When my husband and I took a leap in the dark by deciding to dig our way out of $40,000 of debt while having no idea how to budget and running a $1,000 deficit each month, we knew we had a real challenge in front of us. But we just had to make it work. There was no plan B. When you don’t have any other options, it is amazing the things you can do that you never thought were possible.
So, what do you do to feed your family when you are $1,000 short every month and you refuse to use credit cards? You get creative. You get resourceful. We were spending $1,000 a month on food. I realized that if I could somehow get that $250/week down to $50 a week. I could save us $800 a month just by doing something that I was doing anyways — buying food and making dinner.
Were we eating lobster dinners every night on $50 a week? No way. Some nights we had rice and beans. But when getting out of debt is your top priority, you live differently for the sake of your future.
My first experience on an all-cash shopping trip took a lot of work, but it was worth every penny. I spent the night before planning my triple coupon strategies, which took me about three hours. At the store, I had to do three different transactions, but I saved $150 on that one trip! It felt like I got paid $50/hr for those three hours I spent preparing for the trip. Since we were able to get so much food at such a good price and I was planning ahead, we completely stopped eating out for a while. That saved us a minimum of $50 a week.
Now, food prices vary based on location. You may have a larger family and many stores have changed their coupon policies over the years. But, if you implement these principles, I guarantee you will see HUGE savings in your food spending. Here’s how I turned a $250 a week food bill into a $50 a week grocery bill.
Get the Sunday paper
In Upstate New York the Sunday paper has all of the store sale ads and coupons for that week. Look at the front page of your grocery store ad. These are usually the best sale items and are called “loss leaders” because many times the grocery stores take a loss on these items hoping to get you in the store to buy other items during your shopping trip. Many times there will be meat or poultry specials and produce sales. These are the BEST items to plan your meals with. Thumb through the coupons section. Clip and save the ones that have the best value and are for things you would buy anyways. Don’t just buy something because you have a coupon for it.
Intentional meal planning
Using the Sunday paper as your springboard, plan your meals for the week based on what is on sale. If ground beef, bread crumbs, crushed tomatoes and cheese are sale that week. Boom! You’ve got spaghetti and meatballs waiting to happen, probably a meatloaf, and most of the items you need to make homemade pizza. There’s three meals (plus leftovers) done! Not bad. Try one of those recipe ingredient matching sites if you need help coming up with ideas based on what you have at home and what items are on sale.
Minimize going to restaurants
All of these steps build off of one another. Shopping what’s on sale sets you up to meal plan, and meal planning reduces your need to go out to eat.
We all like going out to eat. But when you’re talking quantity and quality of food — dollar-for-dollar — restaurants are not good for your wallet. They aren’t designed to be either. Think about a large meal from a fast food place. You can spend $7-$8 easy on that “value” meal, and $8 worth of groceries can feed a family!
Frequently, people go out to eat because they don’t have food in the house (they didn’t go grocery shopping) or they didn’t plan ahead for dinner. So, it’s not that they are going out to eat to celebrate something, just that they didn’t plan ahead. I know how busy life can be, but if you’re planning your meals, you can easily skip going out to eat and save a TON of money.
Building off step three, sometimes it is tough to get dinner on the table before midnight even if you have the meal all planned out.
So something that takes meal planning to the next level is “freezer cooking.” Freezer cooking is where you prep a bunch of meals ahead of time, freeze them and then put one in the crock pot in the morning. It’s done by the time everyone gets home from their busy day. It is amazing. And it ends up saving you even more money because you are buying larger quantities of ingredients. That ensures that you get a better value.
My husband and I started freezer cooking simply to remove the “What’s for dinner?” stress that looms over many of us all day, and to make our very busy days a little easier. We fell in love with freezer cooking so much that we reinvented the method behind freezer cooking and created our own meal plan cooking systems from scratch. You can be an expert in one afternoon with no experience.
The secret weapon: Aldi
If you don’t live near an Aldi grocery store, then I am sorry. Aldi is my favorite grocery store for many reasons. Many of their prices are already so low that they are either the same price or cheaper than something you have a double coupon for at other typical chain grocery stores. Shopping here saves me tons of time and money because their prices are already the best. I often go to another grocery store chain, pick up their loss leaders, then do the rest of my shopping at Aldi. If you can swing by another grocery store and then hit up Aldi as well, you can give your grocery bill that one-two-punch it needs.