Does a large part of your budget go on food in your family too? Are you also interested in saving some money or paying off debt and you don’t really know where to start?
In this case, groceries are indeed the part of your budget that you can actually start being super deliberate about and that will help you save up big at the end of the month. All of this without depriving yourself of a healthy diet. On the contrary. Not planning your meals can lead to a lot of unhealthy food choices.
For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I are expecting our second baby girl and we plan to buy an apartment in the next years and pay it off in a maximum of 5 years. For this, we want to save cash for a down payment and get a loan as small as possible, as the interest is smaller for these amounts as well.
To achieve our plan, I have started researching and experimenting with all of the possible ways in which I can cut out on the grocery expenses. Because you would really not believe the amount we were spending monthly on this.
Of course, there are budgeting tips that might work for us that will not work for you, but you will definitely find some that will help you save on food as well. I have divided them into 3 simple categories that are linked together, so you can navigate through them more easily.
Here they go.
A. Planning Phase
1. Set up a monthly or weekly meal plan
Plan your meals in advance and shop what you need to prepare them. I can’t stress enough the difference it makes just to sit down and intentionally choose what you would like to eat for a larger period of time. Here is an in-depth article I wrote on meal planning. You can also download there a free meal weekly and monthly plan and grocery list template.
2. Cook in Bulk
Learning to cook or cooking at home is clearly the most essential part of the savings process. And there are so many benefits to this. Besides the health benefits of cooking something from scratch, you will save by not eating out or buying pre-prepared supermarket dishes.
First of all, for me, intentional cooking has become such an enjoyable activity, something that I would not have guessed a while back. It used to be a dread to do it each and every day, to spend all of that energy of researching, thinking what to prepare for dinner, going out to buy stuff and basically spending a whole day on just this. Plus ending up with a bunch of unnecessary other stuff that made a hole in our budgets. Now I just bulk cook. Either sauces or regular freezer-friendly food, almost all of my meals will go to the freezer as well. It’s something I wholeheartedly recommend if you want to increase your productivity, your free time and save money at the same time.
3. Plan to cook your meals in the time frame that works for you
I batch cook on Sunday or Monday and basically do this just 3 to 4 times a month. That’s it. You can definitely experiment and check which day works best for you.
4. Go to the store only once a week
This is also a core part of saving huge amounts of money on shopping. Since we only go once a week to the shop, we’ve been able to keep track of everything and save a lot by avoiding impulsive shopping. The only reason we will go more than once a week is if I find some good meat discount on my apps.
5. Make an inventory of what you already have in the kitchen and pantry
Yet another bag of sugar? Or another of baking powder? Or canned beans? Or lasagna pasta? It’s most likely because you are not working with your current inventory in mind. Check out your pantry before going to the supermarket. This helps to get you inspired on possible recipes, avoid doubling products or throwing out unused food.
When you start drafting your menu plan or shopping list, the place to go for inspiration is in those cupboards and shelves. So use what you have already as a base for your weekly or monthly meal plan.
Keep an open shopping list on the fridge, where you can add anything you run out of and pick it up on your next shopping haul. I have my monthly meal plan attached to the fridge with a magnet, and I just put items on the grocery list as they finish.
6. Know the difference between “Best Before” and “Use by”
Most products that have a “Best Before” date are not labeled as such because they are unsafe to use, but mostly because the color, texture and taste might be slightly different.
The “Use by” labeled products are the indicators that show the date when you should clearly stop consuming a certain product for your own safety.
I’ve explained these terms in detail here, and also included a few tips on how to avoid eating food that might be contaminated.
7. Have a food clean-up session
Once you checked everything that you have in-house, start throwing out all the stuff that are way past beyond their expiration date. This way, there will be less clutter and you can bring in your new shopping easily.
8. Organize your pantry
I have to be honest, I could really use a makeover on my pantry. Like really, really bad. And my solution at the moment is to just watch how other women have done it. I still get great satisfaction. So join me on this one. Here are 20 small pantry organization ideas, a closet to pantry makeover, or this makeover, or this. We can do this!
9. Set a monthly or weekly budget and stick to it
We did this and we could totally stick to it by having a plan and budget. Try assigning yourself a weekly budget to begin with, depending on your needs and family size. And then try to stick to it. No matter what. This is not an easy task, but the only way in which you can make a difference in your lifestyle is by having a schedule and plan. You will force yourself to be deliberate about what you eat, but you will also super enjoy the small victories at the end of the week. So reward yourself and keep going.
10. Only use cash to pay
Pay yourself at the beginning of the month all the monthly grocery budget you decided upon in cash and keep it in an envelope. It’s much easier to stick to this. I mean, if you only have 10 $ cash, you can’t really spend 15 $, can you? And people are generally more careful about what they purchase with cash. There is also much information online about using the cash envelope system, initiated mainstream by Dave Ramsey.
But people have been adapting this method according to what they find more convenient, so I recommend you do the same. I just have one envelope, to keep it super simple. It has the current month written on it. I just minus once a week what I have spent in that particular shopping haul. This way I keep a track of what I have left.
11. Save all of your receipts
I save absolutely every single receipt during the month in that envelope. And this includes everything outside of the grocery budget as well. I promise you will learn so much about your spending habits and yourself included once you starting keeping track of your spendings.
12. Make a grocery list – and stick to it!
After setting up a weekly meal plan – plan your meals for the week, make your grocery list. Shop exactly what you have on your list.
13. Shop without the kids
For obvious reasons. A toddler will need your constant supervision, while small kids might have wants and needs that are highly likely to make you add up to the list. And even with the best-behaved kids, you’ll still need a lot of focus in order to make the best out of your list. Call a friend, a grandparent or a neighbor to watch over them and return the favor.
14. Never shop hungry or thirsty
This is what always got us tons of sugar in the shopping cart. I remember I was in college in Bucharest, I was super thirsty after classes and entered a supermarket to do some light shopping before going home. I realized only at the cash register that I had picked up 8 different types of drinks. That’s when I also figured this was probably not the best way to go shopping. So really, have a good meal before going out shopping and carry a water bottle with you.
15. Bring your own shopping bags
Always take your shopping bags with you when you shop. Again, this is super easy to do if you only shop once a week, since you will be more intentional about this and won’t be just stopping by to the supermarket. We recycle all plastic here, but there’s truly no point in spending money on this and encouraging the unnecessary production of plastic bags.
Here in Germany we also recycle plastic bottles and metal cans and get approx. 0.25 cents per piece. We can spend the collected money at the supermarket or even cash it out, from what I heard. So at the end of each week, we have a bag of recyclables.
My personal hack is to keep my shopping bags always in the recyclables bag. This way, we just grab and go. Easy. If you don’t recycle, you can just bring the bags in your car right after the shopping spree.
16. Find out your best time to shop
Some supermarkets tend to reduce items at certain points of the day. For example, in the evening before closing time is usually the best time to shop for fresh produce. You will get up to 70 % discounts. Some shops have the first markdown first thing in the morning on bakery products from the day before and on meat and produce. Then this can repeat at 2 pm and in the evening between 6 and 8 pm.
17. Find out your markdown days
Same as above, but the sales apply to a certain day. In Germany every supermarket is closed on Sunday, so Saturday evenings are the absolute best for discounts on all perishable products, especially dairy, bakery products, meats, fruits and veggies. Then Monday morning is another great tip for getting discounted products. I also read Wednesday can be markdown days in some markets. This solely depends on the supermarket chain, really, so you should do some local research.
18. Use Ibotta
Ibotta is a free mobile coupon and cash-back shopping app. After buying something you just have to scan the receipt within the app and Ibotta will send you cashback. Downloading Ibotta gets you automatically a 10$ sign-up bonus and an up to 100$ referral bonus.
The great thing about it is that you get cashback just by purchasing super generic products that you would buy anyway, like milk, tomatoes, eggs and so on. You can also get rewards for performing specific tasks. Users say that you can get back a few hundred dollars a year if you use it on a regular basis. You can cash out a minimum of $20 either via Paypal or Venmo or just by receiving different gift cards.
19. Use Checkout51
Similar to Ibotta and its number one competitor, Checkout51 also allows you to get cashback by uploading your receipt after your purchase. Checkout51 also has new offers that update each Tuesday. You can also use this app to purchase online products.
20. Compare Grocery Store Prices across different supermarkets using comparison apps.
Comparison apps are different from each other, so which one you use is a matter of preference. They can also be a bit time-consuming, but then again, if it works for you, go for it. Among the most popular are Basket, Flipp, Grocery Pal and Favado.
21. Join Facebook Groups for Saving Money
Look for offers near you by joining Facebook groups that publish information on deals and discounts. Here is a list of 25 such communities.
22. Use coupons
Coupons are great, but be aware of the pros and cons of couponing. First of all, it can be time-consuming. You might also not find a stock of what you need once you get to the shop. Also, some coupons might trick you into buying totally unnecessary items. But if you do find a coupon that can help you get products you like and use for free, you get to save a lot.
B. At the supermarket
23. Always bring your list
Whether on the phone or a physical one, all that matters is that you have your list with you. Not having a list is likely to make you buy extra stuff. Plus if you forget something, you’ll have to come back and risk buying additional products you don’t need. In my opinion, the easiest way is using the notes app and checking the items as you go.
24. Don’t buy things that are not on your list
Again, it’s might be self-evident, but this is a really hard one.
25. Don’t fall for sneaky supermarket tricks that make you spend more
There is so much to be said about this. Here are just 32 of them.
26. Buy from the lowest shelves and avoid the middle ones
This is something that you might already know, but the eye-level shelving space is the most expensive one and it costs brands more money to have their products placed there. This is partly why brand products are more expensive, their marketing is just much more expensive. The lower shelves are usually filled with generic supermarket brands, that are usually the cheapest, so this is where you should look for first.
27. Shop at Aldi
It’s proven cheaper and of good quality. Germany is the country where the chain was founded and we have it 1 km away from home. I read it opened and expanded in the U.S. as well and it surely did not take long for people to spread the word on the advantages of shopping there.
Aldi is perceived in Germany as well as being one of the best shopping options available. The reason for this is that there is no fancy product labeling, no money invested in individual product advertising and the stores use basically the same concepts. This is what makes their products really affordable and the shopping process goes very smooth.
So if you never shopped at Aldi, here are 10 tips for everyone heading there shopping for the first time. I have the app on my phone and check it each time before making my shopping list.
28. Try the supermarket’s own brand
Most of the basic things that you need can be bought at incredibly good prices for super similar quality. Check out this blind taste test video on Aldi’s own brand versus premium or manufacturer Brands. You’ll be surprised. There are clearly products that are irreplaceable, but be willing to try some alternatives before you decide for yourself.
29. Save money by buying in bulk
But only if it makes sense. First of all, you should check the price per unit to make sure there is an actual discount. Secondly, do you really eat this product often enough to buy it in bulk?
30. Avoid Processed Foods
Surely there is a big and important talk today about eating real food and I stand behind it as well. However, we don’t all live in a tropical paradise where time stands still. Life is complex and we need to make money. So we will go for supermarket convenience.
But not all processed foods are equal. What you should be clearly avoiding is processed food that is heavily modified and is full of fats, sugars, salts. These are of little to no nutritional value and you will end up hungry in no time.
There are however many processed foods that I personally buy, because of their high nutritional value. These are things like canned beans or fish, frozen produce, nuts, yogourts and whole-grain products.
31. Avoid pre-cut stuff, it’s usually more expensive.
I would say most of us are guilty of this one, as it is much more convenient in many situations. But is it really worth it to pay someone the price of a whole pineapple just so you can get a small piece of sliced pineapple in a box? This might be luring if you are in rush, I know I used to do buy them as a lunch when I was working out of the house.
But there is the alternative of meal prepping and getting your own fresh fruit. Which honestly almost always tastes better than the boxed one. Just check out next time the quantities and prices on pre-sliced versus whole piece products like cheese, ham meat of any kind and fruit.
32. Get your meat in bigger cuts
Consider getting unsliced pieces of meat or a whole chicken. Cut it yourself and portion different pieces and freeze them for different meals. I personally purchased this Japanese Hinomaru meat knife that is incredibly affordable and cuts meat super easily.
33. Don’t buy unnecessary individually bagged and boxed snacks
Packaged bags, little pouches or boxes are usually more expensive. Especially with kids that go to kindergarten or to school 5 times a week. This tip can be a huge money and health saver.
First of all, have a look at this article about the financial differences between prepackaged and DIY lunchbox snacks. The DIY version in 3 times cheaper. Then think about how your kids will thank you later for teaching them to eat fresh fruit and veggies and prepare their own meal, rather than relying on prepackaged foods. We all learn good and bad habits at home.
34. Look at the price per unit
Most times an offer involves a buy one get one for free promotion. This might be a great deal at times, but if you are offered a new product, make sure to check the price of the product you normally use before changing to a new one. For example, if 2 tubes of this new toothpaste line are now on offer for 4 $ and you pay for your regular 1,69 $, then the offer isn’t much of a save. You are just being tricked into trying a more expensive product.
35. Include seasonal products in your shopping list
Seasonal products are most of the time cheaper, as they are mostly grown locally. Besides you supporting your regional farmers and economy, you get the freshest stuff at really good prices. Start by checking your local seasonal products at home when you prepare your list. If you are not sure what is in season, for the U.S. you can find this seasonal produce guide here. But you can definitely find information about your own geographical region of interest on Google.
I personally think that seasonal products are great for the freezer or if you are a fan of homemade canned fruits or vegetables, you can definitely save this way.
36. Buy frozen fruit or veggies
Apart from many studies (UC Davis study, University of Georgia, University of Chester) showing that in some cases, frozen veggies and fruit have more nutritional value than the fresh ones, you will be surprised to see how much cheaper some of the frozen stuff is.
37. Buy foods that last a long time
I have written a detailed article about the huge amount of food we are wasting per family on average. And that is 1800 $ that automatically gets wasted per household each year per. A solution is to stop wasting food by starting to consume and store it properly. There are many healthy products out there that will last a really long time if stored properly. Here are 15 of them.
38. Avoid sugar-based drinks
Like the plague. I know some are really tasty, but they are incredibly bad for both our health and budget. I drink Cola Zero at the movies, because it’s just awesome with popcorn, and I consider this a great treat. I know it´s bad and I´m fine with it. But other than that, we only drink water, tea and coffee at home on a daily basis. Sometimes I will make fresh juice for the kids and dilute it with water to balance the sugar intake per serving.
39. Order from Amazon
Amazon Pantry is a great place to buy food, especially if you are paying for an Amazon Prime Subscription. You can find very good offers on non-perishable products and have them delivered to your door in no time.
40. Always return products that are substandard
It is your right as a consumer to return a product that is faulty. I usually have no problem returning products that are not as described, and I always politely submit feedback to the seller. My last example is from just a few days ago when I got my usual scented diaper bags and they were all breaking. They simply did not hold weight, as the plastic was super thin on the bottom of the bag. I returned them and asked for a new roll. It’s just 2 euros, you might say it is not worth the effort. But think about it. Mistakes always happen but if you don’t complain, how will people know how to improve their stuff?
C. At home
41. Stick to your meal plans
Same as above, but try to stick to the recipes you chose for the week or month. It will be hard at the beginning as you experiment with some dishes, but in no time you will get the experience. You’ll know what you and your family like eating best and you can start rotating those recipes.
42. Limit your calorie intake
Surely you read by now that using a smaller plate will make you eat less. There is, however, evidence showing that this is just not true. What is true is that consumerism has overwhelmingly increased in the last decades. We seem to live in a culture that supports the idea of more for the sake of more.
Besides the fact that food is more processed, that the size of the serving portions became larger and larger at very affordable prices, large food and drink companies have also alarmingly increased the calories per product. And unfortunately, all of these things are very well marketed to the public. Obesity is directly related to the changes in the global food system.
As of 23 October 2018, these are the key aspects of a healthy diet published by the World Health Organization. It is of crucial importance to our health to limit our calories to the point where we have a balance between what we take in and what we consume.
43. Prioritize cooking, eating or freezing perishable foods
When purchasing foods that will only keep fresh for a few days, make sure you have them on your weekly menu plan as a priority. If you find good offers on products that you can also freeze well, make sure you portion them for the freezer as soon as you get home with your shopping.
44. Buy a vacuum sealer
A vacuum sealer will keep food fresh for as much as 5 times longer than with the non-vacuum alternative. Here are 12 ways in which a vacuum sealer can save you money.
45. Invest in a Good Coffee Maker
I love my morning coffee so much. And I really love quality coffee. I used to spend a lot on fresh coffee from our bakery downstairs just because it tasted better. Freshly ground coffee is my way to go now. It beats coffee pods, which in my opinion are also a super waste of money.
The most important part about good coffee is its beans. You ideally have to roast, grind and brew them soon after the oxidation process to amplify its aroma. I skip the roasting for now. I would rather pay a bit more on some quality beans and use my machine to grind them fresh, for just the costs of the beans. And that is a money saver. I very often carry my own delicious coffee around in a thermos cup.
46. Buy a reusable water bottle
In Germany, buying a small water bottle in the city center while walking around can cost you up to 2,5 $. So I made a habit of always having my own water or drink of choice with me in a reusable bottle. Saves me so much money and produces zero waste.
47. Get a water filter
You’ll see immediately that the quality of your water improves. The taste is great first of all. But I also used to have these super big white powdery remains on my pots whenever I cooked with unfiltered water. This changed immediately after we installed a filter under our sink.
There are many options and systems out there for you to get, so you’ll want to do your own research. This way you won’t need to buy bottled plain water anymore and it is a good solution financially, for our health and the environment.
48. Start Freezer Cooking
Freezer meals completely changed my lifestyle. Basically, by freezer meal cooking I mean home-cooked meals, prepared ahead in multiple portions and frozen for later use.
This will save you time, money and you will drastically improve the quality of the food you eat. Here is my beginner’s guide to freezer cooking.
49. Invest in a Slow Cooker or an Instant Pot
A slow cooker will make your meals incredibly delicious, while an Instant Pot will make your meals incredibly fast and convenient. Plus you will find online a whole community of people sharing recipes for these 2 options, making the weekly meals so much easier to plan. Join me on Pinterest for this, I share hand-picked recipes every day.
50. Invest in some good food containers to take lunch with you
You’ll save a lot if you pack your own meals, whether it is leftovers or you meal prep something fresh. I can’t stress enough how much a meal plan will help with this as well.
The Forbes published a really cool article showing that a delivery meal is 5 times more expensive than a home-cooked meal. 5 times. Let that sink in for a second. I currently have these ones and they have been a great alternative to the classical Tupperware, which is quite expensive.
51. Make your own sauces
Your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot will help you put together the most delicious things, with minimum intervention. Marinara, Bolognese, Spaghetti, Hot Sauce, you name it. You can make this and very easily freeze the extra portions if you have extra space. Or you can give canning a go. You will know exactly what goes into your sauces, how much sugar and how much salt, and you get to save a lot in the process.
52. Grow your own foods – even without a garden
Sounds like an impossible thing to do, right? But you will be amazed by how easy it is to grow some really basic stuff, that you use every day. Chilli peppers and herbs are the most useful in my opinion. Basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, coriander, rosemary, dill or mint can all grow in small-sized pots.