When I was working an office job, I found it hard to find the time to meal plan - let alone cook every day. If I pack leftovers for myself for lunch, I call it a win. Think about it: $7 per lunch, five days per week = $35 per week, $140 per month. And that's if you're only spending an average of $7 per meal, with no extra treats or coffees added in. All that to say: buying food, instead of cooking it, can get pricey.
Fear no more, mama! I know you're just trying to find a way to feed your picky toddler and your even pickier husband. And, I might add - to do that without having a crazy high grocery bill at the end of the checkout lane. Some of these tried-and-true methods have been around since our childhoods. Can you say, "Aldi"? Without further ado, my secrets to shrinking your grocery bill.
When at all possible, buy dried beans or rice. This has a number of pros - you're not eating something with added preservatives or salt, and it's easier to store and lighter to carry. If you have an Instant Pot or even a Crock-Pot, even better - the prep work (soaking the beans) is basically built in to the cook time. A simple trick my sister-in-law taught me: make black beans, add a can of salsa and some frozen corn. Use this as a filler for tacos or a base in a casserole or burritos all week. It's ridiculously easy but heckin' delicious. And, might I add, easy on the wallet.
Clip Those Coupons
Look, if you're a brand name loyalist (and I can understand the argument for buying a brand name in lots of cases), get coupons. Join loyalty clubs. Interact with these brands on social media and let them know how much you love them! One fall, I decided to try "extreme" couponing - in my area, store coupon policies had evolved to crack down on coupon abuse. But even still, I was able to save, on average, 40% from my subtotal. I stocked up on razors, toothpaste, toilet paper, and vitamins. To this I'll add: compare to generics and buy off-brand when you can.
Shopping in bulk is a surefire way to save you money in the long run. Of course, it's got a larger initial investment. And when you're talking about food, you're talking about potentially eating the same thing for weeks at a time. If you can tolerate a little bit of monotony, your savings account will thank you. Look into things like overnight oats, bulk eggs, and bulk meat sales. If you're really committed, you can even invest in a freezer and buy a whole animal - a pig, or a cow - and have the whole animal processed. The savings are pretty remarkable - if you're willing to put in the prep work ahead of time.
Snag A Deal
To get the best deals on produce, pick your poison! Farmers' markets are open all summer in most towns - some larger areas use the co-op system. Every week, you receive a box with seasonal fruits and vegetables harvested from local farms. It's a great way to "shop local" and save a few bucks. Generally speaking, buying seasonal fruits and veggies is a great way to keep your meals nutritious and cost-effective. And take the kids along! My sister and I plan to take my son on his first trip picking strawberries at the U-Pick fields. In the fall, we'll make a trip to the orchard. We can, we freeze, we preserve these seasonal bulk buys so we can enjoy them year-round. Yes, it takes time and it's a commitment - but it's not an all-or-nothing and it can help cut down food costs for weeks, if not months.
By no means is this an exhaustive collection of ideas to help you save a few on your grocery line item. Remember when I said, "Aldi"? Not only do they have great deals, you can find weekly meal plans that are budget-friendly and feed a family of four. Most of them are around $50-75 per week, and they cover lunch leftovers and dinner. Use those extra savings to treat yoself, smart mama!