I have fairly recently changed the way I grocery shop for my family, and I must say it’s pretty much changed my life. My grocery budget used to be through the roof. We were having to go to the store almost every single day. And the constant thinking of “what’s for dinner” was emotionally draining.
If you’ve been around for just a bit, you should know that I have a BIG family. I cook dinner for 10 people every day! Our family includes 5 adults and 5 children.
And before you ask, no, we don’t have a weird “sister-wives” situation going on, nor do I have a ton of kids! My household includes me and my husband, our daughter, her husband, and their 3 kids (plus another one on the way), my son, and his daughter. We all live (mostly) happily in one house. It’s definitely not a big enough house – but that’s another subject for another day!
Before I started using this system, dinner was a huge chore. The brain power it took to try to think about what’s for dinner every night had me emotionally drained. And then my wallet – it was drained as well! Of course, the “kids” pitch in for food too, but it was a strain for every one of us.
Food is so expensive, and I believe it’s going to get even more so. I recently read an article on how much your monthly food budget should be, and it said that a suggested monthly food budget for a family of 6 is $1,230. I was pretty proud of myself for spending about $500 less, for 4 more people.
Today I want to show you how I tackled my grocery budget, so you can feel the freedom and save money too.
Make a meals list
The first step is to make a list of the meals your family likes to eat. Bonus points if you can think of cheap meals!
I would suggest having a little family meeting and having everyone list off meals they enjoy eating. Write these down on a piece of paper.
Make separate lists for dinners, lunches, and breakfasts.
Here is what our dinner ideas look like:
- Steak and potatoes
- Fish fillets and macaroni and cheese
- Stir fry
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- Shepherd’s pie
- Pork chops and veggies
- Pot pies
- Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
- Hamburgers and fries
- Fettuccine alfredo
- Tuna casserole
- Doritos casserole
- Chili and cornbread
- Sloppy Joe’s
- Cabbage skillet
- Shake ‘n Bake chicken and veggies
- Tater tot casserole
- Pizza pasta
- Stuffed shells
- Barbecue chicken and veggies
- Breakfast for dinner
Lunches look like this:
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Macaroni and cheese
- Pasta roni
- Chicken nuggets
- Pizza rolls
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Tuna sandwiches
- Egg salad sandwiches
- Ramen noodles
- Hot Pockets
And breakfasts look like this:
- Eggs and toast
- Pop tarts
- French toast
- Biscuits and gravy
- Breakfast burritos
- Potato hash
Of course, your family might not eat any of these things. You’ll have to make your own list. But this is to give you an idea of what we buy with our grocery budget.
I feel like I also need to disclose that we grow a lot of our own meat, so we don’t have to spend a lot of our monthly grocery budget on meat. Right now we have a ton of hamburger, some steaks, and whole chickens in the freezer. So if you don’t grow your own meat, you may need to spend more on meat than we do.
We also have a lot of chickens, so our eggs are not included in the food budget. But of course, we probably spend more on chicken feed than we would just buying eggs!
And one other thing to consider, we go through A LOT of milk. Like, at least a gallon every day. So this also adds a lot to our monthly grocery budget. You might spend much less on milk than we do!
Make a meal plan
I know this is a bit of a chore. I used to absolutely HATE doing a meal plan. But trust me, this is key to having a reasonable food budget, as well as saving your sanity.
Once a month, before I go food shopping, I look at our meals list and write meals down for every day of the month on the calendar. I normally only do this for dinners, since we usually “wing it” for breakfasts and lunches. If you prefer to go shopping every week, or every two weeks, just make your meal plan for that time period. We plan and shop monthly for the majority of our food, besides milk.
I try to plan out the meals that include more perishable items soon after our shopping trip. For example, we will make a cabbage skillet within a few days of our shopping trip, to make sure the cabbage and meat are still fresh. I usually do something like pulled pork sandwiches within a few days of grocery shopping as well, so I don’t have to freeze and thaw the pork roast.
If you have enough items on your meals list, you should have enough variety in your meals so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing. My meals list has about 50 items, but we don’t always eat each thing during the month.
I also don’t always go exactly off the meal plan. Sometimes we’re not in the mood for what I have on the meal plan for that day, or we are getting a late start on dinner so we need something quicker. But with this rough meal plan, we can decide how many times a month we want to eat a certain thing. We often have spaghetti a few times a month, because it’s very cheap and we love it.
If you are a gardener, try to plan out meals that will coincide with your harvests. For example, if you know you’re going to have a ton of squash and zucchini for July and August, try to plan out meals that include those. If you have a bunch of lettuce growing, plan out a lot of salads during the growing season. Learn to can some of your produce for use throughout the year. Both of these tips will help you save some serious money on the grocery budget.
Plan out needed ingredients
The next step is to write down your needed ingredients on a shopping list. Make sure you list how much of each thing you need to make it through the time period that you’re shopping for. For example, if we are going to do spaghetti 2 times that month, I make sure to write down double of what we need for one spaghetti dinner.
For this step, you really need to think about how much you need to get you through that time. Make sure you get enough butter, pasta, bread, and meat to make it through until your next grocery shopping trip.
With the amount of milk that we go through, it’s obviously not practical to buy all of what we need at one time. But going to the store every couple days for milk isn’t that big of a deal for us. You just have to decide for yourself what you’re willing to buy outside of your normal big grocery shopping trip.
We don’t normally plan out snacks, we just “wing it” when we get to the store. But everything else is pre-planned.
Take your grocery list, a pen, and plan on spending a couple hours on this grocery shopping trip. Leave the kids with the hubby or a babysitter if possible. Kids always tend to request extra stuff that adds a lot to the budget!
This may be a no-brainer, but shop at a grocery store that has lower prices in order to lower your grocery budget. I live in a town of about 6,000 people, and we have ONE grocery store. And that grocery store is known to have the highest prices in our area – because there is no competition. So we only shop there if we just need a few items.
Instead, for my monthly grocery shopping trip, I drive about 40 minutes away, where we have a Winco, Walmart, and Costco. Winco is definitely my preferred store for groceries.
Grab the store ad on your way into the store to make sure you get the best prices for what is on your shopping list. You can clip coupons if that’s something you’re willing to take the time to do. I personally don’t feel like taking the time or energy to clip coupons, and still have a lower grocery bill than most people I know. Imagine if I actually did couponing?!
Cross off each item on your shopping list when you put it in the cart. This is actually easier if you organize your shopping list the same way the categories are displayed in the store. For example, put all the cold ingredients together, all the produce together, canned food together, etc. That way you won’t have to spend a lot of time searching for each item on the list, and potentially missing items.
Use the meal plan
The most important part of this system is using the meal plan. I promise you, it will save you so much brainpower for dinner!
Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow the meal plan to a T. You can swap out meals from one day to another. Just make sure you use the perishable items first, while they’re still fresh. The rest of the time you can use foods from the freezer or the pantry.
If you use this system, you will have all the food you need to get you through until your next big shopping trip. Except of course the little things that you decided were ok to buy more frequently (like milk for us!).
This system has been so freeing for me. It has definitely eased my anxiety about having enough food in the house. I don’t know about you, but if I have a pantry full of groceries, I feel almost rich. And not having to decide what to make for dinner every night, or going to the store so often? Priceless!