When I first started looking for ways to cut down on my groceries, it seemed like there were two main strategies, coupons and meal planning. Coupons seemed so overwhelming and time consuming, so I turned to meal planing, only to discover that it actually caused me to spend more on groceries than I wanted. I do know plenty of people that are great at meal planning on a small budget, and honestly I hope to get there one day. In the meantime, I wanted to share the strategy that is currently working for me.
For the last 6 months, my husband and I have been on a really tight budget. It has been challenging, but we have some financial goals that we are set on meeting, so we are motivated to stick to it.
I have a monthly grocery budget for my family of three. This amount is the MAXIMUM I am allowed to spend, but in reality I hope to spend much less than that. I wanted to give some tips and tricks that have helped me stick to my budget and actually have money left over that can go straight towards our financial goals.
- Make a budget and track your spending. Trying to save money without having an actual goal is very difficult. Set a budget. What is the maximum amount you can spend on food in a month or week? Now the next part is really important…you have to track your spending. Make sure every penny that you spend on groceries is written down. Some people use the envelope system. My husband and I love to use Dave Ramsey’s every dollar app. Its free. Every time I leave the grocery store, before I start the car, I take my receipt and record the amount in the app.
- Shop once a week. This changed a lot for me. Before I was that person who would go to the grocery store multiple times a week, sometimes twice in a day because I forgot something, or realized I didn’t have something for a recipe. I would often call my husband and have him pick up something from the store on his way home. NOW, I have a designated shopping day. I go to the store on Wednesdays and only Wednesdays! I get enough food to last me 1 week, and well if I forgot something, then I have to get creative.
- Switch your store. After I had already shifted my shopping habits to only going once a week, I decided to try a different store to see if it would help me save money. I switched to do the bulk of my shopping at Aldi and realized that not only was I saving money, but I could get a lot more food for my money at Aldi.
- Make a list of staple items, and that’s it! When I first tried to shop within the budget, I thought that the way to go would be to meal plan. I think this works for some people, but it did not work for me. Meal planning actually lead me to spend more money because I felt like I needed to get all of the ingredients to make each meal and a lot of those items were not on sale. Now I only make a list of essentials which usually include, milk, butter, eggs, bread, pasta, a bag of carrots, sometimes oatmeal, or rice.
- Buy what’s on SALE. After you cover your staple items, buy what is on sale! I usually try to buy a couple veggies on sale, some fruit that is on sale, and meat that is on sale.
- Split Portions of Meat and Veggies. One whole chicken can be broken down into two meals, so can a pound of ground beef, and a pork loin. I usually use only half of the meat that comes in a package for each meal. I also use ½ portions of veggies in different meals as well!
- Special Items. I try to buy one special or luxury item a week. This week it was a block of really nice cheese that I used on a pizza, on some pasta, and as a snack. Sometimes it’s a jar of nutella or a pack of bacon. This helps my meals feel extra special even though I’m on a budget.
- Get Creative! So how do you make meals when you don’t meal plan? I get creative. I google some ingredients that I have to get ideas, sub out what I don’t have, and just have fun! I try to think of a few meals that I can make when I’m in the grocery store, but I definitely don’t plan all of them. I have some go tos like tacos, pasta, and several chicken dishes with rice that I fall back on from time to time. I also get super creative with desserts and try to use what I have in my pantry to make a special treat. I usually have all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies, if we need a treat to bring to a party.
- Use your Leftovers. In our house we eat leftovers everyday for lunch. I never have to think about lunch, we don’t go out, and we don’t waste our food. It’s a win-win-win.
- Clean out your Fridge and Pantry. Every now and then we skip a grocery trip and try to use up what’s in our fridge and pantry. I can usually make a soup or some fried rice with pantry items and leftover veggies. We might be eating leftovers, and weird food combinations, but we save money and don’t let our food go to waste!
These tips and tricks have been super helpful for me and gives me the freedom and challenge to be creative with what I have. FOCUS on WHAT YOU HAVE in your pantry and in your budget and that will set you up for success.
I’ve learned that I actually have better success when there are some limitations because that is when I get creative!
What new tip or trick will you try out this week?