It was a cold Saturday afternoon earlier this year as I was unpacking our weekly haul of groceries. My husband, the keeper of our finances, was analyzing our spending habits from the past month.
“Do you realize how much we’ve spent on groceries the past four weeks?” he asked me.
I hadn’t, but was shocked to hear that the amount had exceeded our budget by a significant amount.
I quickly scanned our budgeting app and saw for myself how much we had spent. I realized that as a family of five on a single-income with financial goals to meet, our spending on groceries had to change.
As I brainstormed a plan, I knew there were factors I didn’t want to neglect. For example, our family prioritizes eating a whole-food diet, where processed foods are limited as much as possible.
My goal was not only to lower our monthly grocery spending, but to do so without sacrificing our health.
From this challenge, a “No Spend Month” followed—when we reduced our non-essential spending down to zero and our essential spending as low as we could reasonably go.
I learned mindful ways of spending less on groceries during that time that have carried through and allowed us to save at least $100 a month going forward.
Here’s 14 ways that I’ve found to spend less on groceries each month.
Plan Your Meals
Not planning your meals for the week is similar to setting out for a drive without a destination in mind. You’ll likely take detours and unintended pit stops along the way. Planning your meals limits impulse spending on items you don’t need and allows you to overlap ingredients to avoid wasting food, particularly produce.
Make a Store List
When it comes to impulse spending, researchers from OnePoll found that 30 percent of total grocery expenditures by Americans was done impulsively. That’s why making and sticking to a list is essential in order to keep a budget in check.
Shop your Pantry and Freezer
A pantry and large freezer are great places to stock up on items you use regularly or can buy in bulk and freeze. Buying meat and certain produce in larger quantities can be cost saving. Pay attention to what you already have in these spaces as you make your store list, and use up items to avoid purchasing duplicates.
Keep a Freezer Inventory
Having a large chest freezer allows me to stock up on meat, freeze additional meals when I batch cook, and store berries and fruit that we pick ourselves throughout the year. But what benefit is it if I don’t know what I’ve got in there and it ends up going bad if not used? To solve this problem, I keep a simple freezer inventory. On a sheet of paper, I make a map of the freezer and list the item, quantity, and date it was frozen. Every few months, this inventory gets updated.
Stick to a Go-To Meals
As you make your plan for the week, stick to a list of go-to meals. This allows you to keep regular staples on hand that you use regularly and limits the need to buy ingredients that might only be used once. Limiting the luxuries can save a significant amount on your bill.
Shop Sales and Buy Bulk
When something you use regularly comes on sale, stock up. The same goes with bulk purchases. If you eat it often and know you will use it, buy in volume to save money.
Buy Cheaper Proteins
Food prices are at an all-time high, with the biggest hikes being in meat (especially pork and beef). Instead of buying meat for most of your meals, try using other protein-rich foods. Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and eggs are great sources of protein to add to your diet that are much more affordable.
Buy in Season
Fresh produce can be enjoyed all year, but you’ll pay a premium when it’s not in season. If you’re unsure, check out this seasonal list by the USDA so you can enjoy fresh fruits and veggies without paying outrageous prices for produce that isn’t at its peak.
Buy Frozen or Canned
When fresh produce isn’t in season or doesn’t fit your budget, buying frozen or canned is a much more affordable option. Research has found that frozen and canned versions are generally equivalent in nutrition to fresh produce and are 20 to 30 percent cheaper.
Have a Budget and Track It
Choose a realistic goal for each week or month. Then, decide how you’ll track your spending. Do you love paper and pencil? Create a simple graph to track those dollars as you spend them. Mint and You Need a Budget are apps that can track your spending electronically, if that is more your style. When we can visualize how our money is being spent, it allows us to be more conscious of our purchases.
Be Creative With Leftovers
Americans throw out 30 to 40 percent of the food supply each year, with much of it being lost at the production and distribution stages but the largest single category of waste is from consumers. Be aware of what is about to spoil and don’t hesitate to freeze anything you can’t use right away. If you’re not into eating the same meal a day or two in a row, be creative with using up your leftovers. Turn extra veggies or meat into a stir fry. Chop up your chicken to make tacos. Or place leftovers in the freezer to enjoy for another dinner.
Be Selective With Organics
If you prefer to buy organic produce, shop smart to avoid paying more than you actually need to. The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list maps out which produce is recommended to buy organically and which are generally safe to eat without being organic.
Skip Pre-Made Foods
Pre-made foods (like rotisserie chicken, the salad bar, or baked goods) can be very handy if you don’t have time to cook from scratch. However, they come with a steep cost. Baked goods have the highest markup of almost any item in the grocery store—often up to 300 percent.
Compare Unit Prices
When trying to decide if a certain size or brand is more affordable, pay attention to the item’s price per ounce, typically listed next to the label on the shelf. The math is already done and the cost savings can be significant.