Everyone is trying to save money nowadays. It doesn’t matter why — you may need to watch your pennies just to make ends meet. Or you’ve set a goal to pay off some bills or you’re saving for something special — like a down payment on a house. Whatever your reason, setting a budget for groceries is one of the easiest ways to save money without really giving anything up.
The following are the tips and tricks I use every week to make sure I only spend the amount I’ve budgeted on groceries — and we manage to eat pretty darned good!
Make a Meal Plan then Shop the Plan
Make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping. Decide what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day for 7 days. Be as specific as possible and do this for every member of the household you’ll be shopping for. When you first start doing this, it will feel like you’re herding cats while having a migraine headache, but keep at it — it
should will get easier.
I use a recipe/meal planning/shopping app called Paprika to store all of my recipes. I add recipes I use often from either the internet (Paprika does all the work with just one click) or my paper cookbooks and type them into the app. Then I use our favorites to create my weekly Meal Plan.
From there I create my weekly shopping list. (Paprika auto-magically moves all the ingredients to the Shopping List for me). Since this app is on my phone, I have my shopping list with me all the time — who goes anywhere without their phone, right? It’s literally one of the best $3 I’ve ever spent and it’s probably saved us hundreds — if not thousands of dollars on wasted food.
Order and Pick up Your Groceries
Create a shopping list from the recipes on your meal plan. Then use the Walmart Grocery website to add your recipe items to a grocery list. That way you’ll know exactly how much you’re spending before you ever leave home. If you have the option, order your groceries online and go pick them up. It’s great for 2 reasons:
- You save your precious time walking up and down aisles full of screaming kids & frazzled parents buying grocery … instead you can spend that time with your family doing something important to you
- You can’t impulsively buy stuff not on your grocery list — this is a big money saving bonus!
You can’t impulse buy if you don’t actually go into the store, right?? But, if your area doesn’t offer the pickup (or delivery) option, add your items to the website anyway and then either print out the list — with prices — or add them to a grocery list app like Paprika.
Either way you’ll know exactly how much your groceries are going to cost you. If the cost is more than you’ve budgeted for, you can easily go back and change/swap out your recipes before the money is spent. It gives you options that you’ve never had before — take advantage of them!
If you have to go into the grocery store, stick to your shopping list like glue! Plan on “Shopping The Perimeter” of the store. Have you ever noticed that all the “Real food” in a grocery store are on the 3 outer walls of the store: Produce, Fresh Meat & Dairy. Avoid the aisles with cookies, cracker, chips, boxes, packages & cans. There are always exceptions to the perimeter rule. Flour, sugar, oil, canned fruit, oatmeal, mayo, pasta, canned tomatoes, canned/dry beans, etc. are on the inner aisles and we all need these staples. Just stick to your list — no impulse buying!
Leave the Cards at Home – Use Cash
If you have to go into the grocery store — and you’ve done as I suggested and put all your groceries into the Walmart Grocery website, you know how much you’ll spend. So take cash and leave the cards at home. It’s amazing how much more conscious I am of how much I’m spending when I know I only have a certain amount of cash with me. Don’t swap item. Don’t leave anything out. Don’t buy anything extra. Take approx. $5 over the amount you need in case you have to substitute a more expensive brand, but stick to your list.
Forget the Coupons
Throw away the coupons! I know that sounds crazy, but have you noticed that 99% of coupons available are for convenience foods, snacks, cereal & junk food. How long has it been since you’ve seen a coupon for fresh meat, a gallon of milk or fresh veggies — one where you aren’t required to purchase something junky (that you don’t need) just to get the discount. When a grocery conglomerate forces you to buy 2-3 of something instead of just one to get a measly $0.50 or $1.00 discount; or requires you to buy something you don’t want (or need), it’s not much of a savings, is it? Until grocery stores come out with money off coupons for fresh produce, fresh meat and fresh milk & eggs — I don’t waste my time with coupons.
Remember, the whole point of this is to eat WELL on a TIGHT budget … not buy stuff you don’t need right now (this week) because you have coupons for it.
Avoid Vending Machines
If you or your family spend the day away from home, they will be tempted to use vending machines. DON’T … just don’t. STOP using vending machines. It sounds like such a simple thing, yet for some reason many of us will consistently feed dollars and quarters into snack and soda vending machines instead of bringing these items from home. If you are watching your pennies, this convenience just isn’t worth it. And here are 892.5 reasons why you should give it a try.
Pack Your Snacks & Drinks!
At one or more grocery store every week, canned & bottled soda is on sale. I just checked the sales circulars today and 12-packs of 12-oz. Coca-Cola are on sale for $2.50 or $0.21 each. When you buy a soda from a vending machine or a convenience store, they range from $1.50 up to $2.49 each. Personally I think it’s highway robbery and the convenience isn’t worth it. Bottled water at Sam’s Club is $3.98 for a 40-pack or $0.10 per bottle. Yet buying a bottle of water from a vending machine will set you back $1.25 or more — and people still do it day after day after day. Snacks are just as inflated from vending machines and just as easy to pack from home.
Let me give you an example:
- Bag of Lay’s potato chips 1 oz. from vending: $1.25
- Bag of Lay’s Potato Chips (15.25 oz): $3.98
- 15 Sandwich Baggies: $0.25
- Pour 1 oz. of chips into 15 bags (eat remaining 0.25 ounce, of course)
- TOTAL COST: $0.26 each for 15 snack bags.
SAVINGS: $0.99 per snack
Here’s another good example for those trying to eat healthier:
- Bag of Lay’s potato chips 1 oz. from vending: $1.25
- 1 lb Baby Carrots: $0.98
- Marzetti Veggie Ranch Dip 14 oz : $3.58
- 4 sandwich baggies & 4 reusable 4-oz containers
- TOTAL COST: $0.75 for 3 oz. carrots + 2 oz. dip
If you make your own veggie dip from my awesome copycat Marzetti Veggie Ranch Dip recipe then the cost of your dip drops from $3.58 (14 oz.) to $1.25 (16 oz).
- TOTAL COST: $0.40 for 3 oz. carrots + 2 oz. homemade dip
SAVINGS: $0.50 or $0.85 per Healthy Snack
How about one more for those with a sweet tooth?
- Snack cake, Twinkies, honey bun, etc. from vending: $1.25 (or more)
- Box of 12 Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies: $1.50 per box or $0.13 each
SAVINGS: $1.12 per Sugary Snack Cake
If you are trying to avoid preservatives & ingredients you can’t pronounce, then make your own snack cakes/cookies/bars at home. Try my recipe for Banana Bread Bars with Peanut Butter Frosting. Yum! Your savings will vary depending on the recipe you use, but seriously??? YUM! and no chemicals or preservatives.
Yearly Savings — It Adds Up!
Let’s take it one step further and total our expenditures for snacks & drinks over the course of an entire year.
For ONE person:
- Based on 2 vending sodas/water per week day + 1 vending snack per week day for 50 weeks:
- $1,062.50 for Vending Snacks per year
- $170.00 Bringing Soda, Water & Snacks from home
SAVINGS: $892.50 per YEAR per PERSON
I don’t know about you, but I can find a lot of things to do with $892.50 per year — especially if all I have to do is stop using Vending Machines and buy sodas, water & snack cakes from the grocery store while I’m there.
Make Your Own Snacks & Convenience Foods
We’ve already covered this a little bit above, but along the same lines if you can make your own snacks and convenience foods, you’ll be able to save quite a lot of money on food.
Just about the only convenience foods I buy is The Hubster’s Pesto Sauce (can’t stand the smell of it), Hunt’s Four Cheese Pasta Sauce — it’s inexpensive, tasty and I can pronounce every ingredient listed on the label. I use it in casseroles where the sauce is not the star but a supporting character (like my awesome No-Boil 15 Minute Prep Lasagna). Other than that I try my best to make or replace convenience foods when a recipe or dinner calls for them.
Don’t even get me started on morning and afternoon coffee at shops like Starbucks or Seattle Coffee. Some folks willingly pay $5 for a cup of coffee and do it once or twice a day. If you brew your own coffee and take it with you in a thermos you will save so much money it’s not even funny. Just have to have your Starbuck’s coffee no matter what?? How about buying their coffee beans and brewing it at home. Go out to YouTube and find videos on how to make their signature drinks if that’s what draws you to them.
Let me break it down for you:
If you buy coffee at Starbucks once a day, 5 days a week then you are spending
- $13 a week for a large regular coffee
- $25 a week for a large specialty drink
- 1 lb. Starbucks brand coffee beans $13-$15
- Will last at least a month depending on how much coffee you drink
How about another example most of us can relate to:
Bread. Who can live without it, right?
Bread costs $3.98 a loaf for italian/white bread at our local grocery store and $2.48 at Walmart. Whole wheat, rye, etc. is more expensive. Sometimes I can find the Italian bread we like at Sam’s for $3.98 for 2 loaves. We’ve tried the $1 loaves from local stores and Walmarts, but The Hubster doesn’t like the taste (and I think they’ve been over-yeasted. It’s a way to get a larger loaf of bread from a smaller amount of ingredients – all air and no substance).
I make our bread using a bread machine to knead it and then I’ll bake it in the oven. The whole process takes a bit of time, but I can be doing other things while the machine does all the hard work. I timed it and it takes me 7 minutes to add the ingredients to the bread machine. Then the machine takes over until I remove the bread and put it into a bread pan (that takes me 1 minute). After it goes through the 2nd rise I pop it into the oven and then remove it from the oven. Total “sweat equity” on my part was less than 10 minutes.
But here’s where I prove it’s worth it!
- 25 lbs. of flour for $5.94 (at Walmart – I just go pick it up, they put it in my car!)
- 2 1-lb packages Instant Yeast for $4.87 (Sam’s Club or BJs)
- (DO NOT buy those little yeast packages in the grocery dairy aisle — they are WAAAAAY overpriced!)
- Those are the main components of bread — and it cost about $10 and will last a long time if stored properly.
I’ve had my bread machine for over 25 years and it’s still going strong. But many people find bread machines at yard sales and thrift shops for $5 give or take, so if you really want to do this you can find a way. (I’ve even broken it down to where after buying 17 loaves of bread for $3.98 each, you’ve paid for a brand new bread machine from Amazon.)
- 20-oz. Loaf of Meier’s Premium Italian Bread-20 oz: $2.48
- 2 lb. Loaf of homemade Honey Brown Sugar Bread: $0.48
SAVINGS: $2.00 per loaf
Based on 2 loaves of bread per week: $257.92 vs. $49.92 per year
We’ve gotten spoiled because the bread I make is so much tastier than the store bread. It costs me $0.48 per loaf for the bread ingredients to make a loaf that lasts 2 people for 2 days.
My bread recipe includes honey & brown sugar along with the flour & yeast which is why it’s “so” expensive. Plain white bread or artisan bread costs me $0.15-0.18 per loaf. ($257.92 vs. $18.72 per year)
What Can You Replace to Save Money??
I typically replace things like sweetened condensed milk, Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Campbell’s Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup, Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup, Good Seasons Zesty Italian Dressing, Lipton Onion Soup mix, Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, Taco Seasoning, Contadina’s Pizza Squeeze Sauce, Chicken-Beef-Veggie Broth & Bullion (with the exception of Ham), Rice-a-Roni, Yogurt, Bisquick, Flavored Coffee Creamers, Ranch Dressing Mix, Jelly, Jam, Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes & Au Gratin Potatoes, Lipton Rice Sides, Hamburger Helper, etc. with homemade versions that taste the same — or better. And all of them will save you money as well as not having high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and misc. chemicals.
Eat at Home
Here’s the suggestion that most people hate. Eat at home and don’t eat out. Don’t eat lunch out and don’t eat dinner out. Pack your lunch and eat dinner at home. It’s hard, especially when you’ve just worked hard all day long and you are tired, cranky and just want to chillax awhile.
Here’s where all that work you did up at the top of this blog post is going to pay off. You’ve already got your Meal Plan prepared, so you know what you’re having for dinner. One of the things I always hated before I started Meal Planning was the following typical conversation (see if it sounds familiar):
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t know, what do you want?”
“I asked you first.”
“What do we have?”
“I don’t know, what do you want?”
At which point, one of us would suggest take out Chinese or popping over to Olive Garden or the Keystone Pub. That’s extra money down the drain we didn’t plan to spend — so much for the budget!
Now it’s simply, it’s Tuesday. Look on Meal Plan, ok Tuesday is Copycat Campbell’s Bean with Bacon Soup. DONE! I know what’s for dinner and since I based my grocery shopping on the Meal Plan, I have all the ingredients on hand and ready to go. I have my recipe in Paprika ready to pull up and all I have to do is prep and cook. Dinner is served!!!
The average cost of a meal at a chain restaurant, like Olive Garden runs around $12.95-$15.95. If you are like us, you also have a glass of wine or a beer while you are waiting for your food. By the time you get out of the restaurant, you’ve spend about $43-$60 including taxes & tip.
Let me give you one of my infamous examples:
- Olive Garden Lasagna – $14.99 (plus tax & tip)
- includes salad and bread sticks
- 6 oz. Glass of wine – $5.00 each (most diners have 2 glasses)
- TOTAL = $24.99 (before tax & tip) per person
- My awesome No-Boil 15-Minute Prep Lasagna ingredients – $6.28 (no tax, tips always appreciated). This recipe makes a 9×13 pan of lasagna. Enough for 2 meals for 2 people.
- Salad ingredients – $1.15 for simple salad and $0.48 for dough to make breadsticks
- Bottle of wine (1.5 L on sale) $10
- TOTAL=$17.91 (no taxes, tips always appreciated) for TWO people for TWO meals
Savings = $16.04 per person (not including the 2nd meal of homemade lasagna)
That pretty much says it all, except if you eat out spontaneously the food you’ve already purchased for that lunch or evening meal will not get used and if it includes fresh ingredients, may end up getting thrown out because you didn’t use it as you’d planned.
This is what happened to us A LOT before I put a stop to it. We wasted more food from the fridge than I’m comfortable admitting to because I wasn’t organized enough to use it before it went bad.
And here comes the plug for my most, bestest king of all kitchen appliances, but it’s worth noting. The Instant Pot (que Heavenly Choir of Angels). Once I got an Instant Pot, my life became much easier — and recipes became easier — cooking time-intensive food became easier. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend getting one. If you have one and you don’t use it almost daily, you should be if you want to “find” extra time for yourself and your spouse/family that doesn’t involve standing over a stove cooking food. Here’s my blog post on why you need an Instant Pot this year!
So, to Recap!
- I highly recommend getting the Paprika app – totally worth the price (I have it on my phone, the Kindle Fire I use in the kitchen for recipe prep AND my laptop — and they all talk to each other.)
- Make a Meal Plan for 7 Days that includes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinners (Snacks & Desserts if you regularly eat them)
- Use the Walmart Grocery website to determine how much your groceries are going to cost. Make adjustments to your Meal Plan as necessary to match your budget
- Order your groceries online and go pick them up. This prevents impulse buying and saves you time better spent doing something else
- If online ordering is not an option, print out the grocery list with prices. Leave your cards at home and take cash to the store.
- Don’t waste your time on coupons unless you find some for fresh milk, fresh meat or fresh veggies/fruit
- Avoid using vending machines when away from home. Take sodas, snacks, lunches, bottled water and coffee from home
- Make your own snacks and convenience foods to save yourself a bundle
- Eat at home instead of getting take out or unplanned visits to restaurants. You’ve already purchased food for that spontaneous meal out, so it may go to waste.
- Use kitchen appliances such as an Instant Pot and/or crock pots to make cooking easier and less stressful
Good luck! Please come back and let me know how you are doing. I’d love to hear from you.