Eating at home is generally cheaper than dining out, but groceries can still account for a large portion of your budget. The average American family spends between $300 and $700 a month on groceries, making it typically the fourth largest monthly expense after housing, transportation, and insurance. Here are some easy ways that you can save money while shopping for food.
Set a food budget.
Determine how much you spend on groceries for you and your family each month and how much you should be spending. Come up with a weekly or monthly grocery budget and try to stick to it.
See what you already have first
Look in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer so that you know exactly what you have before heading to buy groceries. You may just need to buy a couple fresh items to make a recipe, rather than needing to buy every ingredient.
Make a list
Knowing exactly what you need to get will help you from being tempted to buy extra items.
Focus on sale items
You can stretch your food budget further by stocking up on items that are on sale. This works especially well for frozen and pantry food items. Check the weekly ads posted online or included in newspapers so you know which store has the best price on the items you need.
Buy in season
Fruits and vegetables that are in-season are usually cheaper, so it’s better for your budget to buy those rather than out of season produce.
Plan your meals
Create your grocery list based on a few recipes you want to make that week and what is in season or on sale that week. If ground beef and bell peppers are on sale, you could plan on making stuffed peppers, spaghetti bolognese, tacos, and meatloaf based on the sale items.
Shop at farmer’s markets and fruit stands where you can buy directly from the producer. Fruits and veggies there will be the freshest you will find, because they didn’t have to spend lengthy times traveling from the farm to the grocery store, and generally cost slightly less than at the store.
Try the store brand
Switching from buying name brands to store brand items can save money, typically between 10 to 30%. Not all store brand items are as good as their name brand counterparts, but you might find that you actually prefer some to the name brand.
Prepare the foods yourself
Buying packaged, pre-cut, prepared sandwiches, salads, and produce can cost 40 to 50% more than buying the ingredients separately. What you lose in convenience, you will gain in a longer shelf life, plus, it’s pretty easy to assemble a sandwich, chop some carrots, and wash your own lettuce.
Don’t shop hungry
You are more likely to make impulse buys when you are hungry, and throwing a few extra items into the grocery cart can add up quickly. Shopping after having a meal or snack will help keep your grocery bill in check.
Consider alternate proteins
Certain types and cuts of meat can be very expensive, so buying less pricey ones can help you save on your grocery bill. If you’re planning to cook something that doesn’t require an expensive meat, select a cheaper alternative. Consider swapping chicken thighs for chicken breasts, and flank steak for sirloin. Turkey and pork are generally cheaper than chicken and steak and can be just as delicious when substituted for the more expensive meats in recipes. Using less meat in a recipe or having the occasional meat-free meal can help stretch your food budget. Eggs, beans, and tofu are cost-friendly sources of protein, which can be prepared numerous ways and make a great addition to recipes.
Buy in bulk
The best price per weight is usually found in the largest quantity of an item. If you have the storage space and will use the item before its expiration date, it might be best to buy the largest quantity. Meat is almost always cheaper when bought in bulk and what you do not need to use immediately will keep in the freezer for a few months.
Stop throwing food away
Find ways to avoid having leftovers or produce that gets thrown in the garbage. Buy smaller amounts of produce, or put leftovers immediately in the freezer. This will help your budget and have meals that just have to be reheated. This will be nice on the days you don’t feel like cooking.
Groceries are a large portion of the budget, but it is possible to reduce your spending. Using even just one or two of the above strategies could make an impact on your grocery bill. It could also free up some extra funds each month. Couponing and shopping the sales at multiple stores are additional ways that you can save money on groceries. Those can be time-consuming, whereas the above strategies can be easily applied each time you buy groceries. Making smarter decisions about which foods you buy will make an impact on your food budget. It will also impact your overall budget by increasing the amount of money you have left over.