For many households, groceries are the single most costly flexible expense every month. You could save on groceries, but it's surprisingly hard to bring that final number down by more than a few dollars with each trip to the store. Is the bottom-line for your essentials really the lowest possible cost? Can you save money without sacrificing satisfaction?
Here are 9 money-savvy tips to save on this year's grocery budget:
1. Simplify Recipes
Cut the expensive and fancy ingredients out of your recipes. Many online chefs add them just for fun, they're not essential. Instead, try the recipe without (it might taste the same) or try healthy replacement ingredients.
Bring your recipes down to using many of the same ingredients, so you don't have to stock up on diverse items, keeping your total checkout minimal.
2. Rethink Portions and Sides
We tend to think of "lunch" and "dinner" as serious meals. But each person has a unique metabolism and, therefore, need for portion size. Start portioning based on how much you can/should/want to eat, not how much looks right on the plate. This can transform your food consumption. Especially if you get good at saving small partial servings for future small meals.
3. Try Another Grocery Store
You might be amazed at the price change between one store and the next. Try the fresh meat and produce at the local ethnic grocery stores, the deals are often much better. Try your local farmers' market, or just the grocery store down the street from the one you use normally. See if the prices in each department are favorable.
4. Plan a Week or Month Ahead
Plan your meals ahead of time, so that you can buy all the ingredients at once. This helps you stock up, and to use the food you stock up on. Planning (and shopping) ahead also keep you from little buys that occur when you shop frequently.
5. Cook from the Pantry
Instead of going to the store, open your pantry. What ingredients are lurking in there? Cans of diced tomatoes? Bags of dried rice or beans? What can you make?
Challenge yourself to come up with tasty dishes you can make now or with a few ingredients from the store. Empty your pantry for now-free calories and creative new meal ideas.
6. Experiment with Low-Cost Ingredients
Speaking of dried rice and beans, find out what you can make with lower-cost ingredients. Cooking from dried and raw foods is often more affordable than prepared foods. Learn to make stews and soups. Learn how to bulk meals with dry pasta or rice. Learn how inexpensive an enormous bag of carrots or potatoes really is.
7. Prep Days and Frozen Ingredients
If you need prepped ingredients for speedy weeknight dinners, do your own prep. Choose one evening or weekend day to chop everything you'll need for the week. Store it in portioned tupperware in the fridge or pantry and cook through the week with quick ingredient-mixing ease. The weekly chop-up is also a great family activity for older kids and adults.
8. Buy in Bulk & In Season - Freeze the Excess
When something is on sale and in season, buy it in bulk. Buy when the price and quality are both favorable. Then freeze anything you can't eat that week. Often, it's worth-while to invest in an extra freezer. Meat, produce, and the occasional frozen or deli sale are worth stocking up.
When you do stock up, stop buying. Challenge yourself to live off your stores for a while and only re-stock when the stores are low or a sale comes along. This will keep you from spending to stock and then continuing to spend each week. Instead, alternate between whether you are stocking or "burning down" an item. This also frees up your budget when sales of opportunity occur.