If you are anything like me (or the rest of the population for that matter), your family's grocery bill eats up the biggest chunk of your household budget. As a family of three living on a single income, we had to come up with creative ways to decrease our spending. I started with our biggest adjustable bill. Yes, I shopped the bargains, haunted the dollar store, and clipped coupons with the best of them, but I found that these habits were not realistic for us long-term. By making the following changes to our grocery habits, I was able to get our grocery bill down to $50 a week while still enjoying high-quality family meals and snacks. Here's how I got started:
This is the first and most crucial step in bringing down our grocery budget. Some say planning monthly and making one big trip to the grocery store works for them, but trying to wrangle two very active toddlers, a shopping list, and a full cart of groceries was an impossible task for me. So, it became a quick weekly trip for us.
Our family has a weekend tradition of cheap takeout pizza on Friday nights and donuts on Sunday mornings, so every week I plan for six dinners, six lunches (including leftovers), and six breakfasts. We don't drink soda or sugary beverages, so that helps keep our overall budget down. We also don’t eat much meat other than chicken and fish occasionally, which saves us money as well. Our weekly meal plan usually looks something like this when broken into breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
- Sunday: Donuts, turkey roll-ups and fruit, chicken and veggies
- Monday: Oatmeal, PB&J with crackers and fruit, veggie lasagna rolls and salad
- Tuesday: Egg muffin, PB and banana with chips, macaroni and cheese with veggies
- Wednesday: Oatmeal, veggie roll-ups and crackers, chicken and salad
- Thursday: Egg Muffin, PB&J crackers and fruit, pasta and veggies
- Friday: Eggs and toast, cheese sandwich and fruit, pizza
- Saturday: Eggs and bacon, leftover pizza, grilled cheese or turkey melt
*Snacks are usually fruit and cheese, yogurt and granola, or veggies and peanut butter or cream cheese.
I tend to plan meals around what I have in my pantry, what is in season, and what is on sale. I do occasionally use coupons, but I focus on rebate apps, which will be explained later in this article.
My grandmother grew up in the depression era, and the recipes I learned from her were created to cost the least while feeding the most. For example, my favorite Gramma recipes are "Must-Go’s." She literally went through her pantry, figured out what MUST GO before it expired, and came up with a meal using those ingredients. It was different each time she made it, and watching Gramma make Must-Go’s was like watching a real life episode of Iron Chef complete with all the judges (grandkids) parked at the table waiting for their taste.
Another favorite is Gramma's simple potato salad. Use this recipe and make additions to taste. I like to add bacon or diced grilled chicken for extra protein.
- 3-4 medium potatoes (or instant potato flakes)
- 2-3 eggs
- ½ cup chopped green onion (or other type of onion depending on what must go)
- ½ cup chopped celery (and/or grated carrot depending on what's in your fridge)
- ¼ cup roughly chopped olives (any variety you have on hand will work)
- 1 ½ cups mayo (sour cream or plain yogurt will do)
- 1 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the potatoes, and boil until falling apart. Drain, mash roughly, and set aside in a large mixing bowl. (I boil the eggs with the potatoes to save time.) If using instant potato flakes, cook according to the directions, but use a little less liquid for a firmer result.
- Grate the carrot. Chop hard-boiled eggs, onion, celery, and olives. Add to the bowl of potatoes.
- Season potatoes and veggies to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add mayo and butter. Mix well.
- Serve chilled.
I can't stress enough the value of learning how to use and manipulate recipes to stretch your budget. I always double the recipe and plan for leftovers. Which brings me to my next tip:
Freezer meals and meal sharing
Every time I prepare a meal I double it, bag it into individual servings, and freeze it. This allows me to have no-cook days that don't lead me directly to the drive-thru line at Taco Bell. Another perk I've found is that freezing meals allows you the opportunity to meal share. I have a couple friends who also cook in bulk, so once in awhile we will swap a meal to have some variety without messing up our budgets. This works great with other families who have kids because the new recipes are already kid approved!
I also like to prepare cooked ingredients and freeze them to have on hand, such as partially cooked rice or quinoa, and ground turkey. There are a lot of items that freeze great and some that don’t do so well. Some of the things that I’ve found freeze like a dream: cooked and shredded chicken, eggs (baked, scrambled or boiled), ground beef or turkey, dense veggies (squash, potato, corn), hard cheese, bread, biscuits, burritos, and PB&J sandwiches. I avoid freezing dairy products (especially anything creamy), and leafy greens unless I plan on cooking them in a future recipe.
I can't speak highly enough of the Ibotta App when it comes to saving money on groceries. This free app offers you cash back on items you may already have on your shopping list. You just create a list in the app by selecting items you are interested in. Usually, you have to watch a short 15 to 30 second video or answer a question or two about the product, and then it is added to your list. Once you complete your shopping trip, you scan the items on your shopping list and take a picture of your receipt to claim the rebate. That’s it. They confirm your rebate amount and add it to your account within a couple of days, which you can draw from once you’ve hit $10. I've been using it for a little over a month and have already received over $40 in cash back. That’s almost a whole week's worth of groceries! Use code "ccjsvng" when you sign up to join my team.
Using a little organization and creativity, I've dropped my family's grocery bill to $50 a week, and you can too! The key is planning, preventing waste, and shopping for seasonal produce. Challenge yourself and see how much you can save.