Certain payments in our budget are static. They don't change much, if at all. These include: mortgage or rent, car payments, insurance premiums and the like. There are some budget categories, however, that have wiggle room. One of those is food. By planning ahead, being prepared and shopping wisely, you can save a bundle on your food bill and put that money toward another bill or in savings.
Here are some thrifty tips for savvy grocery shopping:
Menu is a must
Planning a menu and sticking to it is one way to cut a chunk off your food bill. Choose meals your family loves and throw in a few experiments to broaden their culinary horizons, but get it all down on paper. Post the menu on the fridge in a plastic sleeve so that everyone is aware of the meal plan. Add a section for snacks as well, so kids know what they are free to eat and don't dig into something planned for a meal. By knowing what you are going to eat and shopping accordingly, you save the stress of trying to figure it out after a busy day and making multiple trips to the store. Your meals are more thoughtful and you don't buy more food than is needed.
Drag the calculator along
It is becoming more and more difficult to discern the cost of things because one item might be priced by the ounce and one by the unit. By having your calculator handy, you can determine the best value for your money.
Don't fall for the jumbo size
Often the large, king-sized packages price out to more per ounce than buying multiple smaller sizes. Look beyond packaging at the real price.
Compare before buying house brands
Don't automatically pick up the house label thinking it's going to be less expensive. Often there are deep discounts on name brands when they go on sale.
Use the ads
If you live in an area where there are multiple options close by, shop the store ads and use them when deciding on your menu. If chicken is on sale at store X and broccoli is on sale at store Y, go for just what you need at each store. Then, put chicken broccoli casserole on the menu. If you have to travel any long distance between stores, you'll have to decide whether or not to just go with the store that has the most on sale that week.
If you use a lot of convenient food, look for coupons. Often a subscription to the paper will pay for itself in food savings. Consider starting a coupon swap club with a few friends. Look for stores that double coupons and shop on the days they do.
Using meat to season your food is actually a healthier option. Add a few soups, casseroles, and stews onto the menu to save a little on the meat-and-two-veg option.
Get back to basics
Try your children and spouse on hot cereal rather than cold. It's healthier, being closer to its natural state, and way less expensive. Good old fashioned oatmeal is a great choice. If you pack lunches, throw in some PB & J rather than pricey lunch meats and cheeses. This FamilyShare.com article has some great brown bag ideas. Buy baby carrots, celery and peanut butter for after school snacks rather than the individually packaged options. Making your own popcorn in a heavy pot is so much yummier and costs much less than microwave popcorn or potato chips.
Plan your menu seasonally
Many things are priced differently at different times of the year, such as produce. Opt for canned or frozen veggies when they are off-season and fresh during the summer and fall.
There are online companies that let you order bulk items at a huge discount. If you don't think you can use 100 lbs. of flour or 25 lbs. of almonds, get a group together and split it up. Spices, in particular, are much cheaper to buy bulk and put in your own containers. Cruise the Internet and see what you can come up with.
Use caution at the big box stores
Take a list if you shop at the big warehouse stores. Know what items cost at your local grocer. You don't always save a lot by shopping there, so just have a discriminating eye and shop wisely.
Scrutinize your cart
Before you get to the check-out, give your cart a once-over and see if there are any impulse buys in there.
When you find something really, really, really discounted, stock up on it and work it into your menu for a while. Stores sometimes overstock and will give you a tremendous price. Also, inquire whether a store will discount an item if you purchase it by the case. I've had success with that before and it doesn't hurt to ask.
Grow your own
Plan now to start a small garden next year. If you have some space in your yard, till it up and plant a few things. If you don't, use container gardening. Herbs are a great thing for your kids to grow and it will save you a fortune on your seasonings. Even one tomato plant will save you a bundle.
The money you save on your grocery bill can be put into savings for something needed or even a family vacation. Keep track each time you come under budget and sock it away. Or use the surplus to stock up on non-perishable items for a rainy day. Make it a fun adventure and get the kids involved so they learn how to be more savvy consumers.