4 Minute Read
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the grocery store. We love eating the food but hate shopping for it. Perhaps it’s the lines. Maybe it’s the time we’d rather spend elsewhere. Probably it’s because so much of our money goes into that category on our budget.
We recommend spending 5-15% of your take-home pay on food, which includes groceries and eating out. But even if your food budget falls within this healthy range, maybe you’d still like to see it come down a bit. Check out these five easy ways to cut your grocery bill—without clipping coupons.
1. Redefine Dinner
If the word dinner conjures up a big homemade meal with a nice cut of meat, two steaming sides of fresh veggies from the local co-op, a crusty French loaf and a chocolaty finish, cut yourself some slack! This isn’t the 1950s and suppers don’t have to be a big deal.
Your kids and spouse will survive on BLTs, omelets or a nice salad several times a week. And summer is a great time for fruits—only feast once in a while. Don’t be afraid of serving simple meals. Reduce your guilt and your budget by rethinking the most misunderstood meal of the day.
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2. Be Brand Un-Loyal
You know generic pasta is cheaper, but you’re still not convinced it won’t ruin your great-grandmother’s lasagna recipe. In a 2009 Consumer Reports study, 29 brand-name foods went up against their generic cousins. Of the 29 pairings, 19 scored "equally good" in the blind taste test.1 In other words, your less-expensive lasagna will taste just as delicious as Grandma’s.
Still not sold? According to a 2014 study, when chefs bought staples like salt, sugar and baking soda, they were much more likely to buy the generic than you and me.2 And they’re the food experts! The study concluded that if more of us purchased store brands, we as consumers could save roughly $44 billion. With that kind of money on the line, it pays to be brand un-loyal.
3. Try Different Grocery Stores
Why did you pick your current grocery store? Is it the friendliest? The most convenient? If we were honest, most of us go out of habit. Don’t let a comfortable routine cost you money.
If you’re still not sure which grocery stores are worth your time and money, ask around. People love talking about getting a good deal, and the ones who are getting the best deals will gladly gush about their favorite spots. Figuring out a new grocery store (or stores) may be frustrating at first, but it’s worth it to keep an extra $20 in your pocket.
4. Learn to Love a List
A list is just a game plan. Once you decide what you’ll make for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next week, write out each ingredient you’ll need for those meals—plus a few snacks, of course!
When you get to the store, stick to your list! That’s the key to staying on budget. And if you go shopping as a family, let your kids help plan the meals and let them find the items. It’s much easier to stay on budget when you’re shopping with a plan and working as a team. And when you get comfortable saying no to candy. A lot.
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5. Keep Cash as King
The best way to stick to a lower food budget is to pay with cash. When you go to the store with cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend. Plus, you’ll stick to the meat-and-vegetables necessities rather than your ice cream-and-cookie impulse buys. Those little extras are okay—if you plan for them!
If you still find you’re eating high on the hog at the beginning of the month and scraping by on tuna by the end, make a cash run for groceries every two weeks instead of every month. That way, you’ll have a better picture of how much you can actually afford to spend each week.
Related: Need a way to organize your cash? Check out the envelope systems.
Better Habits, Better Budget
By starting a few new habits, you can lower your monthly food budget and meet your money goals even faster. That means more cash to pay down debts, invest for the future or save up for something fun—like a babysitter and a nice meal out where someone else cooks and cleans up.