As I coach people in the area of frugality, one of the places I see the most money waste is in the area of grocery spending. In the Frugal Farmer family, we keep our grocery budget to a maximum of $400 a month for our family of six. But it wasn’t always that way.
Before our great revelation about the mess of our finances, we were spending close to $1,000 a month on groceries. And the sad part about that is that $1,000 a month for food for our bigger family really isn’t that much. According to this infographic, a moderate-cost food budget for a family of four is $995 a month. What troubles me most about this number and the other numbers in the infographic is that I know from personal experience that you can feed your family healthy foods for a LOT cheaper than $1,000 a month.
Through lots of practicing, researching and tweaking, we’ve managed to keep our grocery budget at $400 a month for most of the past 2.75 years. In the times we’ve gone over that amount, it was because of a clear lack of planning on our part. Some months we were just too tired, too lazy or too overwhelmed to care. But we’ve gotten the planning down to a bit of a science now, and that’s helped us to stay on track budget-wise, even through the crazy busy months.
If you don’t know what your spending on groceries, start tracking your spending with a free online tool, like Personal Capital. After you know how much you are spending, then you can work on saving money with these tips.
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How to Get Groceries for Less
Here is how we feed our big family healthy foods on just $400 a month, and how you can lower your grocery costs too.
1. Know Your Prices
Whether you learn them by memorization or by creating a list, it’s vital to know the prices of the items you buy each and every month if you want to keep food prices down. By knowing the prices of what you buy, you can more easily spot a deal on those items at another store. Some stores’ “sale” prices are still much higher than other stores’ regular prices, but unless you know what you normally pay, you won’t be able to discern whether or not a sale is truly a sale. Also, by knowing the prices of the things you buy regularly, you can more adequately budget and menu plan.
2. Balance Meal Prices
In our family, we work to keep our meals at an average of under $5 each. Notice I didn’t say that “every” meal is under $5, but instead, we “average” under $5. What this means is that when we want a steak dinner and it costs $15, we sprinkle in a few $2 and $3 meals that week so that we can make up the cost difference but still enjoy a “splurge” meal occasionally. Pick an average meal number for your family that will help you to stick with the grocery budget you’ve set, and then work to menu plan your meals around that average number.
3. Have a List of Cheap Meals
The world won’t end if you feed your family buttered noodles with peas once a week or have air-popped popcorn once in a while for dinner. Compile a list of your family’s favorite cheap and easy meals so that you can sprinkle them throughout your monthly menu plan and save big money in the process.
4. Get the Best Deal
We buy red meat in bulk from a local farmer here and pay $3.50 a pound for grass feed, no antibiotic, no hormone red meat – high quality meat for cheaper than what the grocery stores charge. We also do a lot of shopping at Trader Joe’s. Their pasta is 99 cents a pound and is produced in Italy, where Roundup isn’t used on wheat. Again, high quality food at bargain prices. Other money-saving shops include buying produce at Aldi and hitting the sales at our normally expensive small town store that has awesome sale prices on produce each week that often beat Walmart prices. If you learn to know where the cheapest food is in your area, you can plan your menu based on the sales and stock up on great food at super-sale prices.
5. Do Homemade
We LOVE pizza in our family, but takeout pizza is expensive. Instead, we make our best homemade pizza recipe at home with one of our great crust recipes and our favorite toppings. Our homemade pizza is often better than store-bought or takeout pizza, and it costs about $10 to make two extra large pizzas. We also make homemade flour tortillas, homemade soups and homemade cookies and other desserts when we do dessert. By learning how to make things from scratch, you can easily cut costs on certain items by up to 75%.
6. Go Local
Another way we save tons on food costs is to grow our own veggies or buy them from the Farmers Market. Even if you don’t have room for a large garden, you can save money on food by growing 1, 2 or 3 of the veggies you buy the most of at the grocery store. For instance, if you use lots of tomatoes, you can put a tomato plant in a planter on your deck. Or if you eat lots of carrots, you can plant some carrot plants along the perimeter of your house. Veggies can usually be found for cheap at farmers markets as well. On our last trip to the farmers market we picked up 3 pounds of tomatoes for $3 – less than half the price of the grocery store tomatoes here, and twice as fresh.
7. Be Okay With Generic
Not every meal has to be an extravagant event. Some nights we have a simple bowl of Chipotle Rice for dinner, and on others, we throw together a basic veggie salad. By lowering your expectations and eating to live instead of living to eat, you’ll cut down on grocery costs and maybe even on your waistline. 🙂
The same rule applies to generic. We don’t buy generic with everything, but we always taste-test the generic versions of the things we buy regularly and if the generic version meets our not-so-picky taste-testing standards, we start buying generic instead of the name brand stuff. The flip side of this is that if the generic brand is unbearable, we don’t hesitate to spend the money on the name brand stuff. It’s all about balance.
8. Stop Buying Junk
I’m a bit of a snoop at the grocery store. I tend to let my eyes wander to other people’s carts to see what they’re feeding their families and spending their money on. It always makes me cringe when I see carts filled with processed junk foods. Pop, chips and other processed foods mean sure disaster to the frugal grocery budget. We don’t buy them unless we’re celebrating a special occasion.
By following the guidelines above, you too can cut hundreds of dollars off of your monthly grocery bill, freeing that money up to help you reach your goal of becoming debt free or to have more money available to help you reach whatever financial dream you have.
What’s your favorite tip to help save money on groceries?