Making the most of your grocery budget

Photo by NeONBRAND

With the New Year, comes a new budget for our household. Last year, I wrote about my goal of reducing our annual household grocery bill in comparison to 2019 and I’m happy to say that, in 2020, I was close to being $550 under our projected budget! With inflation and the cost of groceries continuing to rise, I would like to share how I achieved that goal.

Every Sunday afternoon, I get into the habit of creating a meal plan for the entire week. I know of some individuals who meal plan for two weeks, but I found that focusing on one week at a time allowed our family to use produce faster before it went bad, and I still had fridge space to get a good visual on what we had on hand.

Whatever length of meal plan you choose, when you have a plan in place it will likely save you time and money in the long run. I also will often keep a running list of several weeks worth of meal plans that I can always visit if I’m stuck for ideas.

Another great resource for meal planning is digital or print grocery store flyers. You can meal plan based on items on sale, and go from there.

Make a list and stick to it

I would also recommend perhaps adding on a bonus meal idea or two, just in case if your plans change during the week, then you have the flexibility of having a “backup meal” if need be. In my cupboard, a “backup meal” can be as simple as pasta and pasta sauce, a couple cans of tuna or even soup. Usually my “back up meal” is versatile, and often non-perishable so it can be easy stored and used when needed.

When you meal plan, you are also limited your trips to the grocery store, which studies have suggested that you will likely spend less money going once a week, versus doing several trips throughout the week.

In 2019, I would often go to the grocery store a handful of times a week usually just for one or two items, only to leave the store with a basketful. With 2020, I intentionally did my best to limit my trips to the grocery store not only to protect my health, but also to protect my pocketbook.

Making due with what you’ve got

If the store is out of stock on an item that you need, is there something it can be easily replaced with? Can you do without or is it something perhaps you can make on your own? I recall a time where I thought I had cocktail sauce on hand for shrimp, but didn’t have time to run to the grocery store.

A quick search on the computer I found a super easy recipe that I was able to make it myself in less than five minutes and no extra trip to the grocery store. Making due with what you’ve got, can make a masterpiece from leftovers which can generate a huge savings in time and money.

For instance, a roast beef dinner leftovers can be turned into a stir fry, a sandwich, soup or a shepherd’s pie. There have been times where I’ve turned to my computer search engine and typed: “What can I do with leftover (blank)” and often several recipe ideas will pop up on my screen.

Some recipe websites like allow you to search up recipes in their data base when you enter certain ingredients you have on hand. There’s even a new show on Netflix called “Best Leftovers Ever!” where contestants compete to create new dishes from leftovers they are given. Culinary inspiration can be found almost anywhere.

Make the most of loyalty programs

There are many free and paid loyalty programs, I have experience with both. Although one thing to note, it’s never a good deal if something you buy on sale — or for extra loyalty points — if it is going to go to waste.

This reminds me of an episode of The Golden Girls where Sophia gets a membership at a wholesale club to return home with 500 cans of tuna, just because it was such a great deal.

At one store that I frequently shop at, I did some research on their paid VIP grocery program, and since joining in September, I get free grocery pick up and have already cashed out $200 in grocery points.

In 2020 I did more curbside pickup with my groceries, and each time without the VIP program would cost me $3 to $5 each visit. Over the course of the year, I calculated what I would pay in pick up/delivery fees would be far more than what the membership cost, so I made the choice to give it a try.

Even with the free program that I was previous on, I still earned points that I would cash out several times a year towards grocery purchases. All of it helped.

With the curbside pickup option at my grocery store, all of my ordering was also done online. This also prevented me from “browsing” in person and making extra unnecessary purchases. When I shopped online I was able to stick to my list.

It’s not a purely flawless system, sometimes substitutions are made (which you can approve/disapprove upon pick up) and there has been one time where an item was missed, but honestly, that too can happen when shopping in person as well.

Hope these suggestions help and I wish you all the very best in your grocery savings for 2021.