When it comes to building a budget that works for your family, there are few variables that can be adjusted in order to save money.
Rent/mortgage, electric, car insurance, health insurance etc. are all non-negotiable payments. Sure, you can save a bit of money by making smart decisions, but you’re not going to find a whole lot of wiggle room in those categories. That’s why it’s so important to reduce spending however you can if you want to create a better financial future for your family.
Grocery shopping on a budget is one of the best ways to stretch your paycheck.
Here are 10 ways that you can feed your family nourishing meals without breaking the bank.
#1. Only Buy What You Need
It’s easy to get sucked into purchasing sale items. Who wouldn’t want two for one on puppy chow?? It’s like getting something for nothing!
However, does that item really make sense in your house?
Make sure there is a need for what you are buying. Resist the urge to buy something “just because it’s on sale”. I speak from experience! For many years, I had a closet full of sticky notes & plug-in air fresheners from such “it’s on sale” adventures.
I finally used up the sticky notes (years later). The plug-in air fresheners? Eventually, those were donated.
Resist the pull of the red-label vortex. Just because something’s on sale, that doesn’t mean it’s a wise purchase for your home. Resist the pull of the red-label vortex. Just because something's on sale, that doesn't mean it's a wise purchase for your home. Click To Tweet
In addition, make sure the items will not expire before you use them; fresh fruit tend to go on sale as a buy one get one half off deal. However if you don’t eat it fast enough, you have now thrown your money in the garbage… along with those rotten strawberries that were such a steal.
Even canned items can have the same downside. Unless it is something you eat all the time, you’ll probably get sick of that canned ravioli before you have used up the entire shelf that you purchased on sale.
Not a ravioli fan? The same thing can happen with spam, fruit cocktail, or even after-thanksgiving discounted cranberry sauce. Those post-date beauties are still taking up valuable shelf space in my pantry; a daily reminder that I need to practice what I preach 🙂
Certain items are put on sale to catch your eye but unless it’s on the list, move on friend.
#2. Make A List
The easiest way to stay the course when grocery shopping on a budget is to make a list. Keep a notepad stuck to the refrigerator. As items disappear from your pantry or fridge, write them down.
This may seem like a simple idea, but having a list gives you concrete knowledge of exactly what you need and keeps your wallet from suffering the consequences of impulse spending. Even if you make the mistake of going to the store hungry, use the list to keep you on task.
I keep a list for each store (including Amazon subscribe and save) on my phone, using the built-in reminders app. These lists are kept in sync across my phone and my spouse’s phone. Here’s how we do it:
- Navigate to the reminders app on your iPhone (sorry Androidians, I bleed Apple)
- Select your shopping list and click on “Edit” —> located in the top right-hand corner
- Select “sharing”, then “add person”. Done!
More resources for creating a grocery list that serves your family well:
- Pantry staples list: If you have a standard set of meals that you cook each month, a pantry staples list can save you big bucks. Check out how this mom keeps her family’s food budget under $300 each month by keeping a list of common pantry ingredients that she can use to create healthy meals.
- Creating a grocery list: Kristen uses her meal plan for the week to help her create a grocery list. She shares her process, plus some tips for creating a useful list.
#3. Look For Discounts
With list in hand, you’ll find it beneficial to look for stores with sales on those items. If you know you are in need of bread, you can search out the store in your area that has bread as a sale item. Milk, eggs, and bread may be on sale at store A, while meat, fruit, and coffee are on sale at store B.
The best way to save the most money is to plan the shopping trip carefully and with consideration to your list.
Be careful, though. Packing too many stores into one shopping trip will almost guarantee you to go over budget– especially if you add a few young kids to the mix. Again, stick to the list!
Two stores mean twice the opportunities to stray from your set items and give in to impulse purchases.
More resources for finding grocery discounts:
- Create a price list: Keeping a stock-up price list allows you to easily see if an item is on a good enough sale to merit purchasing, or whether you should keep your money in your purse. Here’s one mamma’s real-life stock-up price list. Check it out and tweak for your family!
- Find match-ups for sales: Many blogs offer deal match-ups for local stores. I use the Money Saving Mom store deals database to find grocery savings at stores in my area.
#4. Coupons Are Your Friend
As long as the coupon items are foods that you need, these popular slips of paper can be very helpful when shopping on a budget.
Thanks to the internet, couponing is easier than ever. You can search free sites to find coupons for the items you are looking for, and print them out right at home. Each week local stores will send their own circulars, most with no clip coupon sales.
Just make sure you are buying due to need and not what seems to be a good deal (closet full of air fresheners, anyone?)
There are two ways to go about couponing:
- Search out the best deals and plan your meals around these deals. If you really need every dollar to stretch to its limit, this might be your best choice. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to know your local store coupon policies well in order to make the most of your couponing transactions.
- Make a grocery list (based on a meal plan), then search out corresponding coupons. This method is more time intensive, but allows my family to stick to our paleo-ish meal planning, and still make the most of our grocery budget.
More resources for couponing success:
- Newbie couponing guide: Want to know exactly how to use a coupon? Tracie from Penny Pinchin’ Mom has created a helpful beginner’s guide for using coupons.
- Natural & Organic coupons: Coupons can be even be used on many organic products. Here’s how to find coupons for products from the “natural” aisle.
- Use a coupon database: Trying out method #2 from above? This is the coupon database that I use to search out coupons that match my grocery list.
#5. Go digital
A decade ago I was a total couponing queen.
I was that lady that cashiers either glared at or enthusiastically asked, “How can I save money too??” I spent hours planning out my shopping trips and clipping coupons.
Then my conscience started to nag me about all of the “great deals” I was finding, and the items going to waste.
Hey, I’m not jumping on a soapbox, just sharing my story.
Plus, I started having kids and discovered that I no longer wanted to spend my free time clipping coupons and carefully matching up deals. I’d rather use my limited time for more productive things…
…like reading a book and shoving my face with chocolate and espresso 🙂
As my family has gotten closer to achieving our current financial goal, I re-entered the world of grocery shopping on a budget, only to realize that one little phrase would make my goal of stretching my dollars a whole lot easier: digital coupons.
These coupons (digitally “clipped” before the shopping trip) are automatically loaded onto a store card. The beauty of the process? The coupons are automatically applied to your purchases as long as you use your rewards card. No coupons left in the car, no juggling slips of paper in the checkout line, these savings are automatic!No coupons left in the car, no juggling slips of paper in the checkout line, these savings are automatic! Click To Tweet
I’m a huge fan of these digital wonders.
More Resources for digital couponing:
- Digital couponing w/o a smartphone: Kristen shares how she saves her family money on groceries by using apps— even though she doesn’t own a smartphone. Her phone might not be smart, but she sure is!
- Digital coupon options: There are many digital coupon companies in existence. Here are a few that can help your family stick to a grocery budget.
#6. Think Outside the Box
Welcome to the 21st-century, my friend.
Groceries don’t just have to come from the local store. Nonperishable items can be shipped from halfway across the world and arrive on your doorstep within a few days, if not hours.
My favorite way to have grocery items shipped is by using the awesome discounts available through Amazon Subscribe and Save. Subscribe and save gets me 15% off Amazon’s prices for ordering quantities of shelf-stable pantry items, cleaning supplies, and paper products.
If you’d rather skip the cases of product, Amazon Pantry allows customers to custom-pack a box of these items for one low shipping cost.
Thrive Market is another option that I’ve been hearing about lately. Unfortunately, they don’t deliver to Alaska (boo hoo!) so I haven’t ordered from them. Hopefully, that’ll change soon.
Thrive market sells high-quality pantry products for a great price and has a stellar social mission statement.
#7. Think Inside the Box
…the produce box, that is 😉
I’m becoming a huge fan of just plain staying out of stores. The best way to save money is to avoid opportunities to spend said cash. Local CSA (community supported agriculture) shares provide two-fold benefits: they keep us out of stores AND they help out local farmers. How awesome is that?!
Not just for produce, you can also find CSAs that provide meat, seafood and milk too. Search for a local CSA in your area through Local Harvest.
If you don’t find a suitable CSA in your area, there are also plenty of regional produce box delivery services. I use the Full Circle Farm produce service which delivers weekly boxes throughout the Pacific Northwest Region. They even fly fresh produce north of the Arctic Circle, to Kotzebue, Alaska!
A quick web search for “produce box delivery” in your area will bring up other regional CSA options.
#8. Make a Garden
Want to get really thrifty with your grocery budget? Invest in seeds and build a garden.
Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Gardening is a skill. You have to learn the tricks of the trade for your area. My best advice? Befriend a local gardener and ask plenty of questions.
- Some crops are better than others. In chilly southcentral Alaska, I can grow brassicas and root vegetables with ease. Tomatoes and peppers take a lot more work. It’s worth growing what naturally takes, instead of spending hours nurturing plants that will struggle to yield. Work with nature, not against it. Click To Tweet
- Work with nature, not against it. Planting uniform rows of single crops doesn’t allow for the amazing opportunities that horticultural diversity offers. Sprinkle flowers and herbs amongst your crops for better pest control, soil management, and pollination.
- Trees, shrubs, and perennials are your best friends. These sturdy biologicals will take far less work than your traditional garden beds. Sure, it might require developing a taste for miner’s lettuce and wild strawberries rather than spinach and melon, but the benefit of fewer hours spent laboring in the garden is by far worth the tradeoff.
Here are some more resources for developing your green thumb:
- Get organized: The Mother Earth News Garden Planner App. After trying out several apps to help me plan my garden, this is the one I turn to from year to year.
- Get informed: The Cooperative Extension Service. Designed through a partnership between the USDA and state universities, the CES provides information on gardening, sewing, crafting, and more. The best part? The CES operates local offices that provide this information specific to your region. Wondering the best crop to plant for maximum yield in your area? These are the folks to ask. Find your local cooperative extension office.
- Get help: Garden.org. This site provides a wide variety of useful gardening information.
- Get efficient: Check out the premier entry-level permaculture manifesto, Gaia’s Garden. I have so much love for this book. It offers a thorough, yet absorbable, introduction to permaculture, along with all of the information you need to transform your own yard into a garden paradise. I’ve found it to be so valuable that it’s going to be my housewarming gift from now on.
#9. Raise Chickens
Fifteen years ago if you’d have told me I’d be a fluffy flock owner today, I would have laughed in your face… and kept on eating my cheez whiz and Doritos.
I thought that keeping laying hens was something that only farmers did.
Thankfully the culture is changing and fluffy ladies are congregating in backyards all across America. These easy-to-care-for pets are providing their owners with fresh, more nutritious eggs, at a budget friendly price.
You can reduce the cost of chicken keeping by free-ranging your flock when possible, using leftover garden waste for feeding, and (depending on your preference) opting for cheaper feed.
- How much do they cost? Curious how much a backyard flock costs? This is a breakdown of the cost of chicken ownership (in an expensive area of the country).
- Find help in the chicken community: Backyard Chickens. This site provides tons of information about preparing for and owning chickens, plus a stellar community that is eager to help one another out and answer questions.
- A must-have for decreasing the work of owning chickens: Automatic chicken water nipples. No, they’re not nipples ripped off of chickens– ouch!! These little gizmos are a MUST HAVE if you plan on becoming a poultry owner. None of that emptying your nasty chicken waterer every day, this tool will reduce your workload and keep your girls healthier.
#10. Switch to Cash-Only Budgeting (the Envelope System)
The absolute, hands-down, best way to reign in an overzealous grocery budget is to switch to a budgeting system that doesn’t allow for “oops, we went over this month”.
Meet the envelope system. Made famous by personalities like Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett, this budgeting method keeps spending in check by cutting off the flow of cash when your monthly allotment is reached.
Simple and effective, this is a method that should be tried by every family.
More resources for switching to a cash-only budget:
- Here’s a family that has discovered huge benefits to using the cash envelope system. See their budgeting categories, and how this form of budgeting has helped them to identify problem areas.
- I’m a huge fan of the envelope system… even though I’ve fallen off the wagon. This budgeting method isn’t the go-to at our house, but I highly recommend every family give it a tryout anyway.
- Though a stack of plain-Jane envelopes work too, this cash system wallet is adorable and affordable.
Bonus: Be Flexible
Finally, don’t be a slave to a recipe. If you’re cooking a soup (or planning for one) and don’t have an item on hand, the world won’t stop spinning if you don’t include that ingredient in your creation! As you get used to leaving out items or substitution similar ingredients, you’ll get the hang of keeping the gist of your recipe while not rushing to the store for every item.
To help with substituting ingredients, here’s a graphic that shows many common swaps for easy recipe tweaks:
Grocery shopping on a budget can save you a large amount of money now that can be used for almost anything you may need in the future. You never know when an expense will come up such as a car repair, and thanks to you shopping smartly, you now have the funds to cover it.
What are your tips for nourishing your family on a budget?
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