Why is it important to have a budget for groceries?
Food. We need it everyday. It’s part of our routine and a needed energy source for our bodies. (Duh.) As important as food is, it’s easy to let this category get out of end when we buy whatever we are craving or what looks good. I’m speaking from my own mistakes and in my 3.5 years of married life, 1.5 years of being a mom at home, and going through pregnancy cravings before…. I’ve learned how quickly that grocery bill can add up. That’s why it’s important to have a budget for how much your family needs to spend on groceries per month. (I’m talking just groceries here, other “food” categories like a date night out or that spontaneous pizza run are in a different category-more on that below.)
However, I also like to think of our grocery budget as being flexible- if there’s a sale on a staple item we need, I may stock up in order to save money later. However, if I am constantly going $25 and over each month, I need to re-evaluate if our budget is still realistic and if I am actually doing my best to stick to our budget goal.
Why these tips work
These tips are simple and easy to implement. It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra planning to do them. You just embed them into your already established routines, making slight modifications for what works best for you. These aren’t intended to be earth-shattering or life-changing. Just small changes that help pad your wallet with the money you saved.
Your family and life is different from mine. But we have something in common-we want to save money on our groceries and hopefully not be eating only beans and rice everyday (if you are a Dave Ramsey fan, you’ll roll your eyes at that :). The underlying assumption in sharing these tips is that you will modify them to work for you and your family. You do you. So, without further ado…let’s GO!!
Here’s where to start:
1. Buy the bulk of your normal items at a discounted store (great example: ALDI)
I’m not a super detail-oriented person when it comes to the exact cost of individual grocery items, but when you shop at a place like Aldi and buy basic food staples there like fresh veggies, fruit, bread, milk, eggs, etc…you will save a lot of money. They can keep their costs lower because they have a minimal approach to staffing and stocking groceries. That keeps their prices low and helps you save. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a quarter with you! Read more on the Aldi shopping experience from my friend Anna at her blog. Other places in my own community that I have found good prices on certain (not every) food items are Walmart (particularly their generic brands) and Costco/Sam’s Club.
2. Go “vegan” (meatless) 1-2 days of the week for your meals.
Did you know that vegetables and “vegetarian staples” (like lentils, beans, quinoa, etc.) have just as much, if not way more, protein than your typical serving of meat? It’s true.
I know a lot of you are rolling your eyes because maybe you, or your spouse, or someone else around your table, is one of those who “needs” their meat in every meal (I smile as I think of my own dad being this way). But, the reality is, aside from the nutritional benefits of supplementing your diet with more grains and veggies, it is much cheaper. Typical “dinner” meats, like pork, beef, chicken, steak, etc. cost a lot. Consider talking with “that person” in your life, or yourself if it’s you, about cutting down a bit on how much meat you buy.
Start small. Maybe your first step is finding a delicious meat-free recipe your family actually likes and swapping that out with a meat-dinner one evening a week. Maybe you try going “meat-less” 3-4 days a week! Do what works for you and don’t overwhelm yourself. Here are a few of my family’s favorite meatless dishes.
Sidenote: tuna and eggs are two great sources of protein that are fairly inexpensive. Think about implementing these more in your meals to lower costs.
3. MEAL PLAN (and use the sales page from your grocery store to plan for even more savings)
Meal planning doesn’t need to be fancy. I have a Google Doc I use that is my online recipe hub with links to many of our go-to meals. I also have 2-3 cookbooks I occasionally reference for new ideas (or mostly skim through the pictures and see what looks good). Our daily meals are written on the bottom of my grocery list along with the page number of the cookbook for the recipe if needed. Easy peasy.
Fair warning: the weekly list for the week pictured was one very light on groceries because we already had a lot of the “staples” needed for the meals I plan (so not your typical week). Also, just in an effort to keep things on here in a real life context…two of the new recipes we tried this week were major failures. I’ll let you guess which ones. WHOOPS. And that’s why there’s grace and ramen noodles in the cupboards).
If you want to do more reading on meal planning-check out Anna’s post on more specifics of meal planning.
4. Eat your leftovers
I’m preaching to myself here, but if you want to avoid food waste, (more on that), eat your leftovers! It helps to think about the serving size of each meal you make, and then consider how many days later will you still be eating up those extras. Think about freezing half of what you make or downsizing the recipe if you are cooking for only a few and have doubts about your leftover eating capacity.
Also, think about how much you actually enjoy the meals you are preparing and if you even do. It’s easier to make yourself eat something once, but do you like it enough to eat it for the next 2-4 days? This is something I struggle with, especially during 1st trimester pregnancy when what sounds good ebbs and flows daily!
5. Meal Prep at the SAME TIME every week
(There is a higher likelihood you won’t forget about those colored peppers you bought if they are prepped and ready to be snacked on or added to a meal already)
The important part is to be consistent in when you plan to prep your food for the week. For me, with only one kiddo right now, I can realistically lay him down for his nap when I get back from grocery shopping and get most of my meal prepping done during naptime. For others, maybe a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday evening would work best for this. The goal is to find a time when you can consistently prep your meals for the week so that they are ready to go and you don’t end up grabbing fast food on your way home to avoid that dinner prep or because you just don’t have the time (or energy)!
Dr. Melanie Docktor is a chiropractor who specializes in maternal and children’s health and I really respect her training and experience in all things health. She has a great post on what meal prep looks like for her family (her hubby and her have three kiddos Kindergarten-age and younger) on Sundays. She gives a specific example of what she might prep on a Sunday and how that could feed them throughout the week. Real-life examples are the best!
6. Try to go grocery shopping only one day a week.
If there is one tip my family needs to work on the most…it’s this one :). When you really try to limit those “quick stops” to get more _____, you cut down on things you probably don’t even need or could get by without until your next weekly grocery run. OF COURSE there are exceptions…but did we really need to spend $10 on cereal “because it was only on sale today?” Probably not. If my fam goes over our grocery budget…this is almost always the culprit!
7. Have a separate “date night,” “eating out” or “fun money” budget to account for that spontaneous coffee/pizza/etc. run.
(It doesn’t need to be much-our date fund is usually $20-30 a month)You don’t want eating out to creep into your grocery budget…this is a quick way to explode your grocery budget (speaking from experience 😉
Let’s face it, eating out is fun, tasty, and a wonderful break from your own kitchen. But it’s also expensive. Or if it doesn’t seem expensive, it adds up quickly after a few times. That’s why it’s important to separate it from your grocery budget.
Be realistic about how much you spend on eating out. See if you can lower it a bit each month by cutting down on eating out, using coupons, etc.
One more thing
There are a lot of ideas here. Try one out. Start small and be consistent. Don’t compare but do what works best for your nutrition needs and your family’s. Being intentional with how you spend your money in regards to food will not only save you money but time too as you implement meal plan and prep. Good luck!
Please please share YOUR tips and tricks dear reader...how do you save money on your groceries? What meals does your family love that is on the more inexpensive/healthy end of things? Any vegan recipes? I can’t wait to read your thoughts! Thanks for being here.