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Maybe $125 a week sounds like a lot to you depending on your situation, but it’s not much for our family of 6, especially considering the size of my son’s appetite! ? Getting all that we need for that amount does take some work and it all begins with two little words that may cause some dread: meal planning.
I fought against it for a long time, but then I discovered the Home Headquarters kit from LoveandMoney.com (they also have a storefront on Amazon if you have Prime!). It’s a command center for your home to keep you organized, which helps you save money. The kit includes frames to place templates behind so you can use dry erase markers to make and change plans, a wall calendar to keep track of everyone’s schedules, a jelly jar and hardware to hold writing utensils, and a chalkboard to keep you motivated with inspirational sayings or family mottoes of your choosing (I added the Blessed sign from a delightful Etsy shop). Once purchased, you gain access to their online library of downloadable and printable templates for your frames.
I love that the menu is posted for everyone to see so no longer do I have to hear, “what’s for dinner?” as soon as they come through the door. The kids especially look forward to seeing the quotes change on the chalkboard and how they can apply it to their week.
Sunday evenings I spend creating the meal plan for the week. The first couple of times you do it, it can feel overwhelming to choose and commit to seven meals (only six if you have a leftover night!). Once it becomes a habit, it gets easier and quicker to fill out the plan. Plus, looking down to see it’s 4:00 with no dinner plans in sight is a thing of the past. Having the ideas is half the dinner battle and it makes the evenings far less stressful!
I like to consult the wall calendar as I meal plan to make sure I’m not planning on roasting a chicken the evening we have three different activities scheduled. Make sure your busy nights get a quick meal that you can churn out in time and save the home cooking for evenings you can stay in.
Start the plan by shopping your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what needs used up. This helps eliminate food waste, which is a leading source of monetary loss in many food budgets. Then fill out your shopping lists using your recipe ingredients, sales circulars and coupons.
I complete my grocery shopping between three stores: Walmart, Aldi and our local grocery store, Shop ‘n Save. Now I know the thought of shopping three stores for food is less than enticing, but it’s worth the savings and I don’t shop them all every week. Aldi is the only one I go to each week because that’s where I get all of our fresh produce and most perishable items. I budget $75 per week for Aldi.
If you’ve never given Aldi a try, you really should. As a brand snob, I was hesitant the first time around, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that we enjoy most of the products we’ve purchased there. If there’s something you truly detest, you can take it back for a full refund, no questions asked. Plus the prices on produce are truly unbeatable. Aldi is continually expanding their organic and gluten-free selections and they recently committed to eliminating all artificial flavorings, partially hydrogenated oils, certified synthetic colorings, and added msg from their products.
They finally accept credit cards now (woo hoo!) in addition to cash, debit cards and food stamp programs. You must “rent” your cart for a quarter (when you put a quarter in, you can remove the locked cart from the one behind it. You get the quarter back when you return the cart), so be prepared with that. I didn’t know this the first time I went and a lady offered me her cart in the parking lot. I thanked her and took it, not knowing I should be giving her a quarter for it. I had no idea why she had been throwing me a dirty look until I got up to the store and saw how things worked—my bad! You should also bring your own bags unless you want to pay for them at the register or use empty boxes from the shelf. Be prepared to bag your own groceries too.
Shop ‘n Save is the one place I buy my meat and deli products, and I only buy them when they’re a loss leader. This means they’re advertised in the circular at deep price cuts to get you into the store and hopefully buy their more expensive items as well—I’m sure you have a local grocery store that does the same thing. I budget $100 a month here.
It generally happens about once a month, for example, that the ground chuck is $2.48 per pound, the bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts are 6 for $20, or the sliced American cheese is $2.88 a pound. That’s when I go crazy and stock both of my freezers and the fridge. If I happen to run out before the next sale, then we go without and work with what we have. I never pay regular retail price for any of those things.
Our Walmart recently rolled out free online grocery ordering and curbside pickup. It is every mother-of-small-children’s (and every other busy person out there’s) dream come true! And not only is it time saving and convenient, but I’ve found it helps me keep my budget intact as well because there’s less temptation of an impulse buy. Walmart is where I buy the name brand products that we can’t live without: our bread (I have yet to find an Aldi bread that’s acceptable), Tide detergent, hair care products, etc. I budget $100 a month for Walmart as well.
The only downside with the online ordering is there’s no way to use coupons, so I do still shop inside if I have some to use. I’m not into extreme couponing for a few reasons. I think it’s, thankfully, fallen out of favor as manufacturers have tried to crack down on the abuse by limiting how many an individual can use at any one time. I also can’t find too many coupons for the products we use in general. I always use them for Tide and our shampoo and conditioner, but I don’t buy too many convenience foods, so the available coupon selection is more limited then.
A few other tips to help you keep your food budget in line:
I have found that buns don’t freeze well, but loaves of bread do. I stock up whenever they’re on sale and take them out of the freezer as needed. Bread thaws fairly rapidly on the counter and it doesn’t seem to spoil any faster than fresh.
Blocks of cheese are typically cheaper than buying shredded and they can be frozen. You’ll want to thaw them out in the fridge. If you thaw on the counter, they’ll crumble when you shred them. Cheese that’s freshly shredded tastes and melts much better as well. My kids love grating the cheese so that’s one task I outsource!
Invest in Pyrex or a similar type of clear glass storage containers. Not only are they safe for the fridge, freezer or microwave, but being able to quickly open the fridge and clearly view your leftovers increases the odds of them getting eaten before they spoil.
Overripe bananas can be turned into delicious bread or muffins. Not ready to bake? Just peel the bananas before popping them into the freezer for when you’re ready.
Making your own seasoning mixes is very simple and tastes better too. I found recipes I love online for making my own taco, fajita, chili, BBQ spice rubs, poultry seasoning and more.
We mix it up with breakfast for dinner occasionally. It’s a cheap and fast meal and the kids can help too. Eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes, fruit, etc. Biscuits and sausage gravy is a crowd pleaser here and takes no time at all to prepare (unless you make homemade biscuits, in which case send me your recipe because I have yet to successfully replicate any!).
If your carnivores are willing, try meatless Mondays. Meat usually comprises the most expensive part of the meal. Swap it out for a more filling vegetable like Portobello mushrooms or fibrous beans.
Prepare some recipes with economy meat choices instead of their standard ingredients. I sometimes make Korean beef bowls more economical by using ground chuck instead of flank steak.
Educate yourself about the various cuts of meat and their best uses. For instance, cutting your own beef stew meat from a chuck roast is not only cheaper if you get the roast on sale, but it provides better quality and consistency in size leading to more even cooking.
Check your receipt before leaving the store! Such a simple thing that takes a few seconds, but it really can save you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been overcharged or double charged and by the time you get home, it’s too late to rectify.
Use the many grocery apps that are available out there. I’ll go into more depth about each in a future post, but I use Ibotta, Checkout 51, Walmart Savings Catcher, SavingStar, Kellogg’s Family Rewards, Receipt Hog and Shopkick. Whew quite a list!
So budget slayers, what other ways do you cut grocery costs? Would love to hear about them in the comments!