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Five tips that helped our family lower our grocery budget.

Updated on March 9, 2014
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Canned Spaghetti Sauce.

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About our family.

My husband and I are passionate about having zero debt. I am not just talking about credit card debt. We are constantly driving to pay off ALL debt...including our house mortgage. We long for the day to say we no longer have a mortgage. Having this priority in our life means choosing (and wanting) to spend less in other areas of our life. This is a choice we have made, and I know not all families value or can afford to put extra cash toward paying off debt.

We drive to cut corners in many respects of life. We try to live simply. We buy many items used, and we try to recycle many items we already own.

Before I share five tips that have helped us reduce our grocery budget, you should know a few things about our family. This will give you a bit of an idea of how we work and why the below tips work for us.

  • We are not fine diners and do not have palettes drooling for gourmet seafood and prime rib.
  • We don't buy all organic. Probably only 10% of what we buy is organic.
  • We garden. This means we can and freeze lots and lots of produce. This is a LOT of work, but it cuts down our grocery budget and allows us to eat produce that is likely organic or close to it.
  • We do not eat meat for every meal.
  • We do not buy alcohol. Once I was talking with a co-worker who informed me that my weekly grocery budget is less than they spend on alcohol every week. Since then, I have learned that alcohol is a very expensive grocery item.

Tip #1. I meal plan every week.

Usually Sunday evening or Monday morning, I meal plan for the entire week. More specifically, I plan everything we will be eating for our evening meals. I have a small journal on my desk that includes all my meals from previous weeks and all grocery store receipts. Each week, I date a new page and list meals for Monday through Saturday.

When I am out of ideas, I go back and look at other meals I have previously made. When I know I am close to going over budget for the month, I can check food prices since I keep my receipts.

Once I decide what is on the menu, I make a list of the grocery items I need. I stick to my grocery list when I am shopping. Since I know what we are having, I do not need to buy unnecessary 'just in case' food and produce.

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Tip #2. I only grocery shop once a week.

I have a few exceptions to this rule, but 90% of the time, I only set foot into a grocery store once a week. I go each Monday after I have finished planning our meals. I have found that the less I go to the grocery store, the less food I buy.

How does my produce stay fresh for a week? We buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. If I am not going to use it immediately, I refrigerate, and I have not run into much trouble of spoilage. Just in case, though, I always make the meals early in the week that require the fresh produce. The tail end of the week usually includes crock pot meals and casseroles.

Where do I shop? I shop at Aldi. I have found many pros and cons to shopping at Aldi, but for my family, it works best. I have found that the items we buy are usually cheaper at Aldi than other food stores.

Since our Aldi does not carry many toiletries, I shop on walmart.com about once every three months to stock up on toiletries. I have an electronic document on our laptop that lists all the toiletries we need to keep in stock. When I place an order, I am not likely to forget anything since I check everything against my list.

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Tip #3. We use leftovers for lunches.

The days are gone of buying pricey lunch meat and other lunch friendly items for my husband to take to work. As I meal plan each week, I plan meals that I know will produce leftovers. Once dinner is served, I often tell my husband to go take out what he wants for his lunch. This ensures he will have plenty to take to work.

Plus, my husband tells me he enjoys taking hot leftovers instead of cold cut sandwiches for lunch.

Tip #4. I keep a running list of everything in my freezer.

When is the last time you went through your freezer or deep freeze and made a list of everything that is in there? Have you ever forgotten about the food in your freezer?

There are many recommendations on how long we should keep food in our freezer. In general, if I have something over a year old, I usually don't try eating it. We have a small deep freeze in our basement, and I have MANY TIMES forgotten about all the food we have down there.

By keeping a list of everything in my freezer, I am much more likely to use the food in there than see it go to waste after a year has gone by.

What would be hardest for your family to stop buying?

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Tip #5. We stopped buying some of our favorite high priced grocery items.

  • Cereal.
  • Ice cream.
  • Granola bars.
  • Paper towels.

We do not buy any of the above listed items except on rare occasion.

I know. We never thought we could live without cereal either. We decided to try eating oatmeal every morning instead. We eat oatmeal out of the canister almost every morning for breakfast, and believe it or not, we have grown to enjoy it.

Why did we want to eliminate cereal from our budget? We felt cereal was a slightly pricey item that often had very little health benefit. I am not a dietician, but when I read the side of the oatmeal canister, I find many health benefits in oatmeal...and no sugar.

There are MANY healthy and probably low priced options for cereal though. So, if you like it, keep on buying it. :)

A similar thought process was used when we decided to eliminate the other items listed. We weighed the pros and the cons. At this point, we have found we do not miss these items in our household.

These tips will not work for every family.

I COMPLETELY understand these tips will not work for every family. You may have someone who needs a special diet. Shopping only at one store may not be an option for you. Or, if both spouses are working full time, cooking dinner every evening is too much to work into an already busy schedule.

What are some of the options that work best for your family?

What are some tips you use to keep your grocery budget low?

I would love to see your comments!

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    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi Lea Child! Great to hear. Hopefully some of the tips work for you. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Lea Child profile image

      Lea Child 3 years ago from IOWA CITY

      I'm in the process of creating my shopping list so this was the perfect article to read right now. This has really given me something to think about, including going to Aldi's.

    • prestonandkate profile image
      Author

      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi again to the federows! So glad you stopped by another hub and SO GLAD you joined hubpages. I think you are a great addition. :) Giving up cereal was a bit of a challenge. We switched to oatmeal from the canister, and we have both learned how we like it. I eat mine with cinnamon and bananas. Preston eats his with dried fruit and cinnamon. It works great for us! Good job on doing the grocery shopping every TWO weeks. Impressive!

    • thefedorows profile image

      thefedorows 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Great hub! I look forward to the day we are debt free....but it is gonna be a ways down the road with all our student loans. Managing groceries is one of the ways I help to live within our means. I used to shop once a week but this past year tried once every 2 weeks....and it worked! Since I price-match ads at Walmart and search for coupons online, doing it every week is a bit much for me. By doing it every 2 weeks I feel like it is less of a task and more of a challenge. I have never thought of eliminating cereal. Hmmm...I think I could do that, but not so sure about my husband! Perhaps we can give it a try. Congrats on HOTD!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi Better Yourself. Thanks! Good job for buying them while they are on sale. I've been told if we have more kids, we may rethink not using paper towels, but for us it works right now to just use wash cloths to wipe down the kiddos. Thanks for stopping by! -Kate

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 3 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a great hub, and congrats on HOTD! Some of these might be doable for us, but I don't know about giving up paper towels - that would be tough. We don't buy napkins, just the Select A Size paper towels when they are on sale.

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi drpennypincher! Rolled oats is what we eat around here every morning. :) We've learned we like it best with cinnamon and some fresh fruit. We are glad to find some fellow oatmeal eaters. :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 3 years ago from Iowa, USA

      We often eat rolled oats with brown sugar instead of cereal- it's better than you would think if you haven't tried it. Congrats on HOTD and good luck on the Rising Star!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hey thanks Millionaire Tips! I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that. Good to have you stop by again!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      I came back to congratulate you for your Rising Star nomination!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi meltawayyourfat, glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi B. Leekley. Yes, we agree! Sometimes it is shocking to add up the amount some of us pay in interest. Thanks for your insight!

      Hi Thelma Alberts, good for you for wanting to save money! We are privileged to live just a couple miles for an Aldi...so we shop there every week. Thanks for voting our hub up and sharing!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi Millionaire Tips! Good to see you again. Great idea about cooking big batches and then freezing them in single servings. That could work really well for my husband and his lunches! Thanks for sharing!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi AudreyHowitt! Gardening season is almost here and I can't wait! I am ALWAYS glad to find a fellow gardener. :) -Kate

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi NornsMercy! Yes, aren't we all?!?!? Just going through and making a list was a great start for us. Those freezers can be a bit of a goldmine. :)

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi kittythedreamer, we are glad you are discovering some of the conveniences of meal planning. It's made our lives so much more simple. Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi liesl5858, I find it interesting that you sold your car and solely use public transportation. I don't know if that is feasible for us (I don't think the public buses come out our way), but this is another great idea to consider when trying to cut corners. Thanks for your insight!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Congratulations on the HOTD! I am always shopping in Aldi when I´m in Germany because they are affordable and the quality is also good. I am already using some of your advices so I say, I´m on the right path on saving money. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. Good tips, but the details are less significant than the big tip -- to get and stay debt free (and then to save / invest), however that is best done in particular circumstances. I know from negative experience that getting compound interest is lots better than paying compound interest.

      My wife and I are glad that an Aldi store is opening soon a short drive away.

    • meltawayyourfat profile image

      Inga 3 years ago from New York

      Great tips! Well done! :)

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi CraftytotheCore, great idea on the starches. Potatoes probably have some greater health benefits than pasta too. And yes! Taking leftovers for lunches helps the budget. Many employees head out to lunch or grab carry out each day, and that can eat up a LOT of money very quickly. Great job keeping up on planning your meals each week!

      Hi Romeos Quill, we have bought some seasonal produce in bulk and shared it amongst family, but I have never priced foods at bulk food stores. That's a good thought. I'll have to compare some prices. Thanks for the tip!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      These are great tips - I do find when I plan my meals that I spend a lot less. I like to cook big batches and freeze the rest in single serving containers. My own ready-made frozen dinner, and lots of variety. Congratulations on your well deserved Hub of the Day!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Useful! And congrats on gardening! We do too and I love it!

    • NornsMercy profile image

      Chace 3 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      I've been guilty of putting things in my freezer and then forgetting to eat them...oops. Guess I'm gonna keep a list now. :D

    • prestonandkate profile image
      Author

      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi dragonflycolor! Glad you enjoyed the tips. Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi Nadine May. Great job having so many raw veggies in your diet! Fresh fruits and veggies are something we are always trying to eat more of, but we don't always do a good job. Thanks for the reminder!

      Hi crankalicious, great point! Preston and I have gone round and round in circles about investing the money versus paying off debt. We have learned for us that the freedom of debt is almost priceless to us (ease of mind), but I cannot disagree that investing the money wiser in some circumstances. Thanks for bringing up the flip side of the discussion!

    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great Hub prestonandkate, it really pays to save rather than spend. My husband also shop at Aldi and Iceland because they are much cheaper than the other supermarkets. We do our shopping monthly on the internet as we got rid of our car to save some money. It saves us a lot by doing this. I also grow our own vegetables and flowers. We use public transport like the buses for commuting or going to work. Like you, we like to save money on anything we use. I think it is great idea. Well done on your HOTD. Voted up.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 3 years ago from the Ether

      I already do much of your tips but this is a wonderful lay-out and well-written hub. I would add that we used to buy things in bulk from Costco...which we realized was just wasting money more so than saving it. I have just recently started doing the meal planning and it is so much more efficient too than having to decide every night what to cook. Loved this!

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      Some very useful money-saving tips.

      Buying in bulk and exchanging as barter with neighbours would sure help save more money, longer term, in response to your question.

      Thank you and congratulations on your accolade. Pinning.

      Best Wishes,

      R.Q.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Congratulations on your Hub of the Day! I love your suggestions here, as I also follow many of them. I too plan our meals in advance. We cannot afford to eat out except on rare occasions, so it's imperative that I purchase what we need for the week.

      We eat a lot of rice. That cuts down on the expense of other starches such as pasta. But, we also buy potatoes on sale when they are buy 1 get 2 free at the grocery store. Then I store them in our basement so they don't go bad.

      My husband takes leftovers for lunch every day. His coworkers eat out, but they spend a fortune on lunch. It would cost about $9 a day for my husband to buy lunch out. That's just not in our budget to do that.

      I also look for deals at the supermarket. Last week I found a 6 pack of romaine lettuce for $2 on the gone-by produce cart. It was perfectly fine with the exception of the outer leaves that had started to wilt. I made 2 whole dinners with salad and 2 lunches out of that $2 pack of romaine! I love finding deals like that.

      We do have an Aldis but they are over an hour from here, so I check all the local sale flyers before shopping. I too try to keep it to once a week, but sometimes I end up running back out a second time to pick up something.

    • prestonandkate profile image
      Author

      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi Dolores Monet! Thanks for stopping by again. I am a huge Aldi fan. Yes, I can understand some of the disadvantages, but for me, the pros outweigh the cons. I'm glad to find a fellow Aldi shopper! :) Thanks for voting up and tweeting. Much thanks!

      Hi RTalloni, we have been down the coupon route and it worked for us for a time, but once we decided to re-route to using just one place to grocery shop, we let go of using coupons. We were running to two or three different places a week to get all the deals, and I guess our priorities have changed and it is not worth it for us anymore. Yes, we are looking forward to the day we are not enslaved with payments! :) Hopefully sometimes soon! Thanks for stopping by!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi Dee aka Nonna, great job driving to be debt free too! I am with you on the cereal...I miss it sometimes. Especially if I get hungry in the evenings, I always think it would be a great small snack. Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi sparkleyfinger, planning ahead makes our lives sooooo much easier. Meal planning and planning meals that always have leftovers keeps us from making late night dashes to the store. Good job for keeping ahead on your meal planning too!

      Hi erinshelby! Meal planning has been great for us. By cooking with leftovers in mind, it also keeps my husband out of the work cafeteria or eating out for lunches...which can add up quickly too. Hopefully you found some helpful tips! Thanks for stopping by!

    • crankalicious profile image

      crankalicious 3 years ago from Colorado

      Nice article. In an era where many families push their credit cards to the max, making it a point to live without debt is a great idea, and probably a pretty smart one. However, using credit is how a lot of people make a lot of money and if you know what you're doing, can be very beneficial. For instance, if instead of paying down your mortgage, you take that money and invest it and make a better return on it than the 3.5% you might be making on your mortgage, that's smart. Certainly a better general strategy would be avoiding having any credit card debt. There's little doubt that credit card debt is a bad thing.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Great tips. Congratulations! We follow all your tips while living in Cape Town plus we eat a lot of raw veggies. Your aim to have no debt is commendable. We have the same intent.

    • profile image

      dragonflycolor 3 years ago

      Great tips!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award! You offer some great tips here. One of my friends marvels that I don't use many coupons. The problem I have with them is that I don't use most of the "couponed"products. Good for you guys for looking debt in the face for the bondage it is and attacking it head on!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi prestonandkate - I too shop at Aldi's. It makes a huge difference. They aren't fancy but they are very clean. And shopping there is so fast! Most of the prices are half of what they would be in the other grocery stores. Making meals from scratch can make a huge difference in the food budget. Not only that, but homemade is just delicious and so much better for you. (voted up and tweeted)

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 3 years ago from United States

      I love your idea about meal planning. I've heard of people doing it just to make life easier but I love how you talk about how it can help save money. A dinner item in place of a cold-cut sandwich oftentimes would be more delicious!

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 3 years ago from Glasgow

      Great hub! Congratulations on HOTD! I already plan meals. I also use online shopping, as it makes me less likely to buy offers that I see, but often don't need. I also plan for leftovers- often buying bigger packs is cheaper, and the extras can be frozen.

    • prestonandkate profile image
      Author

      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi CygnetBrown! Good job for living within your means! I bet it is so freeing. If we all added up how much interest we paid, I think we may all be a bit surprised. Great thoughts. Thanks for stopping by! -Kate

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      I think that if we realized how much debt actually costs, we would do everything that we could to get out of it. My husband and I have been living within our means for several years now and it is amazing how little we are able to live on and still live like kings since we don't pay interest out every month.

      I love the idea that you are eating healthy while still eating frugally.

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 3 years ago

      Hey there prestonandkate, I too am on a mission to be totally debt free. I love your tips. I will be using them. I haven't bought cereal in a long time, and there are moments I do miss it. Thank you so much for this great tips.....

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi kidscrafts! Good to hear some of your insight about how your family saved money. Brand name clothes can become very expensive very quickly. Thanks for stopping by! -Kate

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I think it's great that you want to have zero debt. It pushes you to really think before spending and also what you can do yourself to lower the expenses. At the end, you are a winner and your children lean big values.

      My husband and I never bought clothes with brand names attache to it. My kids never complained or asked for specific brands either. So it seems our message went through.

      All your tips and suggestions are great!

      Have a great day!

    • prestonandkate profile image
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      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Thanks so much! I need to give that recipe a try. It looks really good! We always enjoyed granola cereal so I've tried a few different recipes. If you find any other granola cereal that looks good, let me know. I appreciate the link you sent.

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      thebiologyofleah 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      That's a great tip about using the cloth napkins and dish towels, I should give it a try.

      I'm having trouble finding the exact recipe for the granola but this one is really close to what I use with one key addition- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Also my recipe doesn't call for the coconut.

      http://www.jugglingactmama.com/2013/10/homemade-gr...

      I am planning on looking for more recipes to change up the flavor profile because I have made this one several times and feel like I need to change it up.

    • prestonandkate profile image
      Author

      Preston and Kate 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Hi thebiologyofleah! Meal planning makes our lives so much easier. Yes, we use dish cloths and towels. We use cloth napkins unless we have company over. We have grown used to using the cloth ones and don't mind them.

      So I have tried multiple recipes for making homemade granola, and we are having some trouble finding a recipe we just love. Do you have a recommendation? Homemade ice cream sounds delicious! Ever since we cut it out of our budget, we have grown to appreciate ice cream even more!

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      thebiologyofleah 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great tips here, some I follow as well like meal planning and only grocery shopping once a week. I tend to cook in larger batches and then ride out the leftovers all week as well.

      Intrigued by your cutting out of the four expensive items you mentioned- do you use dish towels exclusively instead of paper towels? And then use paper napkins as well?

      I just started home-making my granola which I think is definitely less expensive and I make ice cream as well which I assume is less money as well.