Have you ever sat down to take a hard look at your budget to see what you can trim? Depending on your situation, you may not have much wiggle room in any of your budget categories. But there is almost always one you can manipulate: FOOD.
As a dietitian and foodie, it’s tempting to justify a generous food budget. But as adults living in my parents’ basement, my husband and I are eager to slim down our budget and fatten up our savings.
With food being the segment of our budget we can most easily adjust, that we do. So how do we save money on food? It’s a lot of Planning, Knowing the deals, and Timing.
“Failure to plan is planning to fail.”
Some of us have heard that phrase enough to make us sick. But it still holds true. And when it comes to food, it saves time, money, and mental breakdowns.
We plan a menu for each week. Lately we’ve been planning it on a monthly basis so we can have that part of the chore done all in one sitting. We really only plan the evening meal of our menu since everyone does their own thing for breakfast and lunch. When it comes time to make the grocery list, we make sure we have staples like bread and oatmeal around for those meals so that no one starves.
The list – I mentioned how much I love the wunderlist app before, and I still don’t know what I would do without it. We keep a running list for each store that we update each time we notice we are getting low on something. This keeps us from forgetting things we think of between grocery trips.
Scan the sales
When the grocery ads are available (we check them out online) we go through and make a list of what is on sale that we plan to buy. Then we consult our menu for the week and add anything we need to the list. This doesn’t mean we buy unnecessary things just because they are on sale; we stock up on staples when they are a great price even if we aren’t out of them at the time.
Stay true to the list (mostly)
The list can only do you so much good if you don’t stick to it. We aren’t ridiculously rigid about skipping items that aren’t on our list because if we remember we need something (that wasn’t on our list) we don’t purposefully not buy it.
However, when rotisserie chickens or freshly fried doughnuts are tickling our noses, we kindly decline. Those are impulse buys that we can easily live without.
Know the deals
Coupon clipping used to be my favorite Sunday morning activity, but we no longer receive many coupons in the mail. Instead we look through the digital store coupons online when we go through the ad. Not all stores have this nifty perk, but it is certainly one we are thankful to have.
Savings apps – Ibotta
I’ve mentioned before that I am not hugely into apps. For one reason, my phone has very limited room for apps. The other reason is that, if they are designed to over-organize your life, they end up being a time waster. One exception to my app-limiting is Ibotta. I use this app every time we go grocery shopping, usually after we have come home and unloaded our food.
Ibotta offers some perks like “any brand” coupons for cereals, produce, pasta sauce, and other items. While I can’t always find a coupon for something I purchased, I can usually at least make use of the $.25 “any purchase” coupon. If you would like to try out ibotta, use my referral code below and get a $10 bonus (I will receive a $5 bonus for referring you).
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Know your prices
One concept that has helped tremendously in our food purchasing decisions is the idea of “rock bottom prices.” These are the lowest prices an item is sold for, and this is the time to stock up. Here are some examples from things we buy:
Apples – I wait for under $1/pound
Kale – No more than $.99/bunch
Strawberries – $.77-$2.50/ pound
Just having an idea of what a “good price” is can save so much money! Strawberries might be advertised on the front page of a store ad at $3.99/ pound. Knowing whether or not this is truly a bargain price keeps me from stocking up because they were “on sale” only to find them half that price the next week.
Consider bulk purchasing
We do buy some items in bulk, which can save a significant amount of time and money. But you still need to know your prices! I try not to ever pay more than $2.50 for a half gallon of almond milk ($1.50 is more to my liking). I’m not picky about brands, so this is usually reasonable to find. Some times though, there just aren’t any sales happening. In this case, we buy a three pack of almond milk from Sams Club and it’s cheaper than what we can find elsewhere. If we always bought it there though, we’d be missing out on some much better prices.
I wish I was in the loop on the exact days stores put out their discount deals and all of that. But there are a couple of ways we can time our shopping to maximize our efforts and our dollars.
Limit grocery trips
As much fun as I have grocery shopping, we try to keep our trips to once every other week. This encourages us to really plan our lists well, and also keeps us from picking up little extras on each trip.
Asparagus in the spring
It’s not exactly a new concept, but shopping in season helps us score those low prices and save money. The idea of shopping in season at a farmer’s market appeals to me ever so much, but the idea of carrying around armfuls of produce at 6:00 PM in 98 degree weather does not. We are satisfied for now to get our produce in season at the grocery store and from our garden.
Grow your own
I can’t necessarily argue that a garden is a guaranteed way to save money on groceries. But I can tell you that it’s a great way to get outside, relieve stress, spend time with people you love, and make friends. The friend-making happens when you realize that 50 tomato plants was a touch too many for two people. If you grow things like berries, you likely will end up saving yourself some money. These can be pretty pricey in the store, and it is easy to pick several pints of berries each week during peak berry season.
All pieces of the puzzle
Wow, that was a lot!
Everything we do put together makes quite a difference in our grocery bill. Just like how one healthy habit may not make a huge difference, but three or four can be life-changing, taking a variety of steps to control food costs can save you quite a bit of money.
One last note – don’t save all that money only to have your food be wasted! If it’s nearing an expiration date, throw it in the freezer (or a smoothie) to prevent food (and money) waste.
What do you do to save money on food?