How to Spend Less and Still Feed Your Family Well

Family shopping together in grocery store
Ariel Skelley/Getty ImagesYou can keep your fridge stocked even when cutting back on your grocery store trips.
By John Schmoll

If you've gone to the grocery store lately, you've probably noticed that prices are steadily going up. Whether you're single or feeding a family, the cost of food can really add up. Prices from beef to staples like milk are all increasing so it can be difficult to shelter yourself from the rise in cost.

Recent studies indicate that some families of four can expect to spend nearly $1,200 a month on food if they're not careful. It is also important to point out that this number doesn't include costs for dining out, just simply shopping at the grocery store. If that number sounds too high to you and you're looking for ways to lower your grocery bill, these tips should help.

Shop less often: One easy way to spend less on groceries is to shop less often. If you go shopping once every week, try extending it to once every nine or 10 days. Averaged out over a month, this would cut out one major trip to the store per month and thus help you spend less.

While it might seem difficult at first, it is possible to reduce your trips to the grocery store and still keep your pantry full. Beyond spending less, the act of shopping less frequently also has two other major benefits -- it forces you to eat more of the food in your home and it helps you greatly reduce food waste. These two things together will help you stretch your groceries and thus lower your spending.

Shop around a meal plan: As simple as it might sound, shopping with a meal plan can help you lower your grocery bill. You can make this meal plan to fit your needs, whether it be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Having a meal plan will not only allow you to bring more discipline to your grocery shopping but it also has the benefit of giving you flexibility in when you have your meals.

If you use your meal plan strategically, you can use it to shop around sales and coupons in order to maximize your savings. If you have not given thought to a meal plan, try using one for a few weeks and you should see it help you lower costs in the long run.

Think about value: It is a common misconception that you can't eat healthily on a budget. That is an understandable belief but is largely a myth. When you take a look at your grocery spending, consider the kind of items you are spending money on. Are you stocking up on empty calories like soda and snacks? Some of that is OK, but taken to an extreme it will add up.

The often overlooked side effect of spending on empty calories is that they will not fill you for very long. Items that are higher in protein, as well as some fruits and vegetables, will generally keep you satisfied and thus cause you to spend less in the long run. While those items that are considered empty calories might seem cheaper in the short run, they generally are more expensive in the long run as you will end up buying more as well as possibly deal with poorer health. That can lead to more visits to doctors and other costly health care costs.

Be flexible: Few people enjoy eating leftovers, but they can do wonders to helping you lower your grocery costs. In fact, you can even include leftover nights within your meal plan once or twice a week. You can make this work even better if you make meals that complement each other when you pair them together later in the week.

Having leftover nights also has the dual benefit of infusing a little more creativity into your meals, especially if you feel like you're having some of the same things time and again. If leftover nights aren't desirable, then at the very least use your leftovers as a way to supplement the lunches you take to work.

Lowering your grocery costs, especially in a growing family, can be a challenge. However, with a little planning and commitment, it is possible to save money and not spend an arm and a leg at the grocery store.

John Schmoll is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting and frugal living. He is a father, husband and veteran of the financial services industry who's passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality.

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How to Spend Less and Still Feed Your Family Well

This advice applies to adults and kids alike. Plan out your shopping list before you head to the grocery store so you’re not tempted by impulse buys, and let any children along for the ride know that you plan on sticking with that list. Small expenditures add up to big money, so try to avoid giving in to any last-minute requests.

If your children continue to insist that you purchase their requested items, then ask them to bring their own piggy bank money. Remind your children they are only allowed to pick something they can afford. It's good practice for grown-up budgeting.

You might not have 20 hours a week to scour multiple publications for the best deals, but if you focus on searching for online coupons, you'll end up saving just as much. Search online for products with the word "coupon" afterward. For instance, if you're looking for Cascade dish soap, search for "Cascade dish soap coupons."

To make sure that you don't waste money on impulse buys, schedule your shopping around paydays. The day or day after you get paid should be your shopping day. Before you go shopping, make a list and make sure it has everything you'll need until the next shopping day on it. Now make a commitment to yourself that you will make what you're going to purchase last until the next shopping day.
Stocking your freezer with frozen meals can help you save money on lunch, since they cost just about $5 each. It can even be a healthier option because they help you practice portion control. Just make sure you're purchasing meals that have no preservatives, and watch out for sodium levels.
Don't waste your time making a sack lunch every day. Instead, prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and your body will thank you for the extra 10 to 30 minutes of sleep you'll gain each night. If you cook one big meal on Sunday, make sure it's easy to change up throughout the week. Chicken, rice and vegetables all cook quickly and taste great with different sauces and cheeses.
Most families throw away so much food on a weekly basis. A better idea is to turn your dinner leftovers into a lunchtime feast. Apps like BigOven help you use your leftovers to make yummy, new dishes. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you have, and the app will show you different recipe options for your leftovers. You'll save money using food that would have been thrown out.

If you know you have $400 to spend per month on your food budget, that's roughly $100 a week. Whether you shop once or twice per week or use cash or credit doesn't matter as long as you stay within your spending limits. Just be sure to only spend the amount you allotted per week.

Keep your shopping list in a set location so all members of the household can access it. Write estimated prices of the items you are going to buy next to each item on the checklist. It can serve a dual purpose as a price book you can use to guess how much you will spend.
If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are – they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each. If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste.
Most stores are open late, and without the distraction of announcements, people and maybe even your kids, you can have your own Zen moment. When you are clearheaded, you're more likely to zone in on what you really need and leave out what you really don't. Plus, it's easier to give the cashier coupons without causing any delays for the people in line behind you.

We are a society consumed by all sorts of apps, but if you want to grocery shop, save money and still be lazy, let Favado, an app created by, do the work for you. The app will tell you about items on sale from different stores, and if there is a store coupon or manufacturer coupon, it will also let you know that too. (Of course, you can just use it to scan the weekly ads to keep things simple.) And if you're already glued to your smartphone, it's easy to incorporate into your shopping routine.

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