We all have to eat and we all have to spend money at the grocery store. A few years back, I was on a mission to see how many ways I could save money week after week. When I realized I would have the most impact on our family budget by focusing on what expenses I could control, I quickly turned to the grocery budget.
Today I'm sharing 11 quick ways I've learned to stretch the grocery budget with you. These have made lasting impacts on our family's budget and I love sharing what I've learned.
1. Meal Plan Each Week
Meal planning each week is critical, not only as a sanity saver, but as a helpful way to control costs. I've been meal planning so long now that the kids ask me what's on the menu for the week and they ask if they can help be a part of the planning process.
Meal planning has saved us anxiety close to dinner time and has saved us hundreds on groceries each year. I often meal plan around our weeknight activities so that the easy, quick meals are planned out for the busy nights and the more challenging ones are saved for quieter nights.
2. Use the Target App
Use Target App in store when shopping and save the 5%. If you have a Target near you, it's so worth it. I personally do most of my grocery shopping at Aldi because their prices cannot be beat but there are some things that you cannot find there.....that's where Target comes in handy.
My Target Red Card is hooked up to the app, which is also hooked directly to my checking account. As I shop, I scan each item's UPC code to see if there's an available discount on it. When I go to the checkout line, I present my Target "wallet" on the app to the cashier who then scans my personal barcode.
The app automatically includes the savings discount when I purchase the items, plus it takes off 5% of my total purchase because I used the Red Card within the app.
3. Manage Groceries on a Cash Basis
Give the family a monthly cash budget for groceries based on feeding each person in the house an average of $100-$125 per month. By using cash, you're more aware of the purchases. If you have money left over at the end of the month, give yourself a pat on the back, then put it back into savings.
This will seem strange at first and you may have sweaty palms the first few times you get to the checkout counter. But trust me, when you are aware of every cent you're spending, and you meal plan ahead of time, you won't run out of cash. It might take a little adjusting as to how much on average you're spending week to week, and that's ok.
4. Leftover Buffet
Plan a meal of just leftovers the night before garbage pickup day. Waste not, want not! This is a favorite in my house because (a) we don't cook ,(b) the amount of food that's wasted and thrown away is minimized drastically and (c) our fridge gets cleaned out on a weekly basis.
5. Loss-Leader Veggies
Loss-leader vegetables are those veggies that you see in the biggest containers near the front entrance of the store. They're usually the ones that are advertised as being "on sale" because they are. The store is not making a profit by selling them, but it gets you, the consumer, in the store.
A great trick to taking advantage of these loss-leader veggies is to bring them home and then blanch and freeze them. Blanching is a quick process that looks like this:
- Bring a pot of water to a boil
- Fill another large bowl with ice water and ice cubes about half to 2/3 full
- Put some freezer bags open on the counter, ready to accept the vegetables
- Cut up your vegetables
- Drop the veggies into the boiling water until they turn bright
- Use a spider or slotted spoon to quickly transfer the veggies into the ice bath to shock them and stop the cooking process
- Remove them from the ice bath after a minute or so and place them into the freezer bags
- When all the veggies are blanched, remove the air from the bag, zip them tightly and put them into the freezer
You have fresh vegetables at a rock bottom price which are cooked and frozen for future use. You'll be surprised by how much you can save on frozen veggies over time by doing this.
6. Kitchen Herb Garden
Grow herbs in your kitchen window and avoid having to buy the expensive ones from the store ever again. Easy ones to start with are basil, rosemary and parsley. Seed packets are super dirt cheap at places like Lowes and Home Depot, even Walmart.
7. Make Herb Cubes
Have herbs that are almost past their prime? You can chop them up finely, toss them into an ice cube tray or a mini-muffin tin, pour olive or vegetable oil over them (fill each slot maybe half to 2/3 up), place that in the freezer and you have herb seasoned oil cubes to use next time you're cooking dinner. Once the cubes are fully frozen, take them out of the tray and into a freezer bag so they don't end up freezer burned. This is a great trick for basil, rosemary and thyme!
8. Homemade Taco Seasoning
Make taco seasoning in bulk at home, avoid the extra salt and cut costs. I make this recipe only few times a year (I basically quadruple it). I do add about 1 Tbsp cornstarch to the recipe so that when I add water to the meat, it makes more of a glistening taco sauce.
We make tacos, burritos and fajitas at least once a week. Multiply that by at least $1-$3 in seasoning packets per week, I'm saving easily between $52-$156 a year, and that's before taking into account the MSG and other strange ingredients we're avoiding.
9. Homemade Chicken Stock
If you're a scratch cook like me, you probably go through a lot of chicken stock. Use leftover chicken carcass bones and roughly cut veggies in a slow cooker filled with water to the brim overnight to make homemade chicken stock. You won't ever buy stock at the store again!
My kids are used to me asking them to slide their chicken bones off their plate when they're done eating and scraping them into the slow cooker for stock. I then chop 2 non-peeled carrots, 2 stalks of celery and 1 whole onion. I'll toss in a few sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme (always good for chicken) along with 1-2 cloves of garlic, smashed.
Fill the slow cooker with water up to the top, put the top on and set it to low. Let it do its thing overnight and you'll awake the next morning to a gorgeous aroma. Use a ladle through a sieve and fill about 6 takeout soup containers almost to the top with the stock. Place them in the freezer and you'll have stock for a couple of month's worth of dinners.
10. Best Tasting Fried Rice
Give your rice a second life with easy homemade fried rice. All you need are some veggies, you can add some leftover pre-cooked meat cut up in cubes (think leftover pork roast), one egg and cold, cooked rice.
Heat up some canola or vegetable oil in a non-stick pan, dump in the veggies and meat, then add the cold rice with a splash of soy sauce. In a separate pan, scramble the egg, dump that into the rice mix and you have a piping hot, delicious side to any quick lunch or dinner. (Or do what I do and just eat the fried rice as your main course!)
11. Tried & True DIY Cleaners
For clean up in your kitchen, try switching your store-bought countertop cleaners for these homemade recipes. I use this recipe for my granite cleaner daily, I love this recipe for cleaning glass and I generally mix 1 Tbsp with some lavender essential oil in a spray bottle filled with warm water as a general surface cleaner. With 5 kids in the house, you can image the sticky/dirty/icky messes we encounter. My surface cleaner gets the yuck off any surface without a problem every.single.time!
Trust me, these cleaner recipes work just as well as the expensive ones you can find in the store, only they cost me pennies instead of many dollars!
I've been using these tips and tricks to save money for over 5 years. I'm not just saying it when I talk about saving money. Remaining debt free is still very important to me and these small tips have helped shift money I'd otherwise be spending at various stores into our long-term savings goal buckets.
What other money saving tips & tricks do you have to help keep your grocery budget in check?