Budget Meal Planning to Save Money on Groceries
Spending a little time pre-planning before you go to the grocery store will give you more bang for your buck. Consider using these 10 tips to save money on groceries in your shopping routine.
1. Grow a Garden
Using fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables from a backyard garden is gratifying and a budget booster. Growing a garden will cut your produce bill considerably. You can also freeze or preserve with canning to enjoy the savings all year! Milk Glass Home has a great article on easy crops for beginners. Look for deals when garden centers clear out their stock in the fall. It’s a great time to get tools and supplies. Plenty of edible plants, like kale and arugula, thrive when the weather cools. Growing a garden is one of my self-care hobbies. Note: If you do not have a garden, take advantage of buying produce in the season when prices are lower.
2. Cook Budget Meals
Cook your mom’s tuna casserole and grandma’s bean soup; explore “peasant food” recipes from your ancestors. Every culture has classic meals with inexpensive but delicious ingredients such as beans, rice, and seasonal vegetables. Try Meatless Monday dinner night to lower food costs and reduce meat consumption. Create a list of your favorite budget meals and use them in your menu rotation. I use the cheat sheet (see photo) as a quick reference and keep decision-making easy. Check out the Budget Friendly recipes on the site.
3. Use On-Hand Ingredients
Look in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and plan meals around these ingredients. The cheapest meal you can make is the one in your home. When you get in the habit of reviewing existing inventory, you will get more thoughtful about purchases. Substitute missing items with available ingredients to avoid an unnecessary trip to the store. When it’s time to shop again, look at last week’s menu and plan the recipe you omitted. TIP: Do you have random items without a recipe idea? Put the ingredient in the search bar of Google or a recipe site, or look on the manufacturer’s website for cooking ideas. Learn more about meal choices with Decision Fatigue – What’s for Dinner?
4. Make a Weekly Meal Plan
Plan what you need for a week of snacks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and post it on the refrigerator. Be realistic about how many meals you need, and look at your schedule for the upcoming week. No one wants to compost expensive produce at the end of the week, but you want to purchase enough food to stay out of the fast-food line. A well-planned menu that the whole family can see creates a framework that will reduce the temptation to order expensive take-out and keep your grocery budget on track. Communicating the menu and grocery list can encourage family participation in recipe choices and chores. Read more in How to Make Family Meals Magical.
5. Review Grocery Store Deals
Look at the website of your favorite grocery store and plan meals from ingredients on sale to save money on meat, seafood, and fresh produce. Tip: Ordering online for pick-up or delivery is efficient grocery shopping. Placing an order from your computer makes it easy to see all the sales and coupons on the screen that you may overlook in the store. You can easily compare prices between brands and get the best deal. When you can’t find an item in the store, you may have to backtrack numerous aisles. Online shopping allows you to place the brand in the search bar to see it! Get more shopping ideas with 8 Secret Walmart Shopping Hacks.
6. Shop with a List
Think through each meal on your weekly meal plan and write down the needed ingredients. Organize the grocery list by store categories (vegetables, fruit, canned goods, meat, seafood, dairy, etc.) Try the Supper Sanity Grocery List, available as a digital template or magnetic pad. Sticking to the list saves you money by eliminating unnecessary trips to the store for forgotten items, avoiding impulse purchases, and inadvertently purchasing unnecessary ingredients. Place this list on the fridge to add depleted items throughout the week. Learn More at How to Save Time, Money, and Health through Meal Planning.
7. Shop Smart at the Store
Even if you walk into the store without a list, you can still save by grabbing the store flyer at the front of the store and quickly reviewing the sale items. Look for digital coupon signage that you can download to your phone and receive the discount at the checkout. Review the unit price on the shelf tag to determine the best value between brands. Check out the reduced bins for close-dated or discontinued items. So many things are on sale each week that discounted products can be the majority of your choices.
8. Buy In Bulk
Consider stocking up on reduced-price dry goods or perishable items to stretch the family dollar. Make sure products have a long shelf life, or you can freeze or preserve them through canning to prevent food waste. Other ideas for the best food items to buy in bulk are seasonal produce, nuts, deals on meat, protein powder, oatmeal, dried beans, and grains. Review the larger packages for deals. A 3-pound bag of apples or potatoes is much cheaper than buying the same items individually. Some families have second freezers for these opportunities or even participate in meat shares with local butchers or ranchers. Bulk buying saves money and prepares your household for unexpected events—more details at Kitchen Drill – Stock Grocery Staples and Pantry Meals.
9. Join the Store Rewards Program
Many stores have special offers for customers that join a rewards program. Sign-up and review your profile to allow (opt-in) special offers like coupons or samples mailed to your house and email notifications of digital deals. My favorite Home Chef Meal Kits at Kroger often have high-value coupons for enrolled customers.
Download the store’s app to your phone, so you can review deals anytime and take advantage of coupons while you are in the store. The grocery website and apps have lots of helpful information and ways to save. The receipt (see photo) shows my $28+ savings for the week. The savings would be far less if I were not a rewards program member.
10. Use Saving Apps
eMeals is a recipe planning app with several menu options: Budget, Quick and Healthy, and the Mediterranean Diet, to name a few. When you choose, two weeks of recipes will load into the app. You will also get an email on Wednesday with a downloadable PDF. You can select a meal plan for two or a family. Try Emeals FREE for two weeks and get $10 if you sign up.
ibotta is a coupon app that pays you for purchasing participating brands. Earn cash by adding offers to the app and purchasing them. You can link your loyalty account or submit receipts.
basket is a resource to compare prices of supermarkets, mass retailers, and club stores. If you plan to buy an expensive cut of meat, you can search on the app to discover the retailer with the best price that week.
The Power of Goals
If you aim to save money, adding a few of these 10 tips to save money on groceries into your shopping routine will reduce your food bill. These hacks will help build momentum and provide a framework to save right now—small steps to build big habits.
- Fruits and veggies cost less when they are in season. This chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows what’s in season so you can save all year.
- This state-by-state farmer locator can help you find a grower in your area to pick your produce, save money, and have a fun family outing.
- Don’t have an item for a recipe, check out the Ingredient Substitution Chart.
- Check out the Supper Sanity worksheets to save money and plan healthy meals.