According to the USDA, as of May 2019, a family of four typically spent between $567.80 and $1,296.30 on food a month. Yikes! Trying to eat healthily? Organic food costs up to 25% more than conventionally grown food. Even if you skip organic products, Harvard University says a healthy diet typically costs more than an unhealthy diet. So if you need to stretch your grocery budget, does that mean you are condemned to eating junk food? No! There are plenty of ways to hack your grocery bill so you can reach your financial goals and serve your family wholesome, healthy food.
Forgoing soda, sports drinks, sugary drinks, and alcohol will free up grocery dollars. The quality of the tap water in most of the United States is excellent! If you or your family balks at plain water, you can try floating fruit in the water to dress it up. If drinking water just isn’t going to happen, start making your own drinks. Making iced tea or lemonade is still going to save money over purchasing bottled soda!
Stick With Basics
Grocery stores introduce new, exciting items all the time, like packets of rice with new flavor profiles, pre-seasoned chicken parts, and packages of produce for exotic dishes. Skip the new stuff and stick with stocking your fridge and pantry with basics. Large bags of unflavored rice will always be cheaper than small packets of flavored rice, for instance. Love new flavors? Spend a little money buying spices you can use in a variety of dishes.
Calculate the Per-Unit Price
Almost any food you purchase is available in a cute, individual-sized package. It’s better for your budget if you skip those! Small packages are almost always more expensive per unit. Buying in bulk is usually a money-saver. But always check the per-unit pricing! Especially if you are using coupons, sometimes, smaller packages will actually save you the most money.
Shop Sales Effectively
Does your grocery store publish a weekly sale flier? You won’t be able to identify a good deal unless you know what a reasonable price for chicken breasts or milk or potatoes really is. Frugal shoppers swear by a price list. If you know the usual price for a can of tomatoes is $1, you’ll be able to quickly identify that a 3/$1 sale is a great one and you should buy extra tomatoes. This is called grocery stockpiling. The idea is that any food with a decent shelf life should only be purchased when on sale. So this week, you’d buy a bunch of canned tomatoes, but next week, you won’t buy any. Instead, you might buy several jars of peanut butter, which are on sale.
Eat Well, But Eat Cheap
Always choose the least expensive item that offers similar nutrition. Oranges are usually cheaper than mangoes, so stick with oranges. In-season produce should be less expensive than out-of-season produce, so eat strawberries in June, not in December. Beef that needs a low, slow cook is often less expensive than meat suitable for pan-searing. Humble potatoes can take the starring role in a variety of meals.
Make it Yourself
Stretch your grocery money by choosing foods that require a bit of labor over labor-saving convenience foods. Buying a whole ham and baking it is more work than purchasing deli ham by the pound but results in significant savings. Homemade yogurt is much cheaper than store-bought yogurt. And DIY granola will reap you huge savings over packaged granola (which is so expensive) and allows you to customize it to your family’s taste.
Dine Out (of Your Refrigerator!)
Raise your hand if you’ve ever optimistically filled your produce drawer and then sadly tossed moldy vegetables into the garbage a couple of weeks later. We’ve all been there. However, food that’s thrown away uneaten represents wasted money. The best way to save money is to eat the food you’ve already paid for, and this is especially true when considering perishable food. So even if squash doesn’t sound appealing, if you have a pound of it threatening to go bad, make it for dinner.
Plan Your Menu
You know what’s in your fridge, you know what’s on sale, and you know to stick to buying basics at the best per-unit price possible. Now, it’s time to menu-plan! Starting with the food you have on hand that you need to use up, make a plan of what your family will eat for the next week. Don’t forget breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. Does this feel overwhelming? There are many meal-planning templates available (for free!). After you have planned out what you will eat, make your shopping list.
Loyalty is overrated, at least when it comes to saving money on your grocery bill. The first loyalty to scuttle is brand loyalty. Store brands can often save you money over buying name-brand products, or there might be a great sale or coupon for a name brand you don’t typically purchase. The other loyalty to leave behind is loyalty to a specific store. Take a look at the sales circulars for all of the grocery stores around you. Don’t forget about the no-frills European-based stores that have popped up around the country over the past decade. You’ll have to bring your own bags and spend a quarter to rent a grocery cart, but you’ll often be rewarded with very low prices on grocery basics!
The very best way to save money at the grocery store might be to not go into the grocery store at all. Many grocery chains and big-box stores that sell groceries offer the ability to order your groceries online and pick them up at the store without ever actually setting foot in the store! This saves you money in a few different ways. One, you can “shop” while standing in your kitchen, so you’ll have plenty of time to remember everything and be able to check your pantry to avoid buying anything you don’t actually need. Two, it cuts down on impulse buying: You won’t be tempted by freshly baked bread or cute bottles of salad dressing. Three, you won’t have to argue with your children about impulse buys. Some stores charge a small fee for this service, but your savings should offset it. Also, many stores offer pickup-only coupons, which can also offset the charge.
Download Store Apps
Your smartphone is an essential weapon in your money-saving arsenal. Download the app for each store you frequent. Most stores offer digital coupons you can download via the app and access with your store loyalty card. Does your store offer loyalty points? Often, you can get bonus points by using the app or using the app to pay for your groceries. There are also a variety of coupon and rebate apps you can download to maximize your savings.
Other Money-Saving Hacks
- Pay in cash! Try the envelope budgeting system and only buy food with money from your grocery envelope.
- Seek out markdowns. Learn when your store marks down produce, meat, and dairy that’s close to its sell-by date and try to shop then.
- Shop unlikely places. Drugstore chains often offer grocery products as loss leaders to get you in the store. Milk and eggs are the products most often offered at cheaper prices.
Putting good, healthy food on your families table is one of your number one priorities, but sometimes unexpected financial strain may threaten your ability to do so. In times of financial stress, it is important to understand all of your financial options, including the alternative lending solutions that may be a good option for those who may not qualify for a traditional bank loan.