Everyone has to eat, so the majority of us make regular visits to the grocery store. As of 2013, the average cost to feed a family of four ranged from $146 to $289 per week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This figure is based solely on eating at home, so the real average is much higher if you factor in the money that most of us spend eating out.
Obviously, there is a big difference between spending close to $150 per week and spending nearly $300. The amount you spend will depend on several factors, including your age, the age of your family members, the cost of groceries where you live, as well as whether or not you shop sales, use coupons, choose store brand items, and so on. What we do know is that the majority of us would love to save money on groceries, but that takes careful planning. Here are five ideas that will help you start saving.
1. Use Coupons
You probably saw this one coming — but yes, coupons can be a very affective way to save money. You may have heard of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, which often showcases people saving huge amounts on outrageous grocery bills. While most of us don’t have the time to coupon to this extreme, even using a few coupons per week can save you money when implemented regularly. If you don’t already subscribe to a newspaper, that is an easy way to start. Sunday papers usually include coupon inserts; just looking at the flyers for the stores you shop at the most will save you a lot of money because you can plan your meals around what is on sale. Some people subscribe to several Sunday papers in order to have doubles of certain coupons.
Coupons also often come in the mail, and several grocery chains also mail out coupons or provide them online to subscribers. In addition, some coupons can be loaded to your cell phone. You can save even more by planning weekly meals around particularly good coupon deals for the week in addition the individual store sales, or by stockpiling items that will last for a long time. One caution about coupons: it is very easy to get into the habit of thinking you need something simply because you have a coupon; coupons are only useful if they are for items you actually need or will use before they expire.
2. Plan Your Meals
Even if you don’t use coupons, planning your meals will save you a lot of money. Simply going to the grocery store with a grocery list will help eliminate impulse shopping. In addition, by choosing meals that allow you to reduce waste, you will maximize your savings. Currently, households throw away 14 percent of the food they buy. Try purchasing food that can be used in multiple meals per week, and planning those meals within a few days of each other in order to keep the leftovers edible. If you purchase meat, cooking all of it at once can save time as well as money.
In addition, if you dedicate one night per week to using leftovers, you will also save money. There are several online meal planning sheets that you can print for free. Several websites also offer meal planning assistance, although most of them cost money. One popular one is emeals, which starts at $5 dollars per month.
3. Eat in Season
One particularly simple way you can save money is to purchase fruits and vegetables in season. Eating healthy is important, but it can get really expensive if you regularly eat foods that have to be shipped across the country. In season fruits and vegetables are cheaper, but they are often fresher as well. If you want to maintain an easy list of in-season vegetables, here is a great list. In the summer, you can check out local farmer’s markets, or peruse the local section in the supermarket. You will often pay more at the farmer’s market, but not always; the food is fresher, so a trip to check it out is worth it if you have time. You will often save by buying local produce at the store (although different stores will maintain their own definitions of what local means.) You can take this idea a step further by planting your own garden as well.
4. Buy Bulk
You can’t buy everything in bulk because some items are not available, and many more would go bad before you could eat them. However, there are many items that should be bought in bulk when possible. One such item is meat. Unlike some foods that will go bad if you can’t eat them in time, meat can be frozen. If you save money by buying bulk, but you put away a large amount for later in the freezer, you will save money and have meat to use at a different time.
You should also buy toiletries in bulk if they are on sale. Large amounts of toilet paper, diapers, and paper towels will not go bad, so if you see them on sale and you have room in your house to store them, you should buy them. Bottled beverages, canned foods, peanut butter, and other similar items are also a good idea. Even if the food itself will eventually expire, you can save money as long as you keep an eye on the expiration dates in your pantry. Some shoppers invest in cards to stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, but you will have to decide if you will save enough money to make it worth it.
5. Make It Yourself
Many of us do not have time to do this very often, but even making your own food or cleaning item occasionally can save money. Making your own cleaning products can be super easy, requiring as little as purchasing baking soda or mixing together several other combinations of affordable items. Many parents make their own paint or playdough, as well as baby food and even formula. Several food items we buy regularly at the store can be made at home, including pasta sauce, apple sauce, peanut butter, granola, chips, pesto, pancakes, salsa, and even pasta if you have the motivation to make it. Many shoppers spend a lot of money on beverages, and you can cut a big chunk of your grocery bill if you make lemonade, iced tea, or other popular drinks at home. Currently, nearly 23 percent of Americans’ food budget is spent on processed foods and sweets, many of which would be much healthier if they were made at home as well.
You may not have the time necessary to coupon regularly or make your own food from scratch each week. You might not have a green thumb to garden, and your storage space could be too small to stockpile much, but any one of these ideas will save you money if you can take them on. If you can dive into all of them, then you should be pleased with the results pretty quickly.