Do you find yourself spending more than you want every week on groceries? I do! Being a foodie has it’s downfalls. I’m always interested in trying out so many types of foods and cooking different recipes, that sometimes I don’t pay attention to our budget. Or lack of budget, haha. I’ve been trying to be better with my money lately since we have some large items we’re saving up for.
Follow along on today’s post for tips on how to reduce your weekly grocery cost!
Small expenses add up.
Think of all the little things you buy here and there— coffee, sodas, movie tickets, a bag of chips, snacks while you’re shopping, little things that you don’t think matter much. But over time, they add up! If you spend $3 a day on random stuff, you’re spending over $1,000 a year on those random things.
Track how much you spend in one month.
Do a little experiment and see how much you are actually spending on food per month. For a whole month, save every receipt or look at you bank statement. Keep the totals on an excel spreadsheet, and at the end of the month, total everything up. Think about where you spend food– grocery store, restaurants, school lunches, soda machines, popcorn at movies, coffee, snacks, etc.
When you have your totals– what surprises you? Did you spend more than you thought you would? Do you need to eat out as much as you do? Are your recipes that you choose for weeknight meals too expensive?
How much should you actually spend?
Iowa State University has an awesome little calculator that shows you what you should be spending. You input information about your family and it will calculate how much the USDA says your family can spend to maintain a nutritious diet that meets the current dietary guidelines.
Here’s my results, for a family of two who eat meals away from home 3 times a week each:
We are currently averaging $100-120 per week on groceries. My goal is to be under $100 every week.
Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
Avoid shopping when you’re hungry, you’ll tend to stray off your list. Shop when the store isn’t crowded. I know that grocery shopping for me becomes a huge hassle when I can barely make it through the aisles or there’s a long line at checkout. Leave the family at home if they tend to distract you or beg for items not on the list!
Where to Buy:
It may be most efficient to shop at one nearby store with reasonable prices– because it takes time to go to different stores. You can save the most money by making a menu and a list rather than shopping at several stores.
- Warehouse stores are less expensive, however it is tempting to buy bulk packages of things you don’t need just because they’re cheap.
- Convenience stores, such as ones close to gas stations or on busy corners, will charge higher prices for their foods. If all you need is milk or bread, it may be easier to pick these items up here instead of going into a larger store and risk buying things you don’t need.
- Farmer’s markets are a great place to get local produce, but sometimes will charge more. You may be willing to pay more to support the local economy and buy more nutritious foods.
Consider all forms of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables can have similar nutrient values, whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned. Buy fruits and vegetables in season, and freeze extra fruit. Choose smaller bags of apples and oranges when they’re sold by the pound. Pre-cut fruit is at least two or three times more expensive. When buying canned fruit, make sure it’s juice or water packed– and drain it well. Compare the brands, package sizes and pricing by unit.
Vegetables are best when bought in season as well– they cost less and are at their peak flavor. When not in season, buy frozen or canned. When choosing canned vegetables, make sure you choose the “no salt added” version and rinse well. When choosing frozen veggies, make sure to check the label for sodium content.
Eat more beans and smaller portions of meat.
One of the cheaper forms of protein are beans! Plant protein is usually less expensive than animal protein. Dried or canned beans are great meat substitutes and provide fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals. Dried beans are dirt cheap but take more planning– soaking, cooking, storing. Canned beans are higher in sodium, but it is easy to find “no salt added” canned beans now.
Animal protein is the most expensive part of a meal. Here’s some handy tips on how much meat to buy, from Iowa State University:
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- One pound serves 4 if it has no bones or fat
- ground beef, stew meat, cubed steak, boneless ham, fish fillets, luncheon meat
- One pound serves 3 if it has some bone and fat
- pork chops, chuck roast, picnic ham, turkey parts, bone-in fish
- One pound serves 2 when it has many bones or more fat
- whole chickens and turkeys, spare ribs, ham hocks
Look at the unit price.
The unit price will be posted on the shelf below the food item. It will tell you the cost per pound, quart, ounce or other unit of weight. This is great when comparing different brands or sizes of food items. Choose the food with the lowest price per unit to save money.
Meal planning basics
It’s smart to plan your meals ahead of time, and to make the most of the ingredients you already have on hand, with the goal of not wasting anything. For example, if the meal you are making Monday called for one cup of shredded chicken, look for another recipe to make later in the week that will use up the rest. Take inventory of your pantry at the beginning of each week and stock up on the basics (including grains, legumes, onions, and other alliums) that serve as building blocks for healthy meals. Check out my post about building a whole foods pantry.
Are you ready to spend less on your groceries? Take the shopper’s pledge with me!
Do you meal plan and bring a grocery list to the store? What are your best money-saving tips for grocery shopping?
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!
Cassie @ Almost Getting it Together says
I would say I probably spend $75-80 weekly on just myself… eek. But I only eat 1-2 meals a week not at home. I need to take some of these tips!!
Emily Hein, RDN, LD says
The hardest thing is having a food blog or a website where you post about your food– you can’t just keep eating the same things over and over again haha!
Kristina @ Love & Zest says
It’s sooo hard to keep to the budget in the food category. I have a goal of spending less than $100 at the grocery store.. but like you end up spending 100-200 + we eat out. It’s outrageous. We track all of our spending in Quicken. I so want to figure out something that works for us. Definitely more beans and “cheaper eats” are necessary.
Emily Hein, RDN, LD says
I know, it’s so hard. Having a food blog, especially. I like to buy cool new things to blog about and make new recipes about but it’s hard to stay under budget when you do this.
I need to learn how to cook beans more too!
dixya | food, pleasure, and health says
i have found that having a general meal plan + a grocery list is a great way to save money. Additionally, i find that if i prep some meals on the weekend for week, i am less likely to eat out which is not cheap. Doing more meatless meals also helps save $$ esp if you buy organic, free range meat.
Emily @SinfulNutrition says
Great tips! Luckily I LOVE to plan out my grocery list and meals well ahead of time, but I definitely get tempted to stray off the list on some new foods.
Alex Caspero MA,RD (@delishknowledge) says
Food blogging adds up! Thankfully you can expense it on your taxes ;) We eat out so much, although as much as I say I want to spend less on food- the truth is, I love it! Eating out is my favorite thing to do, besides cooking :) Great post!
Alexa @ The Mindful Maritimer says
I typically like to look through flyers before going into a supermarket because I find them overwhelming. If I am going to the market I make a mental list of what I need but since it’s on my way to work, I can pop in whenever I need something.
Danica Pelzel says
Emily, great tips! I used to spend so much more money on groceries until I was forced to budget during my dietetic internship (since I didn’t have any income). I quit going to Whole Foods as often and shopped at ALDI the majority of the time. And I started looking at what I already had in my kitchen before making a grocery list, as you suggested. I seriously cut my grocery bill in half! It’s amazing what a little planning can do!