Do you spend too much at the grocery store? Busy lives and growing kids make it hard for parents to feed their families on a budget. There are ways to slash that grocery bill even if you don’t have time to cook from scratch every night or spend hours collecting coupons. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a monthly report on the cost of food for families at four levels. This range includes the thrifty plan, the lowest cost, which is based on maximum food stamp allowance. The liberal plan, the most expensive, allows for higher-cost items. In August 2017, the USDA reported that monthly food costs for a family of four with two kids between the ages of two and five were $560.60 for the “thrifty” plan and $1,094.30 for a “liberal” plan. For families with older kids between the ages of six and 11, the cost increases to between $642.50 and $1,280.50! And that is without teens in the house. Yikes! These numbers are based on all meals and snacks being prepared at home, so that doesn’t include the cost of the occasional fast food run. It’s enough to make any budget break, so what's a thrifty parent to do? We’ve looked at the most common obstacles to slashing that grocery bill and found the following solutions:
Problem: You don’t have time to clip coupons
The days of spending hours with a scissor and the newspaper are long gone. Most major stores now offer e-coupons. To access these, just sign up for your favorite store’s app. It’s best to plan ahead by browsing the coupon offerings as you make your list, but you could even search for coupons for what is already in your basket while waiting to check out.
Solution: savings apps
Another easy way to save is with apps such as Ibotta and Checkout 51. Download the app, then check for rebates before you shop. Once you get home, you can take a picture of your receipt and scan the barcode of the items with the app. With Ibotta, once you’ve hit $20 in savings you can redeem your savings in the form of a gift card or get cash via PayPal. With Checkout 51, you will receive a check in the mail. If you grocery shop at Target, the Target Cartwheel app can save you a bundle. There are many other apps available, try a few until you find one that works for you.
Problem: You prefer to buy organic ... but it’s so expensive!
Solution: Shop sales
If you have more than one major grocery retailer in your area, chances are each one has a few organic products on sale each week. Get to know your weekly sales flyers and shop those sales. This is another area in which e-coupons can help as well. Additionally, local farmer’s markets and produce stands offer great deals.
Problem: You waste too much food
Solution: meal planning
Once a week, sit down with the calendar and a notebook and plan meals according to your schedule. On nights in which you don’t come through the door until dinnertime, a slow cooker or freezer meal will save dinner. Getting the kids involved in choosing mealtime selections might help with the picky eaters problem, too.
Studies show that Americans waste up to 10 percent of the food they purchase. From the broccoli you forgot about in the back of the fridge to the food that gets scraped off of a picky eater’s plate, throwing away food is throwing away money. Rescue leftovers daily and then offer a “leftover buffet” of what wasn’t consumed that week. On leftover buffet nights, add a loaf of garlic bread and big salad to round out the meal.
Problem: You’re too busy to cook
Solution: Freezer Meals
For those of us with over scheduled evenings, freezer cooking might be for you. By freezer cooking, I mean preparing a meal and freezing it ahead of time. This works best for meat-based dishes and one-pot meals such as casseroles and hearty soups. Some thrifty folks even prep and freeze 30 days of meals at once. If the idea of having home-cooked meals in the freezer appeals to you – but the idea of 12 hours in the kitchen does not – try simply doubling one or two recipes a week. So, the next time you make your kids’ favorite casserole, make one for dinner and one for the freezer. A quick search of Pinterest of Google will yield plenty of freezer-friendly recipes. The website Once a Month Meals offers a free trial mini menu for freezer meals, plus tons of information on how to create a freezer meal plan. Another great resource for tips and recipes is Pioneer Woman.
Solution: prep ahead
Prep, such as chopping onions and other veggies, takes time. Spending an hour on the weekend to chop what you will use in the next week will cut your time in the kitchen later. Another timesaver is to brown and freeze ground beef or grilled chicken breasts to have on hand. Both freeze well in gallon-sized resealable bags.
Solution: slow cooker meals
There is nothing quite like walking in the door after work to the scent of supper cooking. Slow cookers can be a busy parent’s best friend! With a slow cooker, you add raw ingredients to the cooker in the morning, turn it on and at the end of the day dinner is done. You can even prep tomorrow’s recipe the night before and put the removable insert in the fridge, then pull it out and turn it on in the morning.
Solution: Instant Pot
This handy gadget is a combination slow cooker and pressure cooker that cooks food 70 percent faster than conventional methods. You can cook a whole chicken in half an hour, roast beef in just over an hour, and smaller cuts of meat like chicken breasts in under 10 minutes. Some freezer cooking advocates even suggest freezing the meals in round dishes so that frozen meals can be popped right into the Instant Pot. Most frozen meals go from rock solid to cooked in half an hour. Here’s an example of an Instant Pot on Amazon, and here are some Instant Pot recipes.
Problem: Food is just expensive
Solution: Buy in bulk
Food prices have risen around 2.6 percent per year over the last twenty years, according to an article in The Balance. And although the forecast is for prices in 2017 to rise only about one percent, groceries are still darn expensive. Buying in bulk means saving money. Many stores now offer a bulk foods aisle in which you can purchase staples like flour and rice or even snacks like dried fruit and candy. You just scoop as much or as little as you need. You can really save on dried spices in bulk. While a prepackaged jar of dried basil may cost $5 or $6, you can buy the same amount in bulk for less than a dollar. Buying meat in bulk offers savings as well. Purchasing a large package of chicken breasts or steaks at a wholesale club such as Sam’s Club or Costco and then dividing and freezing the extras can slash your meat cost. You can even use a company that sells meats in really large amounts such as Zaycon Foods or Premier Meat Company. You can lower that grocery bill! It will take some planning and organization, but you won’t mind when you see less of your paycheck eaten up on that weekly shopping trip. Employ any or all of the above solutions and you will start to see savings add up.