7 Ways I Save Money on Groceries Every Week
For a long time, I didn’t pay attention to what I spent on groceries. They were pretty much the only indulgence in our budget. When you can’t stand to spend more than $10 on an item of clothing for yourself, you have room for bottled kombucha and organic strawberries on your shopping list.
Like so much else in our lives, that changed when my daughter was born 15 weeks early and I lost my job. Even with insurance, we had a lot of medical bills—so many co-pays! why is it $200 out-of-pocket for an inhaler?!—and since I was the primary earner in our household, suddenly the one extravagance we had needed to be cut.
Unfortunately, there’s not a magic trick to eating exactly as you did before cutting your grocery budget. You have to make changes! And yes, even some sacrifices! It also takes a little bit of time. But the good news is, you can still eat well on a budget. Here’s how my family did it.
1. Eat Local and In-Season
Okay, we already did this, for the most part. The exception was fruit—my 4-year-old loves fresh berries, so I’d always pick up a pint for her, even if it was the middle of winter and they were coming from halfway around the world. That doesn’t happen anymore.
Eating in season means eating food that’s coming from closer to home. And when food isn’t being transported from faraway places, it’s less expensive. In comparing prices, our local farmers’ markets were consistently cheaper than grocery stores.
(Hint: Green Plate Club meal plans make it super easy to eat in season.)
2. Use Coupons (Seriously)
I had written off coupons for a long time. What kind of food can I get with coupons? We can’t subsist on boxed cake mix, Cascade, and Rice-A-Roni! It’s totally not that bleak, though. I swear.
I found this comprehensive list of ALL THE COUPONS and now I check it once a week for brands we like. There are a lot of organic, natural, and vegetarian-friendly products on the list. Set up a new email account and sign up for your favorite brands’ newsletters—a lot of them will send you periodic coupons and with a separate email address, you don’t have to worry about clogging up your inbox.
3. Download ALL THE REBATE APPS
I use the Target app, Ibotta, SavingStar, and Checkout51. These apps are kind of like coupons, but without the paper—you get instant rebates when you buy certain products. With Target Circle, you’re able to apply the rebates to future purchases; with the other three, you can cash out in gift cards or PayPal. I made over $100 in my first month using Ibotta. Note that each of these apps has different rules and guidelines, so familiarize yourself with them before making purchases; for some, you’ll need to link up your store rewards account with the app, and for others, you take photos of your receipt and/or scan product barcodes to get your rebates.
4. Shop Sales
You have the coupons. You have the rebate apps. Now you shop the sales. Every week, I wait for each grocery stores’ sales to go up on their websites. My grocery list consists of:
- What we need for meals
- What we need for snacks, breakfasts, and lunches
- What we can get a good deal on
Anything we need for meals, if we have a coupon? Great! If we don’t? Still need to buy it! For the second type of item on the list, I try to find products that we have coupons or rebates for, or that are on sale, but: we still need snacks, breakfasts, and lunches.
The last type of item on the list is where the magic happens. You can combine sales, coupons, and rebates for the same product. And sometimes you’ll have rebates on a few different apps. When this happens, you can get deeply discounted products—sometimes even free. I stock up on these items when I find them. But I never buy something we don’t need, wouldn’t normally buy, or won’t use in a reasonable amount of time just for the sake of getting a good deal. It’s tempting, but my goal is to keep our grocery spending as low as possible, not simply to get good deals for the sake of getting good deals.
5. Forage in the Pantry
If you’re shopping for seasonal produce, you can combine that with foods you already have in the pantry. Some of my family’s favorite go-to pantry dinners include roasted seasonal vegetables with:
- Whole grains and a dressing or sauce for Buddha bowls
- Pasta and marinara
- Herbed polenta
- Socca and a good cheese
- Lentils tossed in a red wine vinaigrette
- Pureed white beans
6. Do Better With Lunch
Having never paid much attention to our grocery budget, I was shocked to find how much money we were spending on lunches. My husband and I bought vegetarian frozen entrees and soups and even though we’d stock up when they were on sale, the sales prices…weren’t great. For literally the same price as one or two of those entrees, we could make a whole week’s worth of meal prep Buddha bowls or pasta lunches. These lunches tasted better, cost us much less, and they were more satisfying too—the only downside was the time needed to make them, but even that wasn’t bad.
7. Plan Your Meals
Oh, hey, you didn’t think I’d leave this out, right? When you plan your meals in advance, you save so much money. You’re not buying items at random with the intention of deciding what to do with them later. There’s no 6pm panic, leading to a call for pizza delivery. Going to the store with a list means you’re shopping with purpose. As soon as I got back on the meal planning train after the craziness of NICU life subsided, our grocery spending dropped dramatically.
So why don’t more people do meal planning? The answer is simple: time. It takes a lot of time to come up with a good meal plan—a plan that requires only one grocery trip, that doesn’t end up with veggies spoiled in the fridge by Friday, that’s doable for a busy schedule. It’s not just a matter of picking five recipes for every day of the week. That’s where most people go wrong with meal planning.
With Green Plate Club, we handle the logistics of putting together a perfect meal plan each week. If a recipe calls for half an onion, you can be sure we’ll have a recipe for the other half. You won’t be faced with cooking for an hour after a long day at work. We make weeknight meals easy—and we do it for only $6 a month.