Over the past year, Matt and I have been focusing on budgeting. We track our expenses on the computer, and look for ways we can spend less. After a few months of this, we were shocked to discover how much we spent per month on groceries. I would do the weekly shopping, and then we would wind up at the store again multiple times a week for "one or two" items.
We decided we that with some careful planning, we could probably get by on $50 a week for groceries. But that seemed so boring, so I invented the $50 Game, which is pretty much the same idea except I basically get super excited trying to see how little I can spend on food every week. If you're looking to reduce your grocery bill too, here are a few tricks I've discovered. You, too, can win the $50 Game! Or whatever your budget is. :)
For reference, there are only two of us humans and I usually cook about four times per week. Most days we have leftovers, which we take for lunches during the week.
Make a meal plan in advance. I get the circular ads in the mail on Wednesdays, and I stick them to the fridge and ignore them until Saturday, when I normally do the planning. I'll glance through and circle anything that looks good, and if there are any special buy-one-get-something-free deals (but I only buy them if it's stuff I'll actually use/eat). Then I'll make a plan for the week, including the main dish and any vegetables or sides for each day, or whether we'll be having leftovers or an "every man for himself" meal.
Make a grocery list. I check to see what I already have, and what I need. Based on my plan, I make a list of the ingredients we need for our meals, as well as any basic items we consume throughout the week (milk, bread, etc.). I won't deviate from the list until everything on it is in my cart.
Carry around a calculator as you shop. I use the one on my phone. It makes me look like a nerd, but I always know my running total!
Buy cheaper cuts of meat/fish. A lot of the recipes I make call for things like chicken breasts or beef roasts, and those can be expensive per pound if they're not on sale (and sometimes even if they are on sale). For roasts, I'll buy smaller quantities to cut the cost; for chicken, I'll look for cheaper options, such as chicken thighs (which are way cheaper for some reason and taste basically the same). If a recipe calls for a certain type of fish, I'll just buy whatever is cheapest per pound, since we're not big fish people.
Buy generic when you can. For items like canned goods or frozen veggies, there's really no reason not to buy generic; they taste the same as the non-generics. They may only be 30 cents cheaper, but it adds up. Some things — like generic peanut butter — are not as good though, and aren't worth it to me. Things gotta taste good.
Look at price-per-ounce. I learned this one because Aunt Jemima Lite syrup is cheaper per bottle, but it's more expensive per ounce than Hungry Jack Lite syrup. So I'll spend the extra 50 cents for a few extra ounces, and Matt won't have to eat dry waffles.
Stock up on sale items. Once I have everything on my list, any leftover money can go toward "want" items (Bluebell ice cream!) or stocking up. I'm always buying exorbitant amounts of chicken broth and canned soups when they're on sale so I don't have to buy them at a higher price during a normal week. (I should probably figure out how to make my own broth. Also, I am not one of those people who has a storage unit for their excess foodstuffs, so I only buy what can fit in the pantry.)
Coupon. I love coupons, but I really don't use them all that often. I only use the coupons that come in the Sunday paper; I don't pay for the subscription, but they still throw it into my front yard every week. You can still win even if you don't use coupons.
Don't beat yourself up. It takes a while to figure out what things cost and which items you really need in a given week. For a long time, I couldn't get our total below $55, and that was super frustrating. Now I can usually come in below budget (which is great because we occasionally still go to the store mid-week — especially if Matt's going to be cooking that night, since he doesn't plan in advance).
Do you have a set food budget? What are your money-saving shopping tips?
EDIT: Check out Part 2!