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How to save on groceries for a family of 4

Updated on April 14, 2017
H Darnell profile image

I am a work from home mom of 2. Using my spare time, I find ways to save on everything in my life.

Plan a budget, make a list, then watch the local ads.

I use to make a list of everything I needed to buy, then run to the grocery store, purchase and drive home. I couldn't understand why my grocery bills were so high until I changed my strategy. I no longer choose what I want to eat for the week, I let the grocery store ads chose for me.

I do not shop every week, usually every 2 with the occasional oops I forgot something. I do not coupon for groceries either. I grew up on generic foods and recently started baking my own goods instead of buying boxed desserts. Budgeting does take patients, however if you have the time you might just find a few extra bucks in your pocket at the end of the month.

I start by looking at the grocery store ads of the stores that I have in my area. The first thing I look for is what meats are on sale. I compare prices at all of the stores and make note of any deals (buy one, get one, bulk purchase discounts, etc.). I then decide how much of my budget I am willing to spend on meat. I try to rotate which shopping trip is going to be a mostly meat trip or the essential likes veggies, fruits and boxed/canned goods. Last month my local Hy-Vee had a deal on pork chops. I got 10 pork chops for $10.00 plus they were buy one, get one free. Meat for 5 dinners for my family of 4 for $10.00 is awesome!

Buying ground beef

I always buy ground beef at Aldi. What I do is I find the bulk packages of fresh (not tubed) ground beef and I almost always get a 5lb package for around $2.20 a pound compared to even the cheapest tube of ground beef at $3.99 a pound. This alone is a big savings and can net more that 5 meals depending on what you use it for. Here are some examples of what we can do with 5 pounds of ground beef;

  • My kids love tacos and my boyfriend makes the best ones. To stretch out our ground beef we add one can of pinto beans drained into the cooked 1 lb ground beef and add 2 packets of taco seasoning and start with a cup of water. Once simmered we mash the beans into the ground beef and we average 2 1/2 to 3 meals (1 taco night using small corn tortillas, 1 night walking tacos and one chips and dip snack or second of any of these choices.) We do make this often so we usually end up using 2 pounds of ground beef for 2 separate meals.
  • We also throw together soups such as my boyfriends famous Mexican Soup. Take 1 lb ground beef browned and drained add to large pot. Add 2 cans Campbell's beef consomme, 2 cans french onion soup and fill one can with water 4 times, adding that as well (beef consume is not available at Save A Lot or Aldi so when we make this we shop at local grocery or Walmart only for the beef consomme). Dice some potatoes and add a jar of salsa to the pot and let it simmer until veggies are done. We then add 1-2 cans of green beans for the last 15 mins of cooking. This will last us 3 days and the kids love it!
  • Chili is another favorite with the kids. For a few years I always used 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes as the base for my chili with 1 pound of ground beef. I would add 1 can of dark kidney beans drained and 1 can chili beans in chili sauce (not draining this sauce.) The only time I buy beans at my local grocery store is when they are on sale 2 14.5oz cans for $.88! We stock up enough for 2-3 pots of chili. Now, instead of using crushed tomatoes I use one 32oz can of tomato juice. It's cheaper and you can still make a flavorful chili with it. All you need to add next is 2 packets of chili seasoning and simmer in the crock pot on low. Of course you can add onion, garlic, etc. I just provided the basics to help you get started. We can stretch one batch of chili for 3 or more meals. Add macaroni noodles to make a chili mac and stretch the batch even further!
  • You can make your own beef pasta. Prepare wide egg noodles according to package. Brown one pound of ground beef and drain, add 2 packets of brown gravy following directions on back and simmer. Add noodles to pan and you're good to go. You can also add mushrooms or onions if you like. This can stretch 2 or more meals. Living cheap I've found ways to work with what I had on hand and this a great meal. You can also substitute the ground beef with cubed stew meat. If substituted I simmer the stew meat for over an hour in beef bouillon cubes and 2 cups water (1 cube - 1 cup ratio) to acquire tenderness. Then I add the 2 packets of gravy to the stew meat/beef broth mixture and simmer until thickened. Mix with the noodles and you have a flavorful meal.

When should I buy chicken?

There are plenty of meals that I love using chicken for however it can be expensive. I ALWAYS wait until I see chicken breast on sale for $.99-$1.99 a pound before I buy it. It happens once every 4-6 weeks between all the stores I shop at. At that price I can stock up on the larger packages then portion them for separate meals. My family is picky so I do tend to buy only chicken breast. Whether it is bone-in or boneless we still buy it. We can make several large batches using chicken making soups and casseroles and it can last awhile. When you see chicken this cheap DO NOT miss the opportunity to buy it. Stock up and freeze for later and you will be stocked up on meat for most of the month.

How do you plan your shopping trip?

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It is okay to buy generic

The only time I do not buy generic is if I need a campbell's soup not available as a generic such as the beef consomme. I plan to learn how to make these myself, however until we buy our new home I will continue to purchase the cans. Milk and bread tastes the same to me no matter what the brand is. I have found that Aldi has the cheapest milk, sometimes as low as $1.79 a gallon for 2% milk. I know there are some things that just aren't as good as the real thing, such as butter. Growing up on I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, than going to generic is NOT the same. Baking with it changes the flavor of my cookies and I didn't want to pay $7.00 for a tub of butter. I bake a lot and try to use sticks of real butter, and generic is always cheaper. Sometimes it's not in the budget but when I can I try to buy Country Crock, which has the best flavor to price ratio. It's also available at Save A Lot under $3.00 for a large tub and my cookies taste great using this brand.

I never shop for everything at one store. I make sure to jot down any other sales and compare that to what I need. I pretty much stick to the same meals we know and like. Tacos are the families #1 favorite and when we make 3-4 large quantity meals in a week we have a few days of leftovers making the rest of the week easy to prepare for.

After I compare the sales to what I need and take a look at the things that won't be on sale I categorize them as priority and not priority then check how much is left of my budget after shopping. I always shop the bigger stores first, since I will have the least amount of items to buy, get what I need on sale only then go to the next. I always leave either Aldi or Save a Lot last, because I know the items I need that weren't on sale will be cheaper here then Wal-mart. This also helps stretch the remainder of your budget and hopefully save you some money.

I also suggest staying away from boxed items such as Hamburger Helper or boxed mashed potatoes. You can make these yourself for cheaper and it would be much healthier for you as well. A 5lb bag of potatoes will cost around $1.99-$3.00 depending on if it's on sale or not. I can get 4-6 meals out of a bag whether we make mashed potatoes, fries or hashbrowns. A generic box of mashed potatoes will cost about $.99 and it only gives you 1-2 meals depending of family size. We would only get one meal out of the boxed mashed potatoes so we stopped buying them. You can make your own chili mac, beef pasta etc. and you can make a much larger batch then the boxed goods.

Here's a recipe for mashed potatoes

Country Crock Mashed Potatoes


  • 3 medium potatoes (about 1-1/4 lbs.), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup Country Crock® Spread
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • pepper optional
  • Parsley for garnish
  • dollop of Country Crock butter for garnish


  1. Cover potatoes with water in 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes; drain.
  2. Return potatoes to saucepan; mash. Stir in 1/4 cup butter, salt, milk and pepper to liking. Put dollop of butter on top center of mashed potatoes and garnish with parsley.

Cost per recipe*: $1.01

This will save you money over buying the boxed mashed potato varieties. I received a tub of Country Crock butter for free to test the product from Influenster. I used Country Crocks recipe and added my own alterations to it.

Use Ebates when you can

I highly recommend joining Ebates, they pay you cash back on all purchases at retailers you already shop at online. You basically sign up, place your order and it will be ready when you get to the store. All you have to do is load up the car and go. My local store Hy-Vee does the same thing, however they load the car for you. This is great if you don't have the time to shop or like me don't like packed grocery stores.

I write in my free time about my personal experiences with savings or getting free items. I am not paid to advertise any stores or websites in this article. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact below. Writing articles is a new hobby for me and I will continue to post articles about ways to save, make extra money and get free stuff!

© 2016 Heather Darnell


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