You can cut lattes and your cable bill, but the one thing you can’t cut from your budget? Food.
Food is expensive. The average American spends around $7,500 on food each year. Your grocery spending can eat up anywhere from 14% to 34% of your household income. Whether you’re a student on a really low budget or a parent trying to keep the food bills at bay, we could all use some tips on how to manage our grocery budget properly and save some extra coin.
Reducing how much you spend on groceries doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health. It’s about shopping smarter in order to make the most out of your budget. It’s also very easy to do if you carve out the time.
So what can you do today in order to save money on your next grocery run? Here are 12 ways to get more out of your food budget.
1. Learn how to cook
It's not a secret that home-cooked meals are cheaper than eating out at restaurants. (The average price of a meal cooked at home is $4.31.) However, the process of cooking may seem daunting for those who aren't used to it.
Anyone can cook. You just have to start off with simple recipes with simple ingredients.
Cooking at home ensures that you know exactly what you're putting into your body. Also, if you have bought your ingredients on sale, the cost of your meals will definitely equate to less than what you pay for at restaurants, about $20.37 per meal. Learn a new skill and save money while you're at it.
2. Plan your meals
Meal planning is the key to saving money, as well as saving time. Start off small and plan your meals for the entire day. Once you've mastered that, proceed to plan your meals for the entire week. Meal prep is easy, and everybody can do it! Cook your meals in bulk and store them for later in the week.
This process not only ensures that you save money by making sure that you're able to evenly distribute your ingredients over several meals, but it also ensures that you're able to conveniently heat up your food and eat it immediately.
3. Use a shopping list to stick to your grocery budget
We often spend more than we need to when we're shopping for our groceries. We buy more than we can eat, and we often lose track of what we intended to purchase in the first place. Much like how a to-do list keeps us on track with our tasks, a grocery list is imperative to keep us on track with what we must buy.
While it may sound basic, this factor must not be overlooked. How many times have you made a quick trip to the shops to buy one thing, but you end up buying a lot of other items you didn't really need? Writing up a quick grocery list — or on your phone, if pen and paper are a little too 'old school' for you — before leaving for the store will effectively prevent you from buying any unnecessary items as it keeps you on track.
4. Get the grocery store rewards card
Most grocery stores have a free discount card, points card or rewards card. These are cards that you can use to not only earn points but also to get sale prices and other discounts when you shop. In many instances, unless you have the store card you will not be able to get the items you want at the sale price.
That being said, it's very easy to miss out on receiving the sale discounts. During checkout, items are scanned pretty quickly and you may not realize it until after you get home and look at your receipt — that's certainly happened to me many times.
To ensure you always get the discounts, put your points card next to your source of payment. If for some reason you were not asked for it or you forgot to use it, be sure to head over to customer service for a price adjustment. Keep in mind that you can also use your points card online too.
5. Sign up for your store emails
In addition to signing up for the store points card or rewards card, be sure to sign up for your store email newsletters. Many times stores will email additional discounts including printable coupons or free grocery delivery or pick-up offers.
They may also make you aware of sales going on in-store that are based on your shopping habits or things you typically buy or have bought in the past (using information from your points card).
Be careful not to get caught up shopping every store sale you are emailed unless you really need the items and they fit into your grocery budget.
6. Search online for manufacturer coupons
Many of your favorite grocery brands sometimes offer manufacturer coupons on their websites or on coupon sites (like coupons.com or redplum.com) that you can use in-store or online. Just do a quick google search before you go grocery shopping to see what you can find. (Here's our list of best coupon sites!)
7. Don't limit yourself to one grocery store
Sales don't just happen at one store. Every store is different and each of them is constantly competing to provide consumers with the best prices. Take advantage of this and shop for the best prices.
You're not constricted to purchasing your groceries at just one store so take the time to scout out the varying prices and follow the cheapest prices.
8. Get the store flyer when you walk in
Every noticed that pile of papers as you walk into your local grocery store? The next time you walk by these, grab one!
You might just find a few cutout coupons in there, and they are a great way to get a summarized view of what's on sale in the store this way you can determine what items on your list are discounted.
9. Shop for store brand goods
Store-brand items are indisputably cheaper than commercial goods and usually, you can't tell the difference; apart from the packaging. Due to store-brand goods being independently produced and packaged by the store itself. It’s no wonder that they're cheaper.
While not all foods have a store-brand counterpart, items such as canned foods, condiments, and other processed foods are definitely guaranteed to have store-brand versions.
10. See a bargain? Go for it!
Sometimes all the planning in the world can be fruitless if that one head of lettuce you need is $6.99. When you head to the supermarket take note of what fruits and vegetables are on sale. Most likely it will be things that are in season and in excess.
If you see something on sale in the shops, make the most of it. Notice that 2 lbs of pumpkin is only $.50? Why not grab a couple? Vegetables can be so diverse and used in so many different recipes.
It might be just pumpkin soup or you can get creative and make things like pumpkin cornbread, pumpkin beef, and black bean chili or pumpkin cannelloni. You might also see an abundance of cabbage or corn. You can preserve these foods and enjoy them at a later time, saving you tons of money down the road.
11. Learn how to store your groceries
The refrigerator is your best friend. While canned goods, seasonings, and noodles aren't necessarily a problem when it comes to shelf life, it's a whole different story when we're talking about other foods. Vegetables and fresh fruits should be replenished every one to two weeks because they don't last very long, even if they are stored in the fridge.
However, the shelf life of foods can definitely be prolonged by placing them in the correct location of the fridge and freezer. Make sure that you store all meats in the freezer immediately after you get back from the store.
Freezing meats will definitely make them last for weeks so buy them when they're cheap and don't be afraid to stock up. The same can be done for bread.
12. Buy your groceries online
Online grocery shopping is a great way to save money because you aren't distracted by yummy smells or product placements, you can simply search for and purchase what you need. In addition, because you are shopping online, you have time to think about whether or not you really need the items you have added to your cart.
Yes, the delivery fees might be pricey — typical fees are from $10 to $20. However, you can find promotions offering free or low-fee deliveries if you try a new service. And how many times have you spent much more than the delivery fee in-store after falling to the temptation of buying things that you didn't plan for?
You may be able to save money on the cost of delivery by opting to pick up your online shopping at the store. You basically place your order online and then your store provides you with a pickup time to come and get your pre-packed groceries. Many times the cost of a pickup can be cheaper than delivery by up to 50 or 75%. If online shopping is something you have available to you, you should definitely consider taking advantage of it!
Cutting your food budget in half is easy. It is time-consuming and requires a little effort and discipline, but the savings are well worth it!
(Updated by Cristy S. Lynch)