Are you looking for ways to cut down on your grocery bill? Do you constantly wonder how you can afford to eat healthier? It can happen, it just takes some investigating and creativity.
I don’t know about you, but we’re a family of five and eating can get very expensive. When I noticed our grocery bills were growing and growing with each trip I knew I needed to do something about it…quickly. So I did and the savings are slowly improving month by month.
We used to average around $450 (sometimes more) a month on food shopping alone.
Now we pay, on average, $300 a month by dividing our shopping up into a few different ways (and still looking for ways to improve).
Here’s how we did it:
- We joined a Community Outreach Program. Ours is Jolin Food Box located in New Jersey. We found this program through one of the churches we used to attend. This program is great because anybody can use it. The company gets food at wholesale prices and that allows them to pass the savings on to the community. It’s the same food you would find at your local grocery store just at half (or one third) of the price. We pay $32 to get $100 worth of food! And I love that they offer healthy items ranging from organic butter (from Trader Joe’s!) to a whole free range chicken. Every month the menu items change so it’s a fun surprise each month to see what you can get.
- We shop local farmers markets. Now this one will depend on the season and the type of farmers market. For example, most farmers markets are only open from May until December the latest. We found an Amish farmers market that is open all year round, but only three days a week. We also have access to a few other farmers markets open year round. For the most part you can find fresh produce, meat, flours, eggs, milk, bread, cheese, jams/jellies, and sauces for less money than you would pay in the grocery store. And the best part is because these items are homemade they don’t contain all the preservatives like in the items found on regular grocery store shelves.
- We limit the amount of times we eat out. Eating out can be very expensive (especially for a family of five) – so we don’t eat out as much as we used to. We will still, however, go out and celebrate milestones like birthdays and anniversaries and will eat out sometimes when on vacation. Besides, an occasional meal out makes us all happy.
- We make our own (fill in the blank). This one is new to us and is a work in progress. I took note of the foods we love to eat, or just use up a lot, and decided to attempt to make them ourselves in order to save a few dollars (and a few calories). So far we have made our own granola bars, trail mix, and ice cream! The kids love it because they try to think of different things they can mix into each of these items. We’ve also added waffles to our list – we’ll make a whole bunch, then freeze them. I think bread baking may be in my immediate future
- We stick to the grocery list. OK this one I admit I have trouble being consistent with. We normally add items to the grocery list on the refrigerator either as they run out or as we think of them. But, sometimes things slip my mind and don’t come to mind until I’m in that particular aisle in the grocery store….like toilet paper out of all things.
- We buy the organic generic store brand first. The private label organic brand is just as good a quality as the brand name organic brand. Again, it’s going to come down to preference and availability of some things, but this can make a difference in pricing.
- We buy organic according to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce. This shopper’s guide is a great way to know what is the least and most pesticide contaminated fruit or vegetable and it tells you which ones to buy organic, when possible. So rather than buying the organic version of every fruit & vegetable, it cuts down the list.
- We buy frozen. For whatever else we need to buy from the grocery store, we buy frozen over fresh. Unless we know we’re going to eat it or use it right away, like apples, bananas, onions, and peppers, for example, we buy everything else frozen. Frozen fruit works out best for me because that’s what I use to make my smoothies. And according to a USDA study, opting for frozen vegetables and fruits may lower costs.
- We shop seasonally. This goes with the shopping at local farmers markets. Fruits and vegetables are less expensive during their peak growing times, and they’re also tastier because they don’t travel as far!
- We started growing our own “garden”. So far we have planted cilantro, hot peppers, chives, broccoli, and lettuce. I use the word garden in quotes because all of this is actually planted inside the house in window boxes and plant pots (we have to find room for everything outside eventually). So, it’ll be some time before we really start reaping the benefits of our labor, but once it takes off I know it’ll be well worth the effort!
- We concentrate on the staples.We make sure to have the staples of a meal and build around that. We always make sure we have, at the very least beans, oatmeal, pasta & pasta sauce, rice, any fruits, and any vegetables in the house. You can pretty much survive on those alone for a while if you had to before making a trip out for more food.
Even more ways to cut down on your grocery bill
- Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) – through a CSA, farmers offer a certain number of shares to the public. In exchange, on a weekly basis, one can get fresh produce, herbs, meat, eggs, milk, bread, cheese, and more depending on the CSA you join. The items, of course, are dependent upon the week of the season, meaning every week your share may be different. And most of the time these farms are organic (but perhaps not certified organic, which can be really expensive for these farms to pay for). Before joining weigh your options – if you are able to shop at a local farmers market anyway, you may not need to necessarily join a CSA. It’s going to depend on your use of the items, preference, etc.
- Join a local co-op: co-ops are like a mix of a grocery store, a natural health foods store, and a farmer’s market. In return for an annual membership fee and/or volunteer work, you can get certain discounts on your groceries, although it’s not mandatory. You can also find another family or two and order from a non-local co-op like Frontier.
- Buy in bulk from stores like Costco, BJs and Sam’s Club – these stores come in handy when you want to buy large quantities of stuff for less. However, do your homework before shopping at these places. Sometimes buying in bulk at a regular grocery store for certain items could turn out to be less expensive than buying in bulk at these places.
- Plan out your meals for the week. By planning your meals in advance you will know what you need to buy. Planning also helps avoid impulse shopping.
- Cook in bulk and freeze the rest, but not too much. You don’t want to overdo it and then have too much food, which ends up being thrown away.
- Eat before you go shopping. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach will leave you more likely to buy on impulse.
- Go shopping when you have time. Being in a hurry can result in just throwing anything in your cart. Take the time to read the nutrition and ingredient labels.
To find a local CSA, co-op, or farmer’s market in your area visit Local Harvest.
P.S. Busy Mom Tip: A real time saver is using a shop from home service if the store has one (I take advantage of this at our store for only $10 – it is soooooo worth it!) It saves money by reducing impulse buys and since you add items to your cart right on the screen it’s easy to keep track of your spending, so it practically pays for itself. Plus it gives me more time to do other things…..which goes with the saying ‘time is money!’