Food is expensive these days. With rising inflation, everyday items have become less affordable. Americans all over the country are having to revise and tighten their budgets, especially in the grocery category.
Even though money may be tight, with some planning and creativity, and perhaps a nifty cookbook, you can still prepare great meals for your family without breaking the bank. Grocery shopping on a budget can seem daunting, but with the right resources, you can reduce your food spending and save some money.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget: First Learn To Cook
Takeout might be eating away at your monthly food budget because you need to learn how to cook or don’t feel like you have time, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
Cooking can be daunting for people who have never done it and feel like there’s not enough time in the day.
Thankfully, the internet is full of cooking videos and blog posts, with recipes for every type of person.
If you don’t know how to cook, let YouTube help you learn the basics. If you don’t feel like you have time to cook because you’re busy with work or kids, there are “quick and easy” recipes that take 30 minutes or less.
Don’t blow your food budget on eating out every month; just put a little effort in and find the best meal types for your situation.
1. Avoid Snack Packs
It can be tempting to buy portion-controlled snack packs for your kids or yourself. They might seem like a healthy option, but you often pay more for the amount you’re getting, and they are only sometimes as healthy as they claim to be.
Consider making your own “snack packs” at home using fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and dried berries, cheese, or whatever else you want to add. You can portion them into small Tupperware containers, so you still get the “portion controlled” aspect.
2. Shop at Farmer’s Markets for Produce
Consider shopping for fresh produce if your city has a local farmer’s market. Not only will you support local farmers, but their produce often has fewer pesticides and is significantly cheaper than most grocery stores.
You can also make it a fun outing if you have kids. You can take your dog if you have one and make it a family affair. The kids can help pick out their favorite fruits and veggies while taking advantage of the free samples most fruit stalls offer.
3. Sign Up for Grocery Store Emails
If you want coupons sent directly to your inbox, sign up for your grocery store’s email newsletters.
Stores will often send you printable coupons and grocery delivery or pickup offers. Make sure that you’re only using coupons for items that you need. Only some sales are good deals.
The email newsletter could also inform you about in-store sales based on items you have bought.
4. Only Buy Perishable Goods in Quantities You’ll Use Immediately
Food thrown away because you didn’t use it by its expiration date is a massive waste of money. You can split up produce such as bananas and grapes based on how many you need.
Only buy bulk foods if you can use them before their expiration date. Many people buy bulk foods such as bakery items at Costco because they believe they are getting a better deal, but then they have to throw out half of the food a week later because it’s gone stale.
That isn’t a good deal at all. Another option is to buy frozen produce instead of fresh if you don’t think it will get eaten within the first week or so of purchasing it.
5. Shop Around for Deals, Don’t Only Shop at One Store
Odds are sales are going on at virtually every grocery store in your area. Don’t limit yourself if you can get a better deal on an item at a different store than the one you usually go to. A deal is a deal.
Grocery stores are constantly in competition with each other to provide customers with the best deals, so take advantage of that. Shopping around and using your options is a great way to save money.
6. Buy Necessities in Bulk
Buying in bulk can help you save a lot of money in the long run. If you have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, it should be easy to find your essentials in bulk.
Products like meat, cereal, toilet paper, and paper towels are all items that you should purchase in bulk.
You can buy a whole tenderloin and slice it up at home. One tenderloin should give you several fillets if you know what you’re doing.
Oatmeal is another fantastic item to buy in bulk. Pre-made oatmeal packets are full of added sugars and are almost always more expensive than purchasing oatmeal in bulk.
7. Shop The Store Brand as Much as Possible
Almost all grocery stores sell their own brands for less than their name-brand equivalents.
Store-brand goods are independently produced and packaged by the store, making them less expensive.
Not every food has a store-brand counterpart, but most staples, such as cereal, canned goods, and condiments, have a store-brand equivalent.
8. Limit Purchases of TV Dinners or Ready-made Foods
Sometimes you don’t feel like cooking, and that’s okay. However, ready-made meals are always more expensive than the same meal would be if you made it at home.
Meal prepping is a great way to plan meals throughout the week, so when the time comes, you don’t need to put much thought or effort into cooking.
Ready-made meals are also full of preservatives and added sugar and salt. Buying fresh foods and making dinner at home is a much healthier method for you and your family.
9. Learn Proper Storage Methods for Your Groceries
Fresh foods often have a relatively short shelf life. However, there are a few different ways to prep your foods so they last longer and you don’t throw them out.
You can chop up veggies such as carrots and celery and store them in water in a mason jar. Keeping them in water will keep them from drying out.
Be sure to wash all fruit and keep it in sealed containers. To prevent freezer burn, you should reseal frozen foods before putting them back in the freezer.
10. Get Creative With Leftovers
You can often repurpose leftovers from one meal for other meals throughout the week. Vegetables from tonight’s dinner can be reheated and served with tomorrow’s meal.
You can also use lots of leftovers in soups and casseroles. Check out some websites for inspiration so you can get creative with your leftover food.
11. Pay in Cash
People are prone to spending more money when they have a debit card (especially a credit card). When you use cash, you can physically see how much you are allowed to spend, and you can only justify spending the allotted amount.
12. Use Store Rewards Cards
Most grocery stores, such as Safeway, have free rewards cards for signing up. You will then have access to exclusive rewards and member-only deals in-store.
Often, the sales price you see on items only applies to reward members, so you would only be able to get the deal if you join.
13. Keep an Eye Out for Manufacturer’s Coupons
Plenty of grocery stores offer manufacturer coupons on their websites or third-party sites such as coupons.com or redplum.com.
You can use these coupons in-store or online to find great deals at your favorite stores.
14. Shop at “Outlet” Stores
Shopping at stores like day-old bakeries is another excellent way to save money on food. Prices can drop by up to 50% on select items.
Bread products freeze well and are helpful in various recipes.
15. Buy Your Produce in Season
Buying fruits and vegetables in season ensures you get the most wholesome foods.
Local farmers often supply seasonal fruits and vegetables. So, if you like to buy locally, this is a great way to support your neighborhood farms.
A quick Google search will help determine which fruits and vegetables go with each season. You can print out a guide and keep it on your fridge so you know which ones to get when you go to the store or shop online.
Save Money While Still Eating Healthy
With the right tools, grocery shopping on a budget is relatively easy.
Learning how to save money in every area of life can not only help you achieve your long-term goals while filling your bank account.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Robyn is a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. She has her MBA and has been studying Personal Finance on her own for as long as she can remember.
She has always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start her blog after a period of extended unemployment. She says that experience really changed how she viewed her relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education. Read more at A Dime Saved.