According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of over $8,100 on food in 2019. Food is also one of the top 3 line-item budget expenditures for Americans after housing and transportation. Please keep in mind a few important points about these statistics:
1) These are averages based on the entire nation where the cost of living greatly varies in different regions. The Greater Boston Food Bank estimates that food costs in Massachusetts are 18% higher than national averages.
2) These statistics are from pre-COVID-19 quarantine time. While my experience may differ from others, I felt like our grocery budget exploded during parts of quarantine, and conversations with some fellow mothers told me that there were others feeling the same.
The good news about groceries being such a high line item in the budget is that we can make significant changes to our financial health by focusing on this area. So, how do we rein in the grocery budget? Here is a menu of tips I’ve tried and tested to pick and choose from to see what works for you.
Grocery Budget Tips
Shop your fridge, freezer, and pantry first.
It’s embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve gone out and bought something that I have plenty of. This usually happens as a result of me running out to the store last minute without planning a thing. Look at what has to get used up soon and start your weekly meal plan to use that stuff up first.
Review your store’s weekly flyer.
I’ve learned that the sale prices listed in the store are not always the best sale price offered. Some store flyers contain coupons that knock those sale prices down even further. Some grocery stores also have apps that give access to even more e-coupons.
Consider using apps like Ibotta.
Ibotta gives cashback on groceries and more. You simply scroll through their rebate options for your store, click on offers you would like to redeem, upload your receipt after purchase (sometimes you need to scan the actual item with your phone) and your credit accumulates in your Ibotta account. Users can then trade in their credit for gift cards to various stores once they have accumulated at least $20 in their account. On occasion, rebates and store sales will overlap, which provides even more savings on an item you plan to purchase.
Go meatless 1, 2, or more days of the week, depending on diet preferences.
My kids are happy with rice, bean, and veggie tacos. Pasta and vegetables is another one of their favorites. Who can resist a homemade veggie pizza? Meat can quickly escalate overall costs to the weekly grocery bill.
Think about meals that let you cook once and eat at least twice.
I’m a huge fan of the roast chicken dinner. The first night’s meal is roast chicken, roast potatoes, and vegetables. The second night, we often use leftover chicken for tacos or fajitas. The leftover roast potatoes can turn into breakfast home fries. The third night, we can have a chicken noodle or chicken fajita soup made with bone broth and homemade bread or grilled cheese.
Streamline breakfast items.
Instead of buying different cereals each week, consider buying a large tub of oatmeal and let everyone add their own toppings.
Breakfast for dinner.
My kids love this one. I love it for its simplicity and the fact that there are no arguments from the little ones. Once in a while, pancakes & eggs for dinner hits the spot for them and I typically will make an omelet for my husband and me.
Write your list and estimated cost ahead of time.
This can be done via pen and paper or you can use a grocery planning app. I strongly suggest having the list written out or loaded into the app of your choice and know your cost before going to the store. This allows you to more intentionally modify as you need without blowing the grocery budget while walking through the store.
Ask yourself some questions before using coupons.
I’ve had phases where I’ve been intrigued by shows like Extreme Couponers, but I’ve truly never figured out coupons. I use them on occasion but I’ve found that they can easily trick me into buying something that I wouldn’t otherwise be buying. To me, that is the key question when looking at coupons. Would I truly be buying this item or this many of this item without the coupon? To be clear, there are bigger ticket items that are rare purchases where a coupon is exactly what I’m waiting for. This coupon dilemma more likely arises over things like “buy 2 boxes of this regularly priced cereal for $1 off.” Is this cereal I wanted to buy anyway? Am I happy enough with the generic brand where the total cost is still going to be less expensive?” Some humble suggestions to consider.
This one is tough in a card centered world, but it’s true. If I really want to or need to stick to a certain grocery budget, bring the cash and leave the cards. According to financial leader Dave Ramsey, there is research that shows people are likely to spend more and make more impulse purchases when using plastic versus cash.
Whenever possible, go shopping during off-peak hours, when you’re not hungry…and without the kids.
Ok mommas! I know this one is not always possible. Trust me, I. Know. I’ve experienced the aisle 7 meltdown that turns into “yes, I will buy all the cookies.” I’ve experienced the “we’ve got to get out of here before we have a level 10 tantrum,” which results in me throwing various things into the cart without giving anything a second thought and sprinting as fast as I can to the car and then finding that store flyer coupon I brought and did not turn in at check out. It happens.
That said, whenever possible, it is my personal experience that a late evening solo grocery store trip with a non-ravenous belly and no kids is consistently kinder to the grocery budget efforts.
Happy shopping and meal planning! I would love to hear more of your tips and tricks for the grocery budget!