9 Effortless Ways to Stick to a Tiny Grocery Budget
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Spending money on food is one of our largest necessary expenses in life, and prices continue to rise1. Yet I’ve been able to keep my grocery budget to $400 or less for my family of four for over six consecutive years. Here’s how I do it.
Make a Budget
Sounds obvious, but you might be surprised how many people don’t have a grocery budget—or any kind of budget for that matter. (It’s 7 out of 10 families in case you’re wondering the statistic on it.)
Plan how much you need for your family each month. You can figure it by the number of people in your family times the amount you are willing to spend per meal.
If you need help on coming up with the amount you should be spending on groceries, try checking the USDA National Average for food per household by age and number of people.
By switching to cash, you limit yourself to cash on hand.
Credit (and even debit) cards have become too easy, and it’s easy to lose track of your spending and spend too much. If you go over your cash budget at the register, you’re going to have to put something back.
Limit the cash you bring with you. If you’ve planned your list well, you can get a good idea of how much money you’ll need. If you only have the right amount of cash on hand, you’ll be cautious about what you buy.
Cash requires you to pay attention to what you are putting in your cart. You’ll make sure to prioritize your needs and avoid impulse buys.
Shop with a Well-Planned List
Standard advice, right?
Notice how I added the words “well-planned” though.
Sure, maybe you have a list, but have you thought through the items on your list? Have you thought through everything you will need in your household and for meals before you do your next shopping trip?
Also, do you stick to your list and avoid impulse buys?
I have a rule for myself: If it’s not on my list, it’s not in my cart.
Someone once asked me if I was serious about that. I’m totally serious!
I never put anything in my cart just because it looks good. On a rare occasion, if I really did forget to write down something that I need, I might put it in my cart … or I might write it down and get it next time.
One trick I like to do is keep a magnetized list right on my refrigerator. Then if something is getting low, I mark it so I don’t forget to pick some up before it runs out.
Plan Your Meals Around Store Sales
Come up with a meal plan each week, ideally based on the store sales.
If you need help with this, I recommend The Dinner Daily. They are a meal planning service that plan healthy meals around store sales. You get a menu each week with a shopping list. You can edit the menu to your preference and the list to purchase just the things you need.
The Dinner Daily gives you a free 2-week trial to test it out. I use this service and really like the convenience and the fact that the menu is based on store sales. You can read more about my experience with The Dinner Daily in this article.
If it works better for your family, make a list of your family’s favorites to rotate through. Try to come up with at least a months’ worth of potential meals using a variety or recipes. This will allow you to pick the best recipes when a sale on main ingredients comes around.
Related Article: 4 Simple Ways to Plan Meals, What’s Best For Your Family?
Learn How to Shop with Coupons
Coupons have gotten a bad rap in recent years due to the increased popularity of “extreme couponing”.
No one wants to get stuck behind “that person” at the check-out line, right?
Personally, I think some people go a little overboard and I don’t have time to do the whole binder, store hopping, buying crazy amounts of bulk thing.
I’ve developed my own system of couponing that’s more my style … relaxed, almost lazy … and I still save tons of money doing it.
You can get started on my couponing system with The Couponers Ultimate Quick Start Guide (for beginners).
If you’d like a little extra help getting going (and want to start sooner than later), I can walk you step-by-step though how to save money on groceries. I teach where to get coupons, and how to start “extreme” couponing without being so extreme in my course Load Your Cart for Less.
I keep it simple, because I'm limited on my time and I know you are too.
Don’t Waste, Use What You Buy
This is especially important with fresh meats and produce. There’s nothing worse than buying a bunch of produce then later finding it spoiling in the back of the drawer in your fridge. Wasted food is wasted money.
As discussed above, decide what you’re going to buy based on sales and your meal plan. Only buy enough fresh produce for your current meal plan.
If you buy fresh meat, freeze what you won’t use within a few days and save it for another day.
Eat Your Leftovers
We used to hate leftovers and they would turn into cold garbage. Saved in the fridge but neglected and eventually thrown out.
Having leftovers can become part of your meal planning. These days, we frequently make enough dinner to have for lunch the next day, or a second dinner. This saves time from having to prepare a new meal.
Don’t Shop Hungry
I know, this is another no brainer. The unfortunate thing is, I catch myself doing it sometimes (and I should know better!)
If you have to go to the store and haven’t eaten in a while, combat hungry shopping by keeping something in your car or purse that can tide over your hankerings just long to make it through the store without putting everything in your cart … (I’ve seriously been there. I’ve gone to the store ravishingly hungry and even stuff I don’t like sounds good!)
Try keeping a cereal bar, granola bar or other small item with you during your travels and eat a small snack before entering the store. If you don’t have anything handy, take a quick trip to the water fountain and try and fill up a bit on water to avoid the super hungry feeling.
Pack Your Lunch
Going out to eat on your lunch break is so tempting because of the socialization and being able to get away from work for a bit.
If you can work it into your budget without hurting other areas of finance, you might plan for eating out one or two times a month, but keep it to a minimum because eating out gets very expensive very fast.
You can create a similar feeling to eating out by pairing up with buddies from work who also bring their lunch and go somewhere for a picnic when the weather’s nice.
Use Grocery Rebate Aps
Grocery rebate apps are a very popular way to get an extra discount from something you have already purchased. While it doesn’t help you stick to your budget, you might as well put some of the money you spent back in your pocket. It’s so easy to do, it’s dumb not to do it.
Generally speaking, you do your shopping then check the app to see if they are offering any rebates on purchases you made. If so, you submit a picture of your receipt and they deposit the rebate amount into your account. Depending on the app, you may need to earn a minimum amount to “cash out” or they might put it straight into your PayPal account.
My favorite grocery apps are:
ibotta, Check Out 51 and FetchRewards. ibotta will give you $10 free when you sign up using this link and redeem your first rebate offer. These apps will even periodically have rebates on produce, milk, eggs and other items that don’t usually get coupons which is a nice way to save.
Grocery shopping on a tight budget might feel impossible, but I’ve done it for years. I still eat healthy, home cooked foods. It takes a little planning, but once you are used to it, it’s really not hard to do at all.