No matter the reason you need to save money on groceries, I am here to help! The following are all of my best tips to save money on groceries, and they are interwoven with my experience as a poor college student and young wife desperate to feed my new husband on a shoestring budget. I used the following tips and tricks to reduce our monthly grocery budget to $125 on a particularly lean month. I’ve included the full $125 monthly grocery budget and cheap meal plan for two in this post. Read on to learn how to save money on groceries!
Table of Contents
This is an ultimate guide and includes 10 tips for how to save money on groceries. Read the entire (lengthy) article at once or use the following table of contents to skip to the sections that are most relevant to you. Don’t worry; there’s a “back to top” link at the bottom of each section that will return you back here to continue browsing the article.
Step 1: Print Your Meal Plan Template
Step 2: Meal Planning to Save Money on Groceries
Step 3: Plan Your Shopping to Save Money on Groceries
Step 4: Shop Your Pantry, Organize Your Food, and Stop Wasting
Step 5: Compare Sales to Save Money on Groceries
Step 6: How to Find Coupons & Save Money on Groceries
Step 7: Save Money on Groceries With Your Phone – Ibotta Review
Step 8: Grocery Shop for the Entire Month (mostly)
Step 9: Divide Your Meats to Save Money on Groceries
Step 10: Replenish at Half-Time
Bonus: Cheat a Little
Don’t forget to pin this post so you can find it later.
Print Your Meal Plan Template to Save Money on Groceries
The most important thing to do when lowering your monthly grocery budget is to plan what you will be eating for the entire month. I created the following meal plan template to help me plan out our dinners for the month. These printable meal plan templates are great for laminating and putting on your fridge to keep you on track with your monthly meal plans. Print one of them out, grab a monthly calendar, or just write out each day of the month on a sheet of paper to follow along with the cheap meal plan for two.
Meal Planning to Save Money on Groceries
If you want to save money on groceries, meal planning is the most critical step because it is what all the other steps are built upon.
Meal planning is the best way to save money and eat healthier because it means you will skip fast food runs and processed, packaged (expensive) foods. You know what is even better? It means that you only have to ask that annoying question “What’s for dinner?” ONCE A MONTH! If you hate figuring out what to make as much as I do, you can surely appreciate that.
So, how can you plan your meals for the entire month?
Figure out your busy days.
These may be the same days every week or they may change with scheduled activities. Pull out the calendar (or the smartphone) and figure out what days you just won’t feel like cooking dinner. We all have days that are hectic. When I did the $125 monthly grocery budget challenge, Tuesdays and Thursdays were my busy days. I KNEW that I didn’t feel like cooking on those days, so what did I do? I planned simple meals that were easy to fix or made in advance. I just wanted to throw stuff together and heat stuff up in the microwave on those days because I know that anything else is just not going to happen.
Make a list of meals (or skip this step and use my plan).
I made a list of 22 meals that I knew we would enjoy. I tried to stick to meals that used chicken or ground turkey because they are the cheapest meats, although I did include a couple of meals that would use meat we already had in our freezer. My list only included 22 meals because I knew that we would be having Leftover Day and Salad Day once a week. These are my easy meals that I plug in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you don’t want to have a leftover day (I highly recommend it) or a salad day, you will need to repeat or come up with other meals to fill in your list.
Pro Tip: You’ll see a lot of grains in my meal plan. Quinoa is SUPER healthy for you (and I honestly like the taste more than brown rice). Not only does it bring with it the fiber and nutrients of a whole grain, but it is also a complete protein. Since saving money on groceries mostly means cutting down on your meat spending, quinoa can help fill in the gaps. Other grains like barley and rice will keep you full longer and make dinner feel satisfying. Because grains can be purchased in bulk for really cheap, they make great options for making dinner stretch further.
Here’s my list of meals:
- Barley Soup
- Chicken Breasts, Asparagus, & Quinoa
- Chicken Noodle Soup (Cook Chicken Thighs, Shred, and Freeze Unused)
- Brown Rice & Teriyaki Chicken with Peppers & Pineapple
- Homemade Pizza
- Baked Potatoes, Cheese Sauce, Bacon, & Broccoli
- Spaghetti (Make Double Sauce & Freeze)
- Chicken Enchiladas (Use Frozen Shredded Chicken)
- Hawaiian Chicken & Coconut Rice
- Steaks, Brussel Sprouts, & Baked Potatoes
- Curry Quinoa and Chicken
- Vegetable Soup
- Wheat Stroganoff
- BBQ Chicken, Corn & Sweet Potatoes
- Spaghetti Squash (Use Frozen Sauce)
- Quinoa Chicken Chili (Using Frozen Shredded Chicken)
- Chicken Broccoli Alfredo
- Meat Loaf, Mashed Potatoes, & Corn
- Chicken Stir Fry
Create month-long meal plan.
If you are using my meal plan, you can just move things around if you need to so your leftover and salad days are on the right days for you. If you are creating your own meal plan, you will need to plug your list of meals into the calendar. Try to think about what foods can be lumped together to conserve time or ingredients. For instance, you might want to plan to have roasted chicken the day before you have chicken salad. Once you’ve finished your monthly meal plan, it is important to keep it accessible. For me, that means sticking it to the refrigerator.
Plan Your Shopping to Save Money on Groceries
You’ve printed your template and planned your meals, so now you need to make your shopping list.
Go through each meal and think about all of the ingredients you will need. Write down each ingredient. As other meals require the same ingredient, make tallies to show how many of each item you need. These are the items you will need in order to make healthy dinners for the entire month.
Figure out breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.
Obviously, you aren’t going to survive off of dinner alone so add items to the shopping list that will fill in breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.I suggest a huge container of quick oats for breakfast and/or cereal that you can buy in bulk. We had lunch meat and cheese for sandwiches and a few fruits and yogurt that we added to our list. I also bought hot dogs because they were on sale and made homemade corndog muffins that were easy to grab and go. Try to think of breakfasts and lunches you can make because the more processed and packaged something is, the more it is going to cost you. Many of the items that are on your dinner grocery list will help out in this department (such as eggs, bread, etc.)
Shop Your Pantry, Organize Your Food, & Stop Wasting
If you are anything like me, you don’t really know what you have in your pantry, cabinets and the back of your refrigerator. Don’t even get me started on that mess that we call a freezer. That all changes today.
The good news is that when you finish this step, you will have a much better idea of what you already have. The bad news is that it includes organization and cleaning and quite a bit of reading). I guarantee though, when your food is organized, your spending and waste decrease. Just trust me.
1. Clear your schedule.
Okay, I’m joking a little bit, but you are going to need more than a few minutes to do this. Put your phone on silent. Put the kids down for a nap. Turn on some feel-good music on Pandora or Spotify. Depending on the size of your food storage, your current level of organization, and the amount of food that you already have, this could take 30 minutes or 2 hours. I promise it will be worth it.
2. Pull everything out.
If you are already super-organized, you may skip this step. Choose one area (pantry, cabinets, refrigerator, freezer, etc.) and pull everything out. Yes, everything. If you are going to take the time to go through all of your food, you might as well have a wonderfully clean and organized kitchen when you are finished.
3. Clean the empty area.
If you are already super-clean,you may skip this step. Wipe down the insides of your cabinets. Deep clean the refrigerator. Scrub the inside of your freezer (and don’t forget to dry it). Wipe down and sweep out your pantry. I strongly suggest lining the shelves in your refrigerator and freezer with wax paper at this point because it will save you a ton of time next month,
4. Inventory your food.
Pull out your list of all the food you need for the upcoming month. Look at the food before you, and cross of items that you already have. You need 10 pounds of ground turkey, but already have two? Now you only need 8 pounds, and just saved money for this month. Also, be sure to make a note of any additional helpful items you find that can be used for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, or additions to meals. You may decide to make a few changes to your meal plan at this point if you already have an excess of certain high dollar-items such as a lot of meat or cheese that you could work into new meals with very few needed ingredients. You may be noticing that as you move onto new steps, you may need to revisit old ones. Knocking your grocery budget down to $125 for a month is hard work, but the more you work to cut your grocery budget, the better you will get at circling through the steps quickly.
5. Get rid of space stealers.
Throw away all expired items and die a little inside. (Is that just me?) Make a special note of any items that will expire in the next month and plan now for how you will use them. If they will be snacks, make sure to put them towards the front of the refrigerator where they will be extra visible. You do not want food to expire in your house. The number one way you can cut your grocery budget is to stop wasting food! While you are weeding through your food, get rid of the other space stealers. Combine the three mostly-empty boxes of elbow macaroni. Donate the can of Asparagus that your husband refuses to eat. Throw away the package of oreo’s you excitedly unearthed in the pantry only to find that someone ate the last cookies and put the package back anyway.
6. Put food back in – organized.
Now that you actually have some space in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, it will be much easier to organize things. Put the most used items in the front along with any items that will be expiring soon. Hide junk food in hard-to-reach places so you won’t be tempted. You know the drill.
7. Repeat with all other areas of food storage.
Do the same thing to every place in your home that you store food. When you finish, you will have an up-to-date list of items you need to purchase at the grocery store and a better idea of what you already have. You might have to update your meal plan a little bit, but that’s okay.
Compare Sales to Save Money on Groceries
Now that you know what you need to buy, it’s time to plan the most epic trip ever to save money on groceries. You will save more money shopping multiple sales than you can possibly save with coupons, and since you’re doing all of your shopping at once, it’s worth stopping at multiple stores since you’ll need more than one item from each place.
Always start looking the first day that sales ads come out. This gives you time to look for coupons and really compare what is out there.
Remember to check store-specific apps for extra deals.
1. Make a List of Stores
If you are just starting out, you might not want to list every single store in your town that sells groceries, but the more stores you list (and are willing to drive around to on shopping day), the more money you can save. When I shop, I always check Shop ‘n Save (local), Schnucks (local), Walmart, Target, Kmart, CVS, Walgreens, and Aldi. I know that sounds like a lot, but I do all of my grocery shopping for the entire month in one day. Is it a marathon of driving and pushing carts around stores? Yes. Does it save me so much money that it is worth it? Absolutely.
2. Find The Ads
You probably receive some paper ads in your mail on a weekly basis, but you might not receive all of the ones you need. You can either go to the individual stores and pick up their ads or save gas money and find them online. There is an app called Favado that many people use to compare advertised prices across multiple stores. I stopped using it because it didn’t include my local stores, but now there is only one that isn’t included so this is a great place to start. They even show you coupons and compare sales at 5 stores at a time.
3. Search the Ads
Make note on your written list OR in an excel document (my preference) of sale prices and special offers at each store. If there is a special offer (such as buy two boxes of cereal, get a free gallon of milk) be sure to write enough detail in your notes that you will know the brands, quantities, and sizes eligible. This is important for when you start searching for coupons to pair with the sales. While you are doing this, be sure to check for store coupons online or in your apps. These store-specific coupons can be stacked with sale prices and manufacturer coupons. Target, CVS, and Walgreens are three stores you really want to check and see if they have store coupons even if they are not mentioned directly in the sales ad.
4. Make Store Lists
Rewrite your master shopping list as individual store lists. Make another list that has all of the items that are not on sale anywhere. While you are at each store, you should check the everyday prices of all of the no-sale items and write them on the list. That way you can figure out who really has the cheapest milk, eggs, butter, and other items that you purchase every month. If you find one of the items at a price that feels cheap to you, purchase it. Just beware that you might find it for even cheaper later. In your first month, when you are uncertain about everyday prices of items, you will either end up overpaying on a few items or having to go back to some stores to save your money. Personally, I am not a fan of wasting $0.50 in gas to save $0.20 on milk, so I just called that a reasonable one-time loss as I did my research.
5. Map out Shopping Day
That list of no-sale items is an important part of making or breaking your grocery budget. I plan my shopping day starting from the store that is usually most expensive to the store that is usually least expensive. That way, if I see an unadvertised sale price at one of the more expensive stores, I can snag the deal comfortably. If I don’t, I know that the last store (usually Aldi) will have my basic supplies at almost guaranteed cheaper prices than anywhere else (unless those items are on sale elsewhere).Planning your stores in order from expensive to cheap will save you most of the heartache that goes along with spending too much.
A Note About Everyday Prices To Help You Save Money on Groceries
The first month I started this adventure, I made sure to note the prices of staple items at each store so I could really know where items are the cheapest. Even though Aldi won on almost all items, CVS offers Dean’s milk for almost the same price as Aldi’s off-brand, and a lot of times it is cheaper because of sales, rebates, and coupons. Your individual market will be different, but I am certain there will be some low prices that surprise you.
How to Find Coupons and Save Money on Groceries
I am not going to help you turn into someone who spends 20 hours a week cutting out coupons and then buys a cart full of ketchup and toothpaste for $2. You do not need to be a money-saving hoarder with a basement full of good deals you will never ever use. If that is what you want to learn, you should check out another site. Even $2 is wasted if you spend it on a cart full of stuff your family won’t eat. Today, we will be talking about maximum savings (on things you actually need) for minimal effort.
When I started couponing, the first question I had was: “where can I find coupons?” The truth is that they are all around you if you open your eyes.
How to Find Coupons in Your Local Paper
This is the most obvious source for coupons, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s worth the money. I have a few friends who occasionally remember to save me the coupons out of their Sunday papers, but other than that, I get all of my coupons digitally. If you already get the paper, this is a great place to start. If you don’t already get the paper, make sure the money you spend on the paper won’t be more than you will save from the coupons.
How to Print Digital Coupons
Krazy Coupon Lady is amazing. I use her online coupon database EVERY TIME I am looking for coupons. Seriously, click on that link. You will be so happy you did. Once you get to the coupon database, press control+F on your keyboard and search for the first item on your list. First search for the brand name. If that doesn’t bring up any coupons, search for the generic item. For instance, if you know that you need lunch meat and that land o’frost is on sale at Walmart, you would press control+F and search for “land o’frost”. No coupons, try searching for “lunchmeat”, “deli”, and “turkey”. Do this for each item on your list, and print out only the coupons you will use. When I take the time to do this for my entire list, I usually end up finding $10-$20 worth of coupons. It only takes about 30 minutes, and a couple dollars in paper and ink, so I think it is definitely worth the time. She just added a mobile coupon section too so be sure to check that out while you are there.
How to Buy Coupons on eBay
You are probably going to think I am crazy, but this is a great way to save additional money on sale items. If you find a staple that your family goes through quickly, and it is on sale for a pretty good price, it might be time to stock up. Go to eBay, and search for coupons for that item or brand of items. Be sure to read the coupon carefully before purchasing. Usually, the coupons come in sets of 10+ of the same coupon which can save you a lot of money with high-value coupons for good-sale items. You will have to pay a little bit of money for the coupons (technically, you are paying for the time it takes the seller to find the coupon because coupons can’t be resold), but it can definitely be worth it if you plan on purchasing multiples of one item. Be sure to purchase coupons from eBay on the first day the sale starts. Sellers are good at shipping the coupons quickly because they know that people only order them when there is a week-long sale going on. Be sure to read seller reviews before purchasing.
How to Find Peelie Coupons On Products
While you are actually shopping, you should learn to look high and low for the best deals. You also need to get good at scanning items for coupons. Peelie coupons are everywhere in the grocery store. These are the coupons that are stuck to a product’s packaging. Usually, they are good for an amount off of the product then or on your next purchase. These are usually not as good as coupons you will find elsewhere, so if you already have a coupon for the item, just peel the peelie off and save it for next month. When you find peelies, either peel them yourself and hand them to the cashier or place all of the items with peelies at the end of your transaction to make sure that the peelies come off of your transaction. You can also find coupons at customer service, store entrances, sample tables, and on shelves. The more you search for coupons, the more you will save.
Things to Remember about Using Coupons to Save Money on Groceries
You can usually stack one manufacturer coupon with one store coupon per item. If one of the coupons specifies that the coupon is valid when you buy 2 or more items, then you can only use one of that type of coupon (manufacturer or store) per set of items. For example, if you have 4 yoplait coupons for $0.50 off of 4 yogurts and 4 Target coupons for $0.10 off of 1 yogurt, your transaction would look like this.
Buy 4 Yoplait yogurts
Use 1 Yoplait coupon for $0.50 off of 4 yogurts
Use 4 Target coupons for $0.10 of 1 yogurt
You would save a total of $0.90
If you have a lot of coupons, make sure to scout out a cashier who looks friendly. It is always nice to give people who get in line behind you a heads up that you have a lot of coupons as well so if they are in a hurry, they can get in a different line. Also, don’t forget to check out the coupon policies of your local grocery stores. Some stores may not accept mobile coupons, and others might have a rewards card that you can load coupons onto from their website.
Save Money on Groceries With Ibotta on Your Phone
If you are looking for free apps to save money or apps to make money, Ibotta should be at the top of your list. In this Ibotta review, I will show you how easy it is to use the Ibotta app to save money on things you already purchase. If you stack the app with coupons and sales, you can even make money using Ibotta.
Ibotta offers rebates on everyday shopping items from groceries to movie tickets. Sign up today, and get started making money just by shopping!
Once you download the app, read the full tutorial on how to use Ibotta to save money on groceries with your phone.
Grocery Shop For The Entire Month (Mostly)
You probably go to the grocery store multiple times throughout the month. Usually you go because you need a particular item you ran out of, but while you’re there, it’s hard not to be tempted by extras. Even deals and discounts can draw you into overspending. But just as importantly, because you are only running to the store for one thing, you are less likely to prepare and save the most money possible on that item. Why drive an extra ten minutes to save $1 on milk if that’s all you are purchasing? It just doesn’t make sense. The answer is to grocery shop for the entire month (mostly).
Why Grocery Shopping for the Entire Month Helps You Save Money on Groceries
Doing all of your grocery shopping at one time will save you more money than any other tip I’ve compiled. This is the best way to maximize the impact of your time spent by getting the absolute best deals on everything you will use for the entire month. You may miss out on specific sales throughout the month, but you will be able to take advantage of competing sales from multiple stores. That means you don’t have to buy hardly anything that isn’t on sale somewhere. Plus, when you are shopping for everything at once, you only have to look for coupons and rebates one time so it isn’t overly tedious. It will take some time, but the payout will be worth it.
How To Grocery Shop For The Entire Month
Once you have done your research, it’s time to make a master list of all the places you’ll be shopping and what you’ll be purchasing at each store. Be sure to organize your coupons accordingly. Do as much as you can before you leave the house so things don’t get stressful. You should have a separate list for each place you’ll be visiting. Bonus points if you use a coupon organizer to keep things sorted.
If there are items on your list that are not on sale anywhere, plug them into your shopping list at the places you think they will be cheapest. During your first shopping trip, purchase them wherever your best guess is, but keep track of prices at each location you shop so you can make a more informed choice in the future. You may be surprised how much you can save just by knowing which stores have the best prices on the basics. When it comes to these staples, buy bulk when possible to save money over the long run. Don’t be afraid of generics when it comes to the basics. Off-brand quinoa still tastes the same.
Start at the grocery stores that are further away first and always go to the place with the most stuff on your list first so you don’t keep cold items in the car too long while running to additional stores. Take a cooler if you are able to.
How Long Does It Take To Grocery Shop For The Entire Month?
Plan to spend longer than usual on your shopping when you grocery shop for the entire month. Remember, though, you won’t be spending all that time running to the store through the month so you’ll probably actually spend less time total than you normally would. Still, doing it all at once, particularly when you are trying to save as much money as possible, is going to take a few hours. I usually dedicate a Saturday or Sunday at the beginning of the month to do all of my grocery shopping. Then, when I get home, I divide my meats according to the meals I have planned, prep anything that needs prepped before I freeze it, and organize everything. This one day a month lets me rest easy all the other days and saves me enough money that it’s worth the dedicated time.
What About Fresh Veggies and Milk???
Don’t worry; I always do a small mid-month refresh on fresh veggies and milk. The key is to limit the items you need to purchase throughout the month, not to deprive yourself of good food. Depending on your eating habits, you may need to make this small run 1-3 times through the month. The key is to make it short and specific. Know what you are going to the store to get, get the items you need, and then get out.
Divide Your Meats to Save Money on Groceries
The best prices on meat come when you purchase meat in bulk so I take the time to divide my meats each month. I use quart-sized freezer bags and do my best to remove the air.
Throughout the month, you can definitely consolidate prep for multiple meals if you plan well. I made Chicken Noodle Soup which is a personal favorite, but takes quite a bit of work. Since I had to boil the chicken thighs anyway and really wanted to make a nice rich stock, I just boiled all the chicken thighs in my stock pot. Then I shredded it all, added some back to the stock for the soup, and divided and froze the rest. I used this chicken to make Chicken Enchiladas and Quinoa Chicken Chili, both of which also use chicken thighs. By pre-cooking the meat, I cut down on prep time for both of those meals.
I also cooked a robust spaghetti sauce when we had spaghetti and froze half of the sauce for spaghetti squash later in the month. Save yourself time. Cook things in advance when you can. Big batch taco meat (with onions and a can of diced tomatoes to make it stretch further) is another favorite of mine for pre-cooking.
Replenish at Half-Time to Save Money on Groceries
Some things just don’t last a full month. I plan a smaller grocery trip for the middle of the month where I can stock up on bread, fresh vegetables, and milk.
Cheat a Little to Save Money on Groceries
I really did stick to a $125 monthly grocery budget for several months when I initially started compiling these tips. If you have to keep a very strict budget, you will need to stay focused all month long – but if you have a little wiggle room and freedom, I suggest splurging on the items you really enjoy. Foods that make you feel great (especially if they are healthy) are worth investing in. Splurge on the foods that really make a difference to your quality of life. Plus, if you plan your cheating at the grocery store, you’ll be less tempted to splurge by going out – which will only cost you more money in the long run.
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