In the dark days of January my family and I don’t go out much, which means we spend lots of time cooking and eating at home. This is great for our overall budget – it means we’re not spending big dough on restaurants or takeout. But it does mean we spend a lot of time at the grocery store and since Christmas, our food budget has soared. Not because we’re eating more but because we’re not being smart about our shopping.
To get ourselves back on track we’re going back to strategies we’ve used in the past to keep our food bills low. It takes planning and a bit of discipline, but taking these basic steps can really help slash your grocery bill.
1. Make a budget
If you’re trying to save money (on food or anything else in your life) you need to start with a realistic budget. To make a grocery budget, track your food spending for a month and review how much you spent and what you bought. Single out impulse buys and luxury purchases you could do without. Then, set a number to guide your food purchases for every month. Warning: make sure it’s a realistic figure – if the number is too low, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
2. Use cash
We’ve started withdrawing our grocery money at the beginning of every week. We use this cash – and only this cash – when we go to the store. Using cash helps us stay disciplined at the store (something that’s harder to do when you’re pulling out plastic).
3. Meal plan
Take 15 minutes and plan all of your meals for the week: breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks. If possible, pick a theme or set of meal ideas that can help guide your shopping and allow you to reuse ingredients.
4. Make a list
Go to the store armed with a solid list of what you need – and then stick to it. A list will stop you from overbuying – for example, in our house, we always overbuy green beans and half of them rot before we can eat them. Your list will also keep you focused so you’re less likely to get distracted by stuff you don’t need.
5. Clip coupons
I’ve written before that I’m not a fan of coupon clipping, but I’m trying (trying hard!) to get on the coupon bandwagon. As I’ve learned, coupons can save you big money. Even a quick scan of the weekly flyer from your local grocery store can help you stay on top of sales and plan your meals accordingly.
6. Stock up on sale items
If something’s on sale, buy double or triple if you have the room. For example, our grocery store recently had a big discount on paper towel. I bought three huge packs of it (all I had room for). Same with diapers for the kids – if I can help it, I always find them on sale and buy two or three packs instead of one. Meat is another good item to buy on sale – buy extra steaks, ground beef and chicken when it’s on sale and store it in your freezer.
7. Don’t throw food out if you can help it
Did you know that a third of all the food consumed in the world is either lost or thrown in the garbage (read more here)? Whether it’s leftovers or meals planned around the odds and ends of food left at the end of the week, do your very best not to throw food away. Using everything you buy is not only good for your budget, it’s good for the globe.
8. Don’t buy items at the checkout
From gossip rags to crossword puzzle books, we throw a lot of impulse purchases into the cart while we’re waiting in line. It’s cheaper to subscribe to your favourite publications, or just read them online.
9. Eat less meat
Whether it’s pasta, vegetables or rice, there are umpteen yummy reasons to eat meatless meals. Even if you’re trying to keep your carb intake down (we sure are), you can eat smaller portions of meat – in our house, a small, thinly sliced steak feeds four with lots of vegetables on the side.
What’s your best tip for saving money on groceries?