One of the first places I knew that I could work to stretch our monthly budget was in the food department. Because I live with a "foodie" husband and a picky stepson, I had fallen victim to always trying to cook amazing meals which required amazing ingredients and which meant an out-of-control food budget. When it was time for me to be a Cheap Mama I let my husband know that we needed to work on the food budget. I promised him we would not be eating beanie wienies every night but that some things were gonna CHANGE 'round here.
Now there are entire books and blogs dedicated to this topic alone so I won't attempt to cover everything here but instead I will share the most important tips I use each and every time I go to the grocery store.
1. Make a List
Studies and my own experience show that if I don't make a list before I waltz into the grocery store I will buy more than we need which means I'll spend more.
2. Make a Menu Plan
Even better than simply making a list is making a menu plan first and making the list from the planned menu. With leftovers included, I was really surprised to discover how little I actually needed from the store each week when I plan exactly what I need for each week's menu.
3. Buy the ingredients, not the packaged meal
It's always easier to go for the pre-packaged meal whether it be a Stouffer's lasagna or meal-in-a-box but it also means I'm paying for that convenience. To combat this, I break down what I like in those packaged meals and buy the ingredients to make it myself. The one pre-packaged meal that I do keep around the house are frozen pizzas. For those nights when I'm too exhausted to even think about cooking, having a frozen pizza ready to go is much less expensive than ordering one for delivery.
4. Shop the perimeter of the store
If you think about how your grocery store is set up, the perimeter of the store includes staple ingredients which are always cheaper and usually also healthier. That's not to say I can shop exclusively outside of the aisles but it's something I keep in mind when planning meals and making my shopping list.
5. Use coupons only if you already need the item
There are also entire sites and blogs dedicated to the art of couponing so I don't mean for this to be the end authority on coupons. However, I've been there, done that and have the binder to prove it so I do speak from experience. If I may offer one word of caution: the coupon isn't a great deal unless you need the item already. Purely shopping from the coupons you have instead of the items you need will ultimately mean you buy things you don't really need and spend money you didn't plan on spending. Coupons aren't a bad thing; they just have to be used the right way.
5. Always look at the price per pound or price per ounce
This sounds elementary my dear Watson but when put into practice it takes a lot of work. This is why I usually leave the grocery store with a headache - all of that mental math trying to find the best deal. Not to give a shout-out to any specific store but one of the reasons I like Wal-Mart is that they do this for me. They have the price per ounce listed on the shelf next to the price of every single item in the store. This convenience alone is enough of an incentive for me to brave the behemoth that is Wal-Mart when grocery shopping. This is very helpful when I'm trying to decide if the bigger size of the same item is really a better deal. (It usually is but the price/oz will verify it.) If I compare the prize/ounce or price/pound of items when trying to decide the better deal, I'll always win; not so when just comparing the total price of the items.
6. Give the store brand / generic brand a try
Before you gag a litle bit, let me remind you that I am married to a total foodie husband and our pantry is stocked with store brands. The way I explained it to Georgia Boy was that we would never know if the item was as good as the brand name if we didn't give it a try. Therefore our compromise was for me to buy the store brand when it was cheaper and if we found an item that was awful, I would promise to never buy the generic again and from then on I would pony up for the brand name. This has only happened for one product in the 1+ year that I've been buying generic products.
7. Meatless Monday
My husband and stepson love this night. Do you detect my sarcasm? As much as some members of your family may not love this night, it can do wonders for your grocery budget and their health (but they don't need to know that.) Meat is by far one of the most expensive items on the grocery list so if I can do one meal each week that doesn't include meat I can stretch my food budget even more. Here in Louisiana, Mondays are traditionally days for red beans and rice. My husband insists that we have to have sausage or some other meat with our red beans but I remind him that beans are protein, brown rice is healthy and a nice salad rounds out a healthy meatless meal. Come up with your own meatless meal and watch that grocery budget streeeetch.
8. Breakfast for Dinner
As opposed to my meatless meal, this meal usually brings hoorays from everyone in my house. This has traditionally been the fall-back menu of many a busy mom but I find if I incorporate it more regularly into our week's menu I save money too. The great thing about this meal is that if done right, it can still be healthy and the proteins in the meal are relatively expensive such as eggs and turkey bacon. So the next time you're trying to figure out how to make an expensive meal in a hurry treat your family to breakfast for dinner and bask in the applause. (I'm only kidding - I've never received applause.)
Hopefully these tips will help you in stretching your grocery budget. If you'd like more in-depth information on frugal tips, check out my Cheap Mama Handbook.