Today, we have a great guest post from Nicole (Struggletodaystrengthtomorrow.com) with her awesome tips on how to stretch your food money out as far as it will go!
With life, comes several unavoidable facts. There’s a famous idiom that says, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” While that does seem to hold true, another unavoidable truth is that you need food to survive. Food costs money, prices inflate and money doesn’t hold the same value as it used to.
When the money runs tight, the first thing to do in these situations is cut costs wherever possible. So today, I’m going to share with you 8 super helpful ways to stretch your food money.
Make a grocery budget
One of the best ways to save money on your food spending is to make a budget. Budgeting is incredibly important when it comes to taking control of your finances. “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.”- Dave Ramsey
When you set your food budget, you give yourself so much freedom to get creative. By telling yourself you only have X amount of money for Y amount of days, you become a scientist, mathematician, and a chef.
Related article: 3 Ways to Save on Groceries
Meal planning is another great way to stretch your food money. You can create cheap healthy meals for your family that fit within your food budget and keep your family well-fed.
It’s amazing to see how many meals you can squeeze out of a well-organized budget plan. I once stretched $250 for 44 days for my family of 4 plus pets- out of necessity during a job loss a few years ago.
There are two ways to meal plan on a budget, the traditional way, and the reverse method.
Traditional meal planning is done by making a list of meals and then compiling your grocery lists. Some people do this method incorrectly by simply writing down food on a calendar and calling it good. But this is not the budget-friendly approach.
Traditional meal planning (the smart way) starts with taking inventory in your home. By figuring out what’s already in stock, you can compile as many meals as possible and fill in as needed with affordable groceries. Using store sale flyers to help keep costs low by buying what’s on sale and in season.
Reverse meal planning starts in the store. You walk around the store, hitting up the best sales and markdowns, buying anything that looks good. Mentally compile compatible products into meals. Meat+starch+veggie, as you shop.
The plus side of reverse meal planning is that you can get sale prices not mentioned in the store’s weekly ad. The downside is that you increase the odds of impulse buying.
Using coupons and rebates
Using coupons and rebates is a great way to save money on your food and stretch that budget.
Rebate apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and SavingStar are excellent sources for getting money back after you’re done shopping. The best part about rebate apps is that you can use all of them on the same products and it doesn’t matter if you also used a coupon in-store or how you paid for the transaction, so long as you have a valid receipt.
While rebates are great at getting money back after purchases, coupons really help to get the price down before you pay. Some people look at a coupon and don’t see anything more than a few cents off a product and don’t think that it’s worth their time.
These people don’t see the full potential though. They don’t know what extreme couponers know. Couponers cracked the secrets to using coupons a long time ago and can work a transaction so well that they get paid to shop!
While I’m not saying that you need to learn couponing and take it to the extremes, I am saying that learning to stack coupons, rebates, and store sales can have a significant impact on your food budget and stretch your money really far.
Related Article: Ebates Review
Planning your shopping trips
Have you ever gone to the grocery store and forgotten your list? It happens to all of us, and as we walk around the store in a panic trying not to forget anything crucial, we also add items to our cart that wasn’t on our list.
If you know that impulse shopping is you weakness, kick it to the curb by choosing grocery ordering or pickup options. This keeps you from the in-store temptations and saves you time.
Sometimes the best way to maximize savings is to shop at multiple stores and not just one. The smartest way to do this is to plan out your stores in a loop pattern from your home or starting point.
Go out to the furthest location and work your way back home, to save money on gas and be more efficient. Note: this pattern does not work well if you buy ice cream or other easily perishable products at the first store. So plan accordingly.
Shop for markdowns and clearance deals
Most grocery stores offer a section for marked down items. Some locations could be by the back doors, in the meat department, bakery, produce, and deli. Other stores may just have a sale sticker on the item, while it’s sitting in its normal spot.
These markdown items are usually close to the sale by date or are being transitioned out, meaning that nothing is wrong with them- they’re just cheap. Finding these hidden gems in your stores can help you cut costs and is as fun as a treasure hunt.
That being said, the early bird gets the worm, so shop early for markdowns. I personally notice my stores marking products down around 9 am. You can call and contact your stores to see when they mark down products and plan your shopping trips around those times to ensure the best deals end up in your shopping cart.
If you are after something specific, you can look for outlet/liquidation stores for that type of product. For instance, I save hundreds of dollars per month by shopping at a local bread bakery outlet store. I also shop at a liquidation/less than perfect produce store to save money on fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you don’t have a local produce liquidation store, you can look into Bountiful Baskets co-op or Imperfect Produce. Both suggestions are affordable and awesome!
Shopping at a butcher shop can also help reduce meat costs since you cut out the middleman, putting more savings in your pocket.
Brand loyalty could be costing you more
It’s no secret that name brand products often cost more than the off-brand counterparts. When you stack a store sale with a coupon and rebate you can get name brand significantly cheaper than the store brand products, but this isn’t always the case.
Doing the math to make sure you buy the cheaper product has actually been easier than many of us ever realized! On the store shelves are little tags with the items price, slightly smaller and off-centered is the price per unit.
Have you noticed how some products appear to be shrinking over the past few years but the cost either stays the same or increases?
If you watch the little tags I mentioned and look at the size of the box or product- you can make sure you are getting the best deal per unit. What you think is a bigger box for a better price could actually end up costing you more per unit than the smaller box next to it.
Learn and prepare for sales cycles
You may or may not have noticed that sale prices repeat themselves. If you haven’t noticed this, don’t worry- the majority of people have never noticed this.
Sales happen in seasons, and on a very predictable schedule. Not just fresh produce as it comes into season- but also pantry stable foods like boxed stuffing or canned items. Television sets, camping gear, and other non-food items also happen in sales cycle stages too!
January has health care products, gym memberships, big screen TV’s and super bowl party foods.
August has lunch products and easy breakfast foods, a great time for moms to stock up for their kids starting school.
And September is the baby month where car seat trade-ins happen and all things baby goes on sale.
Becoming aware of these nifty things can help you prepare for sales months in advance and maximize savings by buying things when they are at their lowest price of the year.
Find alternative proteins or stretch the meat
One of the biggest costs in your grocery budget could be the money you spend on meat. Over the past few years, I have noticed people plan their dinners around a meat source. Making meat the star of the show. A great way to cut costs on your food money is to not make meat the star of the show and to stretch it further.
Remove the mentality thinking that dinner is meat + starch + veggie, that’s so 1950’s and outdated. This is the 21st century and research has come a long way since then.
Cheap alternative protein sources can save you hundreds of dollars per year. Eggs, black beans, yogurt, and peanut butter are just a few examples or a cheap protein.
You can easily cut back 1/4 pound of ground beef from any 1 pound recipe without anyone noticing. But you can cut even more if you used healthy filler items to bulk the dish up.
For example, when I make enchiladas at home, I use 1 pound of ground beef (or 1 shredded chicken breast.) To make the filling stretch over enough tortilla shells to feed 7 people, I add black beans, onions, and whole kernel corn to the mix. Plus, I make beans and rice as side dishes. If I want to sneak even more veggies in there, I shred carrot or zucchini into the enchilada mix. My kids never notice.
Another way to do this is to fill your dinner plates with veggies being the star. Filling 2/3rd’s of a plate with veggies can not only be healthy but also be a great way to save money. Side salads, steamed or roasted veggies, are some great ideas to help fill tummies and not empty wallets.
So as you can see, getting creative in the kitchen plays a big role in your savings.
Just to recap, the 8 things you should do to cut costs and stretch your food money is:
- Make a grocery budget and stick to it.
- Meal plan using whichever method works best for you.
- Use coupons and rebates to maximize savings.
- Plan your shopping trips so they are efficient and don’t waste time or gas.
- Shop markdowns and clearance sections at the store or utilize outlet/liquidation stores near you.
- Don’t be brand loyal and shop the best price per unit, to ensure you aren’t over-spending.
- Learn and prepare for sales cycles months in advance so you can snag the best deals!
- Find cheap proteins to include in your diet or stretch meat further. Don’t make meat the star of the show, focus on veggies and other proteins.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful and your grocery budget sees significant changes for the better with the use of these tips! Do you have any tips on how to stretch your food money? Comment below!