Feeding your family is an expense that is both necessary and frustrating. How do you save money without sacrificing variety in your diet? There are many ways to reduce your weekly grocery bill, the trick is to do so without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of foods you love. In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) put together a table that lists weekly costs for various age groups and family sizes. The chart shows that a family of four, with one male one female and two children ages 2-3 and 4-5 was between $131.00 – $256.50 per week depending upon how much the family elected to spend. These rates increase for children between the ages of 6-18. (You can view the entire breakdown here.)
From staple items to what to cook and how to use coupons, we’ll tackle some of the easiest ways you can go grocery shopping on a budget.
Buy Staple Items in Bulk
Staple items are foods and ingredients you always want to have on hand in your kitchen. These include flour(s), sugar/sweeteners, pasta, rice, veggies, fruit, and protein. You can vary the exact items in your pantry, the trick is always having something on hand to come up with quick meal in a pinch. Knowing you can make a meal quickly helps you avoid the drive-thru temptation. Non-perishable items like pasta and rice are a great meal base. Buy fresh produce when possible, but don’t shy away from frozen options. Frozen veggies and fruits are healthy and often cheaper than fresh options. ABC notes that frozen produce is frozen shortly after harvesting, allowing the produce to retain as many nutrients as possible. Beans are a great protein source that can be bought dry (soaking is required before cooking) or canned (convenient) for very low cost. If buying meat, shop sales when you can and opt for the healthiest cuts possible. Be mindful of sell by/use by dates on meat and perishable items to avoid throwing out unused food.
Grocery shopping goes smoother when you don’t have to plan meals as you shop. Look through weekly sales flyers for your favorite grocery store and plan your meals around what is on sale and what you already have stored in your home. Only having to buy one or two ingredients to put together a few meals will save you money and fridge space. When your shopping is done, prepare some easy foods to have on hand for busy nights. Again, cooking at home can seem tedious but when planned properly, you will have healthier and more budget friendly options than the drive thru or prepackaged convenience foods. Potatoes, rice, pasta, and protein like meat or beans are great to prepare ahead of time. Even if it’s just enough for a coulee of dinners in a week, it’s one less thing to do later. Crock Pots and pressure cookers are great options for fix it and forget it type meals. For recipe ideas, check out our 15 Fall Slow Cooker Recipes for Busy Weeknights.
When Grocery Shopping Coupon Carefully
Coupons sound like a great option for grocery shopping on a budget. Who doesn’t love saving money? The problem is when you use coupons to buy items you weren’t planning to buy or that you do not need. It does not matter how much of a discount you get, buying something you won’t use is a waste of money. Sales flyers and coupling apps like Ibotta that allow you to save money (or get cash back) on produce and other everyday items are ideal. Also be mindful of advertisements like “2 for 5.00!” as many times, these items, especially end cap displays (the items at the end of an aisle) aren’t actually on sale. These items just add up to a price that can be marketed like a sale. If a coupon won’t save you money on something worthwhile, don’t bother with it.
Low-cost meals don’t have to mean you’re sacrificing flavor. Meatless Mondays are a great example of how you can save money without eating plain noodles for dinner. Veggie stir fry, veggie soups, and breakfast bakes are all great ways to feed your family for low cost with plenty of variety. The idea with low-cost meals is to go for volume. A large bag of mixed veggies coupled with rice, soy sauce and beans (or tofu/tempeh etc.) provide a large amount of food for little money.
The most important thing to keep in mind when creating a grocery shopping budget is value. Buy as many nutritious items as possible and prepare foods at home whenever possible. Convenience / prepackaged foods should be the least common foods in your household. It can seem tedious to plan and prepare food at home, but the nutritional value and cost savings is worthwhile.