I’ve written a little before about how we save money on groceries by my quasi-meal planning (we typically spend around $350-450 for a vegetarian family of 4 living in Massachusetts), but I wanted to share a few more ways we save on groceries.
1. Use what we have on hand in our fridge, pantry, and freezer. The simplest way to save money is by not wasting the food we buy. I’ve become quite proud of my Chopped-level skills at making an awesome meal out of an “empty” fridge. When planning food for the week, I take a look at what I have first, then supplement with a few items from the grocery store. Although I love to cook, I don’t like to have to buy a lot of specialty items for recipes. Plus, when I buy those specialty items, whatever isn’t used by the recipe tends to go bad since I’m not used to cooking with it.
2. Pay attention to prices. Prices vary a lot from store to store, so if I just assumed that the cheap grocery store had the best prices, I would be wrong. For example, I know that Target has cheaper soy milk than they do, so I’ll pick up a carton while I’m there. Likewise, if I just grab the first bag of frozen peas I see at the cheap grocery store, I might grab the 1-lb bag for $1.88, but right next to it is a 3-lb bag for $2.50. By just starting to notice how much things we buy usually cost (per ounce, pound, etc), I have saved a lot of money.
3. Where you shop matters. I shop at cheap, no-frills grocery stores. They are less fancy and pretty, but they are cheaper. I do care about fair trade (particularly coffee and sugar since we use a lot of both) and local (possible mostly in the summer months), but for the rest of my grocery list I usually head to a discount grocery store (like Marc’s or Aldi). Trader Joe’s is also a staple, it’s just farther away (sadly!). I find that these stores and their off-brands have cheaper prices than if I have a coupon – so I save my time and just shop there.
4. Check out CSAs, farmers markets, or other local food options. You might think that locally produced food is super expensive because it’s something yuppies are into. And you would sometimes be right. But we have found that our CSA saves us a ton of money and gets us eating awesome, healthy food in the summer. We belong to this one, which also gives us locally produced cheeses, eggs, pasta, and other goodies in addition to fruits and vegetables. Plus, sometimes you can find ‘free range’ chicken eggs from some farmer on the side of the road for $2 a dozen. Pretty awesome if you’re used buying humanely raised eggs from the grocery store.
5. Frozen vegetables and dried beans are my BFFs. Not only do they make meals healthier, they are ridiculously cheap. I throw frozen vegetables in just about everything – from eggs to potpie to smoothies. It cuts down on prep time because they are already cut, washed, and ready to be used. In the non-CSA months, I buy almost all frozen vegetables (except potatoes, lettuce, and carrots). Dried beans require a little more time than canned beans, but it’s not actually much work if I cook a bunch and keep them in my fridge to use during the week.
6. Have staples – both in groceries I buy regularly and meals I cook regularly. This requires less thinking and less planning, so I’ll be more likely to actually cook. It also ensures I usually have at least some ingredients on hand for one of our staple meals. (Here’s our grocery list of grocery staples. My meal staples are in this post).
If you’re looking to save on your grocery budget, you don’t have to be as frugal as us. Maybe you love to try new recipes daily, maybe you feel like name brand food is worth coupon-clipping for, maybe you love shopping at Whole Foods more than anything – but even by just paying attention to prices and cooking with what you have, you’ll probably save a little money.