It happens to all of us: You’re staring down an open fridge door with these words stammering through your tired brain, What on earth will I make for dinner? At this point, either everything or nothing looks good. You end up tossing together what you call a “one-pot wonder,” knowing it would make Gordon Ramsay burst into fury. Or more often than not, you throw in the kitchen towel and run to the nearest burger hut.
At the end of the month, despite the lack of food in the fridge, your grocery budget is still absolutely annihilated. How does it happen? Why does it keep happening?
We know! It’s because you don’t have a plan. But don’t worry. We’ve got so many plans, and we want to help!
Let’s start with this: We’ll show you how to save major cash on groceries each month. The next 11 tips will help you spend better, save more, and eat well.
Easy Tips to Save Money on Groceries
1. Budget first.
You don’t jump in a pool if you aren’t sure there’s water in there. You don’t go on a road trip without snacks. And you don’t spend without a budget—if you want to be in control of your money, that is.
Before you shop, set up monthly budget. How do you know what to allot for your grocery line? Pull on your inspector hat and do some solid Sherlockian detective work: Look back over last month’s expenses. What did you spend? Start there.
Now do a little math. If you budget $400 for the month, and there are four weeks, that gives you around $100 a week to spend. We picked this number because of its simple math-ness, so don’t feel like your total has to line up with our example.
And some weeks you’ll overspend or underspend—but it’s about balancing out and staying at, or under, budget by the end of the month.
2. Spend time meal planning—every week.
“P-l-a-n-n-i-n-g: Find out what it means to me.” This isn’t one of Aretha Franklin’s lesser-known hits. (Though, admit it, you sang along. Or tried to. Rhythmically, we admit it was flawed.) It’s the second-best piece of advice we have on how to save money grocery shopping.
Why does meal planning save you dough? Because intentionality breeds frugality.
Just like a budget tells your money what to do, meal plans tell your food what to do. When you know what you’ll be eating, you know what to buy. When you know what to buy, you waste less. It’s a different kind of food chain.
Set up a plan for each day of the week, each meal of the day. That doesn’t mean you’re promising everyone gluten-free, blueberry-coconut pancakes for breakfast, but it does mean you’ll have stuff on hand for morning, noon, snacks and night.
By the way: If meal planning seems like too much work, look into a service that makes it easy by providing menus and grocery shopping lists—like emeals. Once you pick your preferences, all that’s left is the shopping. And EveryDollar budgeters can try emeals for free for 14 days! Yes, seriously!
The next couple tips will help you refine your weekly meal plans.
3. Shop your pantry, fridge and freezer.
As you’re plotting what you’ll be preparing, check your kitchen. Are there meatballs in the freezer, noodles in the pantry and salad in the fridge? You’re just sauce and garlic bread away from an easy American-Italian night. Build what you’ll cook on the foundation of what you already have.
4. Consult your social calendar.
You’ll also want to think about the week’s upcoming activities. A study on U.S. Grocery Shopper Trendsshares that 63% of households think eating meals together as a family is important.But we all know life gets busy. With kids participating in croquet, chess club or choir, some of your nights aren’t conducive to a three-course meal. To beat the drive-thru temptation, know those nights are coming, and plan easy-to-make meals.
Even no-kid couples and singles have to deal with active evening itineraries. Look ahead as you plan.
5. Clip and click coupons.
Some people are couponing bosses. They know the stores that double or accept both a manufacturer and a store coupon. Other people don’t know what half the words in the previous sentence even mean.
And that’s fine! Both of you are awesome, and both of you can save money with coupons.
No matter where you’re starting out in the world of couponing, just know they’re a powerful and beautiful tool. Use them! You can clip paper versions, print paper versions from a store’s website, or click digital versions in your favorite store’s app. Let the coupons guide some of your meal planning as well.
6. Shop the sales.
If you find a coupon for an item on sale–you win! Pass Go. Collect the savings.
Even if you aren’t feeling that level of saving and shopping savvy, use the store sales to help you plan—especially the carnivores out there. Meat is expensive. When poultry’s priced right, plan your white chicken chili. When steak’s on sale, fire up the grill. When . . . you get the picture. Take advantage of weekly store ads. And make sure you know the start and end dates of those specials. Some stores restart on Sunday, others on Wednesday. There are few things as saddening to a grocery shopper as missing out on the perfect BOGO.