Looking for some ways to stretch your family budget? Here are some ideas.
1. Meal plan a week or two at a time.
Decide what you'd like to make for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners ahead of time, then carefully compile a grocery list, and check the weekly advertorials to see who has the best prices on the items you need. It's easy to waste a couple hours wandering through the grocery store if you don't have a plan of attack, but by meal planning, you'll be in and out of the grocery store in record time.
2. Stick to the outskirts of the grocery store, don't take the full tour.
Vegetables and bulk foods are healthy, filling, and cheap options to feed your family. Aisle end caps will also showcase discounted or clearance items. When you wander through the aisles aimlessly, you make impulse purchases that cost your family more. Stick to your grocery list and avoid the temptations of processed foods and convenience items that may blow your family budget.
3. Start an herb or vegetable garden.
Have you ever noticed that buying fresh basil from the grocery store doesn't cost much more than buying an actual basil plant? Growing from seed is an even cheaper option. If you don't have sufficient yardage for gardening, try container gardening. You'll be able to season your cooking and fill your plate for a pittance compared to what you'd spend at the store.
4. Only use coupons for the things you actually need.
Couponing can be a fun hobby, but when you use a coupon just for the novelty of it, you're still spending money unnecessarily. Find the coupons that can be applied to your existing grocery list, and save money. Don't go hog wild with every coupon that comes in the Sunday paper. (Skip the Sunday paper altogether and check out our top websites for printable grocery coupons instead.)
5. Keep a food journal.
Journaling will allow you to document what meals should definitely be added to your repertoire, and what meals need to be refined or abandoned altogether. You can also use a journal to keep track of ingredient lists, and do a little math to determine helpful information like cost-per-serving. After a few months of food journaling, you'll be able to see which meals were the best and the cheapest, and you'll have a quick and easy reference guide for future meal planning.
6. Don't cut those recipes in half!
Most recipes make 4-6 servings. Rather than modifying the recipe to suit the size of your family, make the full recipe and refrigerate leftovers for the next day's lunch or dinner. If you don't like redundant meals on back-to-back days, freeze the leftovers to enjoy later in the week.
7. Eat seasonal vegetables.
Vegetables that are in season are usually the best bargains at the grocery store. They may also be plentiful at your local farmer's market, where you're free to haggle a little. You can keep track of what veggies are in season by referencing this handy Seasonality Chart for Vegetables from CUESA (Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture). They also have a helpful Seasonality Chart for Fruits and Nuts.
8. Buy kitchen staples in bulk.
Why pay more for something you'll need in perpetuity? Kitchen staples like dry goods, cooking oils, or canned items get cheaper when you buy in larger quantities. If you're having a hard time finding your favorite items in bulk sizes, check out warehouses, closeout stores, and Amazon.com's “Restaurant & Bulk Food Supply” section to find the best value on the biggest quantities.
9. Fill your plate with filling sides.
Rice, beans, and lentils are cheap, filling, and go with just about anything. Falling back on these cheap dry goods will make you and your wallet feel fuller. You can sometimes save more money by buying these dry goods from the bulk section and storing them in air-tight containers at home, instead of buying them in prepackaged bags or boxes.
10. Don't turn your nose up at generic brands.
Were you aware that many generic products are manufactured by big-name brands? (Sometimes you can figure out who makes what by looking at the customer service info on the packaging.) Get acquainted with your favorite grocery store's generic line. Many grocery chains now have their own generic organic lines as well, which are usually cheaper than name-brand organics.