A big portion of a family's budget each month is spent on groceries. As babies grow, we may stop spending on diapers and formula, but as their size increases, so do their appetites! We have to buy and cook more food to keep those growing tummies full and happy.
Right now during COVID, with many people facing reduced or lost incomes, and food prices climbing, it's harder than ever to shop on a budget. Since not grocery shopping isn't an option, we need to find ways to save money wherever we can. I've got some great tips to share that we use to save money on our family's food bill.
1. Don't be a stickler for name brands:
I get it- store brand cola isn't the same as your Coke. Maybe that dollar value jar of mayo isn't your Kraft. I'm not saying pick up the absolute cheapest option for everything you purchase. Take an inventory of your food and drinks, and decide where you could spend less. Some common things we buy that we have decided brand names don't matter include:
Spices and baking supplies: Dry spices seem to taste the same no matter which brands we purchase. Same with sugar- it is all white refined sugar, no matter the brand.
Cereal: We're feeding four kids each morning, and they can go through some cereal. We opt for the larger bags of cereal instead of the smaller boxes. They are much more cost-effective, and they taste just as good.
Bread: The store brand of bread is just as good as the one that costs three times as much.
Milk: If you take a look at the milk jugs, you will see a plant code printed on it, usually near the top. That plant code indicates where the milk was bottled. All of the milk sold in our local stores was bottled at the same plant. The 98-cent gallon of milk from Walmart tastes exactly the same as the $5.98 jug of the name brand. It is the same.
Pasta and sauces: In my experience, the boxes of pasta that cost 80 cents at Walmart taste exactly the same as the ones that are $3/box. The store-brand sauces are usually just as tasty as well.
Dry beans and rice: These things aren't flavored with anything, simply dried and packaged. Why pay twice as much for the same thing?
Decide which items you can't part with, and adjust accordingly where you can. Your wallet will thank you for it.
2. Don't be fooled by "BOGOs":
Yes, some buy-one-get-one sales are great. Others are not. One of the stores we occasionally shop at runs many items BOGO each week. Sometimes, those deals can save a lot of money. A great example of that is olive oil. High-quality olive oil can easily cost $12 a bottle or more. BOGO sales are my best friend then.
However, this same store will also often run name-brand pasta sauces BOGO. One jar can cost $5.99. Their store brand, which we have tried multiples times and loved all of them, is always two jars for $5. It doesn't make sense to spend $6 on the BOGO when you can spend $5 on the other brand.
When you're planning to shop using buy-one-get-one sales, carefully plan it out to make sure you'll actually save money. Of course, these are a great opportunity to pick up those name-brand items you just couldn't part with.
3. Don't be afraid of reduced items:
Not all stores will reduce items that are approaching their sell-by dates. Some will, sadly, just toss them. However, many stores will reduce an item in an attempt to make a little money off of it before throwing it out. Our local store does this often with meat, produce, bakery and deli items, and several dry goods. They are worth a look!
We are able to pick up meats such as chicken breasts or pork chops for $3 to $4 for a three- or four-pound package. The same package would have been at least twice that regular price. Because it's reduced you'll want to cook it immediately or freeze it. We buy meat like this as often as we can and are able to really stretch our grocery budget.
With dry goods and jars of sauces, salad dressings, et cetera, you don't have to toss it out just because it has hit its best-by date. By law, our food items must have these dates, but many will last beyond those dates, especially if they aren't open. Use your good judgment here, if it is questionable, toss it. However, if you can pick it up for fifty cents a jar, why not?
By educating yourself about what these dates really mean, you can save a lot of money if you're not afraid to buy something near or at its date. Remember- it isn't like a play clock expiring- it doesn't suddenly turn bad at midnight on that date!
4. Buy in bulk when you can:
If you've got a membership to a big-box club store like Sam's or Costco, you can buy many items in bulk and pay less overall. The drawback here is that it will cost you more upfront, but you'll end up having to purchase items less often. The price per unit is lower.
We buy things like trail mix, fruit snacks, crackers, granola bars, and many drinks at Sam's. While we spend more than if we went to our local supermarket, we don't need to buy these items again for months. The price per unit is much less.
A great example is string cheese. This is one of my kids' favorite snacks. At the local store, the largest package available is twelve pieces for around $5. At Sam's, we can buy a package of 48 for about $9. That puts the unit price at about 42 cents versus 19 cents. And with four kids eating string cheese, the pack of twelve doesn't last long.
You can also save a lot of money on meat from a club store. If you're willing to purchase the larger packages and split them up, the savings can add up quickly. Ground beef averages about $4 less per pound at Sam's than our local market.
You will want to keep in mind how much of an item you'll actually use. If your family can't possibly consume a 4-pound package of lunch meat before it spoils, it probably won't save you any money, as you'll be throwing some of it out. Decide where you can save money at club stores and shop accordingly.
5. Buy a water cooler or filter:
We all know we should drink plenty of water. But many of us don't like the taste of tap water, or even have tap water that isn't up to snuff in quality. In this case, many people opt for bottled water. The cost of bottled water can really add up, plus you've got all those empty bottles to contend with.
Earlier this year we bought a water cooler. It cost right at $100 and dispenses hot and cold water. The hot water even has a safety lock to prevent accidental burns. It holds five-gallon jugs that we can swap out at virtually any store. Simply swap the empty jug for a full one for five dollars. The water tastes much better than tap water, and we're no longer spending $5 or more for a case of water, but for five gallons.
Bonus: our kids can fill up their own bottles whenever they want, so I don't have to get up and pour it from the water filtering pitcher in the fridge, then refill it, 2,346 times each day. Each of our kids has their own water bottle and they drink two to three 20-ounce bottles every day. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact they enjoy pushing buttons- but nonetheless, they are drinking water.
While only you can decide which of these ways, or which combination of them, will work for your family, I hope this gives you some ideas. We could all stand to save a little on groceries, and any little bit helps. When your aim is to put a full, nutritious meal on the table each day, sometimes you've got to get creative.
How do you save money on your grocery bill? I'd love to hear your tips!