This article is part of the “Save More Series,” which comprises of 4 articles. Read part 2, part 3, and part 4 for more information.
Regardless of how many kids you have (or their ages) one thing’s for certain: feeding a family is expensive, and most of us moms could use a little help whittling down our grocery bills and weekly costs.
But actually doing it? That’s harder than it looks – especially when you’re strapped for time and overwhelmed as it is.
Want to cut back your weekly grocery bills but don’t have much time to devote to it? Need help making a budget grocery list for your family’s growing needs? Here are 20 tips that can help:
1. Try shopping online.
Most major grocery store chains now offer online ordering. You can place your order via your phone or laptop and then head to the store for quick, curbside pick-up. Not only does this mean avoiding the weekend grocery store crowds (and lines), but it also allows you to price-shop for your items. Use the search filters to find products you need, then sort by price. Choose the lowest-cost items, discounted ones or those on sale for the week.
2. Plan your meals with a budget in mind.
Budget, budget, budget. Grocery lists for families of any size should always be based on a carefully calculated budget. How much can you afford to spend in a week? In a month? Have a set number you can spend. Keep this in mind as you plan your meals and make your list. Steer clear of expensive meals that require costly proteins or lots of ingredients; if you’re not sure how much an item costs, look it up before adding it to your list for shopping.
3. Check out discount stores.
Discount grocery stores like Aldi can offer big savings over traditional grocery chains, so see if there are any options in your area you could shop at. You can also look to dollar stores and other similar spots for basic items like soap, paper towels, cleaners and even items like cereal.
4. Avoid pre-made foods.
Boxed meals and pre-made items are always going to cost more than if you made them from scratch. Planning spaghetti for Monday night? Instead of buying $4 pasta sauce, purchase 10-cent tomatoes and make the sauce yourself. Do your kids love popsicles? Avoid the costly boxed ones and freeze some hand-squeezed orange juice instead. Think outside the box and, when you budget and plan your grocery list, consider creative ways to make your family favorites by hand.
5. Plan ways to use leftovers.
Plan your meals so that items can be used for multiple days and occasions. Making a turkey for Sunday dinner? Use the leftovers for turkey sandwiches the next day and whip up a turkey stew for Tuesday night. This allows you to purchase items in bulk (usually at a discount), and it also means less cooking and prep time throughout the busy work week.
6. Never shop hungry.
Shopping hungry is always a no-no. Not only will you be tempted to add on non-essentials, but you’ll also be more likely to splurge on all those samples (and that means a longer grocery trip on the whole).
7. Commit to one or two meatless meals a week.
Meats are often the most expensive items in your cart. If you can plan a meal or two (or even just lunches) without meat involved, then you’ll save significantly for it. Consider peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of deli meat or opt for an egg-based breakfast or dinner once a week. All will mean fewer costly meats on the weekly grocery bill.
8. Only shop once.
When you go to the store twice or even three times a week, you’re opening yourself up to more potential spending. Try to stick to a once-weekly trip unless you’re in desperate need of something (like diapers, for example). Remember, you can always make substitutions or slightly alter your meal plan if you run out of something.
9. Don’t bring the kids (or your spouse).
You’ve heard that old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth,” right? That’s the same idea here. Bringing too many people on your trip — each with their own opinions and tastes — is a quick and easy way to bust your grocery budget. This is especially true with kiddos, who will often beg, cry and scream for their favorite snacks along the way. And no mom wants a mid-store temper tantrum (or the costs that come with one!).
10. Come up with creative solutions.
Not every item needs to be replaced when you run out. Need buttermilk for those pancakes you’re making? Use vinegar and plain milk instead. Out of cocoa? Add a few chocolate chips or a square of a chocolate bar. Coming up with creative substitutions can help you save on grocery costs – as well as trips to the store in general.
11. Don’t get stuck in a rut.
It’s easy to get stuck going to the same store, at the same time, on the same day week-after-week. But often, you’re missing out on huge deals by doing that. Every store has its own unique vendors as well as its own stocking schedule. Be open to trying a new place once in a while and stay tuned for flyers and weekly ads. These can help you stay abreast of any sales or specials going on.
12. Stick to store brands.
Name brands are always going to cost more, as they carry higher market expenses and more brand recognition. If you really want to cut costs, consider sticking to lesser-known or even store-specific brands instead. In most cases, there’s no difference in quality or ingredients – just less fancy packaging.
13. Stick to the perimeter of the store.
At most grocery stores, the outer perimeter is where all the essentials are – things like meat, produce, dairy and bread. Cutting out the center of the store, where the pre-made and processed items are usually housed, can help you reduce costs – and make healthier food choices to boot.
14. Consider shopping in the morning.
If you shop first thing in the morning – right when the store opens – you’ll likely get some decent discounts on meat, dairy and other fresh items. This is because they’re trying to clear the shelves of the last day’s products so that they can display ones just cut or prepped that morning. **A quick disclaimer: these items aren’t spoiled unless the sell-by date has passed.**
15. Always buy in-season produce.
Buying produce that’s hard to come by is going to cost you a premium. Purchasing a pineapple in the dead of winter? That’s going to cost way more than it would in the summertime. Stay aware of what produce is currently in season and plan your meals accordingly. If you do need something that’s out of season, consider buying it frozen instead of fresh.
16. Ask if your store price matches.
Did you see a cheaper price in an ad at a nearby store? Ask if your preferred store will match the price. Many of the nation’s biggest grocery chains offer price-matching – as long as it’s for the same brand and product size.
17. Be alert at checkout.
Despite all the technology we have today, sometimes there are still errors at checkout. Make sure you’re watching as items are scanned through, as it’s not uncommon for wrong or previous prices to pop up. If you see a price that looks incorrect, ask the cashier to confirm that it’s the right number before moving on with your purchase.
18. Stock up and buy in bulk.
When an item you use often is on sale, stock up. You can also consider getting a membership to a bulk store (like Costco or Sam’s Club). Just make sure to tour the facility first and confirm they carry plenty of items you need and regularly use. You need to recoup your membership cost and then some for these stores to be worth it.
19. Make sure all your food is visible.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? That’s how it is with food too. If you can’t see an item in your fridge or pantry, you’ll probably forget it’s there, and it will expire without getting used. Try rearranging your pantry and fridge so that every item is clearly visible. This will cut down on wasting food or grocery dollars.
20. Let tech help.
There are several apps that can help you cut corners on your grocery bill. If you frequent Walmart, the store’s Saving Catcher app can help you earn money back on your purchases. Another app, Ibotta, is similar but works with any store. You can also subscribe to couponing apps like SnipSnap and Yowza to reduce your weekly bill.
The Final Word
At the end of the day, setting a budget and sticking to your grocery list are the biggest keys to reducing those grocery costs. Coupons, apps and other tips can only enhance your savings after you’ve done that.
Read more from our “Save More Series”: