How We Cut Our Grocery Budget In Half (without couponing)

I shared how we paid off our debt with meal planning last week and now I want to share with you the tips and tricks I used (and mostly still use) to trim our grocery budget to less than half of what it had been.

A quick recap.  Because we had accumulated a fair amount of debt we were stuck in a cycle of paying the minimum or just above the minimum due.  Living on a pretty tight budget, the only place we could find to free up money to start to attack this debt was within our grocery and food budget.  I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do this, all I could do was to hope I could figure it out.

And figure it out I did.  We successfully freed up extra money and paid off all of our debt!  (not the mortgage - just over $10,000 consumer debt)  Although I cringe to tell you this number, I will share what our previous grocery bill was......  We went from spending $140.00 - $200.00 per week down to $60.00 per week (food only, excludes paper products & toiletries).  We are no longer in debt (except our mortgage which we are working to pay off early) and our average weekly grocery bills now total $60.00 - $80.00.  We cook all 3 meals at home each day, so this amount is for all food, including any eating out.

Regardless of whether or not you have debt to pay down, cutting dollars from your grocery budget will allow you extra money to use or save.  Although it does take some work initially, it becomes a new normal quite quickly!

15 Techniques For Cutting Your Grocery Budget In Half:
(includes affiliate links)

Don't Buy Beverages
One of the quickest ways to put a dent in your budget is right here.  Drink water.  If you are currently drinking bottled water, free up some money so you can invest in a small system (like a Brita) to filter your own.  This will save you some money very quickly.  If you are currently purchasing bottled beverages, think outside the box to figure out a cheaper alternative.

Don't Buy Cold Cereals
And if you do, only purchase them when they hit a rock-bottom price and then stock up.  Cereal pricing is quite high so finding an alternative for breakfast will be a big savings.

Plan Simple Meals With Inexpensive Ingredients
Selecting meals that use a limited number of inexpensive ingredients will help to save money (and time).  If you can put a few of these on the menu every week you'll notice a difference in no time.

Write A Weekly Meal Plan
I've written about meal planning here, here and here, and I can tell you that this is the best way to control your grocery budget and ensure you can get meals on the table every day.  It may seem daunting or like something you don't want to fit into your life but I found out the hard way that if you stick to it, it eventually becomes a routine part of your week.

Inventory Your Pantry, Fridge, & Freezer
Before meal planning take an inventory for two reasons: 1. to use up any perishables you have left so they don't go to waste and 2. so you are using items you've stockpiled in your pantry and/or freezer in your meal plan, saving you money.

Stockpile Good Deals
We aren't talking about hoarding here, instead, buying items in a larger quantity than you need when they hit rock-bottom pricing.  Items that can be stored in your freezer or pantry for long-term use.  Set 5-10 dollars per week aside, if you can, to devote to stockpiling.  This becomes a money saver because you will pull from your inventory for meal planning, rather than buying the item, and when you do purchase the item you'll be buying it at a discounted amount.  Read more about this concept here.

Use A Cash Budget For Groceries
Determine what amount you can afford and place that amount in an envelope.  Do NOT use your debit card or credit card - the cash you've got is all you can spend.  If you have any cash leftover, place that back in the envelope for the next week's budget for additional money available or to allow for stockpiling on good deals (see above).

Use Meat Sparingly
This takes some time to get used to, but think about it this way.  If you serve meat on it's own, you will usually eat a lot more meat than if it were a part of a dish.  As an example, if you cut up chicken and thread kabobs with chicken, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and onion and serve this with a small amount of whole grains (rice, quinoa, etc.) you can easily eat a half a chicken breast or less because of all the veggies.

If instead you marinate the chicken breast, grill it, and serve the meat with a side of veggies and a side of whole grains, you will likely eat more chicken because seeing it cut up any smaller would make you feel deprived.

Incorporating meat chunks into pasta, rice, quinoa or other whole grain dishes will provide you a way to fairly easily use it sparingly.

Plan For Leftovers And Use Them
When we first started down the road of frugal eating my husband was completely against leftovers.  I mean, wouldn't eat any at all!  We discussed it, but I couldn't get him to change his mind.  I would eat them for my lunches, so that made my lunch a lot easier to prepare every day.  Then one day he suggested he could take some leftover chicken enchiladas to work for lunch.  He liked it and the it certainly helped that the other guys were a bit jealous as they smelled it heating up in the microwave.  That got the ball rolling and he was then ok eating leftovers for lunch a couple days per week.

Particularly if you're making a casserole or something similar, it's so cheap to make a tad bit more to have for 1 or 2 lunches as opposed to what the typical lunch items would cost.  And if you've got a spouse who's willing to eat leftovers at dinner, it's not only a cost savings but a huge time savings too!

Go Out To Eat Once In A While
How in the world is this saving money?? you ask.  Well, in order to not feel deprived, planning a night out from time-to-time is a great way to celebrate your frugal budgeting.  The meal out should be planned ahead and worked into your weekly budget.  The way we do it is we eat from our pantry, fridge and freezer for the most part of the remainder of the week.  We also select affordable restaurants and decide ahead of time how much we will spend on dinner (with tip).

Shop Weekly Store Sale Ads
When meal planning, after you look at what you've already got on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer, the next stop is the weekly store ads.  Items that are featured on the front and back are usually at rock-bottom pricing.

Shop At Multiple Stores
Because you are working with multiple store sales ads, you may end up shopping at grocery stores not regularly on your shopping route.  For your other items that are not on sale, purchase them at the stores where they are cheapest.

Eat Meatless A Couple Days A Week
I know, I know.  This is probably listed in any and every grocery bill slashing hack you've ever read.  But it's there for good reason - it really helps reduce costs while still getting a fully nutritious meal.  You don't have to live with meatless meals forever, just until you start to get a good grasp on your finances and until you have a nice stockpile created.

My husband is not a fan of meatless meals so I would create meatless versions of what I was cooking for me a couple days a week and serve the meat to him.  I didn't mind at all and as long as I didn't have to amend the recipe except for the protein, it wasn't difficult at all!

Keep A Few Inexpensive & Quick To Make Back-Up Meals On Hand
It is inevitable that you will forget to defrost something for dinner, forget to prep something that needed to be prepped, have a life event come up which leaves little time for dinner, or simply don't want to eat what's scheduled on the menu.  Those are the times when expensive last minute options are usually selected.  In order to prevent a budget buster, keeping inexpensive ingredients on hand to prepare a simple dinner that your family will enjoy, will be a huge life saver.  Things like jarred spaghetti sauce and a box of pasta, or a frozen pizza, or a bag of frozen veggies and rice.

You can also choose to keep a few freezer meals on hand that, if they aren't used in an emergency, get worked into the regular meal plan the following month.  Rather than making special meals for freezer meals, simply make 2 of a couple meals each month and eat one and freeze one.  Shephard's pie, Enchiladas, Pasta with Sauce and Meatballs, or Meatloaf will all freeze and cook up beautifully.

If You Have The Space & Desire To Grow Herbs Or Veggies, Grow Either What's Most Expensive Or What You Eat The Most Of
Most people don't have the time, space, or desire to grow all of their vegetables.  I get it.  If you have some space and some desire, however, you can save yourself some money by growing what's most expensive for you to buy at the store or farmer's market and/or what your family eats the most of.

Tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes are what we first started with when we lived in a condo.  I planted them in our flower beds, partly because I didn't have space to devote to a garden and partly because of compliance with condo rules.  We weren't able to grow all we used but we were definitely able to grow enough to make a difference.  Plus, is there anything better than picking your own veggies and herbs from your backyard?  A quick note - just make sure your planting area is safe from pets (going to the bathroom and/or eating) and spraying of herbicides/pesticides.

Cutting your grocery budget drastically isn't easy and isn't always enjoyable.  It takes some work to come up with creative ways to make things from very little.  Honestly, the stockpiling is really the key to keeping it going.  It allows you to eat a little better, and allows for some breathing room.

I sincerely hope you are able to find some new ideas for getting your own grocery budget under control.  Getting a rhythm of how you can save money on groceries will also help if you have weeks where you find it necessary to cut your grocery budget even more for a period of time.  I remember feeling a bit helpless and lost when I first started this process and how much of a relief it was once I began to get a good system in place.

What tips and tricks have you used to slash your own grocery bill?  We would love to hear it!!


Kathy said...

Great tips Staci...I shop at one of the major supermarkets here [Woolworths] and [Aldi]. Aldi has saved me a lot of money although I can't do all my shop there. I prefer yoghurt and milk from the supermarket and a couple of other things they don't stock. Aldi frozen berries are 20 cents cheaper than the supermarket however I didn't like them so I just buy the ones I like and pay an extra 20 cents. I couldn't imagine getting buy with $60 a week...this week I have allowed $100 [normally $175] so will be stretching things out. I agree not buying softdrink/cordials etc is a big money saver. I've made an effort not to buy my favourite diet drink this month because it all adds up. Growing herbs saves money and we have had drought, fire and rain here and the Aldi ice berg lettuce is normally $2 and now they are $3.50 so the prices are just going up and up. I planted my lettuce last week and some little creature came along and ate some of them so I have netted them for now and will get some more to plant. Getting veggies from the garden is so satisfying. Great blog post. Kathy, Brisbane, Australia

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thank you so much Kathy. Yes, Aldi is a huge help. And we found the same thing - try what they have. Some you may not enjoy but there will be many things you will be happy with purchasing there. Good for you with gardening what you can to save bits here and there. You are sooooo right - it all adds up!!