I don’t know if it’s just a sign that we have a growing pre-teen boy in our house, or if I have just gotten a little soft with sticking to a budget. But at the beginning of the new year as I went over our household budget, I couldn’t help but notice that our grocery spending had slowly gotten a little bit out of hand. We were spending almost double our planned grocery budget! So for the past month, I have made an effort to make sure we stick to (and preferably come under) our scheduled grocery budget. Then I realized that we might not be the only family feeling the pinch after the holidays and that have noticed a ballooning grocery budget, so I thought I’d share some of the tricks that helped us hit that goal.
Tip #1 – Use up what you have
I have this bad habit of stocking up on food, even though I don’t necessarily have a specific plan for it that week. It’s easy to justify doing this if you have a large freezer to store food in, and you’re taking advantage of good deals at the store. But it’s only a good idea if you actually end up using that food. So my first rule was that I couldn’t buy any more food (excluding the fresh stuff of course), until we had used up what was already in our freezer and pantry. If you have things sitting around that you bought but no one really liked, so you keep buying different foods – try to clear those out as well. If no one will eat it in your house, and it’s still good/unopened go ahead and donate it. Toss any opened packages or expired items. You can plan and shop so much smarter when you only buy the things you will actually eat.
Tip #2 – Meal plan
It’s a fact, if you fail to plan – you plan to fail. Going to the grocery store with no plan in place will for sure mean a bigger bill in the end. For me it makes sense to plan for the month, and then we can make swaps if need be as we go along. For you a weekly plan may make more sense. Because I wanted to make sure we used up what we already had, I first made a list of everything in our freezer and pantry, and then planned our meals for the upcoming month. I know this can seem intimidating, but once you have that list of available foods handy, it really isn’t too hard to fill the days up with meal ideas. Then I would just make a list of any additional things I would need each week, to complete the meals I had planned for that week.
Tip #3 – Make it last
I’ve been guilty of shopping for convenience. And although it might seem like buying a 3-pack of chicken breasts for $10 saves you time and money rather than buying a whole chicken and cooking it from scratch, the fact is that whole chicken will stretch way further. I happened to have a whole chicken in my freezer, and by roasting it on a Sunday afternoon we managed to not only have chicken for supper that day – but I was able to freeze the leftover chicken in portions to get us four more suppers (this will vary depending on the size of your chicken and family)! And then I made stock of the chicken carcass, which will allow me to make an additional one or two “soup-suppers”. Is it more time consuming? Yes. But I was pretty serious about sticking to my budget so I made the time. Be a stickler for using up any leftovers, either in other meals, or as lunches.
Tip #4 – Eat seasonally
My whole family are creatures of habit, and tend to buy the fruits and veggies we like all year round. But the fact is that food that is out of season in your region will be more expensive as it has to be imported. So I made a conscious effort to buy foods that are in season, and if you can find them locally grown – even better! Not only does your money support local families and growers, but it’s much kinder for our planet too. If you do want or need something out of season, opt for frozen as that will be more economical than fresh.
Tip #5 – Cheaper meals
Be inventive with your meals and include a few cheaper options throughout the month. Breakfast for dinner is totally acceptable on occasion! Homemade soup is also a great, cheap alternative and can serve as a great way to stretch some leftovers or use up some about-to-go-bad veggies. Check out some ideas for child friendly soups here! Have a sandwich night or get creative with grilled cheese sandwiches, using up some leftover ingredients from other meals.
In my first month of trimming I managed to cut our average grocery bill from the past few months in more than half! Granted, I was able to save a lot by using up my stash in the freezer, so next month won’t be quite as good. But by using these five tips, I’m confident that we will be able to come in on or slightly under our budget going forward! And that is a great feeling!