When I was still living at home with my mom, she would give me her credit card every week and tell me to go grocery shopping for myself. At the time, I was a vegetarian and used to buy all those expensive vegetarian convenience foods. I admit it now... I was spoiled. :) My husband lived on his own and at the time I remember thinking: Wow that has to suck to have to actually pay for everything you eat.
Fast forward quite a few years to when I decided to try to lower our monthly expenses. I was going to save money by being an extreme couponer. I subcribed to the Sunday paper just for the coupons and would take my parents' coupon inserts, matched coupons to sales, and got some great deals. But there always seem to be too many deals that I couldn't pass up. I never saved money on the grocery budget, just ended up with more food. Did I mention that I live in a 960 square foot condo? Not much room for stock piling. I eventually gave this up when Baby Ripples came along and it was too hard to go to 3 or 4 stores a week to only buy the best deals at each one.
Luckily an Aldi's opened up nearby. I know a few Aldi's haters that haven't even given it a try. But they're missing out...Aldi is awesome. The quality of foods is great, they carry name brand organic milk and some name brand meats on a regular basis. I only once had to return a product and they refunded my money and I got a replacement for free.
I started putting together a month long meal plan and trying to buy everything that we would need in a month in one trip, besides milk and fresh produce, of course. This was to save money by staying out of the stores as much as possible and to buy ingredients that I could use for more than one meal. But as much as I love Aldi's, its a lot of work to have to pack that many groceries with kids in tow. And we would tend to not use everything up that I thought we would and have to throw a lot away.
Solution: Two week meal plan. I buy everything I can get at Aldi every two weeks. Once a week I stop in for produce, loss leaders and anything else I need at Acme. For a while, I had our monthly grocery budget down to $400. I've recently upped it to $500 to include organic milk for the little ones,a lot more fresh produce and this gives me some extra money so I can stock up when I see great deals.
To me, being a coupon diva wasn't worth the effort. I'm happy with our grocery budget of $500 a month. Sometimes this includes non-grocery items like hair gel, deoderant, paper towels, etc. if I am only buying one or two extra items. If I am buying a lot of non-grocery items at one time then this comes from a different section of our budget.
Simple Ways My Family Saves on Groceries:
1. Meal plan and make a list based on ingredients we already have
2. Use less meat - alot of recipes can be doubled to make more than 1 meal, just don't double the amount of meat or cook meatless meals once or twice a week.
3. Don't waste food
4. Stock up on great deals only if we will use them
I know....it sounds so simple. But according to the USDA, the average monthly cost of food, as of January 2013, for a family a four would be $554.90 on the thrifty plan. I think our food choices would more likely fall into the Moderate cost plan which has a monthly average of $873! $373 more per month than what we spend.
Next in my series of trial and error money saving: Kids cost how much?