Lowering Your Grocery Budget

The first step is the most important: Determine what will work for your family!  Don’t compare your budget to others as every family has specific needs.  We have no food allergies, dietary restrictions or picky eaters.

To find our ideal budget, I tracked our grocery spending over the course of a year.  I kept track of what we spent every month to the penny minus all rebates received and then at the end of the year, took an average.  Every six months or so, I re-evaluate our budget and have increased on a few occasions.

Now that you have a budget, what do you do with it?


Inventory your pantry, refrigerator and freezer

Make note of the items you generally have on hand and that your family likes to eat most often.  There are a few items we always have: diced tomatoes, frozen veggies, sweet potatoes, eggs, spinach, ground beef, chicken.  When in doubt, I can make something edible out of the items above.

Start a price book

Starting with the items you purchase the most, start writing down prices you see, including the unit price.  Products come in so many different sizes and types, you won’t get a true picture unless you look at the “per ounce” or “per pound” price.  Know what is the lowest price for an item.  This will start to give you an idea of when to stock up.

For my pantry/household stock up price list (including printable version), click here.

Don’t blow your budget on stock piling!

When you find a good price, buy just a few more than you normally would.  Remember, sales cycle around all the time.  As a general rule, items go on sale every six weeks or so.  You don’t have to spend half your budget to stock up on one item, it will be on sale again!  This was hard for me to understand at first.

Also remember that sales go by season.  For example, before the holidays you will find tons of baking items at a low price (flour, chocolate chips, cream cheese, canned pumpkin).  Before Super Bowl, snack items will be on sale.  Around the Fourth of July, BBQ/picnic items will go on sale (condiments, buns, ground beef).  You get the idea.

Let go of your brand loyalties!

When you can, of course. Don’t risk your family’s health or well-being to save a buck.  This is why it’s important to set a budget that works for your family.  When I first started couponing, I would clip coupons for products we already used and that’s it.  For example, we only used Viva paper towels.  I would still buy these, but use a 25 cent coupon, thinking I was getting a good deal.  I now buy what is on sale, regardless of brand and have never really noticed a difference.

Freeze what you can

We bought an inexpensive stand-alone freezer off Craigslist and pack it full.  There is NO way our budget would be as low if we didn’t have this option.  We can stock up on beef, chicken and pork at rock bottom prices.  Think outside the box with your freezer and it will save you tons of money.  We freeze milk, bread, shredded cheese, butter, lunch meat, ricotta and cream cheese.  This allows us to stock up, not just what we can use before it expires.

Check out clearance racks!

Companies often “repackage” their products and drastically reduce prices on the “old” packaging to get rid of it.  You can combine these clearance prices with coupons to score super cheap or even free items.  You can buy discounted food items this way as well, especially those that can be frozen.  Always check the meat clearance section.  Meat that needs to be frozen within a day or two will be marked way down (lunch meat too!).

Buy produce in season and buy local when you can

Each week, I buy fruits and veggies that are at a super low price.  This means that we generally don’t eat the same items each week.  This helps us save money and helps our kids get a little variety in their meals. During the spring and summer, shop your local farmer’s markets.  Not only will you be supporting your local farmers and getting super fresh produce, but you will generally pay less because you are not paying for the items to be transported from half way across the state.

We have also joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program locally, which has been amazing!

Make a weekly/monthly meal plan

I’m still learning this step.  Even if you plan a week out, this means you won’t be looking at five o’clock wondering if you should just order a pizza again.

:: Plan around what you have been able to get on sale the week before.

:: Improvise when you don’t have a specific ingredient.  Search your pantry and fridge for something that will work before heading out to the store for one ingredient.

:: Use Allrecipes.com to find recipes that include ingredients you DO have.  Have a go-to list of meals that your family loves and are simple to make.  I have 10-15 lunch/dinner ideas in my head that we always have ingredients for and don’t require any defrosting that work in a pinch.

When you get to the store, shop straight from your list

I try really hard not to buy items that aren’t on my list, unless I come across a truly fantastic price on something. Don’t give in to impulse purchases, this will throw your budget every time.  When you get up to the cash register, be a vigilant shopper.  Watch prices as they ring up, make sure your coupons scan correctly and have an idea of what your total price should be.  Be courteous and respectful if something doesn’t ring up correctly and head over to customer service if your issue can’t be resolved.  Be your own champion and stand up for yourself!

The most important thing I can suggest to someone just getting started or needing a little extra help, start small. Don’t try to slash your grocery budget in half in one month.  You will just get frustrated.  Try making one small change each month and see if it works for you.

For help with your overall family budget, be sure to check out my 2012 Budgeting Series.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can help in any way!

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