I don’t know about you guys, but for my wife and I, groceries have consistently our hardest line item to stay in budget on.
Several times throughout our marriage, we’ve recognized that things have gotten a bit out of control, and we’ve had to go back to the drawing board to find creative ways to save.
While we are by no means experts, and no, we’re not “extreme couponers,” we have stumbled upon a few ideas that have helped us out tremendously.
So if you’re looking to find ways to keep groceries from busting your budget, try these 5 grocery hacks.
1. Make Fewer Trips.
Early in our marriage, we often would both get home from work and then ask each other, “So, what do you want to eat tonight?” We’d talk about what we were in the mood for, then head off to the store to get the ingredients for it.
This is a sure-fire strategy for blowing up a grocery budget.
If you want to save on groceries, you have to think a little more ahead than this.
The most important shift that we’ve ever made in our grocery buying was to start buying our groceries by the week. First, we’d take a look online at the deals that were available at the stores. Looking at which ingredients were on sale, we would try to come up with a few meals that share some or all of those ingredients.
- So, for instance, if sour cream was on sale, perhaps we would plan to have tacos one Monday, chili on Tuesday, and baked potatoes on Wednesday.
- If ground beef was on sale, we’d try to think of a few different ground beef meals – like spaghetti, lettuce wraps, and beef stroganoff.
“The key is that we’d let the deals dictate what our meals would be for the current week, NOT our random food cravings.”
Before I go on, let me address all you “foodies” out there. If you’re worried about losing out on the joy of eating some of your favorite meals, don’t. What we found is that when we followed this strategy, we still got to enjoy all of our favorite meals within a given month’s time.
We’d eventually get to eat all of the same things – we’d just be buying with the rhythm of the sales instead of against them. This makes a huge difference in your budget.
Learn more ideas for meal planning and prepping in this meal prep guide for beginners.
2. Stock Up On “Staples” When They Are On Sale.
There are certain base ingredients that you will use every month no matter what meals you end up cooking.
These types of staples include butter, flour, spices, oil, noodles, bread, etc. We found that when we bought these in bulk during sales it ended up saving us a lot of money over time.
Non-perishables, like cereal and canned goods, are also great choices for buying in larger batches. And as long as you have a freezer to store them, you can save a TON of money by buying meat in bulk during BOGO deals.
The Benefit of a Monthly Grocery Budget
Since you never know what week of the month these deals will pop up, I encourage couples to have a monthly food budget, if possible.
- With a weekly food budget, stocking up on the staples alone could blow through your entire week’s allotment. And to avoid this, many couples just buy enough to get them by for the current week.
- For some of you, your cash flow may simply dictate that you have to buy groceries in this manner.
- I completely understand this. But once you have a little buffer in your bank accounts, I would recommend moving to a monthly model.
Rollover Budgets Are Also Effective
While I wouldn’t recommend “rollover” budgets for most budget categories, I do think they can make sense for groceries. With a rollover budget, however much you go over or under on your current month’s budget just rolls over to the next month.
I can remember once, early in our marriage, there was a huge deal on chicken that popped up at the end of the month. My wife was worried about stocking up because it would have put us about $50 over budget on groceries for the month. I told her not to worry about it because we would just roll that $50 overage to the next month’s budget. So instead of having, let’s say, $400 to spend the next month, we only had $350.
And guess what? We ended up coming UNDER the $350 the next month due to the fact that we were able to save so much on meat cost.
Most budgeting tools allow you to set up rollover budgets. A quick google search should show you how to set them up on whichever budgeting tool you use.
Yet Another Benefit of Having an Emergency Fund
Although this is a bit off-topic, let me take a moment to say that this is another reason why building up an emergency fund is such a crucial step to your financial success.
While you’d think that living paycheck to paycheck would naturally lead to more frugality, this actually often isn’t the case. Instead, many times you’ll actually end up paying MORE for things because you can’t take full advantage of deals when they come up.
If you haven’t started yet, you need to make a commitment to start putting a small amount of each of your paychecks away in savings. It will benefit you financially, mentally, and emotionally!
3. Use Warehouse Stores Wisely.
I have a love-hate relationship with warehouse stores. And here’s why. Using them can be a great way to save on groceries, but they can also have the opposite effect.
When we first got a membership to Sam’s, I remember being so excited to see how much money it would save us. You can imagine how shocked I was to see at the end of the month that we had spent MORE on groceries than we had the month before.
What we learned is that while went to Sam’s to save on the “staples,” we ended up buying all kinds of other things that we wouldn’t have bought otherwise. We found ourselves breathlessly exclaiming things like:
“Look how cheap that big bag of beef jerky is! We can’t pass that up!”
“24 bagels for that price!? That’s dirt cheap. Throw it in the cart!”
“Eww look at those chocolate chip muffins! It looks like they make them here homemade. You could never get muffins for that price anywhere else. Let’s get them!”
Can you sympathize? And guess what? In the case of the bagels and muffins, we ended up not being able to finish all of them before they started to go stale.
So what’s the point? Warehouse stores are great but don’t get fooled into buying things in bulk that you won’t end up being able to use all of or that you normally wouldn’t buy in the first place.
BUT…if you stick with the staples, like meat, spices, butter, eggs, milk, and paper products, warehouse stores really can make a huge dent in your grocery budget!
4. Find Ways to Save On Meat and Produce.
Meat and produce. As I would evaluate our food budget month after month, these are the two items that I found were consistently killing us. Sound familiar?
We ended up thinking pretty far outside the box on this issue.
For produce, we stopped buying it at the grocery store altogether and started making a separate trip to a local produce market. These “mom-and-pop” stores are usually much cheaper than chain grocery stores (and often fresher as well). If you have one near you, I would highly recommend making a trip to check it out!
For meat, we’ve used all kinds of different strategies. For a while, we bought a freezer box full of different types of meat from a local butcher shop in town. It cost us $80 and it would provide us with all our meat for the entire month!
We were also big fans of Zaycon Fresh, which, unfortunately, recently announced that they were going out of business. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how Zaycon worked, they would deliver fresh meat, straight from the farm, in bulk at crazy cheap prices.
The catch? You’d have to drive to a pick-up location at a specific time and wait your turn behind a line of cars to get your box. Sound crazy? Maybe, but man did it save us a ton of money on chicken and beef!
I was so bummed to hear that they were going out of business! If you were someone who also relied on Zaycon to save on meat, this post from TheHumbledHomemaker gives 6 possible alternatives.
5. Learn to Love the Generic Brands.
We’ve been conditioned to think that generic brands don’t taste as good or are lower quality than name-brand items, and sometimes this is true. But many times, generic brands taste nearly identical to their name-brand counterparts, and for a fraction of the price!
We were taught this lesson recently when we started shopping more often at Aldi. For many items, their store’s brand is the ONLY brand that’s available to purchase. So shopping at Aldi basically forced us to try a host of off-brand food items.
And guess what? The vast majority of them were completely satisfactory. And for some items, we actually now prefer Aldi’s brand over the name-brand (gasp!)!
Before you start to think that this is an Aldi-sponsored post, my overall point is not that you should shop at Aldi. I simply use our experience with Aldi as an example to encourage you to try more generic brand items at whatever is your grocery store of choice.
Give them a shot. You may just find that you like them… and they’re guaranteed to save you a ton of money.