Today a friend of mine tagged me in this question she posted on Facebook:
Friends with large families — how do you stick to a reasonable food budget?
Ooooh. I love a question about a food budget. And it’s certainly one of the questions I’m asked or comments I hear most often.
How much money do you spend on food every month? Your grocery bill must be ridiculous!
Over the past four years, I have become pretty good at sticking to a food budget.
Our weekly budget is fairly tight.
It’s not as pared down as it could be, but it’s fairly limited.
I have to feed eight people (our oldest no longer lives at home so that’s one less mouth to feed) — my husband, myself, and six kids.
The kids are 17, 11, 10, 7, 6, and 5.
The younger kids don’t eat so much right now, but with a high school senior on the basketball team and two middle schoolers who are growing at an alarming rate and are both on two different swim teams and one of them also on a travel basketball team, they are always hungry. And they eat a lot.
So for 5 adults (or at least adult appetites) and three younger kids, our grocery budget is about $250/week. That is the same amount of money we received when we were on food stamps (I know that’s high compared to many other areas of the country, but the cost of living in Fairfield County, Connectict is crazy), and it’s what I still try to stick to.
Sure, I could pare it down more, but that’s pretty good for eight mouths to feed.
If your food bill is seeming out of control and you are looking for ways to cut it down, here are the things I do to keep our grocery bill down:
1) Plan meals around what’s on sale.
I haven’t paid full price for anything at the grocery store in years. If it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it. And I plan what we are going to eat around what is on sale.
2) Shop at different stores.
I shop primarily at five grocery stores: Costco, Aldi, ShopRite, Stew Leonards and the Big Y. I don’t shop at all of them each week, though. When the sales flyers come out, I look at them all to see what’s on sale, and then I plan where I’m going to go from that. Last week, there were some really good sales at the Big Y. I shopped there and at Costco last week. This week, the sales at the Big Y kind of suck, so I’m not going there. This week is a ShopRite/Stew’s/Costco week.
3) Buy in bulk when things are on sale.
Buying in bulk might be a little easier for me than it is for other families because we have so many kids. When there is a really good sale on fresh fruit or veggies, I can buy more than what most families will buy because I know it won’t go bad. We easily eat a dozen apples in two days. So if they go on sale, I buy a lot of them.
Last week, bagged lettuce was Buy 1, Get 2 Free at the Big Y. You could get five of those deals. So last week I bought 15 bags of lettuce!
4) Cut back on variety.
We go through phases. Like last week when I bought 15 bags of lettuce. We ate a ton of salad last week. We also ate a lot of apples!
We still have three bags of lettuce left, so we’ll finish that off this week, and then we will probably eat frozen veggies that I buy in a huge bag at Costco until I see what’s on sale next week.
5) I use coupons.
My parents live in an upper class town where people don’t really use a whole lot of coupons. And every Sunday my dad goes to the local grocery store and they give him all the Sunday papers that weren’t sold. He takes all the coupon inserts out, and he gives them to me on Monday. So I have quite a few coupons. I don’t use most of them. We don’t buy a ton of processed food which is what many of the coupons are for.
But I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow. And sometimes you don’t have time to be the Pioneer Woman.
So I will use coupons to buy some processed things that aren’t 100% garbage and that I can also use when I’m in a pinch. Things like canned soup and yogurt and those kinds of things.
In fact, it’s Can-Can season at ShopRite (all their canned stuff is super inexpensive). Progresso soup is normally $2.05/can. It’s on sale now for $1.49 a can. But if you buy 8 cans, it’s on sale for $.88/can.
Since my awesome dad got me a bazillion coupon inserts, I have a ton of coupons for Progresso soup, for $.50 off of two. So today I bought 8 cans of Progresso soup. The normal cost for that would be $16.40!
But since they were on sale for 8/$.88, the cost was $7.04. I used four $.50 off/2 coupons. ShopRite doubles coupons. So I gave them 4 coupons and got an additional $4 off.
So the final cost for those 8 cans of soup was $3.04 ($.38/can). I saved $13.36!
There was a similar deal on GoGo Squeezes this week at ShopRite. The kids like these for their lunches (plus you can freeze them and use them as ice packs in lunch boxes). But I rarely buy them because they are so expensive.
But this week they are on sale for 5 boxes/$9. I have a whole bunch of coupons for those, too — $1/box. So I used 4 of those coupons (you can only use a maximum of 4 coupons per item in a shopping trip at ShopRite). So I got 5 boxes for $5. A dollar a box!
I already have a coupon system in place, so it took me about one minute to cut those coupons out, and I saved $8. That works out to $480/hour, so it’s totally worth the time investment.
Some weeks just as there are better sales at the stores, there are better deals with coupons. Some weeks I don’t really use coupons at all.
But when there is a good deal on stuff that I’m okay with giving my kids, I take advantage of it as much as I can. I’ll definitely go back to ShopRite this week before the sale is over and get more soup and more GoGo squeezes!
6) I make double (or quadruple) batches of meals and freeze them.
We eat meals on (kind of) a rotation. Kind of like school lunches. Was that a thing when you were a kid? It was in my elementary school. Prince Spaghetti Day was every Wednesday.
Your kids don’t complain when it’s pizza day every Friday at school. They can handle a rotation of the same meals at home! I’ll try and vary the rotation every month or so. But buying things that are on sale and making them in bulk really keeps dinner costs down.
We eat lots of different variations of tacos and meatballs and I have become pretty good at turning a Costco rotisserie chicken (only $4.99!) into chicken enchiladas or chicken salad or chicken noodle soup or chicken chili or…
7) Plan meals.
If you are winging it every day, it is really difficult to keep the budget down.
8) Turn the same protein into several different meals.
We like tacos here. I’ll make a quadruple batch of taco meat using a four pack of ground turkey I get at Costco.
I use some of it in chili one night for dinner.
We’ll use it for tacos another night. (I also roll up tacos in flour tortillas and freeze them — Number 3 loves to take those to school in his lunch, and they are a really quick snack to grab after school, too).
A third night, we’ll have taco salad (remember those 15 bags of lettuce 🙂 ?)
That’s three dinners from something I only need to cook once.
Not only does this save me money, it saves me lots of time.
9) Cut back on the snacks.
I stopped buying a lot of processed food and snacks a couple years ago. A bag of pretzels in this house or a box of cereal lasts approximately fifteen minutes. That stuff is not super cheap, there’s pretty much nothing good in it for you, and when the kids eat all that crap, they don’t have much of an appetite at dinner.
Plus, your kids don’t need to have snacks at their disposal 24/7. It is okay for them to be a little bit hungry! It is good for them to learn to eat when their body is telling them they are hungry, rather than feeling the need to snack all day long!
10) Cut back on the processed food.
This goes hand in hand with the cutting back on the snacks.
People tend to eat when they are hungry, and they tend to stop when they are no longer hungry. Unless it’s junk food. Then you will eat it until you feel sick. Because that stuff is designed to make you want to not stop eating it. So you will buy more of it.
11) Make it from scratch.
There are many foods that are fairly easy and quick to make, that can save you lots of money.
Spaghetti sauce, for example, is something you can save a lot of money on if you make it from scratch. I almost never buy jarred sauce anymore.
12) I don’t buy organic.
I know this will rub some people the wrong way.
But I’ve read countless credible articles like this one and this one explaining that “organic” is often a gimmick. Unless a product is labelled 100% organic there are still pesticides being used in it, and food labeled organic that isn’t produced in the US is nearly impossible to monitor/test/certify.
So we don’t do organic. But I do grow as many of my own vegetables as I can in the summer. Not only do I know what’s going into my food, but I also save money that way, too!
There you go. 12 things you can do if you aren’t already doing them that will help you cut that weekly food bill down!
Do you do something else to keep your budget as low as possible? Please share — I love saving money on my food bill!