I live in San Diego with my husband and sister and spend an average of $443 per month on groceries. Before you decide to write this article off as a ramen-only diet, let me preface this by saying that we regularly eat whole foods. My grocery haul includes meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. And an ungodly amount of eggs.
A February 2019 report from the United States Department of Agriculture states that the average couple pays $614.90 per month on groceries alone. That’s just for two people.
Food expenses can be a grenade in a monthly budget. Especially for those trying to pay off debt or fund their next vacation.
And real talk: millennials like me are big foodies. We like avocado toast, kombucha, and almond milk. Sriracha is also very hot right now. These items can get pricey. Before you head out to the store to stock up, here are a few ideas to keep your grocery bill low while not compromising.
I adhere to a three-day meal plan.
I love doing this because it doesn’t overwhelm you by planning every single day and you also get options. I used to meal plan for every day and I ended up throwing out food because life gets busy. You may not have an hour to prepare almond-crusted chicken and garlic roasted mashed potatoes. (But if you do, please send food.)
Instead, plan for three days out of the week. Then you can decide which days to cook and which days are reserved for leftovers or eating out. A great idea is to write down which meals you want to make for the week prior to going to the grocery store.
Afterward, you can shop for meal-specific items and avoid grocery shopping mistakes. It’s helpful to have a written grocery list, too. I only shop for what is on my list. Very rarely do I step outside of the list to purchase something impulsively. The key to that is to eat before you go to the store.
Reuse ingredients for different meals.
Have you ever purchased an ingredient for a specific recipe only to find it rotting in your fridge weeks later? Some recipes call for specialized ingredients. But you might just be able to get away with using the same ingredients for different meals.
For example, create a taco salad night with bell peppers and onions. Use the leftover veggies on the grill or pulverize them in a food processor with tomatoes for homemade salsa. The same can be done for those $5 dollar roasted chickens at Costco. Eat it up as your main course the first night and then toss it into a soup for delicious chicken noodles.
Shop the sales whenever possible.
Rather than go out of my way for something specific, I shop the sales. Produce cycles seasonally, so focus on what’s in season. Strawberries are in season early summer whereas you might find more sales on apples in the fall.
An old school way of knowing what’s on sale before you go is to review the mailed circulars that hit your mailbox each week. Even just a quick glance can give you an idea of what fruits, vegetables, and meats are on special. You could also use circulars or grocery store apps, like Ibotta, to help you meal plan around those items.
Buy your staples in bulk.
In our house, we eat a lot of eggs. Frequently, my husband will boil up a dozen eggs and eat on them for the rest of the week. If you find yourself frequently buying the same thing over and over again, consider buying in bulk. Things like chicken, eggs, turkey, and nuts can all be bought in bulk at wholesale.
The same can be said about frozen foods, too. Try stocking up on frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen mixed fruit is an excellent source for your next protein shake and raw meat in vacuum-sealed plastic can be stored in the freezer for later use.
Start cooking in larger quantities.
Oftentimes, cooking in larger quantities can help stretch your dollars. Look for opportunities to cook larger quantities of food at one time. Grill up large amounts of chicken and use it in a variety of dishes. Make a double batch of chili and freeze one half.
Another way to cook in large quantities is to break out the crock pot or Insta-pot. Crock pot meals are my go-to and I use it year-round. I can easily add a jar of salsa and chicken breasts and voila, shredded chicken for easy fajitas. Anyone hungry yet?
If you have a grill, it can be especially easy to cook up a lot of food. Try a foil packet of chopped raw cauliflower and season with olive oil and your favorite steak seasoning. A grill has more space to cook more food, not to mention it saves on your utility bill.
Budget grocery stores are your friend.
You most likely have a regular grocery store that you hit up each week. But it may not always be the cheapest option. Instead, try shopping at a budget grocery store like Aldi or Lidl. These stores offer the same thing as regular grocery stores, though you may be limited on the variety of products to choose from.
Recently, I looked up the closest Aldi to my place (a 15-minute drive down the highway) and trekked out to a different part of town. The result? I was able to buy enough food for the week for roughly $60. It might not be the most convenient to get to, but it was worth the short drive to cut my monthly grocery bill.
Justine Nelson is the founder of Debt Free Millennials, an online community to help millennials get out of debt. Justine enjoys writing and speaking about all things personal finance. This Midwest millennial paid off $35k in student loan debt and now resides in San Diego with her husband living the DINK life (Dual Income, No Kids).
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