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Twenty Tips To Feed Your Family For Less

Updated on October 6, 2009

Money, money, money

If the money you are spending on groceries is growing into huge stacks, it's time to make some changes!
If the money you are spending on groceries is growing into huge stacks, it's time to make some changes!

Perhaps you, like me, are learning to feed your family on one income. Perhaps you've been downsized out of one job and have started another at a lower rate of pay. Perhaps you just want to save more out of what you earn. Whatever your reason, learning to live on less is a valuable skill for any stage of your life!

My personal journey into the joys of budgeting has been a rocky - but fruitful - one. Over the course of the last year, as I learned to make ends meet with our reduced income, I've discovered that there is a lot of satisfaction in living well and saving more.

Here are my top 20 tips to make your food dollar stretch further.

Save Money By Shopping Smart

  • Plan in advance. Meal planning for the week can really help you to figure out exactly what you need. The trick then is to stick to it! Don’t forget to figure in all snacks, beverages (other than water) and ingredients for packed lunches. If you eat it, plan for it.
  • Buy in bulk. Keep healthy staples on hand – raisins, in-season fruit, popcorn, higher protein nut or seed butters (so you don't run afoul of your school's nut-free policy). Having a healthy snack available means you'll eat a healthy snack when the urge for a nibble hits. A quick snack of popcorn that you pop yourself will keep both your tummy and your wallet happy.
  • Shop sales! The local sales can be the start of your meal planning. Get out that local newspaper and see what your grocers are offering at a good price. If you select recipes that use those items, you are saving automatically.
  • Don’t buy convenience foods – you pay for it with both your wallet and your health. Surprisingly, convenience foods are supposed to save us time and often do not. (It's like doing the laundry; it doesn't take less time for it to be done these days, it just takes less muscle.) Invest some of your energy in actually putting together that meal yourself and save some dollars.
  • Buy store brand. Recent consumer taste tests have shown that store brands have come a long way. In most cases, they are equivalent – or even better! – than the national brands.

Where, How And What To Buy

  • Don’t just shop at the supermarket – consider the farmers market, ethnic markets and other local vendors who may actually give you a better price. Farmers markets almost always mean fresher, local produce at a better deal than any chain store grocer.
  • Buy cheap meat and cook it right. Marinate tougher meat or use a slow cooker. Buy higher fat ground beef: then cook and drain off the fat. You can even put it your cooked ground beef in a strainer and rinse it to reduce the saturated fat content. Bulk up the remaining meat with things like shredded zucchini (which adapts nicely to almost any dish) or rice.
  • Buy canned – but selectively. Canned salmon is a healthy addition to most diets. In dishes that require the salmon to be mashed up, leave skin and bones in for both essential fatty acids and added calcium! However, canned foods are not generally healthy! Canned does not have the same nutrient profile as fresh. In addition, BPA is used in the lining of most cans: this toxic substance has been linked to both hormonal and endocrine disruption.
  • Buy frozen fruits and veggies! Frozen produce retains a nutrient profile virtually identical to fresh. Frozen foods also save you time because they’ve been washed (and often chopped).
  • When food is cheap – stock up! This requires that you have a freezer, but it’s worth every penny. A great example is fresh product in season. Let's take fresh cauliflower as an example. I bought two recently (for less than the cost of one bag of frozen). I got them home and chopped them up. Then, I froze some chopped cauliflower in bags large enough to make them simple to add to a soup or stew – or warm for a side dish. I also made some soup and used some as fresh raw crudite for my kids' lunches. When I checked how much I had in the freezer, I had almost twice as much as if I'd paid the same money for one bag of frozen.
  • Use coupons – but only for things that are staples. Some retailers now have "coupon boards" somewhere in the store. It's worth a few minutes to check these out. I recently got dishwasher detergent for half price, between coupons and the store's weekly sale. (Of course, I stocked up!) This only works if you avoid coupons for items that you don't need. If the enticement of a coupon leads you to buy something that you usually wouldn’t buy, the coupon hasn’t saved you a cent.

Invest Your Time To Save $

  • Learn to cook! Even simple things like making your own salad dressing or popsicles can save you money. If you are willing to make your own bread, you can likely save a couple of dollars per loaf – depending on the type of bread you eat. The trick is to buy the ingredients for these items in bulk to save even more.
  • Soup is a great meal and it allows you to use less or cheaper cuts of meat to make a full meal. Inexpensive veggies and legumes can provide extra nutrition as well as protein. Consider meal soups like split pea or lentil. Add inexpensive cabbage or other frozen veggies. In our case, I buy chicken breasts with the bone in and skin on, and de-bone the breasts myself. Then I collect the bones (with varying amounts of meat on them) and freeze them. Once I’ve got enough of these in my freezer, I use this “waste” to make chicken soup! Not only does it mean that my chicken breasts are cheaper, but the meat in my soup is “free”.
  • Eat meatless meals. Consider a favorite breakfast meal for supper – like a nice baked egg dish. Eggs provide a high quality protein at much lower cost.
  • Use up your leftovers; don’t throw them out! Creativity counts here. Many meat dishes can become the meat in a great soup, or you can use leftovers in a “hash” of whatever’s handy in the fridge. We find that something as simple as a bit of ketchup and dash of Worcestershire sauce can make a collection of leftover meat, veggies and rice into a filling and tasty meal.
  • When you head out with the family, brings snacks and drinks with you. It’s incredibly easy to blow your budget on drive-thru coffee and fast food. For a couple of minutes of your time as your family heads out the door, you could easily save $100 or more a month.
  • Grow your own veggie garden. This is a great way to support your budget! It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking either: container gardening is a great way to have fresh tomatoes and peppers during the summer months. Easy to grow veggies include beans, zucchini and fast crops like radishes. You’d be surprised what you can do with these! If your garden grows more than you can use, there’s no problem – just freeze those extras for the winter or share with friends.
  • Shop less frequently and buy more when you shop. It’s all too easy to “just pick up a few things” several times a week and then find the budget is blown. Part of the problem is that every trip to the store is a chance that you’ll succumb to an impulse buy. So, when you shop buy extra of staples like bread and milk and fruit (because we often underestimate how much of these things we need) and then stay away from the store!
  • Bring your lunch. Of course, many of us hate this – but those “cheap” lunches at the local food concourse will kill your budget much faster than you think. Even if you only spend $5 on a lunch (which equals just the most basic meal), that’s $25 a week. If your spouse does that too, that’s $50 a week for more than $200 a month. Those same lunches could have cost you $2 – 2.50 each for a high quality home lunch. If you save just that $25 a week on lunch between the two of you, you’ll have an extra $100 in your pocket every month.
  • Don’t shop when you are hungry! Your mother likely told you this – and she was right. If you really want to avoid impulse buys, never hit the supermarket when your stomach is rumbling! If you do, you'll be sure to see things in your basket that have taken you over your budget.


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    • profile image

      theking2020 6 years ago

      Great advice will keep in mind

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Hey, Doc! It's true that store brands and national brands are often produced by the same facility and then different labels are affixed. In our experience here, unless you are buying organic (which we do), you'll find store brand and national brand to be very comparable.

      I am finding that by following these strategies, I'm whittling away at that grocery bill! And without us "giving up" a whole lot of things.... You just have to put in the time.

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 8 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      A nice, solid practical Hub, Monique. Thanks once again!

      I suspect that people don't realize how much difference these strategies can make. You're inspiring me to try to implement some of these ideas--or implement them more effectively.

      One you mention that I particularly like is to buy store brands rather than national brands. The savings are considerable, and I don't usually notice any quality difference. (Not surprising, as I've heard that many times, it's actually the same product, packed in the same facility, just with a different label.) As far as I can tell, I save about what I would by using coupons, but without the time investment of clipping and planning.


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