I have a story for you.
A few months ago, I sat down and made a budget with the help of a financial planner. We looked at all of my credit cards, all of my bank statements and all of my “extra spending” that had accumulated up over the last year. I nearly fell over when I realized that I was spending more than $1000/month on groceries. How in the world were we eating $250 worth of food a week? That means we were eating more than $35/day in food— and this wasn’t even counting the money that I spent at Starbucks. Something had to change! I decided to commit to changing our spending habits and I am happy to share that we very easily live on less than $500 worth of groceries for a family of four, which is well below the average cost of groceries in Canada (we have a slightly higher cost of living than our US neighbors). I have heard many stories about how meal planning can change your life, however, for us it didn’t work. I found meal planning really hard to roll with and when I tried this method, I ended up actually eating out more because I was frustrated with what I had planned.
I am here to share the good news that reducing costs for groceries is totally possible without meal planning. Yes, you will still need to look ahead for the next few weeks but my method does not include “we only have tacos on Tuesday”.
Only buy groceries every two weeks
When I looked at where most of our money was going with groceries, I noticed that most of my shopping list was buying items that I routinely buy every week without a second thought. Bananas, for example. I bought two bunches of bananas a week and assumed that my kids would eat them. What I always forget is that preschoolers have a secret code and they don’t eat bananas on Wednesdays and Fridays and they only eat bananas that are slightly green but still ripe on Saturdays. We ended up throwing out so much food because it went rotten.
Buying food every two weeks forces you to be creative with what you have at home. The first week is usually one where we eat a lot of fresh fruit and the second is one where we eat frozen fruit or longer-lasting veggies for snacks. If there is not the item that they want to eat at that moment, my kids are forced to look in the pantry and find a snack that they are satisfied with. It’s important to avoid the mindset of “okay so I need to buy twice as much when I do go shopping” because you won’t save any money this way. The point of biweekly shopping trips is to allow you to use what you have to fill the gap between shops. I do recommend buying a few extra jugs of milk though if you have avid milk consumers in your house as this will run out quickly.
Subscribe and Save on Groceries
I was a non-believer in the Amazon Subscribe and Save system until I started using it, but now I can’t go back! I initially tried this after doing an embarrassing amount of research on the best price for cereal and decided that this was a great way to “set it and forget it” when it came to frequently purchased items. I now order all of my occasional purchases on subscribe and save so that I never need to run to the grocery store to pick up laundry detergent. The nice thing about this is when you learn how often you need the items you can literally forget about all of the tedious household purchases that end up bumping up your bill. The more you order, the more you save, and the 15% off your entire bill makes a huge difference in the end. I order many of my “middle of the grocery store” purchases on here and budget for it every month so its not just taking it away from one bill but adding to another. My kids also love the giant Amazon box that arrives on our doorstep at the end of the month.
Play a game of Chopped
Have you seen the show on The Food Network called Chopped? My husband and I love to play this game in our house for our weeknight dinners. It looks like this:
Its 4:30pm and I have taken out chicken breasts for dinner. We have rice, broccoli, cilantro, tortilla shells and cheese in our fridge. It’s the day before grocery shopping day and we are running a little low. We need to feed ourselves and our kids a relatively balanced meal and avoid calling Pizza Hut for delivery as this will cut into our budget. We also need something quick because this is a witching hour. The result ends up being chicken quesadillas with a side of taco flavored rice and broccoli. My kids would eat cheese for every meal and quesadillas are a guaranteed win. Everyone is fed in 30 mins or less! My husband can then bring the left-over rice and broccoli with an extra chicken breast for lunch the next day to work—- which eliminates the extra cost of eating out at work.
Only buy Groceries on Sale
This has been my biggest change since modifying our routine. I previously was a self-proclaimed meat snob and was convinced that only the best cuts of meat were good enough for my family. And like most modern-day mamas, we learn when we have kids that sometimes we have to sacrifice the things we love—sometimes its Michael Kors purses and sometimes its grain-fed organic meat.
We received a Food Saver for a gift and this is one of the best tools we have for saving money. Meat is now only bought when its on sale— either 30% off because it’s best before date is approaching, or when stores have weekly sales and you can buy in bulk. When I get home from the grocery store, the meat is immediately portioned and vacuum-sealed and then is placed in the freezer for later use. I end up having a variety of meat in the freezer, so we don’t necessarily have to meal plan but rather can utilize what we have to make something yummy. If the fancy meat is on sale, of course, we will choose it to feed our family, but I have accepted that in this stage of life I would rather put that piece of my budget towards other items.
I would love to hear your opinions about this article and the ways that you have saved money in your home. This stage of parenting can be challenging with financial commitments. The Mama Coach is a huge supporter of our local food banks and Mamas for Mamas organizations who work hard to provide families with the tools they need to provide basic needs. If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to reach out here.