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5 Simple Ways to Save Money on Food

Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can’t control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

Once upon a time, 1994 to be exact, I spent more to feed me and my husband than I did to feed four kids ten years later. In those newlywed days we spent $500 a month eating like kings — and wasting a lot of food.

Today, we’ve learned a few things and are much better stewards of our resources, spending between $800 and $1000 each month to feed our family of 8. The most recent food cost data from the USDA says we should be spending between $1211 (thrifty) and $2422 (liberal) for a family of our size and composition. Clearly I was spending in the liberal category back in 1994!

Grocery costs continually rise. With the increased costs of energy (for transportation as well as food storage), it’s a natural economic progression. Yet, there are things we can all do to save money on food.

Here are five simple ways you can trim your bill, no coupons required:

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

1. Eat what you have.

Now, some may say this isn’t really a savings if you’ve already paid for it. But, so much of our food goes to waste because we buy more than we need. Using up what you got is a great way to reduce waste and save money.

Consider a week or two doing a Pantry Challenge. You can easily save some coin by focusing on the food you already have.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

2. Only buy things that are on sale.

Back when I was a newlywed, I bought chicken when I wanted chicken. That meant I might pay $5 or $6/pound for boneless, skinless chicken breast. Today I never do that. I buy ingredients when they are sale, stocking a few extra in the freezer to use later.

I make chicken when I want it, but I’ve bought it only when the price is right.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

3. Bake it yourself.

Home baking is not rocket science; it just takes a little time and attention. You can make a loaf of bread or a batch of rolls for very little money. These simple Italian rolls only cost ten cents a piece to make, but you’d easily pay five times that at the store. And they wouldn’t be five times as tasty.

You can bake a couple times a week and save a good chunk of change.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

4. Eat at home.

I love take-out and restaurant food just like the next girl, but I also know that we can save LOADS of money when we eat at home instead. Avoiding take-out has the potential to turn your food budget around.

Make a plan to eat more meals at home.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

5. Eat less.

No, I’m not recommending a starvation diet, but I would hazard a guess that most of us eat more than we truly need to. I know I do. Portion control is a great way to eat more healthfully as well as to save money. Every night does not need to be a feast. As a spoiled American, I tend to gravitate more toward feasting than I do moderation.

Enough is as good as a feast, especially when it helps you live within your means.

5 Simple Ways to Save on Food - Groceries are one of the biggest spending categories where you can save. You can't control prices, but how you shop and feed your family can save you money.

This is Frugal Friday. In an effort to make these weekly financial discussions more interactive, I’m no longer posting a link-up. Feel free to leave a link in the comments. But better yet, chat with us on today’s topic.

How do YOU save money on food?

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Comments

  1. I am new to buying organic’s, we finally have some money in our food budget to allow for it. I noticed that Costco is having a BIG organic push this month with all sorts of discounts. Does anyone have a good resource to know what sort of prices are good for various organics? Including fruit and baking supplies?

    • It’s really a “feel your way” kind of thing. Prices can vary so much from season to locale, that you really need to keep a personal price list. I buy a fair number of organics when the budget allows it and post those shops at Good Cheap Eats every Saturday. You can scroll through the grocery geek posts to get an idea of what we pay in San Diego.

  2. Groceries is *easily* the area where I am most likely to overspend. I’ve found that planning a month’s worth of meals at a time helps save money in the long run (especially when I coordinate it with a Costco trip) as does incorporating more vegetarian meals. In addition, of course, to what you’ve suggested. Also, relying on certain cheaper foods as staples, such as oats (for baked or regular oatmeal) and eggs (what my husband and I eat almost every day for breakfast).

  3. I get hung up on how much to buy when an item is on sale. How do you both satisfy the need to stay in budget but also stock up while it’s cheap?

    • I find that it is best to buy “enough” to get you through until the next sell. Usually 6 weeks worth. The only exception is if the product is perishable and cannot be frozen.

    • It depends on how tight the budget is. If it’s super tight, I buy what we need until there’s more money to spend. If there’s anything left over, that’s what I use to build a stockpile. We’re tempted to buy chocolate or some other indulgence with the left over, but if there’s a screaming deal on something, that’s what to invest the extra in.

  4. Thanks for the post! I had to go out and see where my family falls on the USDA’s plans…. way below Thrifty. So it inspired a blog post about one major way we save money on food by using freeze dried foods.
    …. http://imthriving.blogspot.com/2014/02/beyond-thrifty-with-thrive-life.html

  5. Since getting married, we have done a lot of good things and a lot of foolish things with our grocery/food habits (my favorite money-waster is indeed dining out!). When we are doing well, we do the things you mention above–and what a difference! One thing I’ve always done pretty well with is being choosy with what I splurge on. For example, we just don’t buy expensive cheeses (no fresh parmesan, no dubliner, etc.). Our menu may be less exotic than some, but when we HAD to be frugal, those kinds of choices made a difference, and we weren’t starving or lacking in flavor and enjoyment. There’s my 2 cents!

    • We went without the cheeses during out debt-fighting years. Now we let them back in. But, there are other things that I just omit from recipes if they’re too pricey, like olives or canned chiles.

  6. The two most important things go together – cook at home, and menu plan. Planning your menu for at least a week at a time, and shopping for a week at a time really makes a difference. Don’t go to the store between your weekly shopping trips – get into the mindset of using what you have on hand. If you are out, do without and/or use something else instead. It also helps to use up leftovers (I usually use them for lunches or freeze in serving size portions.)

  7. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    Wow, I thought $600/month was high for my family. But I have never been able to consistently stay below that! Not that I’m pumping my budget to match but I’m glad we are normal! Especially since one child is allergic to milk. She likes to have so delicious yogurt for her breakfast and that alone is typically $14/week. It’s really the only substitution we buy aside from rice milk every couple of weeks.

    • Yep. I think that the folks who brag on their $40/week grocery spending are working a lot to make that happen. We figured that my couponing cost our family 4 to 8 hours a week of my time. If you have lots of time, it’s totally worth it. The $40 is unrealistic for most people.

  8. You are so right about not needing a feast at every meal. The past week I did not feel very good so the meals were very simple. Hotdogs, hamburgers, mac & cheese, spaghetti, and homemade pizza for the entrees. Each meal included a simple tossed salad and a side of fresh fruit. Not a single complaint was heard. Also, to save time washing dishes, I plated everything from the stove — no serving dishes. This also means I get to determine portion sizes. Easy, quick and inexpensive.

  9. I have found one of the biggest savings in shopping less frequently. I dislike shopping, so started out just trying to avoid it, but wound up really racking up savings by shopping a month at a time. I started just buying three of something we needed instead of one. I got in a habit of keeping tortillas in the house (keep longer and get used after the loaf of bread is gone), Picking up milk at the gas station, and making friends with a book called Make Your Own Groceries and google. The way I see it, I have less room to impulse purchase. I have also learned food storage principles and actively work on creating good of food with real food ingredients. The amount of recipes that are actually just as quick homemade as out of a can are amazing!

  10. Vanessa B says:

    I am shocked to see that we fall below the “thrifty” line because we eat VERY well. I feel like I’m doing great on 1-4, we’ve become less wasteful over the years, buying what’s on sale must be in my DNA, I have become a fairly good baker in the past 2 years and I can’t remember the last time we sat down in a restaurant. But #5 may be where I can make some changes, my husband says we don’t need 4 sides at every meal. And sadly my weight is proof of the necessary change. Thank you for the post.

  11. It is cheaper per person to cook for more people, so as a family of 2 I cook 3 meals a week for 4, divide and share with my parents, my mom does the same. I don’t know that it saves us a ton of cash but it also helps keep extra ingredients from spoiling as often.

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