As the price of groceries creeps up, we look for ways to reduce spending while still feeding our families well. Food spending for my family of 9 is nearly the same as housing. I’ve learned a few tricks through the years for lowering your grocery budget – without feeling deprived or spending time cutting coupons!
Lowering Your Grocery Budget
– Learn to love beans and rice. These are among the cheapest sources of good nutrition available. You can use your imagination to make this combo tastier. Try cooking your rice with some coconut milk and a bit of spice to make it sweet and yummy. Or add a little vegetable or chicken broth to your cooking water for rice. Try curry or other earthy spices with the beans. Even if you’re not vegetarian, check out vegetarian cookbooks from the library for inspiration with beans and rice recipes.
Having a bowl of beans or rice on the table when serving other main dishes can help keep teenagers full. Ask me how I know!
– Eat less meat, period. However, remember that some veggies are expensive. Sweet red or yellow peppers sometimes cost more than steak per pound! Variety is important in your diet but you can get those same nutrients from other, cheaper vegetables. Use lots of carrots, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and celery in your cooking. They’re the cheapest veggies and have tons of fiber to fill you up.
One tip I practice every day is to eat my main dish on top of lettuce greens (nearly always inexpensive). If I have a cheeseburger, I eat it on top of salad. Pizza? Also goes on salad. Not only does this stretch the main dish, it’s also great for your waistline.
And remember: a serving of protein is only the size of a deck of cards. A hamburger patty or chicken breast as large as your face is just too big.
– Practice loss leader shopping. I know it’s a pain to shop at more than one store. However, if you stick to the loss leaders in the sales circulars you can save a boatload of money by going to more than one store (easier if you shop without the kids).
If shopping at more than one store is too much for you because of multiple kids, pregnancy fatigue, work schedules or whatever, then ask hubby to stop by the store on his way home and make sure he has a detailed list of what to buy. Or team up with a friend who will hit the store on her side of town. You can do the same for her.
The point is to buy the loss leaders ONLY from each grocery store, and plan your menu around those cheap foods.
– Put together a price book so you know what’s really a great deal. When you see an awesome price, stock up. You can do this the lazy way by simply keeping your receipts and jotting down in a notebook what you’re paying for stuff you buy routinely. This way, you’ll know if that buy one get one free deal is really cheaper, or if the store has jacked the price way up in order to stick it to you (sad but true!).
– Cook meals that stretch the protein. Examples include: chili, soups, stews, casseroles and main dish salads.
– Purchase staples in bulk. You can buy 20 pound bags of rice at most grocery stores and eat that for pennies a serving. Other sources of bulk grains and beans include larger health food stores and Asian or international markets. You might have to spend more than your adjust your monthly budget in order to take advantage of bulk savings, but you will save money in the long run. I buy bulk oats, beans and rice on Amazon.com. I like Augason Farms brand.
-Eat more eggs. For the last couple of years in my area, a dozen eggs have cost from .69-.99. You simply can’t beat that price for high-quality protein! Omelets, quiches and frittatas are quick, easy meals that can be customized to your family’s liking with small bits of leftover vegetables, cheese and meats.
– Cheap dinner ideas. Baked potatoes with melted cheese, a little diced bacon, green onions or broccoli on top is cheap.
Here is another: Slice sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt, then douse with a little olive oil and then sprinkle garlic powder on top. Bake at 375 on a baking sheet. When soft, top with a little BBQ sauce and then black beans. This is delicious and really inexpensive.
Another cheap dish that’s healthy is fried rice. Heat some oil in a large saute pan and cook chopped onion until soft, add an egg or two (scramble). Then add garlic, peas, carrots, sugar snap peas, whatever veggies you guys like. Stir in leftover rice and top with a little soy sauce or teriyaki sauce for flavor. Protein, fiber, nutrients and super cheap!
– Avoid lunch meats, boxed cereals, instant oatmeal and convenience foods like the plague. Not only does this stuff cost too much but it makes your blood sugar rise sharply and then fall. This makes you feel hungrier and more likely to overeat later.
Remember, manufacturers add food additives and multiple hidden flavors to prepared foods to make you want to eat more! Read the book Mindless Eating for eye-opening, distasteful (ha!) truths about food companies.
– Try “rubber chicken”. Buy chicken whole when it goes on sale for .49 a pound (even better, buy two). Cook them both by roasting them in the oven with an orange peel or whole lemon cut up inside the skin, plus garlic and whatever herbs you like, and salt and pepper.
Eat chicken for dinner the first night. Then cut all the bits of meat off the carcasses. Use it for casseroles, chicken salad sandwiches, soup, and any recipe that calls for cooked chopped chicken. Boil the carcasses for chicken stock (adding onion, celery, spices etc for flavor and a little apple cider vinegar to extract calcium from the bones).
An average-sized family can easily get 3 meals out of one chicken this way.
– Cook “Refrigerator Stew”. This is a great way to avoid food waste, and some of my “refrigerator stew” creations were huge hits (too bad I can’t exactly recreate them!).
Keep a container in your freezer for small amounts of leftover vegetables, grains, meat and beans. When the container becomes full, you have the makings of a great soup. Start your soups with mirepoix (diced celery, onion and carrot) sauteed in butter and you can’t go wrong.
– Don’t waste. Avoiding food waste is probably one of the fastest and easiest ways of lowering your grocery budget. Just getting serious about this one tip will make an impact.
Some ideas: Never toss out stale bread or the ends that no one seems to ever want to eat. Make it into home made bread crumbs or croutons instead. Throw bread into the blender and pulse until you have crumbs, and use to top casseroles or wherever bread crumbs are called for in recipes.
If you have fruit that is over ripe, but not moldy, mash it up and bake it in muffins and breads or freeze to use in smoothies.
– Saving on beverages –
For health and to save money, drink more water. Teach your kids that beverages with flavor (juice, tea, etc) are treats and that we quench our thirst with water. They’ll learn to crave it. Juices, sweet teas and colas aren’t good for our waistline or our teeth and we’re better off without them. And water is nearly free!
-A final thought about coupons:
While I no longer clip coupons, finding that too time-consuming and stressful, I do occasionally use cash back apps. I find these much simpler to use. I wrote an entire article about cash back apps here.
The TL; DR is this:
- Money saving and cash-back apps can save you money if you use them to get deals on things you would have purchased anyway.
- A few apps I’ve used to get cash back and/or coupons:
- iBotta – get $10 free when you sign up
- eBates – get $10 free when you sign up
There you have it. So what are your tips for lowering your grocery budget?