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How to Save Money on Groceries in 2014

Save on Groceries

If you’re like many families, your grocery bill can easily get out of control.  Even your best intentions to save money on groceries can fall short. In January of 2013, we started a plan to cut our expenses in order to get out of debt and achieve financial freedom.  As we worked through each of our family’s monthly expenses, we realized that one area we wanted to do a lot of saving money in was the grocery expense area.

After lots of planning, re-planning and tweaking, we ended up spending an average of $482 a month on groceries for our family of six in 2013.  And we plan to do even more to save money on groceries this year, with a goal of spending an average of $400 a month for grocery costs.  People often ask me how we feed six on so little, so I thought I’d share the plan that allowed us to cut grocery expenses in half from 2012 to 2013.

Menu Planning is Key

When you’re trying to figure out how to save money on groceries, one of the best places to start is menu planning. If you’ve got a menu plan all set up when the month begins, along with the coordinating ingredients already in the house, your chances of having to make extra trips to the store, or for takeout, become minimal real quick. Here’s how we menu plan:

We write numbers 1-15 on the top of a sheet of notebook paper (call me archaic if you will. :-) ), and write down 15 meals that we’ll serve twice for dinner in the coming month.  Then we proceed, on the bottom half of the piece of paper, to write down all of the ingredients needed for each of those meals, separating them by area of the grocery store for ease when shopping.  For instance, we’ll have a section written down for all of the produce we need, one for dairy/frozen foods, one for meats, and one for canned goods.

 

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The key to good menu planning that won’t be met with pleads for takeout is to pick meals that your family enjoys.  Don’t plan to serve beet soup if beets make two out of your four kids dry heave from the mere smell of it.  Not everyone will like everything, but try and be somewhat open to making stuff that each person in your household likes, and be open to trying new recipes as well.  Then follow the same technique for breakfasts and lunches.

To avoid running for donuts or takeout and save money on groceries, we’re not as detailed with our breakfast and lunch planning as we are for dinner. However, we have a “kinda” plan that the kids can have, on alternating days for breakfast – sweet stuff like oatmeal with brown sugar on one day, and healthier stuff like eggs and fruit on the alternating day.  So I make sure to pick up an abundance of eggs and oatmeal when I shop.  Again, the key here is to choose items that your family – or you – will enjoy.

Another helpful tip for menu planning is to spend a weekend day making and freezing a few meals for those hectic and harried days when you don’t have the time or energy to cook.  Or, plan a popcorn or leftover night to help minimize food waste.

Cut Down on Your Shopping to Save Money on Groceries

We do “big” grocery shopping once a month, gathering all of the items needed for our meal menus, and basic stuff like milk and butter (remember that things like milk, butter and bread can be frozen, allowing you to stock up).  Then, when we’re near the store, we’ll have a plan to stop by for more fresh fruit or whatever else we may need during the month.   When we shop this way, we find that it helps us to be more organized, making less trips to the store, and helping us to continue to save money on groceries.

Cut the Fat

We do two things to cut the fat out of food spending at our house.  First, use cheap ingredients as the mainstay of your meals.  Ingredients like rice, pasta, beans and ground beef will cost a lot less than having Ribeye steaks once a week.  Not that you have to cut that stuff entirely, but make sure they’re the occasion and not the rule, and plan most of your menus centered around cheaper ingredients.

Having trouble with ideas?  Google “best rice recipes” (or best potato, or pasta recipes) for some fun and new ideas.

Second, something that is probably going to have to go (unless you find a great sale) if you want to save money on groceries is processed foods.  We don’t eat or buy cereal at our house, unless we find a can’t-pass-that-up sale.  The kids eat primarily oatmeal (bought in bulk) or rice with cinnamon for breakfast, or I’ll make up some fried eggs or have hard-boiled eggs waiting in the fridge.

We also save money on groceries by making sure that most of our breads, aside from sliced sandwich bread, is made from scratch, as are other goodies like macaroni and cheese, etc. Chips and pop are on our grocery list occasionally instead of regularly. Any time you buy pre-packaged foods, you’re going to pay more.  That is unless you find that terrific, once-a-year-sale or coupon deal. In that case, follow the next tip.

Buy in Bulk and Stock Up During Sales

One of the main ways we’ve really been able to save money on our grocery bill is to buy in bulk, especially things like spices and dairy products (allowing us to save an easy 25% on our grocery bill) and by stocking up on sales.  For instance, not too long ago our local grocer had Totino’s Party Pizzas on sale for 98 cents.  We regularly pay $1.38 for these at Walmart, and this is one of our “treat” meals, so I bought enough pizzas to last us for six to nine months, saving us nearly 30% on what we would’ve already bought anyway.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just about this month’s budget, think big and consider your yearly grocery budget as well.  Keep in mind that the extra you spend now by stocking up and buying in bulk will be saved later when you don’t have to purchase that item for the next several months.  Many grocery expert gurus even have maximum prices they’ll pay for many items, knowing that some time during the year they’ll be able to get a better price.

Which leads me to say that if you get truly serious about your effort to save money on groceries, you’ll likely need at least a small deep-freezer to take full advantage of stock up sales. At least for us, we’ve found it’s worth the expense.

Another tip?  Don’t buy stuff you won’t eat just because you’ve got a coupon or because it’s on sale.

Money Saving for 1 or 2

Menu planning and saving money on groceries for 1 or 2 people can be a bit more difficult, as most recipes call for at least a serving of four.  How can you plan for 1 or 2 and still save money at the grocery store?  Easy: make your dish, divide it into two (or 3 or 4), and freeze the other half for another dinner, or lunch at work.

For instance, I know a single gal who spends Sunday making 1 or 2 big pots of her favorite soups.  She then puts them into multiple microwaveable containers, freezes them, and then has ready-t0-go lunches for work.  She does the same thing with her favorite dinner dishes, like lasagna.  No food waste, and no temptations to grab take-out so she doesn’t have to cook for “just one.”

You can save money on groceries – a lot of money – by taking the time to find the planning and shopping techniques that work best for your situation.  We saved roughly 50% on groceries in 2013, compared to 2012, simply by following the above tips month in and month out.

 

What are some of the more creative methods or tactics you’ve used to save money on groceries? What’s worked well and what hasn’t?

 

Photo courtesy of: Sodanie Chea

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

72 Comments

  • Matt Becker says:

    I think we do a “pretty good” job with groceries but could certainly improve. We don’t have a menu plan and I think that would help, though we do generally just buy the same main ingredients over and over and use variations of them so it’s not like we’re completely scrambling every day. There’s definitely room for improvement though.

    • Yeah, even we are finding room for improvement. I think you can always tweak it a bit if you’re willing to work at it. The hardest part for us is balancing frugalness with creativity. Some days the kids are like “Dear God, rice and beans again???”. :-)

  • Loris Ayoub says:

    Sadly where I live, don’t do sales on food and it is so expensive. I really like this post….for sure more of the money goes on food…
    Another tip: Go shopping after you eat, that way you won’t be hungry and will buy less :-)

  • moneystepper says:

    I love buying in bulk and taking advantage of offers to save. However, as I found out yesterday when I cleared some old products out of the cupboard and binned them because they went off in 2012, there is a downside if you’re not careful!! :)

  • The obvious thing that has saved us over $2,000 the past two years is couponing. Using coupons, combined with meal-planning, has drastically increased the amount we are able to save on groceries.

    • We were watching Extreme Couponing the other day for the first time, and WOW – coupons can really kick it! The biggest problem we find with coupons is that we don’t eat much in the way of processed foods. I am getting better though, at searching for coupons before we go shopping when I have something on the list that’s processed or a healthy and beauty type of a thing. $2,000 is a huge amount of cash!

  • I love the idea of writing out a list of the meals for the entire month. That would save my wife and I so much time. We always sit around thinking of what to make for the week before we go shopping. Thinking about the whole month and knocking out a majority of the shopping at once is so smart!

  • I have found that menu planning really does help. I try to buy/use ingredients that can be used in something else that week. I hate throwing food away!!!

  • Anne says:

    So impressed with folks who consistently do meal planning. The easiest one is the making ahead like your friend does, then even freezing some food for later. Always looking for coupons, too for products that are healthier.

  • Great tips! I’m a big fan of meal plans and grocery lists. It’s saved us a ton. We used to use paper lists but would sometimes forget them. Now, we use a little app called Wunderlist that syncs to our phones and all our devices, so as soon as either my wife or I add a new item to the list, it automatically syncs to all our devices, so we always have it with us.

  • Great tips Laurie! I also think going to the grocery store only once or twice a month can really help a person save on groceries and transportation expenses as well.

  • I’ve never considered once-a-month grocery shopping, but I would love to try it! One thing that’s stopping me from stocking up on perishable foods is that we don’t have a big freezer right now — ours died 2 summers ago and I haven’t been able to justify the expense yet.

    I do shop the sales cycle, though, so for example when chicken breasts are $1.99 I get two family packs and prep one for the freezer (slice it for stir fry or cutlet it for the oven).

  • We base our menu on whatever is on sale at the supermarket…we’re pretty flexible. We don’t buy too much in bulk because we have very little room, but we do try to stock up on things we use when they are on sale. I love looking up recipes based on the ingredients I already have on hand.

  • The wife and I just make two meals a week and then eat off the leftovers. It has worked very well for us over the years and we will continue it.

  • I don’t eat processed food and have to stop at 2 or 3 stores to get what I need and save money. I go to the cheap produce store in Chicago (Stanley’s) and usually buy the most inexpensive produce by weight. I always leave with 2-4 bags of produce for less than $20. Then I head to another store to get meat, eggs and almond milk. I only get the meat that’s on sale. Pork shoulder is always super cheap. Stock up on chicken when it’s on sale. I also eat oatmeal which is suuuuuper cheap per meal.

    • I also go to Trader Joe’s on occasion to get some other things like plantain chips or healthier dips for vegetables. Or if I need wine as their selection is great and very inexpensive.

    • Great tips, Andy. We do some shopping around too. We hit Sam’s club for all of our dairy products, and Trader Joe’s for cheap organic veggies. Oatmeal is really super cheap when you buy it in bulk – we get that at Sam’s as well. Thanks for weighing in!

  • We at one point were doing intense menu planning and then it fell by the wayside. I’m trying to get the bf back on track but he’s been a bit more hesitant because of our schedule and wanting to try new foods. But coupons really don’t help that much except for snacks that we carry on us to prevent us from buying something out while we are at work or afterwards.

  • Reducing my grocery bill is one of my goals this year. So glad you included how to save money for 1 or 2 people as that is me and my husband. I’ll be following these tips all year though I don’t have a second freezer so that could limit my buying in bulk.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Great tips Laurie! I really need to get back to meal planning, as my grocery bill has gotten a bit cuckoo! :)

  • E.M. says:

    I love how detailed and organized this is. I usually have a rough idea of what we’re going to eat for the week when I go grocery shopping, as it’s based on what is on sale. Unfortunately, we don’t have a very big freezer or much space in general, so I can’t buy in bulk yet. I’ll try and stock up for at least maybe two to three weeks if I can. We have been getting tired of the same meals over and over though, so I need to look for new recipes!

  • Liz says:

    Great ideas Laurie! I love the idea of just coming up 15 meals and then plan on eating that twice a month. That makes meal planning a whole lot easier! Also, we are trying to cut down on our meat consumption. Any favorite bean recipes?

  • Great tips, Laurie. Meal planning is really important. When I walk in the door, I am greeted by three hungry people (okay, four when I include myself!) so I need to know what’s for dinner. Otherwise, like you mentioned, it’s too easy to order takeout or go to a restaurant. Those are best left for occasional treats, rather than the norm! It’s not only kinder to my pocketbook but also my waistline. :) Meal planning also helps me stay focused in the grocery store. I go in, get what’s on my list and I’m out. Otherwise there is a good chance I’ll pick up random items that I have no idea what to do with later in the week.

    • LOL, yeah, those restaurant meals can add up in other places besides your pocketbook, can’t they! :-) And you’re right about it helping in the store too. If I’m just wandering with no list on hand, there’s bound to be trouble. :-)

  • This is fantastic Laurie! I recently took over the food and menu planning tasks from my husband and it is amazing how much money we have saved by putting a plan together. He was more “fly by the seat of his pants,” and I definitely like a plan.

  • anna says:

    Menu planning is the biggest challenge for me, though I did notice how efficient and cost-effective it was! Just need to get back in that routine… I agree, too, that in a pinch, Google is the best at figuring out recipes if you have random ingredients laying around the house. :)

  • Kay says:

    Thanks for the tips Laurie. Menu planning is a great one. I sometimes get lazy about that one. Another great way to save money is buy sale items in bulk and prepare meals that can be frozen for later use!

  • Micro says:

    One thing I need to get better at is preping and freezing items so I can use them later. A good example would be cauliflower rice. I like using it in dishes but the prep for a meal can take some time. If I just made a huge batch of it and froze it into single portions though, it would be a huge time saver.

  • Pauline says:

    I love the slow cooker to make a big stew and then freeze the leftovers or take them to work lunches the next day. If you freeze as a small family you don’t get bored eating the same stuff over and over again.

  • Jen says:

    Cooking and buying for 2 is a definite challenge for me. Sometimes things still go to waste. There are times where I will give in and just order takeout because I feel that there will be more food variety and there just seems to be less food thrown away. This is a regular challenge in our home and it’s something that I am constantly looking for ways to overcome it.

    • Jen, that is completely understandable. I absolutely love Grayson’s plan of making two meals a week and then just making those last for the week, but I fear I’m much to spoiled to stick to a plan like that. I’ll bet his grocery bill is stunningly low, though. :-)

  • I had a friend of mine come back from a grocery shopping trip and said, “We spent over $200 at the grocery store and I can’t think of any meals that can make.” Seemed like such a waste of a trip to the grocery store. I go through the isles with my list, as well as a calculator to make sure we don’t go over budget, AND we get everything we need to feed the fam for the week!

  • To your first point, menu planning has saved me so much money in the past. I try to plan meals around ingredients that are in season and therefore less expensive, and what I already have. Which reminds me, I have so much rice in my pantry it’s not even funny.

  • Great post Laurie and thanks for mentioning us single folks :)

    I plan on doing a lot of eating in this 2014 and will be doing exactly what you suggest! I will make a few big dishes and then divy them up for meals during the week. I love left-overs and I also love my fridge freezer so I’m good to go :)

    Not only will all this save me money, but it will work nicely towards my weight loss goals of 2014 as well…a win-win!

    Take care Laurie and all the best.

    Lyle

  • I’m always impressed with what other people are doing to save money with groceries. It’s a trouble area for me because I’m a picky eater, hate meal planning, and hate cooking. I’ll make something in bulk like soup and eat it two days in a row, but by the third day I just can’t stand the site of it. I try NOT to buy in bulk but in small portions so hopefully nothing goes to waste. Plus I have a small kitchen so no room for storage. The only thing I’m working towards is trimming the fat like your said. Don’t buy “extras” I don’t need.

    • Tonya, your strategy proves that, for the right person, buying in smaller quantities can actually save money. I think it’s great that you know what’s best for you, and that you’ve found creative ways to work within your “refined tastes” and your budget, and plan your grocery list accordingly. That’s the way to do it, my friend. :-)

  • Planning is the most important thing to avoid last minute purchases or eating out. Our crock pot also is a great resource when we know we won’t have time to do much cooking in the evening.

  • You got it. Planning is the secret ingredient in saving money and living life rich. With the right amount of planning on menu and buying items in bulk that are typically used throughout the year, the savings do add up.

    I find by shopping for items at the corner drug store, using register rewards of some type and manufacture coupons, you’ll end up earning some good rewards to get things for free the next time around.

  • Sarah says:

    Good tips! We do all of these things. :)

  • I like the important theme that you stress in your article revolving around planning and preparation in order to create or meet a budget and save money. Because how can one realistically meet a goal using a shoot from the hip shopping style at the grocery store?

    Personally, I am not a big fan of stocking up on freezer items. Most of us either do not have the space to accommodate a second freezer without it being an eye sore or can not justify the cost of one. Also, I am concerned about food quality of frozen food in terms of freshness and stuff that works well in the freezer are all of the bad stuff which includes frozen pizzas as cited in your example.

    I think most folks are savvy enough to pick out the best deals within one store or have a sense of prices for brand name items among the big box outlets. But one tip that I might suggest is take one full day and fully investigate ALL of the retail food stores, both big and small, in your neighbourhood in order to get a sense of their specialty and focus products and general pricing. You will be surprised how much you can save on products that you buy regularly over long periods of time. And no, I am not referring to rice and beans or ramen instant noodles either.

  • Great tip, Steve! Yes, we do exactly this same thing: we buy certain things at certain stores in a way that provides us the best quality and best price. One of the things we use our deep freezer for lots is for freezing our garden veggies, such as beans, peas, carrots, onions and peppers. If you do have the space for a deep freezer, this is a great way to preserve those wholesome veggies you’ve grown.

  • I tend to pride myself on my grocery frugality but I learned something new with this post. I’m definitely going to try your approach to menu planning.

  • We just started that this year, Charlie, and it’s going great. If we run out of money, we’re forced to eat what’s in the house and not go over budget. Great tip!

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