Six Ways to Start Saving on Groceries Today!

Heather says:
Long time commenter Angela asked:

This might be a silly question, but, do you stick to a budget also when doing these list? Besides the pantry staples, do you try to get everything else under a curtain amount?

The menu and coordinating grocery lists I post on Home Ec 101 are written for those who are just learning the ropes of menu planning and grocery shopping. While all of the recipes come from this site, it may not match what we are eating this week. The prices of groceries vary from region to region, but the menu items I have listed are generally frugal in nature and would be useful to someone trying to gain control over their spending habits.

My grocery budget is $130 a week. This is the average I spend per week over the course of a year. This includes the weeks my stepdaughter spends with us and the paper goods and coffee I provide for a group that meets here on Thursdays. How do I keep our budget under control without using coupons? Well, it does take a little bit of planning.

Grocery Budge

Not all of our groceries come from our local grocery store.

I buy our milk from the drugstore where it is it is $0.50 a gallon cheaper for name brand than the offbrand at the grocery store. I buy fruits and vegetables from produce stands or the flea market, unless they are on the bumped and bruised shelf. I don’t care if I have to cut off a soft spot or my bananas has freckles. With three hungry kids most items disappear quickly.

I buy spices in bulk from the ethnic aisles, the health food store, World Market, and Whole Foods. Sure, the spices don’t come in pretty jars, but I’ve collected enough over the years to have a container for all of my needs.

Bread come from Big Lots or other outlet stores. Whenever I pass Big Lots, I run in and see if the bread we prefer (that does not contain high fructose corn syrup) is on the shelf. If so, I buy all I can and store it in the freezer until we need it. Of course, we sometimes bake our own bread, too. I ask a friend with a Sam’s Club or Costco membership to pick up yeast.

Lastly,we frequently eat oatmeal for breakfast. I buy rolled oats in bulk from Whole Foods, unless I can find it marked down at Big Lots. Cold cereal is a  treat and is also only purchased from Big Lots.

Plan a menu around the sales flyer and what is in the freezer and pantry.

I flip through the circular each week and then pick recipes based on the advertisements. As an example, I only buy chicken when it has been significantly marked down. Yes, sometimes this means I come home with four whole chickens, but they are immediately placed into the deep freeze where I can thaw them at my leisure. I occasionally look like the crazy cat lady with a cart full of tuna, but that doesn’t matter. I know it will be there when we need it.

Grocery stores have a loss leader rotation.

With practice and patience, it’s not too difficult to learn when your staples will be on sale. With a little trial and error, a shopper can learn to buy just enough of the staple to last until the next sales cycle. Several times a year, take a hard look at the pantry to make sure items are not going to waste. Items that are never used are as wasteful as money thrown away.

Consume meat in healthful portions.

We are not vegetarians, while it works for many people, it is not the lifestyle for us. However, we occasionally abstain from meat as part of religious observations and of course, we respect any of our guests’ views on the matter. Sometimes I serve vegetarian or meatless meals to reduce the impact on our budget. If you have been a long time reader of Home-Ec101.com you may have noticed that I usually serve two vegetables with most meals. A second serving of vegetables is typically more cost effective than a larger portion of meat.

We are not snackers.

Friday nights we typically have popcorn with a movie and occasionally we have crackers with soup or sandwiches. However, if you glanced in my pantry this week, you may look at me with raised eyebrows. In my defense, we have had company for much of the past month.

Each week does not equal $130.

Some weeks are significantly less. The leftover money from these weeks is placed into a fund  for buying beef. Typically half a cow lasts us 18 months. As the children grow and increase their already healthy appetites we may have to increase the budget slightly.

I understand many readers may balk at the idea that we do not use coupons, the fact of the matter is very few items we use have coupons available. We are conservative with the amounts of health and beauty aids we use in our household, both from an environmental and a frugal standpoint. Coupons may work for other families.

Tell me, Home Eccers, how do you keep your grocery budget under control?



31 Comments

  1. Vicky on July 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    I keep reading over and over again to buy from Farmer’s Markets to save—don’t know where y’all are from, but where I live in GA, none of the FM’s are cheaper, in fact, they’re usually higher but I sometimes buy there anyway to get organic or little known varieties.

  2. Vicky on July 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    As a reformed coupon-aholic, I have to agree with your approach. I used to use tons of them, but now I am way more concerned about healthy foods. I mostly eat meat and vegetables now due to gut issues. So, if you are eating whole foods instead of convenience foods, you will not be using many coupons.

  3. Ophelia Lucine on August 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    The 99 cent store has better fruits and veggies than I’ve had from most general grocery stores. It’s also great for staples like flour, sugar, and other dried goods where name brand doesn’t matter. Perishables like milk and eggs are good there, too, but don’t try the cheese. Cheddar “flavored” cheese and “Imitation” mozzarella are better left on the shelf. 

  4. YaelSchlotman on July 25, 2012 at 2:54 am

     @jessi.mckay I should have also mentioned the dehydrated veggies would be used then for soups and casseroles.

  5. YaelSchlotman on July 25, 2012 at 2:49 am

     @jessi.mckay   Dried beans and rice, and anything else that isn’t perishable, can be stored in creative ways such as an under-the-bed storage box.  Also, if you don’t have room to freeze things, you may want to learn how to dehydrate vegetables and fruits and store those in other creative ways.  You don’t need a dehydrator, there are ways to dehydrate in your oven on a low heat setting.  You could then store those ingredients in zipped bags, in boxes and keep them in a closet or…wherever.   
     
    Also, remember that you won’t be getting into your freezer every single minute, so could you make space for one by replacing an end table or some other piece of furniture?  If you get one that has a door, vs. a chest freezer, you could cover it with a piece of fabric and make it part of the decor.  
     
    I know how it is to live in a dinky apartment.  Seems impossible to buy in bulk when things are on sale or to have a freezer, but if you get a little creative and do some switcheroo with the furniture, you might be able to make it work, after all.  

  6. jessi.mckay on August 12, 2011 at 3:53 am

    we live in an apartment building and don’t have the space (or money to purchase) a deep freeze. Our fridge is apartment sized, which is a eupheism for “tiny” so we can’t fit a lot of anything in the freezer. Any suggestions?

    • Sile on March 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      We live in an apartment with a tiny fridge/freezer as well. We actually did go out and buy the smallest deep freeze we could find (a 3 cubic foot model), and let me tell you, it has been a lifesaver! We keep it just off the kitchen in what they lovingly call the “dining area”. If you have a corner that’s being taken up with a potted plant or a knick knack shelf… you totally have room for this thing!

      • jessi.mckay on March 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

        No, really, I have no room for it. The closest thing to a “knick-knack shelf” is our microwave stand, which as you may have guessed, has a microwave on it. The only other thing i could think of would be to leave it on our patio, but as we live on the ground floor in a not-so-nice area, I’d be wary of leaving anything of value out there, and terrified of raccoons getting in it…

        • Jennifer on June 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm

           @jessi.mckay Could you possibly buy a small chest freezer that locks?  I know they make them, but I don’t know how affordable they are.  We are living in a mobile home right now with a small chest freezer in what should be our dining room.  And we love it, so are considering how to take it with us if we end up in an apartment next (and we try to only do ground floor when we are apartment-living)

  7. LGreen on June 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Our three main money saving tips for groceries are: 1 – buy all produce at the local farmer's market or produce stand (buy extra in spring/summer to freeze for winter meals)– 2, buy all meat at the local butcher — 3, plan the rest of the menu around the grocery store wtih the best weekly sales

  8. loyda on April 16, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Great reading everyones thoughts on how you all save ! One thing that wasn't mentioned was those of us who live in a small community. My choices here are… Safeway (most expensive), Walmart (least well used to be) and Fiesta Foods (both) we do have a Big Lots but have not bought food from there yet. My budget is anywhere between 350-400 for 3 adults, one dog and 3 cats…. I coupon only when its food/products I usually purchase.
    Also, SO looking forward to Summer to take advantage of my vegetable garden. I haven't come across to much on here about how much you can save having your own garden! I hardly buy anything from the store in the summer time. Plus I am able to freeze and can from the garden that will stretch all the way into January. This year I am going to be planting more as my goal is to be eating our gardening food thru next spring!

    • Lizzy on August 1, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      I grew up in the country with a kitchen garden, We ate off the land year round, mostly, and the food was marvelous! I would call it a privelaged upbringing. As an adult city dweller I’m learning to regrow green onions and lettuces on the windowsill. Stick the chopped off ends in a container of water, and – a miracle! They grow back!. Will probably need some plant food, but when one needs a single rib of celery it would be marvelous. As a single person, managing food waste is the single biggest hassle. Aside from defaulting to take out. Working on this.

  9. monkeyme on December 9, 2010 at 1:23 am

    I want to say the deep freezer is saving the most money. We just bought one a few months ago and have noticed it saving money every week. Less food is going to waste and we are able to stock up on our favorites.
    I was recently was able to take our budget down to $110 from $150 by buying some meats in bulk. I am still up there, I am only buying for 3 adults and 2 kids. I was awful for years, I bought what we wanted and had a huge budget with it. I knew how to budget, I just didn't want to, lol.

  10. Bobby on November 19, 2010 at 4:38 am

    I just got the biggest kick from this article. Only because, I seem to have these things ingrained in my DNA, from years of grocery shopping with my mom. I never took Home-Ec but everything you wrote could have come out of my mouth, while explaining to people how to grocery shop. Kudos! This is a great site, I am very happy to have stumbled upon it.

  11. Brent Patton on July 28, 2009 at 10:47 am

    My budget is $140 a week for 10 people Nice article

  12. […] are not yet in a bind, but seeking to get your food costs under control, you may find this post on reducing the grocery budget […]

  13. Hannaford on June 27, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    These are the things that need to be taught in school these days. Most people have no idea about budgeting for food yet it’s a weekly expense that can be budgeted very effectively!

  14. wendy on April 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I am glad to hear that some of you do not use coupons because the things you buy do not have them, but did you know that most of your generic items are just the name brand item with either the store name on it. or the same company has a different label to sell the same item at a cheaper rate but still make a sale. Lets say you do not like so and so company for some reason so you buy a product with out their name on it, but that product is put out by the same company under a sister name or TJ wants their name on it. Same product, cheaper price, no coupon and company still making sale. Different stores are owned by the same company but geared to different income levels. Also if you are traveling you might what to look at the local stores to see what products they have on sale to bring home with you. Different states have different products in their stores due to demand and also local availability.

  15. Festival of Frugality - I May Be In Incredible Pain But At Least I’m Living Frugal Edition | My Life ROI, Getting the Best Return On Life on April 21, 2009 at 7:02 am

    […] presents Tightwad Tuesday: Talking Grocery Budgets posted at Home Ec 101. How Heather budgets for grocery shopping. You may be surprised to find out […]

  16. […] Tightwad Tuesday: Talking Grocery Budget Pickles, sauerkraut and fermenting. Oh my! […]

  17. Milehimama on April 15, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    My budget is $140 a week for 10 people (but I’m coming in at $115 a week average). I’ve been posting receipts, menus, and tips on my website under “Food Stamp Challenge” – fed up with the MSM media crying about elected officials trying to live on their food stamp allotment for a week when my normal grocery bill was less!

    I also shop at many stores – I’m fortunate that I have 4 groceries within a quarter mile of my house (and all in a row on the same street); if I travel a mile or so further down the road, I’ll hit another Mexican market, 99 cent store (bread! Veggies!), Big Lots, and my favorite grocery store.

    I use coupons occasionally, but not usually. I returned my Sam’s membership for a refund because the prices are a lot higher than what I get shopping the loss leaders!
    My food stamp challenge:
    http://milehimama.blogspot.com/search/label/Food%20Stamp%20Challenge

    My #1 tip – plan.
    #2 tip – don’t be a brand slave. Generic white rice tastes exactly the same as Uncle Ben’s! I promise!
    #3 tip – start small – make one or two changes each trip or week and soon you’ll be amazed at how much you’re saving! But if you try to slash your grocery bill in half overnight, you’ll be frustrated and overwhelmed.

    I should note – my family of 10 consists of a construction worker, myself following a diabetic diet, 5 elementary school age children including one on a special Feingold diet, 2 toddlers, and a baby still cookin’ until June.

  18. Carol on April 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    I love Trader Joe’s but it doesn’t help my budget much, since we like to try new wines when we go there! LOL

    That being said, I am a coupon/sale shopper. Rarely do I buy an item that isn’t on sale, or I at least have a coupon for. I try to keep a stocked freezer and pantry and that helps a lot. I use my food saver for the meat I stock up on. I spend more money if I go to many stores, then one store. So I basically shop at one great grocery store, and then Sam’s club or Costco for some other stuff.

  19. Stacy on April 15, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    We spend about $100-$120 per week for a family of three–one being a toddler. I feel sure we could reduce, and I have tried to become wiser in my choices and spending. We rarely eat out, we make lunches for work every day, and I try to include at least one or more vegetables or fruits with each meal. The difficult issue for me is that I really believe in eating organic as much as possible, so that costs more. However, I’ve also researched a bit to figure out which items can be safely eaten non-organic, and which should usually be organic. Still, it can be pricey, especially when it comes to meat. However, I have become a big believer in shopping at Trader Joe’s. People seem to have the idea that they are generally more expensive, but I’ve not found that to be true. Most of their products are comparable or less expensive than grocery store prices. We live in southern California, and find that you can sometimes get cheaper food at places like Stater Bros., Big Lots, and Dollar Tree. Also, I agree with buying at farmer’s markets or roadside stands (I sometimes do the latter). Even our local gas stations sometimes sell a bit of produce by the bag for low prices–mainly oranges and avocados.

    I really agree with the fact that unused foods are very wasteful, and I’ve been working on using everything. Often our cupboards look a bit thin because I’m trying to do that. Recently I went on a spree of only cooking things that cause us to use up things we’ve had a long time. It made for some “interesting” (read: not that good) food, but it was only for a few weeks, and I did manage to clean out the stuff that was just sitting there.

    • Lizzy on August 1, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Heh heh! That’s what salsa is for! fixing the not-so-great cooking…

  20. Annie Jones on April 15, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I budget and plan meals much the same way you do. For a family of three, our budget is $60 a week. That’s just for food…no pet food, no health & beauty items or paper products, no meals out, no cleaning supplies…just food.

    I also don’t use coupons. At least not in a big way. If I see a coupon for something I know we will use, I will clip it and take it with me. Whether or not I use it depends on the price of the item and the prices of other items that will work just as well. I buy whatever is cheapest. I also don’t search for coupons, but if they come to me (via mail or the sales papers) then I’ll look through them.

    My primary source of groceries is Aldi, followed by sales at the “regular” grocery stores. I also shop at Big Lots, other salvage/liquidation stores, farmers markets and swap meets. Wherever food is inexpensive, I’m likely to buy it.

  21. Candis on April 15, 2009 at 8:36 am

    I am so glad to read your comments about using coupons. Couponing is such a big deal to most frugallites, but I don’t do it much either. We just don’t buy many things for which coupons are offered.

    Thanks for your articles. I really enjoy reading them.

  22. Keter on April 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    My budget is about $150 a week, and that includes food for three people, three 60-lb. dogs, a cat and two birds. Because I live outside of a city, I have to choose between spending on gas (and spending an hour driving) or saving on groceries, so buying locally usually wins. The nearby Big Lots don’t stock much food, and I have sensitivities to wheat, MSG, and a number of other food adulterations, so I have to make food from scratch as much as possible. We don’t snack much, either, and when we do, it’s usually inexpensive store-brand frito corn chips from Target (read the label – real food!) or home-popped popcorn (a 99 cent bag makes a dozen batches).

    I also buy meat on sale and freeze it, but I rarely use coupons because they typically are not offered on the products I buy. Instead, I buy a LOT of house brands and generics. I also extend my meals by serving things over rice or rice noodles, and with multiple veggie sides or salads. It takes very little time to slice up a few tomatoes and sprinkle the slices with salt, pepper, grated cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar…and when my tomatoes bear, it will be almost free.

    The last couple of years, I’ve made fig preserves from the fruit on my fig tree, and I’m looking around for blackberry or raspberry vines to plant (no luck finding any so far…out of fashion, I guess?). When I had a peach tree at a previous residence, I also put up huge quantities of pickled peaches and preserves; I may put in a peach tree here if I can find a good place for it on my small lot.

  23. Meredith on April 14, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    I love that you budget for 2 vegetables with meals; that’s a failing I see on many frugal meal plans.

    Like you, I’m also a Big Lots food shopper. Lots of unique products there for less!

  24. ~M on April 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    My husband and I budget for food in our monthly budget and make weekly meal plans based on what’s seasonal and on sale.

    We also have a spreadsheet of most of the items we use so we know to buy black beans, organic eggs, and orange juice at Costco, garbanzos at Trader Joes, what to buy at Whole Foods, what to buy in bulk from Amazon Grocery. We can walk to WF and TJ’s from our apartment, saving fuel. We also buy cases of our favorite non-perishable items (when they go on sale) to save 10%. This spreadsheet includes the per unit price of items so it’s easy to compare.

    We buy very few packaged items (and almost always wait for it to go on sale), but eat real food (that’s kosher and gluten-free) for snacks: yogurt, leftovers, fruit and nut butter, crudites, dried fruit and nuts, dairy-free smoothies, etc. I make a lot of my own food: chicken soup, grain-free granola (nut-based), applesauce, etc.

    I freeze leftovers in glass mason jars; soups and chilis make great lunches and cook themselves in the crockpot (which uses next to no energy). We also have meatless meals regularly for both cost, environmental, and health reasons. Breakfast for dinner is also a hit. When we do make something meat based, I try to have lots of sides to stretch it out (kosher organic meat is pricey and almost never goes on sale) and then use the leftover bones to make stock.

    I keep an updated list of what are the most and least contaminated produce so I buy the organic ones when the conventional ones would be dirty but not for the clean ones.

    We also use the Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or Kirkland (Costco) brand items a lot and find them to be very good quality.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that organic does not equal healthy, especially for packaged items; crackers are still crackers, fruit snacks are still fruit snacks.

    We try to remember to bring our own bags which not only saves the grocery store money, but also saves me 10 cents/bag at Whole Foods and helps the environment!

  25. Becca on April 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Just like with any other habit changing plan….it is all about sel-control and “end result” focus. Don’t think about the food you WANT (but don’t NEED), think about the healthier bank balance at the end of the shopping trip.

    This site is a great one for strategizing budget effectiveness, Jag. Good luck to you, you can do it!!

  26. jag on April 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    OMG, I don’t know how you do it. With my husband just laid off and a baby on the way, I have GOT to learn to budget our groceries. I’ve forgiven myself during the pregnancy, because there’s only so much I want to eat, so I’ll buy strawberries off season if I want them and avoid laying awake at night dreaming about them.

    I need to check the archives and read up on your previous budgeting posts. The thought of having to shop around for different items sends me into a panic attack. It will help that there’s a new Aldi by our house, and a Dollar General right next to it (all across the street from our local Kroger). I usually just buy what I want when I want it instead of planning ahead, but that’s going to have to stop. I want the kid to eat better than I have in the past, and I need to figure out a way to do that frugally. Expect to see my IP address pop up on your visitors logs plenty in the coming months. 🙂

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