Did you know that Americans spend more than 6% of their annual income on food every year? The grocery bill average for one person is about $3,000 per year, or almost $250 per month. The grocery bill average for family of four is between $712 and $1,106 per month.
You can find the grocery bill average for your area here.
But you can do better than that!
Grocery shopping on a tight budget may not be fun! But it doesn’t have to be difficult!
Unless you have eight kiddos, like me. I fill two or three carts — to the brim — every time I shop for groceries. So those carts are pretty heavy. And my helpers are mere kids. Ideally, I take one or two older children with me and leave everyone else at home.
However, life is rarely ideal, and occasionally I end up helping a 5-year-old push a cart with a wailing entourage trailing behind us.
We’ve had our share of accidents. Like the time the watermelon rolled off the bottom shelf of the cart in the parking lot. Splat!
Not only does feeding our families consume a lot of time and energy, but it can take up a huge portion of a budget!
I can’t help you with your heavy carts or your crying entourage, unfortunately. But I can help you with your budget.
I’m kind of a pro at grocery shopping on a tight budget, having had so much practice over the last 15 years of motherhood. I thought I’d share my secrets for how to cut food costs with you.
How to save money on groceries (you’ll love these tips for grocery shopping on a budget):
1. Shop as infrequently as possible in order to save money on groceries.
Grocery stores conduct extensive research into how to get people to buy things they don’t need. They are pros at subconscious manipulation!
Grocery stores play slow music because most people slow the pace of their walking to match the music’s tempo, without even thinking about it. They place the cheapest and least processed food at the back of the store, making shoppers work to find it.
The highest priced (and least nutritious) items are near the checkout and on the endcaps — the most visible and easily accessible places in the store.
You subject yourself to temptation every time you visit, and how often do you make it out with just the items on your list? Never? Same here.
Make a game out of seeing how long you can wait between grocery store visits. It actually feels very rewarding to be able to stretch it past two weeks so that on occasional billing cycles you only have one grocery trip to pay for and you can divert the extra funds to savings or a more ‘fun’ expenditure.
Avoid those attempts to subconsciously manipulate you by shopping as infrequently as possible!
2. Purchase grocery shopping staples instead of convenience foods to cut your grocery bill.
Purchase staples instead of prepared foods. They last longer, since you will be shopping less frequently, and they cost much less. A box of pancake mix is only going to make 2 breakfasts for my family, but a 25lb sack of flour will probably make weeks of breakfasts.
You can purchase a 10 lb bag of potatoes for roughly the same price as a 4-serving box of processed scalloped potatoes that you still need to add milk and butter to. Buy the bag of potatoes, wash and slice them into a pan, layered with milk and butter, and you’ll have (chemical-free) scalloped potatoes for weeks.
It’s wise to keep a several-week supply of non-perishable staples on hand, kind of like a little convenience store in your pantry. Your stored staples will come in handy if ever you are subjected to a natural disaster or financial emergency, but they also decrease your overall food budget because you can buy in bulk when the item is on sale and rarely pay full price for groceries.
3. Plan your meals around the sales and buy loss leaders in bulk when grocery shopping on a budget.
Loss leaders are the sale items, usually highlighted on the front page of each circular. A loss leader is a pricing strategy where a product is sold at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services. You can take advantage of that pricing strategy to keep your own food budget lower.
Grocery stores send out mailers each week, usually highlighting all of the sales on the first page. Look through the circulars and think up as many meals featuring them as possible. For example, when chicken breasts are on sale for $1.49 per pound or less, you can bet several chicken dishes will be on our weekly menu.
Meats and shredded cheese freeze well, too. So when they are on sale, stock up as much as you can for future weeks. I like to plan about two weeks of menus at a time (to keep me out of the grocery store) but I’m usually flexible about which days to serve them so that I can incorporate ‘leftover’ meals as we go.
Be sure to plan ‘leftover’ meals into your menu plans in order to use up leftovers and not waste them. Speaking of wasting…
4. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is by not wasting food.
When you throw food out, you might as well have just crumpled up your money and thrown it away. My husband likes to take leftovers to work for his lunch each day, which I figure saves us upwards of $2k dollars per year. The rest of us frequently eat leftovers for lunch at home, too.
When there is extra pot roast after Sunday dinner, I’ll make stew. When there is leftover chili, we have taco salad. You get the point.
As you menu plan and shop and prepare meals, try to arrange the meals with the most perishable ingredients early in the week so your produce doesn’t go bad and have to be thrown out.
You will find that you need to buy less as you start wasting less, which means big savings.
5. Eat at home to save money on groceries.
Blah, I know! But there are so many ways to keep homecooked meals varied and fun.
The key for me is to stay ahead of the 5 pm doldrums through menu planning and advanced preparation. How often do you decide to go out to eat when you’ve been smelling the fragrant, spicy-sweet pulled pork you put in the crockpot that morning? Never, right?
Keep meals exciting and fun by having breakfast for dinner, dessert for breakfast (peach cobbler with freshly whipped cream, anyone?) or just setting out a large veggie tray.
Break out the BBQ, the crockpot or the fondue set. Fondue at the Melting Pot is almost $100 for just my husband and me, but I can make Easy Crockpot Swiss Fondue and Easy Crockpot Chocolate Fondue at home for my entire family, all ten of us, for less than $20.
Here is another example of restaurant markup. It costs over $100 to take our family of ten to KFC, even when we buy combo meals and just drink water.
I can make the same meal at home — crispy fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, tangy coleslaw and flaky biscuits; enough to amply serve 12 — for under $12. Check out this post, Fried Chicken with all the fixins: Under $1 per serving, for recipes and a detailed cost breakdown.
If you like going out to eat, then by all means budget for it. But make it special; a date for mom and dad. The less frequently you go out, the more special it will be.
6. Use a list to reduce your grocery bill.
Never go into the grocery store without a list. That’s like going on a trip without GPS or a map or any planning — just driving in the general direction of where you want to go and hoping you’ll get there.
Keep a running list of things you’ve run out of or need to purchase. I keep mine on my phone so it’s always handy. It saves me from having to make extra trips to the grocery store.
Be sure to check your local grocery store flyers for the best deals (tip #3!) on the items you need! If you’ll plan your meals around the sales, then stick to the list you’ve made, you will really save money on groceries!
Sticking to the list is key. Surprises can ruin your well-planned budget in a hurry!
7. Learn skills to save money on groceries and eat healthy.
Would you rather pay $10 for one dozen chocolate chip cookies at the bakery, or make six dozen tastier, more-nutritious cookies for $5? My family goes through six dozen cookies in the blink of an eye. $60 or $5? Hmmm…
Same story with bread, bagels, and pretty much all baked goods. I figured out once that just making homemade bread saved us around $500 per year, I’ll bet all the other baked products I make would save us twice that.
Learn to make freezer meals and batch cook for busy days. Learn to can and preserve foods that are much cheaper in season.
You can save several hundred dollars a year (and save yourself a whole lot of time) by learning how to can chicken in your pressure cooker at home. You can purchase in bulk when you find a great sale price and can what you won’t use right away. I use my home-canned chicken in all of my recipes, from soups and salads to enchiladas, right out of the jar. Not only does it save me money, but it makes dinner a snap!
A dollar saved is truly a dollar earned, and though it feels menial at times, it does add up!
A wise friend once told me to ‘shop the perimeter of the store for better nutrition’. I thought about it and realized I already was, because that was where the best prices were.
Isn’t it interesting that cheaper=better nutrition for the most part? Apply these tips and both your wallet and your waistline will thank you!
Related Reading: 37 Frugal Tips From an Extreme Cheapskate
What other ways can you think of to save money on your grocery shopping? Let me know in the comments!