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One of the best ways to reduce your spending is to shop smarter in the grocery store. It’s a huge expense, and can be bigger if you shop aimlessly or don’t have the skills to make anything more than ready-made foods.
When you live on less than $50,000 a year (about the average income for a police officer… and keep in mind that’s average!), it’s even more important to cut costs where you can and I have some tips to help.
I’m going to be honest here: I hate couponing. I find it tedious, and I hate trying to keep track of coupons. Plus, even when I have them, I tend to forget I have them.
However, some people have no problem clipping coupons and make out like bandits. If that’s you, go for it!
Personally, I prefer this to couponing because it takes less effort on my part – and it doesn’t depend on me remembering to use coupons at checkout. Plus, you can use Ibotta for things that you can’t usually use coupons for, like milk and produce.
That being said, I’m definitely not a die-hard user. Plenty of my friends have made this work for them, but I currently have an $8 balance. But $8 is $8, and I plan to save it up to use toward Christmas expenses.
If you want to get an extra $10 with your first rebate, sign up through this link!
I spend wayyyy more money on groceries without a list than with. Partly because I forget half of what I need and have to go back, wasting time and gas money, plus I make a lot more impulse purchases. Without my list, I might as well be walking around blind.
Of course, the other part of this money-saving trick is to have the discipline needed to stick to your list. Which is easier if you write a meal plan!
Of all these tips, meal planning has hands down had the biggest impact on reducing our grocery budget. Before we started writing a meal plan each week, we spent $50-100 more each pay period (so approximately $100-200 per month) on groceries.
Right now, we budget $200 for food each paycheck for our family of 3. By carefully planning our meals, this is usually slightly more than we need, which means we can afford to get fast food one night every two weeks if we want. Because sometimes I need a break from cooking!
But that being said, meal planning reduces my stress levels a lot. It helps me plan ahead, know what I need to do the night before and the day of, and I have the peace of mind of knowing we already have all the ingredients needed.
I know some people have a hard time meal planning because their kids are picky eaters. Right now, it’s not a concern for us, as A is a pretty good eater and gets what we’re getting unless it’s too spicy. When he’s older and pickiness/control issues set in, the rule will be “eat it or go hungry”. Not only do I not want to be a short-order chef, I also don’t want to waste money by giving into bad habits!
If you want to know how to write a meal plan, I wrote a whole post on the subject.
Freezer meals are a great way to save money on groceries. Basically, you put meals together ahead of time, freeze them, then thaw and cook them when you need them. It’s way easier than cooking a full dinner each night (especially if you make use of a crock pot!) and it’ll help you stay away from getting fast food (which can be a serious budget killer.)
If you’re a freezer cooking newbie, here’s a great post on freezer cooking to get you started!
If you want to save money on groceries, you should really learn how to prepare good meals. After all, if you don’t enjoy what you eat, it’ll be much more tempting to spend money on ready-to-eat foods.
And once you learn to cook well, you’ll so much prefer homemade foods to what you can get in a restaurant. Trust me.
You can do this several ways:
Another great way to save money on groceries is to learn how to use what you have on hand. Supercook is a website that helps you find recipes that use the ingredients in your pantry. There’s even an app in the works so you can find recipes from your phone, and connect with family members so you know when you’re low on certain ingredients. Pretty cool!
I know this might seem to add a little to the cost of buying groceries, but if you struggle to stick to your list, this is the way to go. You just plan out your list, add it all to an online shopping cart, and adjust as necessary. When you’re ready, order it. Bam. Done.
Also, if ordering your groceries saves you the hassle of wrangling multiple kids, it may be money well spent to avoid going crazy.
But the reason this would save me money is that I’m a little socially awkward (which is not unusual for bloggers!) As important as my budget is to me, I’m too shy to take things out of my cart if they’ve been rung up and I find I’m over budget. I don’t want to be a hassle. But when you order online, you can make these adjustments without holding up the line!
If you want this convenience but don’t want to pay the extra for delivery (or delivery isn’t available in your area), Walmart offers online grocery shopping with free pick-up. That means you still don’t have to unload/reload your kids in the parking lot. Woohoo!
Gardening is a great way to save money on produce. Plus, home-grown veggies taste way better than store-bought.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge back yard to grow your own produce. I actually stumbled upon this book the other day about straw bale gardening. It’s great for those with small spaces, and you can get started for under $100.
We’re lucky enough to have landlords with a huge garden we can help with/benefit from, but I definitely want to experiment with this next year, just for fun!
Meat is freaking expensive. It’s the most expensive part of any meal I make. If you want to save money, you can creatively cut down on meat usage. For instance, you can try adding beans to a recipe with ground beef in place of 1/4-1/2 of the meat.
You may also consider a meatless meal 1-2 times per week. I know to some this is considered sacrilege. My husband kind of groans when I want to try a new meatless recipe, but I’ve found a few he likes. Buffalo cauliflower, for example, is something we regularly make for dinner, and it’s super cheap.
If you can’t go completely meatless, try switching to chicken or pork instead of beef.
These things have had a huge impact on our grocery budget. Not only that, because we’re able to shop smarter, we don’t go out for fast food nearly as often, which is way cheaper and way healthier.
I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.
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This post contains affiliate links. Read full disclosure here. I was so excited this year…