Feeding a family is freaking expensive. The average cost of feeding a family of four like mine is nearly $300 every week. I’ve had weeks where I’ve doubled that. Now, we’re not counting special dinners or birthdays here — I’m just talking about regular, weekly grocery trips.
When I was regularly spending more than $400 a week on groceries, I realized something had to change. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way to help reduce food costs at home.
Honestly, I hated meal planning at first. It seemed like a waste of time, and I had a hard time sticking to it. Once I turned it into a habit, though, I can’t see myself doing anything else.
Instead of wandering around the grocery store trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I plan out each meal before I ever head out the door. I figure out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the entire week, then that’s all that I buy.
Meal planning makes it easier to craft home-cooked meals even on my busiest nights. Instead of staring into the fridge forlornly trying to figure out what I’m cooking, I’ve already got a plan in place and can throw dinner into the oven in no time at all.
I love adding fresh fruits and vegetables to my meals, as well as cutting them up for snacks for my kids, but fresh produce can be expensive — especially if you’re buying it out of season. Each fruit and veggie has its growing season, and if you’re trying to pick up strawberries or pumpkins out of season, you’ll end up paying more for them.
Check out this excellent website that tells you what is in season in your region any time of year. You can also shop at local farmers markets for the freshest produce possible in your area.
There’s a ton of crap out there that tries to pass itself off as good food. It might taste great, but it’s loaded with unhealthy fats and sodium. Take the time to make healthier choices when it comes to your diet. You’ll be surprised how much money you save when you’re cooking healthy meals at home instead of relying on convenience foods or eating out.
Use a Grocery List
Don’t try to remember your grocery list or go shopping without a list at all. That’s where meal planning comes in handy — you’ve already got a list of what you’ll need for meals and snacks for the week, so don’t deviate from it. Sticking to your list prevents you from spending money on extras and unhealthy snacks that you don’t need.
Don’t Shop Hungry
If you go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, you’ll be lucky if you make it out without buying an entire aisle and bringing it home. I’m not just blowing smoke here — studies have found that if you go shopping hungry, you’ll spend more money on unhealthy foods, especially if you don’t have a list.
Don’t Buy Pre-Packaged Salads
Pre-packaged salads can be convenient, but they tend to be a massive waste of money. They spoil faster than whole veggies, and you end up spending a whole lot more for a bag of chopped lettuce than you would have spent on a single head of iceberg that you cut yourself.
Adding salads to your diet is great — if you make them yourself. You have more options with custom salads than you do with bagged ones anyway.
Skip the Shredded Cheese
The same logic that applies to bagged salads also applies to shredded cheese. Buying it pre-shredded might save you some time and a sore elbow, but you’re wasting money. Plus, store-bought shredded cheese is dusted with plant cellulose or other non-binding agents to keep the individual strands from sticking together. Yup, your shredded cheese has sawdust in it.
If you don’t want to give yourself a tennis elbow with a traditional box grater, invest in a rotary or power grater to save yourself some of the work. I wouldn’t use shredded cheese at all if I didn’t have my rotary grater. I like my fingernails too much to risk using a box grater.
Stop Relying on Bottled Water
We should all be drinking more water. Our cells won’t function without it, and we spend so much time drinking coffee and soda that it’s easy to get dehydrated. If your tap water or well water tastes gross (like mine does), you probably rely on bottled water. In addition to generating a ton of plastic waste and costing a lot of money, it’s really not that much different from your tap water.
Instead of wasting money on bottled tap water, try installing water filters on your fridge or faucets. Self-filtering water bottles are also an option — fill them up from your tap, and you’re good to go. The bottle that I use has filters that I only have to change once every two months.
Be Patient and Enjoy the Money You’re Saving
Be patient with yourself when you start saving money on your weekly food costs. It takes some practice, especially if you don’t like to cook, but it’ll be worth it when your grocery bill starts to drop. You’ll still spend a couple of hundred dollars a week on supplies, but it’ll be infinitely less than what you might pay otherwise.