packaged is even cheaper. But make sure you’re doing your research and not just buying out of laziness. You’ll be surprised how much you’ve actually paid just for convenience.
Like I said, I’m not the crazy coupon lady. Part of the reason is simply that eating healthy and couponing don’t really go hand-in-hand. Have you ever noticed that they make ten times as many coupons for junk food as they do for healthy stuff?
That being said, I keep the Kroger app on my phone and typically do a quick browse right before I go grocery shopping to see if any of the items on my list have an available coupon attached to them.
You should beware though… Just because there is a coupon for something doesn’t necessarily mean that buying that specific brand will be cheaper. Do the math and see if you’re actually saving money. If you could buy the generic for less than the branded item with coupon, it’s not worth it.
Buy what’s on sale
We’ve touched on this a bit already, and it’s kind of a no-brainer, but keep your eye out for sale stickers!
In addition to clearance sections, items on shelves are often marked on sale. Keep your eye out, and buy the brand that’s on sale that week.
This is also a great way to try out new products. If you normally stick to one brand of yogurt, but you see a different brand on sale that week, try it! You might just find a new favourite.
BUT only buy within your list limits!
Remember the super important grocery list we talked about? Don’t get carried away buying things just because they’re on sale. If something is 50% off but it wasn’t on your list, you haven’t saved money by buying it, you’ve spent additional money.
Decide on a treat ahead of time
Take me seriously here.
If you like to buy treats for yourself at the grocery store, those need to go on your grocery list ahead of time.
Pick one or two treats per week that you plan to enjoy, then write them down.
This will prevent you from just picking out whatever looks good. It will also help you make smarter choices about your eating in general.