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You know that feeling you get when your significant other/child/dog/[insert special person here] looks at you that certain way? You feel zen-like and turn into a pile of mush. I get the same feeling when I save money. Seriously – that line at the bottom of the receipt that boasts, “You saved $XX.XX this shopping trip!” makes me want to shout with joy. I love saving money, especially on one of the biggest bills every month: Grocery shopping. When I save money on groceries, I get all the feels.
Food is expensive, and parents with kids still in the home know that more than anyone. According to the USDA, the average family of four with kids up to age 5 spends $711.30 on groceries. One with kids age 6 and up spends $840.90 – and those estimates are for a low-cost food plan! A liberal plan for a family of four soars to $1273 a month.
I have a family of three, so let’s assume that each person eats $177.82 each month on a low-cost food plan (using the USDA’s figure of $711.30/4). My family of three should consume, then, $533.46 of food a month ($177.82 x 3). Although I don’t know what the USDA’s actual definition of their “thrifty” and “low-cost” plans are, I’d consider us to fall in the low-cost range. We buy some snacks, drinks, meats, and sides that aren’t bottom-dollar and I also buy some healthy higher-cost items like coconut and almond flour and avocados.
The thing is – I don’t even spend half of that $533 on food every month. I don’t even think I’d know what to do with all that food honestly. Between being a savvy shopper and knowing how to get cash back for my shopping trips, I spend no more than $200 most months on food. That includes breakfasts, school lunches, snacks, and healthy, hearty dinners.
Yes, I love saving money. But there’s another reason why I think it’s important to be frugal, especially with such a big monthly expense. Doing so also can teach kids to be smart with money, which is a lesson they’ll carry with them for life!
Grocery Shopping on a Budget: How I Save $200 or More on Groceries Every Month
Although there are a lot of ways to save money on groceries, I have four go-to methods that never fail me. (Okay, five, but I think buying generic brands goes without saying when you’re trying to save on groceries!). Here’s how I do it:
1. Meal Plan
Meal planning is something you see more and more budget-savvy families recommending. That’s because it helps with a lot of different things, like:
- Creating more organized shopping lists
- Cutting down on the time it takes to shop
- Saving money by buying things in bulk for multiple meals
- Preventing food waste
- Reducing your overall food bill
Since starting to plan meals about three years ago, my whole attitude toward grocery shopping has changed. I spend less time at the store, I don’t pay as much, and I have every ingredient I need for two weeks without having to make extra shopping trips.
When I mention meal planning, I’m talking about spending more time creating and organizing my meal list and shopping list to spend less time and money at the store.
My Typical Meal-Planning Routine
- I always start by gathering recipes I want to make for the next two weeks (only two shopping trips a month is always my goal!). I have a master list of recipes my kids and I love on my computer that helps. I’ll browse through it and pick out meals to make quickly without making the same things repeatedly every month. Pinterest is also an excellent resource when I want something new to try!
- I write them down along with every ingredient I need for each. Helpful tip: Try to find recipes that use a lot of the same ingredients, so you can buy them in bulk! For one two-week block, I might have a few meals that use shredded cheddar cheese. The next two weeks, I might have several recipes that need sour cream.
- I’ll then go through the list and cross off anything I already have enough of. I usually keep a good stock of canned and frozen veggies, pasta, broths, and dairy products, so I can often cross these off.
- Every ingredient still on the list goes onto a separate sheet of paper. I make sure I group together like items from different recipes so I get the right amount. If, for example, I need 4 chicken breasts for 3 meals, I’ll write 12 on the list and buy them in bulk (chicken is one of those things that always saves me money by buying bulk!). I also include anything outside of my meal plan that I’ll need, like lunch meat or snacks. I organize everything into the aisles where I’d find them in the store. For example, my local ALDI has baking items and cereal in one aisle, so I’d put Cheerios and baking soda in the same block on my list.
- Lastly, I plan out my meals. I always place the meals with ingredients that will expire first (like those with fresh produce or fast-expiring dairy products) near the top of the list and make them first. This list goes right on the fridge door, so I’ll know when I need to thaw or prep something ahead of time.
When you plan meals, you go to the store with a plan in hand. You’ll spend less money on things you think you need and, instead, get the things you do need for your meals. Plus, you won’t have excess ingredients lingering and going bad. It’s a win-win for you and your wallet.
2. Only Shop at Discount Grocery Stores
I’ve practically ditched regular grocery stores in the last couple of years. The only time I step foot in one is if I need something quick and it happens to be the closest place. Otherwise, I head to a discount grocery store that specializes in saving customers money.
I first discovered ALDI about three years ago when a co-worker mentioned the prices she was paying for produce there. I’d heard of the store before but never checked it out. After she was telling me these ridiculously low prices for oranges, lettuce, mushrooms, blueberries, and more, I ventured over there. I’ve gone every month since.
There’s a reason you see so many Pinterest posts about ALDI meal plans and grocery shopping on a budget at ALDI: It saves so much time and money! The store is set up so that you can breeze through it in about 20 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 45 minutes there from the moment I walked in the door to the time I walked back out to the parking lot. It’s easy to find things and finish the trip.
More importantly, everything about ALDI works to save you money. The store saves on labor costs by not having a million workers around twiddling their thumbs. The cart system is one of those where you put a quarter in and have to return the cart to get your quarter back, so that’s one extra person who doesn’t need to be there running up labor costs. You bring your own bags or buy them, so there’s another expense gone. And, ALDI carries bargain brands so that you don’t pay top dollar for everything.
After my first three ALDI trips, I started comparing my ALDI receipts to receipts from other shopping trips. On average, I saved about $60 per trip (every two weeks, or $120 a month!) buying similar grocery lists at ALDI.
CashSaver is fairly new to me and it’s quickly become a close second behind ALDI. My local one just opened up about six months ago and I first tried it out two months ago. Two words: LOVE IT.
CashSaver is a cost plus food store. “Cost Plus” means that items are priced based on what the store pays to buy, ship, and stock them. So, what you pay is typically much less than what you’d pay at a regular grocery store that marks up every item. Then, at checkout, CashSaver adds 10% of your purchase price to the sale. If your items come to $100, you’ll pay $110. That $10 is a small price to pay for the savings you’ll get!
My CashSaver store has so many off-brand items that are just as good, in my opinion, as the brand name versions, but at a fraction of the cost. Plus, its meat prices are practically unbeatable and it has an awesome selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. My last trip there came to $170 ($187 total) and bought my family food for the whole month (I occasionally do monthly trips if I’m mostly buying things I can freeze or cook ahead of time so they don’t expire). That even included $11 worth of food I bought for a potluck we went to!
Bottom line: Savvy shopping saves money! Go to the discount stores. Get the off brands. Your wallet will thank you later!
3. Use Walmart Savings Catcher
Photo by Pixabay
There are some occasions when neither ALDI nor CashSaver has what I need (it’s rare, but it happens with some less common ingredients). When that happens, I go to Walmart. Mine has a great selection of food and a lot of the Great Value brand items are excellent prices. Plus, I can find just about any health, beauty, home, garden, etc. product that I need there.
When I’m done shopping, I use the Walmart app, which has the Walmart Savings Catcher included. This handy app lets you scan your Walmart receipt and it will automatically price-check the items you bought against the same items with competitor stores. Wait a couple of days and if the Walmart Savings Catcher finds a better deal somewhere else, Walmart pays you the difference in your account!
I don’t make a ton of money doing this, but every little bit helps. With Walmart’s already-low prices, it doesn’t hurt to save money shopping there and potentially get some cash back from doing it.
4. Redeem Rebates with Ibotta
Haven’t yet jumped on the Ibotta bandwagon? Well, if you want to save money on groceries, it’s time to start! Ibotta is easily my favorite money-saving app because of how easy it is to redeem rebates on things I buy every time I shop. Not only that, but my friends can join in too! You and your “team” work together to save not only yourselves money, but your whole team too.
Ibotta gives you cash back in the form of rebates. You pick the rebates you want, shop for those items, and then redeem them by scanning your receipt. Ibotta automatically sees what you bought and gives you the money you earned from your purchases. I make at least $20 a month using Ibotta just from grocery shopping! Since there’s only a $20 minimum to cash out with PayPal, I’ll get $20 back in grocery money every month. Some months, I do even better, especially if my team is on top of their game and gathering up their bonuses too.
Here’s how to use Ibotta to save money on groceries:
- Find your favorite stores. Search Ibotta for the stores you shop at most. Walmart, Rite Aid, Target, and Dollar General are just some of the options.
- Browse the rebates for each store. Search through categories or browse “All” offers to find rebates. Click each one you want, read the instructions, and add it to your list of offers. In some cases, you’ll need to watch a quick video or answer a question before you can add an offer.
- Go shopping. Make your trip to the store and buy the items for which you have offers. Pay for everything and make sure you get your receipt!
- Scan the receipt. Click “Redeem” in the Ibotta app and scan your receipt’s barcode or QR code. The app will automatically find the products that match your offers. Occasionally, Ibotta may not find a product. If that happens, just scan the product’s barcode with the app and it’ll add the rebate!
- Drool over your savings. You’ll see your pending earnings in your account balance for about 24 hours. After that, everything will clear and that money is yours! Once you hit $20, you can get paid with PayPal.
Don’t forget to check the app’s bonus offers because they change often. Do this by going to Account —> Bonuses. Some brands give you extra cash for buying specific brand items and Ibotta puts out tons of bonuses you can get by redeeming a certain number of offers in a week. It’s a simple way to get more for doing the same amount of shopping you’d normally do!
When you sign up for Ibotta using my affiliate link, you’ll end up on my team and earning right along with me! When you sign up, you’ll get $10 added to your account without having to do anything, so you’ll already be halfway to getting paid.
Ready to sign up and start saving? Here’s the link to join my team:
Save Money on Groceries Starting Today!
If cutting your grocery bill in half sounds tempting to you, then I suggest trying what I do to save. It works for my family and it can work for yours, especially once you get the hang of it and fall into a routine that works for you. I won’t lie – it takes more time at first. But think of how much time you’ll save when you don’t have to make multiple store trips each month because you don’t have what you need. And think of how much money you’ll save when you stick to your plan and buy what you need at money-saving stores using cash back rebates and apps. Trust me, it’s sanity-saving too.
What’s your current monthly grocery bill like? What would you like to see it go down to? Let me know your food budget challenges in the comments below and I’ll offer up some suggestions!
Amy is a mom of two, freelance writer, and blog manager who works with family-focused businesses to improve their content strategies. You can find her published work on Reader’s Digest Online, MSN, Niche, Frugal For Less, and other lifestyle publications.