We used to spend around $700 per month on groceries. Slowly we cut it down to around $400, and then we finally got down to about $300 per month for our family of five.
We’re now on a mission to really pinch some grocery pennies! Not because we’re trying to be frugal, but because we are tired of wasting. Wasting perfectly good food just because we didn’t eat it before it expired or got bad and wasting our hard-earned money just to throw it in the trash.
Here are our two grocery receipts from a previous month, just to show you our real-life example. We spent a total of $175.11 this past month on groceries. It was a little light because we went out of town for a few days. But the month before this we spent a total of $284.12 and were in town the entire time.
We’re spending less, not necessarily because we’re buying less, but because we’re just shopping and thinking smarter. So today, we want to share some of the different ways we’ve adjusted our mindset to be able to spend less than $300 per month on our grocery bill.
Budgeting on Our Lifestyle
First, I want to touch on our lifestyle. Because I know we all have different family styles, the number of people within our family, maybe some stay-at-home mommas or dads who have to feed their kids a lot more throughout the day, different diets, etc.
Here’s our lifestyle – we feed a family of five, typically eat out one night per week, and used to travel 3-5 times per year. We eat mostly organic, eat a lot of gluten-free (but not all), eat meat, and our two younger kids go to daycare four days per week and our oldest is in school. That means we don’t need to accommodate for lunches and snacks throughout those four days for the kiddos.
The only thing that has changed since we started budgeting a couple of years ago is starting to buy more gluten-free food. Besides that, we’ve still maintained the same lifestyle and have been able to save at least $6,000 per year.
However, no matter what your lifestyle is, I’m still confident that the tips we’re about to share with you today will help you spend a lot less than what you are now on your grocery bill.
Create Specific Meal Plans & Buy Only What You Need
When we talked about what we did in 2018 and how we cut our grocery bill in half, the biggest thing we did was online grocery delivery. We started doing online grocery delivery for convenience, but in the end, it helped make us meal plan and buy only the food we needed.
A handful of months ago, however, our grocery delivery company now said you had to be home to get the order. Since convenience is why we started it in the first place, that kind of defeated the purpose. The biggest reason we started the delivery service was for convenience and to save on time, not money. Money and budgeting just happened to be the organic outcome, which was a pleasant surprise!
Planning out our meals has been the biggest thing we’ve been doing since cutting our budget. We plan what we’re going to eat each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And we don’t buy one thing more. We really think about the recipes we’re using and how much food it’s going to make. If we make a stir fry, we know that we’ll have leftovers for both Jamie and me the next day so that will not only cover our dinner for the five of us but two lunches.
We’ve also learned not to overcook. Our kids don’t eat a whole lot of food, and I used to cook like I was making enough food to feed 20 people. Now, I really try to cook the portions of food that we need. This is one of my favorite cookbooks, 30- Minute Cooking for Two. And a lot of recipes in it I double, which easily gets us six healthy, quick, and easy meals.
Before budgeting and meal planning we’d buy for dinner and then for lunch, not thinking that our leftovers could be our lunch, and then what would happen with our leftovers was that they’d eventually just get thrown away.
If you meal plan, and not buy more food than what each meal is planned out for, you’ll have no other option than to eat your leftovers for lunch the next day.
Meal planning isn’t just about planning out your recipes, but it’s planning what you’re going to eat for each meal each day. Meal planning has also helped us not randomly splurge on going out to eat when we “think” we have nothing to eat at home. Because we planned out what our meal was going to be, we stuck to it and ate that meal at home.
We also only plan week by week. Planning one week at a time has also helped us not overbuy or get overwhelmed.
This simple tactic saved us hundreds of dollars per month, which added up to thousands per year, just by simply planning each meal for each day each week.
Time Block & Schedule Time on Your Calendar
Now that the online grocery delivery service wasn’t an option for us anymore, we really had to think about what was our best use of time and how do we maintain the same budget?
I am a big fan of time blocking and batch work, and so now, I schedule in time to meal plan and grocery shop and actually blocking it off on my calendar.
Do I just plan at home, make a list and then go with the boys? Do I do this over my work time? Do I ask Jamie to set one night per week that he can’t make plans so I can go grab the goods?
The bottom line was, I wanted to stay within the budget we were spending, so what did I have to do to make that happen?
I am also not a fan of shopping. The older I get the more impatient I am becoming. All the people in stores, standing in the middle of the aisles checking their phones, the long lines…I have no patience for any of it.
What I decided to do was continue to meal plan mid-week like I had been before, Wednesday afternoons. I like this day and time because that is when that mid-afternoon slump hits and need to take a break from the day-to-day grind. I also like to meal plan mid-week because at the beginning of most weeks we’re not 100% sure what our weekend plans are. So by Wednesday, we usually have a set plan and I can easily buy only what we need. Then it’s easy to plan for the beginning of the following week.
And as for now, I’ve been making my grocery run early Thursday mornings. As soon as I drop the boys off at school, I head to the store. There’s not a whole lot of people shopping when the stores open up on Thursday mornings, which makes for no lines. A few times I’ve also gone on Saturday mornings and surprisingly that is another day where there are few people. You just have to hit the stores before everyone wakes up.
Search for Weekly Ads
I’m not a huge coupon clipper, just because most of the coupons in newspapers or ads are for stores where we’re not doing our shopping. But I’ve been using Flipp, which is a great app and has been a game-changer!
It’s an app that tells you where you can get the best savings each week. You can search for different stores or brands, and it’ll tell you the best place to get it for the best deal. You can also make yourself lists and once you get to the store, you just pull up the app. We also shop at Aldi, and this app tells us all the good deals there that week. It also happens to be the closest grocery store to our home.
Stock up when on Sale
Anything we usually eat a lot of whenever we see it on sale that can be frozen or is canned, or whether it’s herbs, spices, or boxed up, we stock up!
Buying in bulk can save you a lot of money, especially when it’s on sale. We don’t buy a lot of items in bulk because we simply like to buy what we need for that week, which also saves a lot of storage space in our cabinets. We have two drawers in our entire kitchen that have food in them and one of the drawers has only our meal bins for the week. And the other drawer holds all of our stocked-up items. So really the only time we buy in bulk is when it is on sale.
As I mentioned, we’ve been shopping at Aldi, and I can’t believe the dollars we’ve been able to save. I mean, look at some of our receipts, and you can see all the items we got that included a lot of meat that is usually one of the most expensive things you buy.
I’ll be honest; I might be like a lot of you that are reading this right now and are very skeptical about Aldi. Before I heard about this place, I had shopped there once and was kinda freaked out. I am a person that loves the experience of shopping and let’s just say… it’s not the prettiest place. But, once I realized how they were able to cut their costs so that we get a lower cost, I totally understood. And hey, if we’re saving $6K+ a year, I’ll take 30 minutes of not the most ideal shopping experience.
What I didn’t realize was that this year, Aldi was the 14th out of 68 ranked grocery stores in Consumer Report’s survey of America’s best supermarkets, an annual report based on categories like customer service, cleanliness, selection of local produce, and price of organic foods, among others. It’s also owned by the same people that own Trader Joe’s and its produce is fresh daily.
Here I was judging from that first experience simply because the shelves weren’t as pretty as most grocery stores, but that is how they can get away with being so inexpensive. They just bring the boxes right off the truck and put them on the shelves or within the aisles. They are simplifying and can reduce costs by streamlining the shopping experience. There are no free plastic bags, they don’t accept credit cards (so aren’t paying added fees), they favor their brands so they can control their price, they have shorter hours, which means less operational and energy costs, they have a smaller space so only have 3-5 employees working at a time and more.
I also don’t only shop at Aldi. We always try to get our meat at our local meat market, but they also have very limited hours so, sometimes, it’s not an option. But this is one area over this past year that we’ve taken a new direction in and have been able to save a ton of costs.
Cook Healthy Meals
I know this might sound like it would cost more money, but it doesn’t. If you’re buying and actually cooking healthy meals, it’ll be less expensive than buying pre-cooked frozen meals even at the grocery store. And again, only buying enough ingredients for what you need for that specific meal or including one round of leftovers for lunches the next day.
Buying what’s in season for fruits and vegetables will also help you save on costs. If it’s out of season, it’ll cost you more at the time. So this year we’ve been focusing on only buying what’s in season because then our fruits and vegetables are nearly half the cost.
Pack your Lunches, Pack when Traveling
I mentioned that we used to travel 2-5 times per year and that we only make lunches for Jamie and myself during the work week being the kids are at school and daycare, and you bet, we meal plan for these as well.
To help save on costs, we’re always packing our lunches, and we usually keep things pretty simple. Being Jamie is always on the go; he usually goes with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich most days mixed with a lot of fruits and vegetables and usually a protein bar. When I am in the office, I usually take the leftovers from the night before, since I have a microwave to reheat things.
When we’re traveling, I pack up as much food as I can to get us by. If it’s a road trip, I’m loading up. We recently went up north and had a seven-hour car ride in which we stopped twice to use the restroom or fill up on gas and not once did we grab a snack inside. This alone probably saved us at least $50 on each stop to try to feed a family of five and of course, grab additional snacks.
If we’re flying somewhere, I’ll pack up bananas, apples, oranges, granola bars, packaged nuts, wrapped cheese…all the things you can bring through security and in your carry-on. This again helps us save on a ton of food costs while hanging at the airport and avoid those airport prices, which saves us hundreds of dollars each trip.
Don’t Let Your Budget be Flexible
And now this is definitely the biggest reason why we’ve now been able to maintain a budget of less than $300 per month on groceries since making the shift from delivery to going into the store…you can’t let your budget be flexible.
This was easy to do when we were ordering from our computer at home, we just bought exactly what we needed and logged off. This is also the biggest reason why I like to go grocery shopping first thing in the morning…I have energy and am ready to tackle the day with my lists!
If you decide to go shopping after work before dinner or over lunch…temptation kicks in, and you want and do start throwing all the things into the cart.
If you’re going into the store, you need to stick with what’s on your list from the valuable time you took to really focus and meal plan and not stray. Your budget cannot be flexible.
There have been a few times where something looks good, and I throw it in, ya know, just in case you need that snack. So what I’ve taught myself is that right before I get to the checkout, I look in my cart and add the number of items up. Then I look at my list and add the total number of items up. I’m not looking at costs, just the actual number of items. If I’m over, I tell myself I have to take things out to make sure they are the same number. So it really makes me think about if I want to sacrifice a small or big ingredient from the recipe and how big of a difference it’ll make for whatever random thing I just threw in the cart. And most of the time, I end up putting that random thing back, because I know it’s not worth it to not make that dinner perfectly tasteful.
So, there it is! All the things we’ve been doing this year to get our grocery bill under $300. If you’re looking to cut some costs on your monthly grocery bill, I really hope these tips help! And if you have some cost-saving tips of your own, drop a comment below, and let’s share them.