Do the rising costs of groceries have you nervous about how you can afford to feed your family fresh, healthy food? Does making your grocery budget each month for a growing family become a task you dread? I know we have unfolded our grocery envelope half way through the month and realized we only had $25 left to last us two weeks! Stretching our grocery budget used to be a consistent concern for us. So how did we manage to wrangle in our grocery budget and make it work for us? Let me tell you!
What we finally realized we needed to do was a make a meal plan. I’d heard a lot about meal planning across the blogosphere. So we started trying it. The months that we are organized with our meal plans, we find that we are using all of our produce before it goes bad, eating healthier, utilizing what we have in the pantry, and making our meat and budget stretch further. However, it took more than meal planning to completely tame our grocery budget.
Through trial and error, here are 10 things I have learned about grocery shopping on a budget and meal planning:
- Look at the ads before you go to the store, make a list, and (as much as possible) avoid impulse purchases. Impulse shopping is often how I bust our budget. The ice cream just looked SO good! (Also, don’t grocery shop while hungry . . . especially while pregnant!)
- Find a consistent time each week to sit down and make a meal plan, otherwise you will forget. Whether you choose to write it on a white board or chalk board, or post your meal plan, put it somewhere visible! I either write ours on our white board by the kitchen, or I print out a meal planner page and put it on the fridge. (Check out my free, simple design: Simple Meal PlannerPDF)
- To avoid those high carb, high preservative, salty, sugary foods, shop the perimeter of the store and only venture into the aisles for specific needs. This will keep you in areas such as produce, dairy, meat, etc. Fresh food always trumps boxed or canned foods when it comes to nutrition. Plus, I find it discourages impulse shopping for me by helping me stick to my list.
- Look for local co-ops, farmers’ markets, or other ways to get great deals on fresh, local produce. I wrote a guest blog post all about Buying Produce on a Tight Budget for a blog called JanieGirl, a site dedicated to sharing tips on saving money. I talk about this point more in depth there–check it out!
- Freezer meals are your best friend on busy days. Plus, they are usually quite budget friendly. Some people even create a month’s worth of freezer meals for a family of four for under $200! With freezer meals, you can take advantage of sale items that you can turn into several different freezer meals. Chicken, ground turkey, and roasts are excellent meats for easy freezer meals. Freezer meals often just need thawed and stuck in the oven or crockpot. I have been working up several in our freezer for after our daughter is born. Check some of them out on my Pinterest board. Some of my favorite things to freeze are breakfast items like muffins,sweet breads, egg and cheese mini omelets, oat bars, baked oatmeal, and fresh fruit for smoothies. (Muffins are the easiest! Just pop them in the oven or microwave for 45 seconds if already baked. You can also freeze them unbaked, just add a little extra time when baking them.) I get a lot of great recipes and ideas from Heavenly Homemakers and other wonderful bloggers.
- If you use a lot of pasta, rice, nuts, oats, dry beans, etc., find a local grocery store with good prices on bulk items. We love WinCo because we can get our whole wheat pasta, dried herbs and spices, nuts, oats, rice, and much more, way cheaper in their bulk section than anywhere else. By the way, beans are a super healthy and cheap protein! I love to cook pinto beans and refry them, then mix with salsa and cheese, roll up in a tortilla, bake, and then freeze. 🙂
- If you often buy speciality items like honey, vanilla extract, or coconut oil online, consider signing up for Amazon Prime. It will save you money over the year on shipping and you will get your items in 1-2 days. We LOVE it!
- Ad-matching at Walmart can save you a lot of time and money. If you hate going around to all the sales, you can ad-match at Walmart for many items, including produce. Almost every week I ad-match to get 5-7 avocados for $1. (Thank you local Mexican markets with great prices! I would go shop at you, but you are so far away!) To save yourself more time, look for a blog like JanieGirl, or an email chain where someone sends out the deals each week in your area. That way, you don’t have to spend time shifting through the ads yourself. Allow someone else to do the work for you. Plus, they will love the blog traffic. 😉
- When you make a meal plan for the week, take into consideration 1) what you already have in the fridge/freezer/pantry 2) what is on sale that week 3) how many leftovers you estimate you will have. I always plan 3+ meals of leftovers for Mitch and I each week. Some families have a lot of leftovers, some do not. We often do. Reheating or repurposing leftovers can really help stretch your budget. I will be sharing some of my “repurposed leftover” ideas soon.
- A great way to trim your budget and eat healthier is to replace many of your salty or sugary snack foods or side dishes with fresh fruits and vegetables. It saves money and time in the kitchen when for my “side dishes” I can just pull out some grapes, peppers, baby carrots, etc. Delicious, healthy, easy.
I am excited to share with you a menu planner and shopping list sheets that I recently created. I keep them simple. While I love all the cute ones floating around, I am cheap and don’t want to spend so much money on colored ink. So, I created my own simple versions in black and white. Enjoy! 😉
Also, coming up on The Engaged Home I am going to be talking a lot more about our journey from debt to financial peace and how we budget. Stay tuned, I have some great resources to share with you soon!
What are your tips for grocery shopping, budgeting, and making a meal plan?
***For more ideas on how to make a grocery budget or meal plan check out the posts at Boutelle Family Blog and Grace Mountain Diaries for the “This is How We Do It” linkup. (This will go live on Monday morning.)
Also, don’t forget to read my review over the book The Magic of Family Meals: 115 Conversation Starters to Connect With Your Kids and enter the giveaway before it closes on April 15th!