Hey lovelies! For some reason, a ton of my posts recently have been about saving money, but that’s just because I’ve been thinking about it a lot! I’m spending spring semester abroad, so I am constantly thinking about how to save money for that trip! Today I want to share how I save money when buying groceries.
Since I moved out and have lived on my own, groceries have been a huge expense for me. My boyfriend and I both love to eat, and are notorious snackers. We also planned horribly at first, so we would end up running to walmart several times a week to pick something up. After a year or so, I have finally cut our grocery bills nearly in half, and I think I should share some of those tips!
Just FYI, this is NOT a “how to coupon” post. I don’t know how to coupon, but I am impressed by those who do. This is more of the small, easy steps I take to cut down on my groceries!
Related Post: Finding Financial Security in College
Preparation is Key
- Meal Plan. The best thing I have ever done to save on groceries is plan the meals for the coming week or two. I find recipes I want to cook, and put the ingredients I don’t already have on the list. This doesn’t have to be super tough, or rigid. I usually just choose 3-5 meals I want to eat in the coming days. Aaron and I are both busy, so we don’t always make it home for dinner, and that’s okay! I keep things loose, with just enough structure to know which ingredients I need. In the next section, I talk a little more about choosing which recipes to use.
- Make a list and STICK TO IT. Going off of the above point, it is so important to make a list. If I go shopping without a list, all hell breaks loose. We have a running joke that it is impossible for us to go to walmart without filling up a cart. Once I get inside, suddenly I need all of these extra groceries. Say no, and stick to the list. If you want to make a game out of it, reward yourself if you make it through without buying anything that wasn’t on the list.
- Check your fridge and cupboards first. I am embarrassed by how many times I have bought an item I already had, or neglected buying an item that I needed because I thought it was in my cupboard. Once, while trying to make blueberry zucchini bread, I had to run to the store to buy eggs (which I thought we already had). Then I continued baking only to realize we didn’t have enough vanilla extract (facepalm). I had to do a substitution, when I should have just checked everything in the first place. By checking your stores first, you will save money on things you already have, and prevent waste!
What Should I Cook?
- Don’t buy one time use ingredients. When you are choosing recipes to make that week, take a hard look at the ingredients. Are you buying several new ingredients just for this one dish? Will you be left with ingredients that will go to waste? Try to find recipes that have overlapping ingredients, especially with things like vegetables that will go bad. For example, I made a sausage and tortellini soup last night. I am planning to incorporate the leftover vegetables into a stir fry I am making tomorrow! As fun as it is to try all new, exotic recipes, try to stick to recipes that taste great and have a short ingredient list. This will make your groceries go a long way, and prevent you from throwing away your money!
- Think about making dishes that have a big payoff. With the soup I made, all the ingredients were $12, and it made 5 servings. With one hour of effort, I had dinner for that night, and lunch for the next 3 days! When I make things like tacos or burgers, I make up some extra meat right then, and incorporate it into other dishes. Leftover taco meat goes perfectly into a spicy taco soup, or a salad. A heated up burger patty is the perfect lunch when I’m in a hurry. If you are busy, it’s great when a few hours of effort can feed you for a whole week!
- Think about meat. Let’s face it, meat is a big expense. Take a look at what the store has on sale that week, and consider finding a way to make your meals utilize those meats. Another way to save is to go meatless! I love eating meat, but it never hurts to have a meal here and there without meat in it! Another way I save is buying a large unit of chicken breasts at once. When I get home, I split up each breast into separate bags and freeze them. This makes the meat last way longer, and buying in a larger pack is cheaper than buying a few at a time.
It’s Time to Go Shopping!
- Pick the right store. If you are serious about saving money on food, it’s time to rethink where you buy your groceries. Aldi is a LIFESAVER. Walmart is always portrayed as being cheap, but the food there is usually over 50% more expensive than it is at Aldi. Although Aldi doesn’t accept coupons, it is still the much cheaper option. Some other cheaper choices are ruler foods and save-a-lot. Although places like costco may appear to save money, bulk stores very rarely save you money on groceries in the long run. Price check your essential items, and determine which store is right for you.
- Shop the sale! If you get to the store and find a crazy deal on something you need, stock up! It won’t go on sale again for a while, so buy a few months supply. If you see food items on sale, think about replacing ingredients in your recipes with sale items! If you are serious about sales, you might even check the sales brochures before you make your meal plan, and try to incorporate the good deals!
- Never shop hungry. I am so guilty of this. When you shop hungry, suddenly you find your cart filling up with processed, pre-made junk. Eat a snack before you go, or try chewing mint gum. Don’t let your cravings spend your hard earned money!
Other Groceries Tips
- Let go of name brands. My boyfriend is still working on this. If you are shopping at Aldi or a similar store, name brands barely exist, so it’s time to get comfortable with the store brand. When you think about it, store brands have to meet the same quality standards and are often produced at the same locations as the name brands. You can get just as high-quality food at Aldi as anywhere else. If you shop store brands instead of the name brand, your savings will add up in no time!
- Check the price per unit. Don’t let seemingly lower prices fool you. If you really want to know which is the cheaper of two items, check the PPU (price per unit). This is usually in very small font in the bottom left corner of the price tag. Buying in bulk may seem cheaper, but sometimes you actually end up paying more per unit if you aren’t careful!
- Avoid non-food items. This is my personal weakness, especially at walmart. I wander into the cooking supplies aisle, or the seasonal decor, and suddenly I spent $30 on something I absolutely did not need. Even at Aldi, the non-food items pull me in (i.e. a metal storage cart, a mug rack, a chopper…) The main reason I take my boyfriend shopping with me is so he can pull me away from non-food aisles. If you need something non-food, add it to the list, and do not buy anything else. Non-essentials can really add a lot to your grocery bill.
- Don’t ignore coupons! Although I said this post wasn’t about coupons, it would be silly to ignore them altogether! I don’t actively seek out coupons, but I do use them when I can! Just remember, use coupons on food you already wanted to buy – don’t buy extra food because you have a coupon.
That’s all I have for now! Maybe after a few more years of buying my own groceries, I will have more to add, but I think I have expended all my wisdom for now! I would just like to apologize to my mom for how much food I made her buy when I lived at home. I had no idea how expensive all this was!
So, how do you save on groceries? I’ve heard good things about apps, but haven’t fallen in love with anything. I would love to hear your best money-saving advice in the comments below! I hope these tips will help you the next time you’re facing an empty fridge!