10 Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget
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The following is a contribution from the illustrious Mr. CBB from Canadian Budget Binder. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, please consult our guidelines and contact us.
Stretching a grocery budget is very common in many households in today’s economy. As we continue to see people out of work or struggling to make ends meet we have to find ways to make the money go further. If you use a budget you know exactly how much money your grocery budget should be each month. Sticking to your grocery budget can be a tough task if you are not prepared or willing to learn.
In a perfect world we could easily walk into a grocery store and get what we want and get out. That’s not always the case as grocery stores are designed in such a way to almost entice you into spending more than you intended to. You know what I mean. For example, when walking into Wal-Mart, you practically lick the fresh-baked donuts off your face and your head wobbles from side to side. You glance at the bakery and then at the produce section and wonder where to begin, whilst licking your lips and dreaming of cream-filled donuts and a coffee break before you even step foot in the store.
Our grocery budget is $190 a month for 2 adults and at times we struggle when good deals come up but we aim to stick to the plan. This is far from an accomplishment as one person who plays our Grocery Game Challenge each week feeds a family of 7 on a $300 a month budget.
It’s time to combat the myth that being frugal with your groceries means you can’t have quality meals. I’ve heard it all before that if you don’t have a big enough grocery budget you are doomed to eating Kraft dinner and hotdogs for the rest of your life. You must be unhealthy people bla, bla, bla. What is important is that we strike a balance when it comes to nutrition. Everybody’s needs are different when it comes to eating habits and health needs.
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Mrs.CBB and I splurge once a week on whatever we want and it works for us. The truth is you can stretch your grocery budget and eat quality, healthy meals and I proved just that when I participated in The Welfare Food Challenge back in October. Sure it wasn’t easy but I made it work. I ended up having to stretch the money in my grocery budget so that I was not eating convenience type foods.
This is a trap that so many people fall into but don’t worry you don’t have to stay stranded for long. Not everyone with a low grocery budget is on welfare but what I am trying to dispel is the myth that people who have less money to spend have to forgo quality food.
With $26 and my Canadian coupons in hand I was off to the shops and I came back with a pretty impressive amount of food. It took planning but I came up with some recipes such as beet risotto, carrot and beet salad, tomato minestrone soup, chicken rice and vegetable soup, homemade mayonnaise, black bean basa fish burgers, lemon-garlic fried rice, egg salad sandwiches and so on. It’s obvious that I ate pretty good considering I was also able to have tea, milk and cereal.
The downfall was no fruit but building a pantry takes time. So what you don’t have one week you get the next. There are always downfalls with this as each situation is different for example where one may not have the ability to cook or have dietary restrictions push them into convenience meals. This amount of money is low for the average consumer but for some it’s a reality. How much your grocery budget should be depends on your lifestyle and budget numbers.
10 Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget
- Meal Plan– Meal planning for most people saves the hassle of trying to figure out what they will make for dinner all week. It also helps to sort out what to buy at the grocery store so they are not spending more than necessary. Some people only like to have food in the house for that week and to buy it fresh each week. This is what I used to do when I lived in the UK. Meal planning also helps bring families together as you can sit and plan your meals and talk about it as a family.
- Know your Prices– It’s so important to know your prices when you look through the weekly flyers or when you are grocery shopping. Keep your eyes peeled on size and price so you are able to compare on the spot whether it is a good deal or another shop has it cheaper. Remember these are professional marketers so put on your thinking hat when you shop so you get the best bang for your buck.
- Freezer Inventory– Having a freezer inventory list is a smart savings move for everyone. Take inventory of what you already have in your freezer or pantry. Each month we fill in our freezer inventory list so we know what we don’t have to spend money on. You can also add in expiry dates if you know them so you eat products up before they go off. Most people keep buying items they already have and they end up going in the bin if it doesn’t get eaten on time. We keep ours in a folder right beside the freezer for easy access. No more guessing what’s inside.
- Coupons-Coupons are what I like to think of as “free money.” Some may turn their nose up at them but if the company wants to save me more money, I’ll take it. We’ve saved thousands using coupons on everyday items that just about everyone uses such as mouthwash, toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, dental floss, etc. Coupons can be found in a myriad of places for most people. We typically find them online as a printable coupon or you can order them to be sent to your home. You can find them in weekly flyer inserts in the newspaper, or by calling the company and asking politely. One of the top spots is tear pads at the Grocery Store and if you are lucky you may run into a demonstrator who wants you to try a new product and offer you a coupon. If you do not like to use coupons then you can also use credit card rewards points from our Barclaycard to accomplish the same thing.
- Homemade Cooking– We like to cook from scratch a lot especially this year as we are doing our best to stick to our grocery budget. We have learned that there are so many items we pay far too much for that are super easy to make at home. Take the time to research recipes and test one out per week. You will get used to this and before you know it you will have lots of recipes that you can whip up in a flash without the cost of convenience. Try my homemade Sloppy Joes and you will never buy those costly packets again. In fact I’m sure you will wonder why you weren’t making them from scratch ages ago.
- Reduced Rack– We always like to check out the “reduced” rack at our local shops as we can load up on yesterday’s fresh for half price or less than half price. You can check the bakery, produce and the meat department for great sales.
- Batch Cooking– This style of cooking is becoming important especially to families that are busy and struggle to put a healthy meal on the table each night. Most families during the week are on the go so this style of cooking is perfect. It’s also great for those lazy nights where you just don’t want to cook. The idea is to set up one day where you batch cook a few lasagnas, meatloaf, Shepherds pies, etc. Portion meals are great for work lunches or at home when you want a quick meal.
- Eat Local/Buy in Season– Support your local farms, shops and neighbors who may give you a great discount when you buy in bulk or if you are a regular customer. You may even get lucky and get some great deals on organic produce. If you buy what’s in season chances are you will be spending less money and your meals will taste far better.
- Grow Your Own– If you have the space or even a balcony you can grow your own herbs and vegetables. Each year we plant vegetables and herbs in our garden and in pots so we have them all year long. We freeze any extra peppers, tomatoes, raspberries and rhubarb we have and you can do the same. We bring in our potted for the winter and if we have any excess herbs we turn them into freezer cubes (such as our basil cubes that we made with our extra basil). You can’t beat organic so if you have a green thumb and enjoy eating from your garden this is a must.
- Buy in Bulk– We have started to buy in bulk items that we know we will use especially if they are a great price. If you compare the prices of a smaller package compared to a larger one you may find you will save with the big package. We also started to buy large bags of dry beans as they are a fraction of the cost next their cousin the can. You can also purchase large packages of meat for cheaper and divide it up when you get home. Not all bulk is equal so make sure you do the math and know your numbers.
I always like to suggest bringing a calculator and a shopping list when you head out to the grocery store. Stick to your plan, stick to your budget and look past all the fancy displays and smells that call to you, “buy me” now. Stretching your grocery budget is possible so plan ahead and go shopping with a positive outlook that you can eat healthy meals with the money you have in your pocket and put the savings in your bank account to be at work for you.
Editors comment: Mr. CBB brings up some great ways to stretch your grocery budget while at the same time having quality items. Mrs. Frugal Rules and I use many if not most of these tips, and we need to having three little ones to feed.
Mr.CBB is the voice behind the blog at Canadian Budget Binder. He can be serious, passionate and a bit quirky but loves his fans and helping others save money in their budget. You may also find him whipping up a meal or treat in the kitchen.
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.
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