I want to share a really practical post about the top six strategies I use to save money on food every week. Each strategy individually saves a significant amount of money over the course of a year. Put together, they will take thousands out of your grocery bill every year! Some of them are straightforward, but a few of them might surprise you! I discovered and honed all of them by trial and error so you don't have to. ;)
If you want to get started with my #1 strategy right now, grab my FREE Mediterranean Meal Planner!
1. Always grocery shop with a list based on your meal plan for the week.
This is my #1 strategy to save money on food every single week and stay within our $360 per month food budget. I go into much greater detail about meal planning in a previous post but here's the short version of my meal-planning strategy.
I start with 4-5 dinner entrees for the week, using eMeals and Budget Bytes as my primary sources of recipe inspiration. I make sure to include one with salmon. Next, I choose 1-2 of the many wonderful baked oatmeal recipes from Budget Bytes. Each baked oatmeal makes about eight servings for us in a 13x9 pan, which is four days of breakfast for my husband, Jeremy, and me. Third, I add fruit, vegetables, nuts, and kefir to round out my menus. Kefir is a fermented dairy drink that's essentially drinkable yogurt (great source of probiotics).
Next, I take my list and add all of the ingredients I need to Out of Milk (a free grocery list app) in the order that I come across them in the store. The whole process of choosing our food for the week and adding all of the ingredients to Google Keep takes me around 30 minutes. It's not the fastest process, but considering that it saves us at least $60 per week, I'd say that it's a half hour very well spent. :) This is the absolute most important strategy on the list because it saves us the most money.
2. Freeze chopped up vegetables that you don't finish in one recipe (onions, carrots, celery, fresh herbs, etc.).
This step actually saves us as much time as it saves money! Take onions, for example. Most recipes call for 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of chopped onion. A whole onion amounts to roughly 1 1/2 cups chopped. Now, chopping onions is actually kind of fun for me because of this incredible Gordon Ramsey trick, but it's still not something I want to do all the time.
It makes my hands smell icky and makes me cry. For these reasons, I like to keep my onion-chopping experiences to a minimum.
I chop my onion, then measure 1/4 cup portions into snack-size bags (generic brand) and throw them in the freezer. Then whenever I need them, they're ready to toss into a pot with olive oil to make a flavorful base for chicken or taco meat. No crying or repeated hand-washing required. :) I do the same thing with carrots and celery, especially in the winter when I need them often for soup or our favorite chicken and dumplings recipe. The plus side for our budget is that we only buy one onion/bag of carrots/etc. per month (or less) instead of one every week or so! It definitely adds up.
Onions cost $1.28 a piece at Walmart and we make a recipe that calls for them at least once a week. Since each chopped onion makes about 6 quarter-cup ziploc bags full, I only have to buy one onion every six weeks instead of about every two weeks. (This is assuming they go bad in about two weeks in the fridge if you don't freeze them.) Over the course of the year, our savings in onions alone amount to about $20!
3. Buy cheese in a block and shred it yourself.
I had no idea this was such a huge money-saver until I started actually buying cheese in a block. Jeremy's family has always bought cheese in block form for the most part. He explained to me that it tastes fresher and doesn't have powdered cellulose all over it to keep the tiny pieces from sticking together. I come from a family that always used pre-shredded cheese, but this sounded reasonable to me so I switched. We used a box grater to shred our cheese by hand for about a month until I decided that there had to be a better, faster way.
Enter our food processor! The larger shredder attachment on our food processor works PERFECTLY! The entire block of cheese is pushed through the hole in the top and completely shredded in about 10 seconds. Yay!!
Since we don't often use an entire block of cheese in one day (good grief), we use what we need and freeze the extra in plastic bags. See what I did there? :)
If you're like me and like to see the numbers, here they are. I found these prices for mild cheddar at Aldi today.
- Aldi shredded cheddar (for 8 oz.): $1.93
- Aldi block cheddar (8 oz.): $1.79
We buy about two blocks of cheese per week (for pizza, eggs, etc.), so our savings add up to almost $25 per year!
4. Make your own seasoning mixes.
This one is not a time-saver, so if you're short on time you might want to skip it. It does, however, add up to money saved. I make my own chili, taco, and cajun seasonings using the linked recipes. I think they taste more flavorful than pre-mixed packets and I also know exactly what's in them! Another plus for individuals that need to avoid gluten for health reasons is that when you make your own seasoning mixes using single spices (garlic powder, oregano, etc.), they will be gluten-free. Most store-bought seasoning packets contain wheat flour to prevent caking. Here's a cost comparison, to give you an example:
- Great Value Taco Seasoning Packet: $1.48
- Homemade Taco Seasoning: $0.34
This may not seem amazing, but let me put it in perspective for you. If you buy one seasoning packet per week (totally reasonable for us because we make tacos often), this will save you almost $60 per year on seasoning packets alone!
That's almost a week's worth of groceries for Jeremy and me! If you're convinced about the money part but aren't thrilled about the extra time, I recommend making a double or triple batch of your favorite seasoning blend and putting the extra amount in a labeled container for the next time you need it. You'll have the same input with double the output!
5. Use bouillon cubes instead of broth.
I know bouillon cubes aren't as authentic as broth, but for the weekly savings we get, using them is 100% worth it. A can of broth provides about 1.5 cups and an equal amount of broth made from bouillon cubes will take 1.5 cubes mixed with 1.5 cups of water. Here's the cost breakdown:
- 1 can of Great Value Chicken Broth: $1.48
- 1.5 cubes of Wyler's Chicken Bouillon: $0.12
Broth is called for in about half of the recipes I make, so I would be buying at least a can of broth every week if I didn't use bouillon cubes.
The savings add up to over $70 per year if I use bouillon cubes instead of canned broth. Wow.
6. Buy fresh instead of frozen chicken.
I didn't realize this until pretty recently, but frozen chicken is more expensive than fresh. We now buy it fresh (and on sale when possible) then freeze it ourselves on a cookie sheet to keep the pieces separate. Afterward, we throw the pieces in a plastic freezer bag and thaw one or two out in the fridge or microwave whenever we need them.
Freezing the pieces separately on a cookie sheet keeps us from having one giant frozen chicken blob to force apart whenever we need a piece. This is a major time- and frustration-saver.
Here's the cost breakdown for you because I know you're as curious as I am:
- Aldi Frozen Chicken Breasts: $2.00 per pound
- Aldi Fresh Chicken Breasts: $1.79 per pound
We use about two pounds of chicken per week, so we save about $22 per year.
Adding Up the Savings
This is going to blow your mind (it did mine)! Here's the amount you could save in the course of a year if you implement all of the six strategies I listed. Keep in mind that this is a conservative estimate.
- $3120 saved by meal planning and strictly shopping with a list
- $20 saved freezing extra chopped onions in prepackaged portions (this doesn't even include carrots, celery and other vegetables)
- $25 saved shredding your own cheese instead of buying it pre-shredded
- $60 saved making your own seasoning blends (taco, chili, etc.)
- $70 saved using bouillon cubes instead of broth
- $22 saved freezing your own chicken breasts
Drumroll please... ;)
$3317 in savings per year!
That's like an entire trip to Disney world, folks. :) I don't know about you, but this is incredibly motivating for me!
Now that you have some of my top strategies for saving money on food each week, I want you to take action. :) Here's what I want you to do:
Pick one or two strategies and commit to using them for one week. Then slowly add more strategies over time as you get used to each one. You'll start to notice a difference in your grocery bill. Just remember that consistency is key. ;)
If you decide to implement my #1 strategy, download my FREE Mediterranean Meal Planner to get started!
P.S. Let me know which strategies you choose to implement in the comments! :)