January is a great month for learning how to stretch your grocery budget. After a Christmas season of travelling to family and friends, it can feel like your budget is being pulled a bit farther than you’d like.
One thing I like to do when it feels like we’re being pulled too many ways financially, is to stretch the grocery budget and it doesn’t have to be hard either.
Something I’m most proud of from our season of tight finances is my ability to make my grocery budget stretch. These are my go to tips that I use when finances are tight and anytime I go to the grocery store.
Shop from the Pantry and Freezer
Often I’ll open my fridge and think we have no food and we need to go grocery shopping. While I may not have perishable food in the fridge, I usually have more than enough food in the cupboards to make really good budget friendly meals.
If I wasn’t able to get to town for 2-3 weeks we would not starve. There is plenty of food in the panty and freezer that I can feed my family. The issue is that I have ingredients, not ready to eat food.
So take a hard look at what is in your pantry and freezer and “Shop” there first before you head to the store. Come up with meals that use up those items in the cupboards.
I keep a pretty good stock of potatoes, macaroni, spaghetti and rice in our pantry. Having these 4 items are a great base for any home cooked meal. Just add some veggies and a protein and you’re set!
Doing an eat from the pantry challenge is really helpful if your pantry is full to bursting too. Eat up that food before it expires. Do a quick inventory of your pantry and either donate what you won’t eat or make an effort to use them up this month.
Meal Planning keeps you focused and then you buy only what you are planning on cooking. It also helps you be prepared for those days when you’re running kids to after school activities and time is tight.
I know that if there is a meal waiting for me at home, to put in the oven, it’s easier for me to drive past those fast food restaurants instead of pulling in and feeding the kids when they’re hungry.
Meal planning and I have wrestled quite a bit over the last few years. I haven’t liked the restriction of setting a strict plan for each week. I know that it’s helpful, but I have started and stopped meal planning so many times I can’t even count.
Over the kids Christmas break I stumbled on Dawn, from The Minimal Mom. She has a video on meal planning that I’m going to try and implement. I’ll keep you posted on how it works for me.
Set a Budget
This one is so simple to do and so easy to forget. Set a budget and stick to it! If you need to stretch your grocery budget it’s important to say no to yourself. Use your calculator. Don’t trust your mental math!!
For our family of 5, I have a budget of about $150/week. This $150 includes toilet paper, dish soap, toiletries, etc. So if I’m finding I’m nearing our $150 mark, I think about what can wait for the next week and what it is I really need.
What that $150 doesn’t include is any beef or chicken (any other meat is included in the $150).
Every summer we raise and butcher 35 chickens for ourselves. A couple of years ago I had my mom come up and teach me how to butcher chickens. This has been one of the biggest savings in our grocery budget, but I realize that this doesn’t work for everyone.
We also purchase our beef from friends of ours who raise cattle. They have government inspected packages of meat in their freezer and I buy 30 lbs of ground beef at a time and it will last us about 1-1/2 to 2 months.
Be honest with your family
When I am grocery shopping everything has to fit into the budget or it gets left in the store. Learning to say no to myself has been one of the best lessons I have learned.
I am very honest with our kids if they come with me to the grocery store. I tell them what the budget is and that our important items come first. It’s a lesson that kids need to experience.
A couple years ago, during an extremely tight financial time, we had a random week where our grocery budget was $50 for groceries. That was all we had available till we got paid the following week. I was honest with the kids and together we chose the most important food items and left behind the things that weren’t.
Having kids that fully understand the value of money has also decreased the requests for certain food items. Have you ever taken kids down the cereal or cracker aisle? Then you know exactly what I’m talking about!
While we are now in a place that we can raise some of our own meat, this wasn’t always the case. If I needed to stretch my meat budget, I would buy discount meat.
Monday mornings seem to be a good day to find discount meat. If I can get to the store as early as I’m able I sometimes find lean ground beef on 30% off.
If I find this, I try and create wiggle room in my budget. I’ll buy as many packages as I can afford. When I get home I either repackage it for the freezer, fry a package or two for tacos and make hamburgers and/or meat loaf.
Discount meat isn’t meat that is bad. It’s just meat that needs to be cooked or eaten quickly. This is a great way to stretch your grocery budget. It also fills your freezer with ready to eat or cook meals.
Eat your Leftovers
I’m really guilty of creating science fair projects in the fridge. You know the ones where you breed grey and blue mold on top of food you should have eaten? So one thing I try to do every week is have an eat the leftovers meal.
Another way to use up leftovers is to package them into meal size portions immediately after your meal and send them with your kids and/or husband for lunch.
I also try and eat leftovers myself for lunch so that I’m not having to stop what I’m doing and cook myself lunch.
One thing I’m moving towards is using clear glass dishes instead of coloured plastic containers. This way I’m able to quickly glance at the fridge and see what is left over.
Don’t pack your fridge too full either. For me, if it gets pushed to the back it’s as good as lost.
Cook from Scratch
On months where I’m either doing a pantry challenge or am needing to stretch my grocery budget, I up my cooking from scratch. I make bread every week and if you haven’t tried it, it’s a great way to cut costs in the budget.
For breakfasts I’ll make porridge, baked oatmeal, pancakes or french toast for the kids. The baked oatmeal is a great one as it’s a 9×13 pan that lasts our family a couple days. When we do pancakes I make sure to make extra and freeze the leftovers.
Since I drive school bus, I leave the house every day before the kids eat breakfast. This makes sure that Arlen and the kids have healthy options that are more than just boxed cereal for breakfast.
Buy Generic Products and Price Check
I buy a lot of generic or no-name food products. Most of the time they cost a lot less per 100 mL. But watch your price. Most grocery stores will list the price per 100 mL on the price tage and sometimes name brand is actually less or the same as generic. So watch your prices!
I used to be adamant that we could only eat Kellogg’s cereal. Any time I had eaten a generic cereal it either tasted gross or got mushy really fast. I’m happy to say that PC Corn Flakes, PC Rice Krispies, PC Honey Nut Cheerios and PC Fruity O’s are really good. (PC is President’s Choice – Superstore or No Frill’s brand)
Nothing is quite the same as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes but PC is a really close option.
The other thing I do on budget crunching months is skip the boxed cereal all together. This saves on how much milk we drink as well. When 5 people are each eating a bowl of cereal every morning it disappears fast!
Take the Challenge!
Maybe you don’t need to stretch your grocery budget since money isn’t tight, then I challenge you to a pantry challenge. See what you can create out of your cupboards and freezer. You might be surprised at how far your stash will feed you!
If money is tight this time of year, don’t worry. I’ve been there. Our family has never gone hungry. We have eaten some strange combinations of food, but if you’re willing to work hard at how you approach grocery shopping, you’ll be able to stretch your grocery budget a lot farther than you ever imagined.