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Our family started budgeting in 2013. In that first month that I started tracking our spending habits, we spent more than twice the money on food that we now spend–and we have a growing kid that eats as much as her parents these days, sometimes more! To give you an idea of how much our food budget was out of wack, we were spending over $200 a week, mostly on fast food. Now, as a family of three, we’re spending between $80 and $90 a week. In this budget category alone, we’re saving over $400 a month! It’s well-worth the effort to take a closer look at your food spending habits.

When you’re trying to save enough money to become a one-salary household, the food budget truly is a great place to check for savings opportunities. Yes, food is a necessity, but there are plenty of bargains to be had while still keeping your family well-fed and healthy, and still enjoying the occasional restaurant.

20 Ways to Save on Your Food Budget

What’s the main secret to saving on your food budget? It’s simple, really. All of the tips I’ll be sharing in this post are based on this key tip: Plan ahead.

Ways to Save on Your Food Budget

Here are 20 ways you can save money on food by planning ahead.

  1. Create a meal plan every week. Make sure you know what you are going to eat for each meal on each day of the week. This is the first tip in this list because it helps you stick to your budget and make the best use out of the rest of these tips. It requires a little planning at the beginning of your week, but it is time well spent because you won’t get caught without food for any meal and have to resort to spending more money than you wanted. Plus, you’ll feel more organized and less stressed throughout the week. So here’s what you do: create a matrix by writing down each day of the week  along the side of your sheet, then writing breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks along the top. Brainstorm and decide what you’re going to eat for each meal each day. Include homemade meals and days where you plan to go to a restaurant. Think about what foods you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. You may also want to go through the grocery ads of the week and your coupons to determine what’s on sale while you’re making your meal plans. Once you’ve done this for a few weeks, you can start reusing meal plans or stealing a few ideas from previous weeks based on what your family loved and what was most budget-friendly.
  2. Make dinner and freeze extras. It is so much cheaper to make your own meals than to buy restaurant food, fast food, or anything pre-packaged at the store. You can even make a double-batch and freeze half to pull out of the freezer on busy days. However, to successfully make enough dinners to get you through the week without going over on your budget or wasting any food, you’ll need to create that meal plan each week.
  3. Shop the sales at the grocery stores. Look through the grocery ads before you go shopping. You’ll quickly learn what sales are the best deals and when to buy in bulk. The goal is to buy your food at the cheapest prices and then have enough to get you through until the next sale.
  4. Make a shopping list and then stick to it. Don’t deviate from your shopping list. All those little items that get thrown into the cart as you find everything you actually came to the store to get will eat away at your budget total as well.Pretend you’re a contestant on Supermarket Sweep and are under a time limit to find everything on your list. Get in and get to the checkout lane as fast as possible! This saves you money and time.
  5. Buy in bulk. Meat is a great food item to buy in bulk. Never pay full price for meat. Buy it in bulk when it’s on sale and then store extra in the freezer. We split our meat into 1-pound containers so we can pull out a container to thaw as needed.
  6. Use Ibotta and Checkout 51 apps on your phone. These apps are free and have lots of coupons/discounts on items just for scanning in a photo of your receipt. They are super easy to use. You can even scan barcodes as you shop to find coupons before you buy items. But I usually take a couple of minutes each week to go through the coupons ahead of time and decide which ones we might use so I go to the store in the know. Ibotta has a recurring 25-cent “any item” coupon every week, so even if I don’t need any of the other coupons, I still always save at least that much on any given grocery trip. We also buy a lot of gluten-free food since my daughter and I have a gluten allergy, and these apps combined save us over $15 a month just on those foods. (Some of my new favorites are Udi’s bread and Van’s waffles.)
  7. Clip coupons. Old school coupons (non-electronic) are still alive and well for saving money. I kid you not! Whenever we splurge on fast food, we make use of coupons included in the weekly grocery ads.
  8. Buy generic. If there’s a cheaper generic version of a food that you buy, give it a try. You may find that you can’t tell a difference (especially in cooking ingredients like broths, rotel, beans, rices, etc) and your wallet will thank you.
  9. Keep staples on hand. Having a constant supply of most-used cooking supplies like rice, flour, beans, seasonings (ranch, taco, etc), broths, sugar, and anything else you use a lot for cooking will keep you from running to the store at the last minute and overpaying.
  10. Find cheap produce/items that you love to cook with and are always a bargain. I’ve found that we love the following items and they’re always cheap so we keep our costs down by buying/eating these every week:
    • Eggs
    • Yogurt
    • Onions
    • Carrots
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Cereal
    • English muffins
      When something different in that food category is on sale, we’ll switch it out to keep things interesting.
  11. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Just like when you wait to eat until you’re really hungy and your eyes are bigger than your stomach, shopping when you’re hungry will cause you to overspend on items that you don’t need. So don’t do it! If you don’t time to eat a full meal before shopping, grab a snack to tide you over.
  12. Get cash back for using your own reusable bags. Ditch those plastic bags and bring your own reusable ones. Some grocery stores give you cash back for using reusable bags like Target and Sprouts, so remember to ask when you check out. Ten cents here and there can add up.
  13. Keep a running total of how much you’re spending as you place items in your cart. You can use the calculator on your phone to track a rough amount. You’ll know if you’re getting close to your budget total for that shopping trip, and it will also deter you from placing items into the cart that you had not planned for.
  14. Minimize fast food purchases. Fast food is a fast budget killer. Even just one or two trips in a week can really slice into your food budget, especially the more mouths you have to feed. If you must go, only go where you have a coupon and try to stay on the “dollar” menu.
    This change could require some compromises for your family and that’s okay. For example, my hubby loves his fast food, so our compromise was to allow him to continue to buy fast food using his “fun money” budget. We rarely go as a family anymore.
  15. Go to restaurants when kids eat free or when you have coupons. It’s okay to splurge a little from time to time and take the family out. However my advice to you is never pay full price. Make sure you have coupons or go when kids eat free. It’s even better if you can do both! I know I keep bringing up coupons, but it’s because it’s such an easy change to implement to start seeing savings right away.
  16. Save half your restaurant meal. Most restaurant meals are at least twice as big as they need to be, so pack part of it up and make two meals out of it. Or if you prefer not having leftovers, you can share one meal with your spouse. Either way, it’s like you’re getting a 50% discount and saving your waistline by eating a more realistic amount of calories.
  17. Drink more water. Water is free. All other liquids are not. Bonus: water is healthy for you! It keeps you hydrated and feeling full longer.
  18. Keep snacks in the car. If you get stuck out and about when the munchies hit, you can hand out some snacks to get you and the kids through until you can get home from your errands. Some good ones are granola bars, trail mix, fruit snacks, mints, or gum.
  19. Pack lunches. This is healthier and cheaper than eating out every day. You can change things up as often as you like or eat the same thing every day– whatever you prefer. It can also be a good responsibility opportunity for kids to make their own lunches on school days. Or if they’re not ready to take that on, it’s a good opportunity for you to send them a daily encouraging note in that lunchbox.
  20. Eat your leftovers. Waste not, want not. Obviously, the less food you throw out, the more money you’ll be saving. When food spoils, it’s like throwing your money away. So eat your leftovers within a week of cooking or, if you know you won’t be able to get to it all, put the extras in the freezer for later when you don’t have time or don’t want to cook. If you’re not a fan of leftovers, find some meals that taste good as leftovers. Some dishes can actually taste better as leftovers, so start mixing those types of foods into your meal plans. Examples include soups, casseroles, and crockpot meals.

So there you have it. 20 ways to save money on your “Food” budget category.

I hope this list has given you some ideas to help slim down your food budget. What have you tried from this list? What do you plan on trying? Share your successes and fails when it comes to spending on this “necessities” budget category!

Happy frugal budgeting,

Joni