Food costs. It is probably your families’ largest bill after your mortgage or rent. My family used to spend a lot at the grocery store and eating out. It never seemed like a frivolous expense since you have to eat, right? It was easy for us to grab takeout on the way home or stop at the grocery store several times a week to buy something we forgot. My husband works long shifts and would sometimes buy lunch at work which also added up. We try to eat mostly organic and natural which is usually more expensive. I was also not keeping track of exactly how much we were spending until we started using Banktivity and were able to see how much we were spending a month. We wanted to get our food spending much lower to stay within budget. Here are some tips I have used that you may want to try with your family.
This is a change that we made that greatly decreased our food bill. It eliminated the need to have to run to the store so often for dinner ingredients and therefore not keep an eye on prices. It’s a fact that you buy more when you go to the grocery store hungry. I meal plan for the week based on sale ads and what ingredients I already have. I follow a couple of recipe websites and pages that I like and use them for inspiration. I then make a list with the ingredients I still need along with the staples my family uses such as milk, eggs, and bread. I also make substitutions accordingly, often my list will just say veggies and I will buy what is on sale and in season. For example, I plan on having chicken pasta with broccoli and see that zucchini is on sale so then we have chicken pasta with zucchini. I almost always make enough to have 2 days worth, so one day we have it made and the second day, we eat the leftovers. I also pack the leftovers in my husband’s lunch for work eliminating him buying food at work. Meal planning has helped decrease my bill by doing a big shopping trip and eliminating the trips more often, therefore, spending more money. Meal planning has also decreased the anxiety of not knowing what to cook. Every day I have a plan of what we are having!
Stop Eating Out
This is almost a no brainer but something that is a large expense for many families. It’s easy and quick and everyone can get something they want. It is definitely not cost-effective. Think about what you usually spend eating out at a casual dining establishment for your family. It is pretty easy to rack up a bill of $75 for a family of 4 after tip. Before we had our daughter, my husband and I ate out a lot. It was fun and relaxing to have our food brought to us while we lingered over a glass of wine and ordered multiple courses. Eating out with a toddler is a lot less fun, some would say unpleasant. It is no longer an option to enjoy a long dinner, most of the time we are ordering immediately upon sitting down, having a full panic attack that she will lose her cool while rapid firing multiple toys her way to hopefully hold her attention while we wait for our food. No longer my idea of pleasurable! Although, it has been a great way for us to cut back on eating out. Try to make some of the recipes you are craving from your favorite restaurant at home. There are a lot of hackers and copycat recipes on the internet. A favorite of ours to try to create is the Olive Garden soups, yum. Also, just keep track of what you are spending at restaurants in an average month, I think you will be surprised!
Shop Sales and Use Apps
Shopping sales and using store apps is a great way to save money on food costs. I like to make my food plan for the week and then shop the ads to see where I will get the best prices. This works well for me but I do end up going to multiple stores in a week. Maybe it doesn’t work for you to go to multiple stores and you want to go to just one and get everything you need. You can look at the ads first and then make your meal plan based on what is on sale. Another thing to look at before you go shopping is the store apps and match it to your shopping list to see what you can save even more money on. Most major grocery stores have their own apps with coupons you can download for things you are already buying. Make sure your phone is also fully charged so you can check the app while you are in the store. There are also apps that have coupons you can use at major grocery stores and earn money back. My favorite is Ibotta. Before shopping, look through the Ibotta app to see items that are being offered for cashback. After you buy your groceries, you upload the receipt and the app matches your purchases to offers. You can then transfer your cashback to your Paypal or Venmo account. The best part is when you can stack all of those up together and can sometimes get free products! I may or may not have lots of free granola currently sitting in my cupboard.
I also like to stock up on cupboard items when they are on sale and will often buy the maximum amount allowed, especially when it is something we use often and has a long expiration date such as chicken broth or beans. We invested in a large deep freezer for our garage too and will fill it with meat when we find it on sale as well as the 50 plus pounds of tuna my husband caught this year.
One more grocery store tip is never to forget to cruise by the clearance section. Just this week, I found Tom’s kids toothpaste that retails for $4.00 in the clearance aisle for $.99 probably due to a packaging change or the store no longer carrying it. You never know what you will find in there and there are some great deals waiting to jump in your cart!
My favorite way to get creative and save money on food costs is to grow your own! Having a garden and growing your own fruit and vegetables is almost free! Even though we are in the middle of winter here in the US, it is a good time to start planning what you would like to plant and what your family enjoys to eat. It’s also important to find out what grows well in your area and what would be good to store for future use. Tomatoes did well in our area last year but our bell peppers never took off. I plan on planting a lot of tomatoes this year and canning and freezing for use throughout the year so we will not have to spend any money for canned tomatoes or marinara sauce. Plus the added bonus of saying “we grew those” when someone compliments your spaghetti in December.
Have you heard of the cupboard challenge? It is a great way to clean up your cupboard and stay within your food budget at the end of the month. Basically you don’t grocery shop and eat through your cupboard and freezer. Most people set a goal of 2 weeks or so of no grocery shopping. The braver even do it for a month. Come up with creative meals just using your current stock. I think almost every cupboard has the fixings for spaghetti or rice and beans. Add some meat from your freezer sale and some of the veggies you canned and you have a complete meal without spending any extra money. Why do you have 3 bags of lentils? Who knows but find a way to use them. This is also a great way to clean up the cupboard to make sure things aren’t being forgotten about and expiring.
We love to hear from you! Share below how you have saved on food costs.