4. Buy in-season produce
When a fruit or vegetable is in-season, it’s fresher and tastes better. Fresh tomatoes, oh man… those are the best.
But here’s how it saves you money on food – when produce is in season, there’s typically an abundance of it, which drives the cost down. It’s basic supply and demand.
You can save even more money on food if you stick to what’s seasonal and buy frozen or canned for the rest of what you need.
5. Rethink dinner
Some people have high expectations for their weekly dinners, and thinking about all the time and work it takes to make dinner causes people to order pizza, get take out, or stop at the drive-through.
But I’m going to let you in a secret: dinner can be anything you want it to be.
Scrambled eggs, cheese and crackers, a big salad, a sandwich – these are all perfectly acceptable dinners. You can learn how to save money on food once you start to realize that dinner, lunch, and breakfast are just times when you eat food. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
6. Make a weekly meal plan
A meal plan is an outline of your weekly meals and snacks, and it’s a good thing to do before you make your grocery list. Here are some meal planning tips:
- Plan your meals around what’s on sale at the store
- Check your calendar to see what’s going on this week – you can meal prep in advance for busy nights
- Pick meals around common ingredients, like buy one roast chicken and use it for chicken enchiladas, soup, or in salads
A meal plan will help show you how to budget for groceries because you’ll have a clear idea of what you’re going to eat for the week. You’re not leaving anything out, which reduces the likelihood of needing to run back for something you forgot.
7. Think about meals by cost
This is time-consuming, but looking at your meal costs down to the penny can teach you how to save money on food. There are some great food blogs (one of my favorites is BudgetBytes) that give you the per recipe and per serving costs for each recipe. She also teaches you how to calculate food costs for yourself.
I recommend putting a few really inexpensive meals on your list each week. Cheap meals are also good when you’ve overspent in another category and want to stick to your budget.
8. Go meatless
Listen, I’m a huge fan of a nice steak dinner, and I could never be a vegetarian, but meat can be really expensive. If you follow my last tip and start calculating your per meal costs, you’ll notice that pretty quickly.
Finding low-cost sources of protein is easier than you think – eggs, beans, and tofu are good substitutes in some meals. Try cutting meat out of one or two meals a week and see what it does to your food budget.
9. Shop at more than one store
This takes a little planning and time, but shopping around can help you save a lot of money on food.
For example, ethnic grocery stores sometimes have cheaper spices and grains. You can go to Aldi for great basic food items, and then get in-season produce from a farmer’s market, and then do the rest of your shopping like normal. Learn what’s available in your area and then start planning out your groceries.
10. Cook in bulk and freeze what’s left
One day each week, bulk cook a couple of meals that are easy to freeze. My wife and I do this with chili, soups, and casseroles. Since it’s just the two of us, we can just double a recipe and have plenty to freeze, but you might want to triple it if you have a big family.
This is an easy way to save money on food if you struggle on busy weeknights. Take the meal out of the freezer before you go to work, and it will reheat even faster.
11. Have some go-to meals that use up leftovers
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not a huge fan of leftovers, but I do like repurposing leftovers into other meals.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Turn leftover pasta, grains, and rice into a casserole by tossing in some vegetables, topping it with cheese, and baking it in the oven
- Saute leftover meat, vegetables, or beans with some cumin, chili powder, or salsa and put them in taco shells
- Make gourmet sandwiches with leftover meat, sauces, roasted vegetables, etc.
12. Buy generic
The majority of the time, generic food tastes exactly the same as brand name food. Generic or store brands are sometimes even made in the same factory as brand name food.
Save money on food by realizing that you’re paying for the brand name, not better food. Okay, unless it’s ranch dressing. Hidden Valley Ranch is a far superior product.
13. Stop buying pre-cut, pre-packaged food
Early on in my marriage, my wife asked me to go grocery shopping and I came home with a container of pre-chopped onions. I was sure my wife was going to be proud of me for this brilliant purchase.
Nope. And while I wish I could say there wasn’t yelling, that would be a lie.
She quickly schooled me and explained that spending 2 minutes chopping onions was no big deal and an easy way to save some money.
Yes, those pre-cut and pre-packaged things can save you a little time, but they’re way overpriced. Pre-cut stuff goes bad much faster too, which makes it an even bigger waste if you don’t use them right away.
14. Plant a garden
If you want fresh, local produce and you want to learn how to save money on food, then it’s time to plant a garden.
Think about it like this: you can spend around $15 buying one tomato plant and one bag of organic fertilizer. Plant your tomatoes, water them every day, and in a few weeks, you have fresh tomatoes every day. You don’t have to go to the store, and you make your money back after just a few tomatoes. It gets even cheaper if you start with seeds.
If you’re worried that you’ll kill anything you plant, start with low maintenance herbs like rosemary, basil, parsley, and mint.
15. Weigh your produce
Do you take the time to weigh fruits and vegetables before you buy them? I have to admit that I’m really bad at this one.
Weighing your food does a couple of things that can help you buy groceries on a budget:
- You buy only the amount you need and end up with less food waste
- It helps you connect the per-pound price to the amount of food you’re buying
- You’re less likely to overspend on expensive produce
16. Stay away from eye-level products
Do you know what a planogram is? It’s a diagram that stores use to put items on shelves in a way that maximizes sales. A planogram tells stores to put the most expensive items at eye level because they know that’s where people will go first.
There’s a saying for it too: eye level is buy level.
The next time you’re at the store, pay attention to the unit costs for what’s at eye level versus what’s on the top and bottom shelves. More often than not, food with the least expensive per unit cost will be just out of sight.
A simple thing like scanning up and down on the shelves for less expensive products is an easy way to go food shopping on a budget.
17. Use everything you buy
According to a study done by the United States Department of Agriculture, the average person in the U.S. wastes 238 pounds of food per year. That works out to about 20% of the food you buy and costs $1,800. Wasting food is throwing money away.
So, if you want to learn how to save money on food, focus on wasting less of it. Here are a few ideas:
- Adapt your recipes to use what you have
- Make broth from vegetable scraps
- Use ingredients for more than one meal, like adding leftover vegetables to pasta or salad
- For vegetables that are almost too ripe, make stir fry, soup, or freeze them instead of throwing them away
- Chop up overripe fruit and freeze it for smoothies
18. Learn how to store food properly
Learning how to keep your food fresh is one tip that will help you waste less and save money on food. Here’s some guidance on how to store your food:
- Potatoes, onions, and garlic should be store in a cool dark place
- On your countertop, you can keep bananas, citrus, and tomatoes
- Let stone fruit (fruit with a hard center – apricots, peaches, avocados) ripen in a bag on your counter, then stick them in the fridge to last longer
- Apples, pears, celery, berries, grapes, cherries, green beans, melons, zucchini, and squash should all go in the fridge, ideally in a bag with holes and in the produce drawer
- Vegetables that have green tops – carrots, beets, parsnips – should have their tops removed and stored in the fridge separately
- Mushrooms go in a paper bag an in the fridge
- Cucumbers and peppers should go on an upper shelf of your fridge where it’s a little warmer
- Lettuce and other leafy greens need to be washed and stored with a paper towel or dishtowel in a plastic bag in a fridge drawer
- Don’t store bread in plastic – plastic traps moisture and causes mold – and keep it in a cool dry place (not in the fridge or on top of it)
I found all of that advice in a quick Google search, so if you’re not sure about something, just look it up.
19. Make a grocery list, and stick to it
Every list that explains how to save money on food will have a section for making a grocery list. But here’s how you make it work: be realistic, list exactly everything you need, and avoid splurges by sticking to your list.
Your list will be much easier to stick to if you shop alone and don’t go when you’re hungry.
Start your list by looking at your meal plan for the week and writing down what you need for each meal. Check your kitchen to make sure you don’t list something you already have, and then write down any extras you need – snacks, ice cream, condiments, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc.
20. Make money back when you shop
Regardless of how much prep work you do, you’re still going to have to go to the grocery store and spend some money. Ibotta is a free app that can help you earn money back on your grocery purchases.
The app pays in cash via Venmo or Paypal, and has already paid out over $680 million since it was launched in 2012.
You can earn money with Ibotta in a few different ways:
- Connect your grocery store’s loyalty account to the app and automatically redeem offers for cash – this is the easiest option
- Add offers to your account, go grocery shopping like you normally would, take a picture of your receipt and submit it in the app, then verify the offers you want to redeem
- Pay with the Ibotta app
Learn more about how Ibotta works in my Ibotta Review for 2020, and when you sign up through my exclusive M$M link, you can earn your first $20.
21. Join your store’s loyalty program
It seems like most grocery stores have some kind of loyalty program these days. They all work a little differently – some give you a percentage of your purchase total back and others unlock special coupons and discounts.
If your store has a free loyalty program, joining it is one of the easiest ways to save money on food. You just have to swipe a card or enter a phone number to start saving.
My wife and I actually join loyalty programs when we travel too, even if we will never go back to a place. It’s just too easy and free money.
22. Don’t always buy in bulk
A lot of people who want to learn how to grocery shop on a budget think bulk food is going to be the cheaper option, but that’s not always true. Buying brand names in bulk can still be more expensive than buying the regular-sized generic brands. Pay attention to the per-unit cost to see which is a better deal.
You can also end up with a lot of stuff you won’t ever use or that will go to waste.
Compare the prices and see if you’ll actually use it all before thinking bulk is the cheaper option.
How much a month should you spend on food?
How much you spend at the grocery store each month involves a lot of factors: family size, where you live, where you shop (Whole Foods is more expensive than Aldi), and whether or not you have any dietary restrictions. For example, gluten-free diets can be more expensive.
But the monthly spending recommendations based on U.S. averages are $250 per adult and $150 per child. For example, a family of five with three kids would spend around $950/month on groceries.
Outside of grocery spending, there aren’t clear guidelines on how much you should spend when you eat out. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture data says Americans spend about 5% of their income on restaurants.
As long as eating out fits into your budget, then by all means do it. But if you’re struggling with debt or wanting to save more money, cutting restaurant spending can make a big impact.
Take that statistic that says Americans spend 5% of their income at restaurants. If you and your spouse make a combined $110,000 annually, you can be spending around $5,500 per year at restaurants. That’s just $500 less than the maximum IRA contribution limit for 2020.
I’m not saying to stop going out to eat all together, but doing it a little less can help you save money that can be used for more important things.
The final word on how to save money on food
Food is a necessity, but now you know how to cut your grocery budget by reducing the amount you spend at the store and the amount of food you waste. That’s more money each month to reach your savings goals, pay off debt, or to free up a little room in your budget.