Along with your commuting and housing costs, your grocery bill consumes a major part of your budget. You’re probably already cutting down on unnecessary bills, such as downgrading your data usage or cutting cable.
You can’t exactly cut down on your nutritional needs, though, because food is kind of intrinsic to this thing called life and survival. However, you can wage war on your grocery bill with these frugal tips.
1. Get Serious About Your Budget
Budgeting feels painful, but another way to look at budgeting is as goal setting. What are you trying to achieve with a budget?
Look at your spending patterns at the grocery store. If you don’t keep your receipts, start saving them now, and keep spending the way you normally do. How much do you typically pay on average? Start small, with an ultimate goal of shaving your grocery bill by 10 or 15 percent. This approach makes budgeting feel more achievable than overwhelming.
2. Diversify Your Shopping Locations
Do you burn more gas when you shop at multiple stores? It depends. If you’re driving more than 30 minutes to every store, you’re probably spending the same amount as if you’d stayed with one grocer.
When you diversify your shopping locations, the idea is to stay local. Or, if you have a long commute to and from work, get experimental and make a pit stop at a store that catches your eye.
3. Focus on Clearance Items
Suck at clipping coupons? Focus on purchasing clearance items instead. Just because an item is on clearance doesn’t mean it’s past expiration — the store may just have purchased too much product and placed it on clearance to sell it.
Clearance items force you to get creative with using your purchases quickly, though if you freeze the items, you don’t have to worry about an expiration date at all. Clearance items you’ll find may include deli, produce, dairy and meat. Don’t forget to take advantage of big sales after the holidays, such as on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and pay attention to when your favorite stores regularly put items you use on sale.
4. Get the Most Out of Your Baack
When meal planning, all the extra ingredients quickly add up. Take a note from your grandmother’s Depression-era cooking skills and make the most out of what you have and what you will buy.
Get the most out of your buck, or in this case — your baack! For example, it’s OK to splurge on something big and delicious for your family, like a rotisserie chicken, but don’t destroy it in one or two meals. Stretch out that rotisserie chicken over several recipes — for example, turn that chicken into meat for Taco Tuesday filling, chicken and dumplings, chicken salad and chicken curry.
5. Shop Basics at the Dollar Store
Whether you have a family, or are scrimping and saving through the single life, shop for basics at your local dollar store. Buy paper products, bathroom and cleaning products. Pick up frozen vegetables and pantry goods, such as canned foods, spaghetti and cooking oil.
Instead of buying $4 crackers at the grocery store, get your vegetable gourmet crackers at the dollar store. Instead of spending $3 on toothpaste, buy toothpaste with the same ingredients for $1.
6. Introduce Meatless Mondays
What’s the most expensive ingredient in most meals? Meat.
If you typically serve meat with every meal, it’s time to introduce Meatless Mondays to save more money — and do some good for your health and the environment, while you’re at it. You can always follow up with Taco Tuesday as an incentive. There are so many delicious meatless dishes to try, such as vegetarian lasagna with gooey cheese or sweet potato and black bean soup.
7. Get Inventive With Substitutions
If specialty ingredients are getting too expensive, cook with substitutes. Focus on your senses. What is the taste, smell and texture? How will your cooking method alter the ingredient once you’ve mixed it in and heated it up? What’s the purpose of the ingredient in the recipe? Work with what you have.
In baking, vegetable shortening is a substitute for butter, but you can use an equal amount of vegetable oil when the recipe calls for melted butter. Texture is the most important aspect in these instances to consider.
To stand in for buttermilk, you could use a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice with milk to get a similar taste. For fluffier biscuits, use a little plain Greek yogurt.
8. Drink More Water
Most people don’t drink enough water throughout the day. Instead of starting the day with coffee, begin the day with a tall glass of water — then follow up with your cup of coffee.
Do you drink more soda than water? Make it a goal to reverse that habit. By drinking more water, you’ll curb cravings — sometimes when you feel hungry, you’re really dehydrated. You’ll also save more money by buying less soda, alcohol or coffee.
You can cut back the bills, but you can’t cut out your need to eat. Don’t skip meals to save money.
Shop around at different locations and work with the ingredients in your pantry, especially when it comes to substitutions. When you use meat in your recipes, stretch out the use over multiple recipes, and drink more water, silly.
(Image credit: Chris Perez)