Recently a friend asked me how I manage my food budget. We haven’t always done a great job at this– in fact, we were pretty terrible at the start of or marriage and spent way too much on food (Matthew may disagree)! I have been watching my food budget shrink over the past year. Our goal has been to spend $250/month on food, with a goal to reduce this to $200/month once our CSA starts up again in June.
How have we been saving money?
1. Meal planning BEFORE you shop. A lot of people groan when I tell them I plan meals, but it really does help us to eat better. I feel more organized when I do it, and it really only needs to take five minutes at the most. I’ll dedicate more time to this on a later post.
2. Going to the store ONCE a week. Doing one large trip once a week and being insistent on using what you’ve bought for the week eliminates the small trips for impulse buys (“Let’s just have frozen pizza” instead of planning to make one next week) and last minute things (“I forgot x ingredient!” instead of making a substitution).
3. Giving into impulse buys sometimes. This may sound counter intuitive, but if you’re like me, too much restriction put on yourself will only make you spend more later (retail therapy, anyone?). You could set a guideline for yourself such as “I can have one impulse buy per trip that’s less than $5,” or “my total of impulse buys today has to be less than $7.” For example, today I went to Trader Joe’s. I bought everything exactly as it was on my list, but spent $7 in exceptions: plums, chocolate PB eggs for Matthew, and a chocolate bunny for our housemate who has gone without chocolate for Lent.
4. Keep a well-stocked pantry. For us, this means buying things when they’re on sale, and keeping dry ingredients on hand. Using dried beans over canned really helps us cut down on cost.
5. Having a dollar limit to spend each week. Some people do this by shopping only with cash. Currently, my goal is to spend $50/week three times a month and $70 once. The $70 trip is reserved for pantry stocking items (dried beans, 50-lb bags of rice, dried milk, paper goods and cleaning items), but other times for more special things (steak dinner).
6. Eat less meat! This is one of the easiest things to do, and it can be one of the most fun. Eating more vegetarian meals will push you to cook more creatively (sweet potato burgers, anyone?) and deliciously. Who knew there were a million ways to use lentils? Alternately, use less meat in a recipe and add more veggies, particularly beans, to reduce the cost of your overall meal.
7. Go to Aldi, already. Kristen of the Frugal Girl has enumerated the benefits of shopping at this store. They use business practices that reduce prices pretty dramatically over places like Safeway– I don’t want to be paying more money on eggs in exchange for fancier in-store signage!
How do you save money on groceries?