If I had to guess, you’re here for one of three reasons. You want to get control of your food and grocery budget to:
- Pay off debt
- Tighten your purse strings for your monthly budget
- Build your emergency, house or vacation fund
The good news: It is totally possible to reach your financial goals.
The less than good news: It’ll take some serious behavior modification. That means you’ll have to modify your lifestyle in order to stash some cash in savings or apply it to your debt snowball.
Luckily, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of 16 money-saving life hacks so you can change your ways and start saving hundreds –even thousands– of dollars this year on food and grocery expenses.
#1. Stop Overeating
There are two reasons we eat:
- We experience the sensation of hunger, meaning our stomach growls, sending signals to our brain that it’s time to eat.
- We have a thought about food which reminds our body we should eat. Thoughts like “It’s lunchtime,” “I still need to eat 250 more calories”, and “I feel tired, so I need caffeine” originate in our brain and travel to our body.
There’s a very big difference between the two!
You can save a lot of money (and calories) by simply listening to your body rather than listening to the thoughts in your brain. When you eat intuitively, you can significantly reduce…
- The need for snacks
- Expensive coffee shop runs
- Unnecessary trips to the convenience store
- And your overall grocery bill
If you’ve never considered what drives your desire to eat, try tracking your food intake. For seven days, write down everything you put in your mouth. Write down the time of day and what you were thinking just before you ate.
You don’t need a fancy journal. You can grab any blank sheet of paper, use the notes app on your phone or download and print the free Daily Food Tracker I use (inside of the resource library).
The purpose of the food journal is to bring awareness to what you’re thinking and feeling just before you eat.
Understanding these two factors will not only help you eat less and save money, but can also heal emotional eating, and break the perpetual dieter’s mentality for good.
#2. Eliminate Snacks
Snacks have become a way of life.
A 2017 survey found that 96% of consumers eat snacks! The majority of consumers say they either eat snacks to satisfy hunger between meals or because they want to treat themselves.
If you can adopt the practice of eating intuitively, as we previously discussed, you’ll automatically reduce your snack consumption and rack up savings.
Healthy snacks like fresh fruits and veggies are less expensive than the packaged snacks you find in the center of the grocery store, but no snacks are the cheapest of all.
#3. Ditch Bottled Water
Bottled water is a wasteful luxury. I would bet that you rarely drink a bottle of water out of necessity and consume it for convenience or taste.
If you spend an average of $4 per week on plastic water bottles, by switching to tap or filtered water and using a reusable container, you could save $208 per year.
That’s a savings of $2,080.00 over a decade!
Switching to reusable isn’t just cheaper, it’s also sustainable.
Manufacturing companies have strategically tailored their message to make us believe that tap water is bad for our health and that bottled water is healthier. They also claim bottling water in environmentally friendly, but as you’ll see in this short 8-minute video, those claims aren’t true.
Here is the real truth about bottled water:
#4. Brew Your Own Coffee
If you’re hooked on coffee but only buy it when you’re away from home, you’re wasting a boatload of cash.
At a cafe, you’ll spend between $1 and $5 per cup. Brewing a cup of coffee at home, on the other hand, costs you as little as $0.16 per cup.
Even with our favorite coffee-snob, organic, fairtrade brand, it still only costs us $0.46 per cup (and I think it tastes better).
Assuming you run to Starbucks Monday through Friday on your way to work and get a grande black Pike’s Peak coffee, you’d spend $10.50 per week. If you brewed your organic, fair trade coffee at home, you’d only spend $2.30 per week.
After you do the math, that’s a savings of $8.20 per week, $32.80 per month and $426.40 per year.
In 10 years, you’d save $4,264 by brewing a regular cup of joe at home during the workweek, and that’s with the high-end coffee! If you went the cheaper route, it could amount to a savings of $5,044 over a decade.
I can hear it already, “but I don’t like regular coffee. I need my triple whip white chocolate mocha.”
To that I say, get a Ninja Coffee Bar and learn how to make a copycat version at home. My Ninja came with a coffee and dessert recipe cookbook and a frother pump. You can get creative and make your own.
(Also, this is a great time to remind you that this is where that whole lifestyle modification part comes in.)
If portable coffee is important to you, I recommend getting a Yeti insulated tumbler. They run about $30 each, but they’re durable, dishwasher safe and keep your coffee hot for hours. My husband uses his daily on his drive to work, and I use a Yeti insulated mug as I sip coffee from my desk at home.
Investing one-time in a good coffee maker and an insulated mug will keep you from sliding back into your old morning coffee drive-through habits. I promise you’ll save money in the long run.
#5. Adopt a Flexitarian Lifestyle
Flexitarians, or “flexible vegetarians,” focus on a plant-based diet while limiting meat consumption but not eliminating it entirely.
Switching to a flexitarian diet has numerous health benefits, but from a budgeting perspective, you can rack up a lot of savings by adding a few meatless meals to your menu each week.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted the average consumer would eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry that year. If we take that average and multiply it by an average of $5.00 per pound, you’d spend $1,111.00 on meat for the year.
If you switched to a meatless meal twice per week, you could save $320 each year!
If you’re not ready to go entirely meatless, you can still cut back on your meat portions. For example, if you usually eat a 6-ounce steak, serve yourself 3 ounces and add more vegetables to your plate. It may be challenging at first, but if you can think about meat as a side dish rather than the main dish, you’ll be able to see instant savings each week at the grocery store.
#6. Grow Your Own Herbs & Produce
Growing your food may seem a little “unconventional,” but it’s practical and cost-effective.
By spending a few dollars on seeds, plants, and supplies in spring, you can produce vegetables that will yield pounds of produce in summer, saving you hundreds of dollars at the supermarket.
And remember, supplies don’t have to be costly.
Instead of running to the nearest hardware store for supplies, you can find all of the materials you need for little to no dollars with a bit of creativity. You can check construction sites or nurseries for scraps, ask your neighbors on the Next Door app for unwanted materials, or look on Craigslist.
If you’re thinking, “I live in an apartment,” “I rent my home,” or “I don’t have a lot of land,” you can still grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables too!
With a solo cup, soil, seeds and a little sunlight, you can grow oregano, basil, cilantro, and thyme on your window sill. You can also grow plants in a pot on your patio. For example, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini do well on a balcony.
There’s no excuse not to save even just a little bit of cash by planting some type of herb, vegetable or fruit!
#7. Skip Restaurants
Millennials consume food in a restaurant or bar around 30 percent more often than any other generation, according to this 2017 USDA study.
I know the thought of having someone else cook your food and clean up the dishes all the time sounds wonderful, but it comes with a hefty price. It may not feel expensive at the moment you run through the drive-through or go to your favorite restaurant, but those dining out dollars sure can add up fast.
Let me ask you this: how often do you…
- Dine out because you don’t feel like cooking?
- Eat out because you have a busy schedule and don’t have time to cook?
- Grab take out but eat it at home?
- Go out to dinner because you’re bored?
Being aware of the reasons you choose to go out to eat is the first step to making a lifestyle change.
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dining out, but if you’re choosing to eat a restaurant because you feel lazy, tired, stressed or “deserve it,” it’s costing you big time.
When you’re pinching pennies, cutting out restaurants is logical and necessary just as it would be logical and necessary to cut out donuts and candy if you went on a strict diet.
To reach that debt payoff, budget or savings goals you have to make a lifestyle change and dining out at restaurants is the easiest expense to cut.
#8. Meal Plan & Cook At Home
Fresh, home cooked meals are not only cheaper than dining out, but they’re also healthier. Restaurants add extra salt, sugar, and have larger portion sizes that you can avoid by eating at home.
Eating at home does require more time to plan, prep and cook, but if you have big financial goals, you have to find a way to make it work for you. Here are three of my favorite tips for cooking more meals from home:
- Create a Plan – Having a plan isn’t half the battle, it’s the entire battle! You need a system to help you create a plan, stay organized, and actually, stick to it all week long. Grab a copy of the six Meal Planning Templates I use each week.
- Cook Once, Eat Twice – This is one of my favorite time hacks. Instead of browning one pound of ground beef, cook two and reserve the 2nd pound for a future meal or freeze it. If you’re cooking lasagna, double the recipe and freeze the second pan for a quick meal on the run in the future. This is also a money-saving life hack because you can usually score deeper discounts when buying items in bulk.
- Set it & Forget it – If you’re strapped on time or don’t want to feel like a slave to your stove, use an Instant Pot or Crock Pot to dump your meal and let the machine do all the cooking for you.
- With an Instant Pot, you can easily make a hearty, hot meal in under 30 minutes. I’ve even been able to add frozen meats to the instant pot and get dinner on the table quickly.
- If you prefer to have your meal cook for 6 to 10 hours while you’re away at work or busy doing other things, investing in a good Crock Pot can help get hot meals on the table. This is a lifesaver for those of you who are really busy!
#9. Limit Food Waste
According to this USDA-funded study, American consumers waste about one pound of food per day or 225-290 pounds per year. Meaning that nearly 20% of the food we put on our plates winds up in the garbage.
If you spend $500 per month at the grocery store, you’re throwing $100 worth of food in the trash. 😱
We have to do better not only for the environment but also for our pocketbooks. Here are two simple ways you can cut back on food waste in your home:
- Implement Shelf Cooking – Instead of browsing for a recipe online and shopping for all of the ingredients, use ingredients you already have on-hand from your fridge, freezer, and pantry first then supplement with fresh items from the store second. When you take a thorough inventory of items on hand before you start meal planning, it can save you hundreds! Wouldn’t you know I have a handy worksheet inside of the free resource library? The Pantry, Fridge & Freezer Inventory Template will help you categorize what you have on hand and quickly meal plan afterward.
- Eat Leftovers – Listen, I know this is a sore subject. Many of you hate leftovers, but if you want to maximize your savings, you need to learn how to love them or master the art of cooking only the exact portion you need. Just because you have leftover chicken doesn’t mean you have to repeat the same meal over and over again. Instead, you can repurpose that chicken and turn it into a new meal like chicken quesadillas, a grilled chicken salad or chicken noodle soup. You just have to get creative.
If you’re up for a challenge, try going one week without wasting any food. If you buy it, open it, pour it, make it or dish it, you must consume or preserve all of it! If you can find a way to eliminate waste, you’ll cut down on your food costs every month.
#10. Use Ibotta to Earn Cash Back
Ain’t nobody got time to clip coupons, at least not in our house. I do, however, have 5-minutes to browse through my Ibotta app before I hit the grocery store. Ibotta basically offers digital coupons except you don’t have to search through newspapers to find ads, clip paper coupons or take them to the store when you shop.
The smartphone app is free and allows you to earn cash back on items that you purchase at your favorite stores. After you earn up to $20 money back, you can cash out your rebates and send it directly to your Paypal or Venmo account. In the first two months of using it, I’ve earned $94.21 on items I already planned to buy – even produce, dairy and generic brand items.
Most people start using it to save at the grocery store (like I did), but you can also find rebates at pharmacies, online retailers, liquor stores, beauty shops, restaurants, wholesale retailers, convenience stores, craft and home good stores, electronic stores, and even travel sites!
Want to give it a try? If you’ve never downloaded the app before, simply click here. This link will guide you through the signup and download process, or you can visit your smartphone’s app store, type in “Ibotta” in the search bar and download the app.
If you are a first time user, you can use the promo code PNIYKFM to get a $10 bonus by signing up and redeeming a brand name offer.
Give the app a spin the next time you shop and watch how much you can save!
#11. Choose Items Based on the Best Unit Price
When you shop, make a product selection based on the unit price rather than the brand name or total price. This may take a little calculation, but you can’t do the math rather quickly on your smartphone calculator.
Here’s what I mean, if you were going to purchase your favorite box of cereal, you need to divide the total price by the ounces per box.
- Regular Size = $2.98 – $1.00 Ibotta rebate= $1.98 / 10.8 oz = $0.18 per ounce
- Family Size = $3.64 – $1.00 Ibotta rebate = $2.64 / 19.5 oz. = $0.14 per ounce
In this case, I would buy the family size because it fits in my budget, our family eats a lot of cereal, and it’s the best value. I know some stores have the price per unit on the shelf tag. In that case, you can easily scan the products and make a quick decision about buying the best value.
If you want to be super hard-core about getting the best deal…
Create a spreadsheet of the items you most commonly buy and track the unit cost during your shopping trips. By taking note of the best price of an item, it helps you know when something is truly a good deal.
Speaking of stocking up…
#12. Stock Up During Sales
Stockpiling can make sense for your family if you’re smart about it! Since we’re all about saving money, you’ll want to make sure that you only stockpile when items are on sale and only stock enough for the next 6-12 weeks because that’s when many sales recycle.
Here are four extra tips for strategic stockpiling strategies:
- To get the best discounts, study your store’s selling patterns for sales. You can also ask a clerk or a manager when they get new shipments or if they have any saving secrets they can share with you.
- When buying meats, look in the manager’s special or clearance section first. Meats are often marked down 50-75% off. When you get home, freeze it until you’re ready to eat it!
- Have you thought about checking out your local ethnic markets? You can find ingredients like spices, flour, sugar, rice and other grains for a lot less than you can at your local supermarket. I can get a 3 oz (85g) container of garlic powder for $2.00 at Walmart, but I can get a half a pound (226g) at my local Asian market.
- Just because items are packaged in bulk, doesn’t mean you’re getting the best value. Run some numbers on your smartphone calculator and only buy in bulk when it makes sense.
#13. Shop In Season
Only buy fruits and vegetables in their peak season to get them at the lowest price.
If strawberries are $3 a pound, don’t buy them until they’re back in season and only cost $0.99 a pound. Instead, pick apples or whatever else is in season and on sale so that you aren’t paying premium prices.
#14. Shop Online & Pick Up In Store
Online grocery shopping might be my favorite money-saving hack and time-saving hack because you can skip the crowds, stick to your list and budget, and get more time back in your day. You can even use Walmart’s Grocery Pick Up service while your meal planning to make sure you have everything you need.
One thing I love is that you can even see the price per unit while shopping online to make sure you get the very best value. I think I hate is that you can’t use Ibotta on online orders. Sometimes the convenience outweighs the few bucks you might earn on cash-back offers.
You’ll just have to try it and see for yourself! Sign up and save $10 off your first order.
#15. Save Big at Aldi
Aldi is a sister company Trader Joe’s and is basically a gourmet version of a food co-op with Walmart prices.
It isn’t like most grocery stores though. You’ll have to bring a quarter to rent the cart while you shop. (Don’t worry, you’ll get it back when you return the cart back with the others.) You’ll also need to bring your own bags and sack your own groceries. These are two ways the store minimizes operation costs to pass on the savings to the customer.
In my experience, their produce, eggs, and dairy are cheaper than my local Walmart 99% of the time. I have friends who rave about the store and exclusively shop at Aldi’s because it’s so affordable.
If you’ve never been, just be aware that they don’t carry many name-brand items, but the quality of food is equivalent. You should swing into your local Aldi and see what steals you can find!
The last grocery saving hack is a simple one…
#16. Shop Alone
If you have a habit of overspending at the grocery store, leave your spouse and children at home! When you’re alone, you’re not influenced by someone’s opinion or cravings. You’re also not tempted to cave into your child’s demands and pleas for items not on the list.
I know that’s not always a reality, especially with small children, but explore it as a possibility with your spouse.
Well, there you have it!
16 money-saving life hacks for food and grocery expenses. Leave a comment and share one of your favorite saving secrets with us! And don’t forget to sign up and get access to our free resource library!