Groceries are the third largest expense next to housing and transportation on a budget. Americans spend $151/week on food. Young adults spend slightly more at $173/week and individuals with incomes of $75,000 or more spend about $180/week. Only 8% of American spend $50/week on food. (Gallup). These numbers do not account for the cost of eating out. Based on these statistics, it worth finding ways to reduce the cost of groceries by modifying how we shop and plan our meals.
Here are a few ways to trim your grocery bill by 20% or more:
Implement a meal plan
Spend some time putting together a 7-day meal plan. The time invested will save you money and hours of figuring out what to eat throughout the week. If you feel overwhelmed with implementing a meal plan, there are lots of great ready to use free meal plan options to choose from. Some of my favourites include: 100 days of real food, My Menu Meal Planner, Mealime. Even with a ready to use meal plan, it is good to substitute ingredients based on your preference, budget and food availability. Once you feel comfortable with implementing your own meal plan, here is a sample layout of how to display your meal plan. This layout is similar to the one I use. Other great templates can be found on Tip Junkie.
When implementing a meal plan, it is important to consider:
- Variety. Meal plans are designed to take the guess work out of cooking and provide for a healthy meal, not the same meal each day. If you do not incorporate different foods, you may find yourself eating out often as your palate will get tired of the taste. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 2-3 different breakfast, lunch and dinner meals during a 7-day week.
- Budget. The amount of money that is allocated to groceries will affect which meals you prepare. However, you can still prepare a healthy meal by substituting foods. Here are few ways to stretch your dollar and still enjoy a delicious meal:
- Substitute meats for beans, lentils, quinoa, mushrooms and egg pants.
- Instead of using meats in stews, use vegetables like mushrooms, lady fingers and eggplants etc. as fillers.
- Dilute juices (including freshly squeezed) with water to increase quantity and daily water intake.
- Alternate cereal with oatmeal as a great source of fibre and a way to curb weight gain. Oatmeal is inexpensive and healthy. I normally use plain oats and top with bananas or strawberries for flavor.
- Time. If you have a busy week ahead, opt for quick meals like cereal and oatmeal for breakfast and slow cooked meals for lunch and dinner. Here are some notable slow cooker recipe websites: AllRecipes, The FrugalGirls.com, Taste of Home). Using the slow cookers can shave hours off time in the kitchen.
- Common ingredients in multiple meals. The best meal plans use some of the same ingredients in multiple meals. The more ingredients you are able to use while still maintaining variety the more money you sill save.
The best time to implement a meal plan is on your down time and after a full stomach. You may need a few hours (3 or so) when you initially implement your first meal plan. However, as you get more comfortable with the process and build your own inventory of resources to pull from, you can probably bring it down to an hour or less.
Shop every third day for food
The more frequently you shop, the less likely you are to waste food from spoilage or money from buying unnecessary items. If you pair shopping every third day with implementing a meal plan, this can be an effective way to save money. When I shop for groceries, I shop for the next 3 days outlined in my meal plan.
Shop with a grocery list
Whether you follow a meal plan or not, it is important to shop with a grocery list to save money. To stay organized and clearly see items you need as you shop, divide your list into categories. For example: fruits & vegetables, meats, dairy, beverages, frozen, canned/non-perishables, household items and snacks. Here are a few grocery list templates you can use: Vertex 42- Excel templates, Clementine Creative- free editable grocery lists. Once I find a template I like, I print out 10 copies or more and use one for my immediate grocery shopping. I also pin one to the fridge and add to the list as needed and based on my meal plan. This list becomes my starting point for the next grocery run. I repeat this cycle each time. Whatever system you use; a grocery list will save you money.
Shop with cash
Even with the best laid out meal plan and grocery list, you may still be tempted to purchase items that are not budgeted. The best way to avoid this is to shop with cash and leave your credit card at home. If you do not have the card, then you cannot spend the funds. Shopping with cash ensures you stay on budget and if you limit your list to items needed, you are less likely to go over budget.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach
Shopping on an empty stomach makes most items seem more appealing. Some may not be healthy for you and may cause you to overspend on groceries. Always shop on a full stomach. You will be less tempted to buy things that you do not need and are not on your list.
Take the pantry challenge
A great way to save money on groceries is to take the pantry challenge. The pantry challenge is taking an inventory of all food items in your home and finding ways to create meals from these items. The goal is to empty your pantry, fridge and freezer while reducing the amount of items you need to buy to make meals. While the pantry challenge is not a sustainable way of meal planning long term, it can be implemented once or twice a year to help reduce non-perishable items and frozen foods that go unused for months. This can save hundreds of dollars over a few months if implemented correctly.
To complete the pantry challenge here is what you can do:
- Determine the purpose and monetary amount you wish to save by completing the challenge. Giving the challenge purpose will encourage you to get creative with foods that you may not necessarily want to eat. For example, while getting out of debt, I implemented the pantry challenge and my goal was to trim $40/week from our grocery budget of $120/week. These savings were then redirected to our student loan debt.
- Take an inventory of what you already have. Before you begin developing a meal plan, you need to know what items you already have. Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and list the food items and their quantity. I use a simple template from Good Cheap Eats, to create my inventory.
- Implement inventory items into meal plan. Using the meal plan guidelines mentioned above find ways to incorporate the inventory items in your meal plan as much as possible. Keep in mind, you may still need to purchase a few items to complete your meals, but the objective is to minimize cost as much as possible.
- Track monies saved each week and reallocate to goal. By tracking how much you have saved, you may be more motivated to find ways to save more and complete the challenge.
Use store loyalty cards & apps
Store loyalty cards and apps are a great way to collects points, use discounts and save money. To maximize savings, it is best to limit the number of grocery stores you shop to two or three. Most supercentres will offer your grocery needs which will minimize the number of stores you frequent.