4 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries Each Month

Are you familiar with the USDA food plans?  These plans state how much food should cost a family each month based on four categories:  thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal.  The plans are updated each month to accommodate food price increases.  You determine how much your family should spend by choosing one of the four plans, and choosing the ages and members of your family.

For instance, according to the most recent USDA food plan, my family of five (2 adults and 3 kids ages 4 to 10), we should be spending approximately $176.60 a week on the thrifty plan up to $348.90 on the liberal plan.  (Am I the only one saying “WOW!” to the liberal plan?)

Recently, I voluntarily decided to cut back on my freelance workload so that I could spend more time homeschooling my kids.  We decided to tighten our belt and live off my husband’s income alone while banking the money I’m making.

We’ve been thrilled to spend under the USDA thrifty plan every week, usually by $40 or $50 a week, even though we cannot have gluten, dairy or corn.  Here’s how we’ve been doing it:

Spend Less on GroceriesStock up when things are on sale.  I now try to only buy fruits and veggies that are loss leaders in the weekly ads.  When I see things at rock bottom prices, I stock up.  Recently, oranges were on sale for 4 pounds for $1.  I bought a case, which was 40 pounds.  That case only cost me $10, and we’ve had fresh oranges for the last 5 weeks.  We have one more week left before we run out.  (Keep in mind that some stores will give you a discount when you buy a case, so you can save even more.)

I also found organic potatoes 5 pounds for $2, so I bought 40 pounds.  Same for cabbage at 33 cents a pound.  I bought 6 heads.

Inevitably, there are weeks where there are no good sales, so we eat from the pantry.  This week is one of those weeks, so we will be eating a lot of meals with cabbage and potatoes.

Make your menu plan based on the items that are on sale.  I’ve always made a menu plan.  (If you don’t, start now!  It’s such a money saver.)  However, I made my menu plan first and then went shopping.  Now, I do the opposite.  I find out what is on sale, and I make my menu plan based on those items.

Make freezer meals based on low cost items.  When I have extra time or extra groceries, I make freezer meals.  Then, if there’s a week where we’ve run out of grocery money or there’s nothing good on sale, I have at least a week’s worth of meals in the freezer.

Be disciplined when going to big box stores.  I love shopping at Costco, but I’m very careful to only buy what is on my list.  I can get organic carrots 10 pounds for $6.99.  I can buy a 2 pound bag of organic greens for less than $5.  These prices can’t be beat!  However, if I stray from my list and spend on impulse buys, I’m not saving any money.

What USDA plan is your weekly grocery spending closest to?  What other tips do you have to save money on groceries?

5 Ways to Have a Frugal Halloween

While the marketers would like us to think that Halloween should cost a fortune, it doesn’t have to.  On average, Americans in 2013 planned to spend $75.03 on Halloween candy and costumes.  (My guess is those with more than two children will spend significantly more than this, especially if they choose to buy costumes.)

If you use some creativity and resourcefulness, you and your kids can have a fun Halloween without spending a fortune.  Here’s a way to have a ghoulish Halloween without frightening your wallet.

Save Serious Money on Costumes

5 Ways to have a frugal halloween

If you have the cash to spend, you can certainly find costumes at a discount by visiting second hand stores or perusing Craigslist.  However, if you don’t have the money to spend or you simply choose not to, there are still plenty of adorable costumes for your kids:

Use costumes you have around the house.

If you have dress up clothes, those are fair game for a Halloween costume.  Another idea is to use your child’s clothing from extracurricular activities.  Does your son have a little league uniform?  Great, he can be a baseball player.  Does your daughter take dance classes?  She can be a ballerina.  Does your child have a pair of skeleton pajamas?  They could easily double for her Halloween costume.

Marketers want us to think that a child should be able to pick any costume he or she would like for Halloween.  However, you can limit this to whatever type of costume the child can find around the house.

Create your own costume.

With a little creativity (and maybe some face paint), you can likely find a good costume with things you already have around the house.  An old white sheet makes for a great ghost costume and your child’s clothes along with face paint can help create an adorable hobo.  With the help of Pinterest, you’ll find plenty of costume ideas you can make at little to no cost using items around the house.

Have a costume swap.

If you have old costumes that the kids have outgrown or no longer want, why not get together a few of your friends and have a costume swap.  You may leave with a new-to-him costume for your child, and you will have decluttered your home of a few costumes you’ll never use again in the process.

Save on Candy

Reuse candy.

Now, before you get upset with the wording “reuse candy” hear me out.  Buy a bag or two of candy to give to the trick or treaters.   If you have young children, take them early in the night.  When you get home, go through the candy that your kids don’t like.  (As a kid, I hated any candy bars that had nuts in them.)  This candy will likely go in your own mouth if the kids won’t eat it.  Instead, put it in your candy bowl and give it to the trick or treaters at your door.

Turn off the light when the candy is out.

I know some people who live in subdivisions popular with trick or treaters.  These people will buy five, six, seven bags of candy.  That adds up fast!  Instead, buy whatever amount of candy your budget allows.  When you run out, turn off the outside light, turn off the lights in the front of the house, and go settle in to watch a movie or read a good book in the back of the house.  Don’t feel pressured to buy more candy than you comfortably can financially.

What are your favorite tricks to save on Halloween?

Grocery Shopping Once a Month – Can You Do It?

My husband and I recently bought a house, and we’d like to plump up our emergency fund just in case we have a large house expense.  (Because, of course, when you have little savings, expensive things start to break.  It’s the law of nature, right?)

To inspire myself, I reread America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides.  One strategy of theirs that I latched onto is once a month shopping.  The Economides shop once a month for their family of seven and right after shopping day, they make 15 to 17 freezer meals to help them on nights when they’re too busy to cook.

Alright, I already regularly cook freezer meals, so how hard could it be to shop once a month for my family of five?

As it turns out, very tough, at least the first month.

Grocery Shopping once a monthBreaking Bad Habits

I have a bad habit of making a big shopping trip on the weekend and then running to the store for this or that several times a week.

Do you do this, too?  From all of the harried shoppers I see at the store at 5 p.m., I’m guessing I’m not alone.

The problem is that each time I run to the store, I buy more items than I initially went to the store to buy.  The Economides recommend once a month shopping to avoid this kind of impulse buying that blows up the grocery budget.

Making the Big Shopping Trip

This month, eager to change my bad shopping habit, I scouted the deals and made my big, once a month shopping trip.  I spent two days afterward cooking up meals to put in the freezer.  I was set, or so I thought.

Turns out, limiting the impulse to stop by the store is more difficult than I thought.

There are a number of reasons why we’re struggling:

  • My husband likes fresh fruit and veggies.  Our family wiped these out after a week, so back I went to the store to pick up some more.
  • I’m an impulse eater.  If something sounds good to me, I want to make the recipe and have it for dinner.  I don’t want to wait until my next monthly shopping trip to get the ingredients to make it.  (The whim would have passed by then, which is the point, I guess.)
  • Eating up odds and ends at the end of the month is not fun.  Sure, trying to make meals out of what food is left is fun, but the last few days, most of it doesn’t taste good.

Taking Baby Steps Moving Forward

While it would be easy to give up on the idea of once a month shopping, I haven’t yet because I know it can be a big money saver.  Instead, I’m going to back up and move to twice a month shopping.  This will allow me time to plan out our meals for two weeks, making sure we have all the ingredients we need.  Many fruits and veggies stay good for nearly two weeks, so my husband will have the fresh fruits and veggies that he wants.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully implement once a month shopping, but if I am successful with twice a month shopping, I will still significantly reduce my impulse shopping trips and improve my grocery budget.

How often do you grocery shop?  Are you a multiple trip, impulse buyer like I am (was?), or are you a grocery store ninja?