Kids are expensive, as any parent knows, and much of that expense comes from spending on food and household items.
But grocery shopping doesn’t have to eat up a significant portion of your budget if you learn how to shop wisely.
Here are a 10 tips on how to cut back on your grocery bill, with a little input from local moms:
1) Use coupons. This may seem a no-brainer, but coupons can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. There are many websites devoted to couponing, and Americans save billions of dollars annually by using coupons. Here in Baristaville, several moms told me they use the $10 Shoprite coupon that comes in the ValuPak envelope every week or so. Sure, you have to spend $100 to get that $10 off, but that’s easy to do if you stock up on non-perishable items like rice and canned beans, or on toiletries like paper towels and garbage bags. (Of course, there is an argument to be made for not using coupons, too.)
2) Don’t shop while hungry. Shopping on a full stomach will ensure that you won’t be grabbing everything in sight—that is, stuff you don’t need. I have many times fallen victim to this phenomenon—shopping while hungry—and walked away buying much more than I needed (this is especially dangerous at Trader Joe’s, the kind of place where you can walk out with a bunch of items you never intended to buy because it all looks so tempting).
3) Make a list and stick to it. Making a shopping list will help you buy only the things you need. It helps also to plan out your meals for the week. “Our main budgeting strategy is to make a meal plan for the week,” one mom told me. “We make our grocery list based on that. We avoid wasting food and we don’t tend to just grab random things at the store.” Plan your list so that the items you buy can be used several times during the week. Here is one example on how to do that.
4) Cut back on meat. By now we’re all well aware of the danger of consuming too much meat. But meat can also be expensive. Switch to vegetarian meals several days a week—canned beans are some of the cheapest things you can buy, at about 99 cents per can (uncooked beans are even cheaper), and you can concoct a variety of amazing dishes with a few simple add-ons.
5) Buy in bulk. Many moms are fans of Costco, where you can stock up on bulk items, saving money in the process. Costco, some moms said, is better for stocking up on toiletries. Food can be trickier. If you buy something you end up not liking, “you’ll have a load left over,” one said. Bottom line: shop carefully and only buy the things you know you’ll eat (and eat before they begin to grown a funny green color). You can also buy in bulk online, especially for fancier items. One mom buys Maldon sea salt and other grocery items in bulk on Amazon and says she saves “a ton” that way.
6) Shop around. Figure out which stores have the cheapest prices on the things you most like to eat, and map out a strategy for what to buy at which store. This can be a hassle sometimes, because it may mean traveling to four or five different places just to save money, but I think the payoff is worth it. For example, Whole Foods’ 365 soy milk is a great deal at $1.69 (it’s often more than a dollar more expensive elsewhere), so I only buy my soy milk there. Kings and Shop Rite will often have good deals on my favorite coffee, so I’ll often wait for a sale there before I buy it full price elsewhere. Of course, some stores are just less expensive all around—thus the cult-like following some of my friends have for ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Trader Joe’s. Then there are places like the Route 46 Farmer’s Market, where you can load up on fruit, vegetables and pasta (among other items) for rock bottom prices.
7) Reuse. This is a strategy I have tried to implement more rigorously in the last several months, brought on by what had become an almost obsessive use of paper towels. Now, instead of wiping up every little spill with a paper towel, I use my kids’ old clothes (the really grimy ones that can’t be passed onto someone else), cut into roughly the same size and shape as a paper towel. When they’re soiled, I just throw them in the washing machine and use them again. I also try to reuse Ziploc bags when I can, or not use them at all. One mom uses cloth snack bags instead, and others use plastic containers for packing snacks and other food items.
8) Make your own cleaning supplies. Instead of shelling out lots of cash on expensive (and often toxic) cleaners and abrasives, a little lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar can go a long way. For more tips on making your own cleaning supplies, click here.
9) Shop without the kids. You’ll probably experience a less expensive (and quieter) grocery shopping trip than if your children came with you. You know what I’m talking about: “Mom, can you buy those cheese crackers, just this once, please??” and “But all the kids at school eat that, why can’t I too?” Give yourself–and your wallet–a break and leave them home with your spouse.
10) Grow your own. While the initial cost of setting up a vegetable garden may require some money, the payoff in the long term will more than make up for it. One friend set up a small vegetable plot in her backyard and had a summer-long bounty of kale, parsley and tomatoes. Of course, in this climate, growing your own isn’t possible year round, but it can save you some money for at least a few months. Every little bit counts, right?