Being newlyweds with only one income has definitely made us prioritize our spending. My husband takes care of most things like paying rent, bills, etc. However, I’m the one who is mostly “in charge” of the food budget since I’m the one who cooks and I know how much we eat, etc. So, I make my version of a weekly meal plan (more on that below) and head to the grocery store/Costco for our weekly shopping trip. We do weekly shopping trips because we eat mostly fresh vegetables since at the moment we follow a pescetarian diet. Our total food budget for two people is $300 a month. Roughly estimated, $70-$75 per week. It’s not a bad budget to work with, I know. However, since we’re just learning the ins and outs of budgeting it’s been a challenge.
So, here are 5 easy steps to save money on your grocery store. These are the simplest changes that I’ve found make a great impact in our food bill. Of course this is subject to change across different areas. Also, living in Puerto Rico, I think groceries here are more expensive than in mainland U.S.A. (at least from what I remember from living in Florida), so you may be able to find even better deals.
1. Don’t buy convenience items – I.E., shredded cheese, pre-cut carrots, etc. With items like these you really are just paying for someone else to do minimum work for you. With cheese for example, instead of paying $3.00 for one bag of shredded cheddar (with additives to prevent it from sticking) I purchase generic brand “Longhorn Style” mild cheddar for $1.87, shred half for a recipe and save the other half for something else or for a quick snack. A bag of pre-cut carrots at my grocery store is a little over $3.00 while a pack of 3 huge carrots is usually around $1.10-$1.50, you get more than double of what is in the pre-cut bag for half the price.
2. Learn to love generic brands – Generic brands are said to be the exact same as name brands with some even being made in the same facilities. This article hilights some of the bigger questions regarding this matter. This is trial and error for me, I’ve come to find that I prefer Great Value tomato paste to Hunt’s, GV aluminum foil to Reynold’s, etc. However, I’ll always splurge on Uncle Ben’s Brown Rice, it’s a no-brainer. I tried generic and it just didn’t work for me and my husband. I know this seems silly, but if you’re anything like me, and grew up in a higher middle class area, you know that our parents would buy brand name everything. So it’s a bit of a paradigm shift to learn to compare ingredient lists and learning to love generic brands. Some of the generic (mostly Great Value) items that we purchase and have seen a difference in our food budget are:
- Aluminum foil (Instead of Reynold’s)
- Plastic bags (Instead of Ziplock)
- Frozen mixed vegetables, corn, and peas (Instead of Green Giant).*
- Cheese to shred.
- Tomato paste
- Tomato sauce
- Sweet plantains
- Spices ($1.57 for GV chili powder instead of $4.17 McCormick)
3. Double-Up the use for 1 ingredient or item – I try as hard as I can to not buy one ingredient or produce unless I can get more than one use out of it. For example, a big bag of sweet potatoes at Costco costs us I believe around $6-$7. I purchased it because I know I’ll use it in many ways like sweet potato mash, loaded vegetarian sweet potatoes, breakfast sweet potatoes “hash”, etc. If we buy a bag of asparagus, we’re having it roasted with scrambled eggs for breakfast, chopped and sautéed with lemon-parmesan pasta, roasted in a salad, etc. Thinking ahead of different ways to use one item will help you save money because you’ll be able to use the item in it’s entirety before going bad (Food in the trash = Money in the trash). Sometimes this means making it ahead and freezing for later use but it’s still a good homemade meal that saved your family money.
4. Soak and Cook Your Own Beans – This one I did after reading about so much in Pinterest. I finally caved. My grandmothers have soaked and cooked beans all of their lives, so I sort of saw it as something ancient. My mother on the other hand won’t soak beans for the life of her, so I grew up loving the convenience of canned beans. Now that I’m in charge of a food budget, and given that we eat so many beans, I knew I had to do something. So, I went to the supermarket and bought a small 1 lb bag of generic brand black beans. With the same amount of money ($1.60-ish) that I buy 1 can (roughly 2 cups) I got 7 cups worth of cooked black beans !!!!! Talk about saving with this one. I followed this recipe and it was perfect. Here is a picture I posted on my Instagram about the process. I was very excited.
5. Menu Plan – This really is one of the best tips out there. If you know what you’re making, you know what you need and that’s all you will buy. However, I’ve found that I fail when I try to make it very specific to Monday, Tuesday, etc.
My version of a menu plan is as follows:
- Take inventory of what I have on hand.
- Search previously made (and liked) recipes. Take note of what I can make.
- If I have a lot of one ingredient to use up (i.e., quinoa), use Pinterest and Google to find a new recipe to make.
- For example: Last week I didn’t know what to make, I had jarred marinara sauce, tomato paste, mushrooms and quinoa. I searched Pinterest and found a quinoa “lasagna” bake. I had all of the ingredients so I made it and we loved it. Didn’t need to purchase anything extra. 😉
- Make a list of 5 dinners and 2 lunches that I can make without having to but a lot of ingredients.
- Throughout the week, I pick and chose a meal depending on what we want that day, if we have leftovers or if we need leftovers for lunch the next day.
It’s not the perfect meal plan but I have found that planning for five meals that I can make any time during the week makes it easier for me to stick to our budget.
What do you do at the grocery store to save money? Have you tried any of the tips I mentioned?
- * I try to buy Organic frozen vegetables when it’s in our budget. However, it hasn’t been for a while. Hopefully once I start generating income in August, I’ll be able to buy Organic frozen vegetables again.
This is not a sponsored post. No affiliate links have been used. All opinions are my own.