Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to Save Money on Groceries, part 1

Almost every time I redo our budget and realize that we need to save more money, it's the grocery budget that gets cut a little.  Currently I am feeding our little family of three on $100 per paycheck.  (That is approximately $200 per month.  Or $50 per week.)  But how do we do that?  I'd like to start a little series that will help you cut back on your grocery budget as well.

Tip #1: Make a Menu

I know this can be difficult for some people.  Many people like to cook whatever sounds good that night or don't like the idea of having to think up 7 meals at one time.  But I promise you, the simple act of writing out a weekly menu before you go grocery shopping will significantly cut your grocery budget.  Why?

Less wasted food
I can't tell you how many times I used to go to the grocery store and just buy whatever looked good at the time.  And then later in the week I'd be looking in my vegetable drawer and say, "Ewww. Why did I buy so many peppers and tomatoes?  Now they're all moldy and gross."  And then, without another thought, I'd throw them in the trash.  Now, I can't say that I don't still wind up throwing out bad produce here and there (I'm not perfect) but it is certainly less.  I only buy the produce I plan on using.  (Usually waste comes when I have to buy a whole bunch of green onions and end up only using half for my recipe.  But I'll talk about that more below.)

Controlled spending
When you don't have a plan, it's easy to just grab whatever looks good off of the shelves at the grocery store.  When you walk into the grocery store with a list, it is much easier to just walk to the aisles that you need, grab the stuff off your list, then check out.

Save time
Not only will you save time at the grocery store when you can walk to each aisle with purpose instead of wandering aimlessly down every aisle, but you will also save time every night when it comes time to make dinner.  No more staring blankly into your fridge, hoping something will look good enough to eat.  No more asking, "Well, what do you wanna eat?"  Instead you can simply look up at your menu and start cooking.  In fact, for nights you know are going to be busy, you can plan for slow cooked meals.  Those require planning ahead.  You can't open the fridge at six o'clock and start a crockpot meal.  However, if you know that your husband is only going to be home from work for an hour before running off again, or if your kids are bouncing between soccer and flute lessons, crock pots can be your best friend.  Just stick a handful of ingredients into the crockpot in the morning, then come home that evening to dinner all ready to eat.  Mmmm.

Buy what's on sale
I wouldn't suggest doing this right away, but once you get comfortable making a weekly menu, you can start skimming through grocery ads and planning your menu based on what is on sale.  And trust me, once you get in the mindset of saving on groceries and have some practice under your belt, you will know what is actually a sale and what is the store just advertising their normal price, to make you think you're getting a good deal.

Utilize everything you buy
As I mentioned above, I'm not very good at this yet.  So perhaps we should mark this is as a more advanced step.  When you plan your menu, you can plan for all of your ingredients.  If you're making a recipe that calls for 3 green onions, but you know you have to buy an entire bunch, plan another meal that uses green onions.  If you buy a head of lettuce for a salad one night, keep making salads for other nights to use the entire head.  Every bit of produce you throw out because you never used it is money you are just throwing in the trash.

Save time part 2
If chicken is on sale, plan on multiple chicken dishes.  Cook all of the chicken at the beginning of the week.  Then when you need chicken later that week, it's all prepared and ready for you, saving you time in prep.  Also, if you buy your chicken fresh and cook it immediately, you've just saved defrosting time for future meals.  (Just make sure you use it soon enough that it doesn't go bad.  Freeze the cook meat if you need to.)

When you first start cutting on your grocery budget, start small.  Plan a menu for a few weeks before you start worrying about skimming the grocery ads or planning for every last ounce of food you will buy.  If you start all gung ho from the start, chances are great that you will burn out quickly.  Baby steps.  Get used to one part before you move on to the next.  But watch excitedly as your grocery spending slowly starts to decrease.  Get excited over every dollar.  Let that small success spur you on to do a little bit more.


  1. When peppers are on sale, I buy a few, use what I can that week, and then chop up and freeze that weekend what I have left. Same with zucchini. Sometimes broccoli. Maybe you can try drying in a drying thing your green onions.

  2. Talking about having green onions left over... I always seem to have parsley left over. Or I did before I started drying it. You can hang it up to dry (more detailed directions at my site) and put it in sealed container to use next time!

    I also freeze things that used to get thrown out - extra bananas or grapes that don't get eaten (the grapes are good frozen as a sweet treat; the bananas are good in smoothies and milkshakes); also peppers can be chopped and frozen to use in any recipe where they will be cooked. For stale bread you can put it in the blender with some herbs and make great breadcrumbs that can be stored in the freezer and then used to coat chicken or fish before baking or frying. Or you can spread the bread with butter or oil mixed with herbs, cut it into cubes and bake it until it is crunchy and you will have croutons!