Full transparency: I love beans. And Rice. If I had to, I could happily live off of those two pantry staples and fully understand that there are some families who don’t have any other choice. For those of you who are looking for a different way to eat healthy on a budget– these tips are for you.
Maybe you’ve heard them all before. Well, some of these are tried and true tips because they’re effective. I’m not here to say this is THE way to eat healthy on a budget. These are SOME ways, and hopefully you’ll get a little insight into something that could work for your situation.
what does “budget” mean to you?
For seven years, our family lived off a strict $300/month grocery budget. We’re at $400/month now for two adults and a 2, 5, & 7-year-old. Our biggest priority remains the same: eating healthy on a budget.
My husband and I started moving toward healthier, mostly organic food about a decade ago. Back then we were a double-income childless couple. When we became parents we definitely became more mindful of our spending habits.
Five years ago I left my decade-long career in television news to become a stay-at-home mom. That’s when we really started tightening up the budget. (Here’s a closer look about how to make a grocery budget fit your family)
Our grocery budget includes diapers and wipes, dog food and supplies for a Yorkie, and all health and beauty items. Here are some of the ways we’ve helped slash our grocery bill while still maintaining healthy habits over the past several years.
Meal Planning/ cooking at home
The MOST important thing we do to stick to a grocery budget and stay HEALTHY on a budget is to stick to a meal plan! We have a huge beginner’s guide on why you need a meal plan and how to make one in this post here, but the bottom line is to get a plan in place and try to stick to it.
Shop Your pantry, fridge, freezer and plan meals around what you already have
I try to do this every time I come up with a new meal plan. Maybe you got a great deal on canned tomatoes or beans and have a surplus on hand already. What can you make using only these ingredients? (Pretend like you’re on Chopped! ?) Do you have plenty of pasta? Frozen ground beef? Veggies about to wilt in the fridge? Get creative with your recipes. Nearly anything can be made into a soup or stir fry. Pinterest is a gold mine for sparking a little creativity here. We have more than 100 chicken ideas in this post if you need some chicken inspiration.
Pay attention to sale cycles
At most stores, the sale cycles run Sunday-Saturday. Our Aldi (in West Virginia) is like this, but they have “weekly meat specials” or “special buys” that actually start on Wednesday. In Tennessee, Ali’s Aldi cycle runs Wednesday-Tuesday.
Kroger’s cycle runs from Wednesday to Tuesday in our region. Keep this in mind if you do a pickup order on a Tuesday and pick up on a Wednesday!! The prices may change overnight.
The sale cycle at Publix also runs Wednesday-Tuesday.
Know your prices
At Aldi, I keep a running list of products I frequently buy in my Notes app on my iPhone. That way I can quickly add up what I need and adjust the list as needed to fit the budget.
Shop multiple stores to help your grocery budget
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I typically do two major shopping trips at month a Kroger and Aldi and two smaller pickup trips at Walmart. We also use an online collective marketplace for local meats, veggies, and other goods. We shop several farmer’s markets seasonally and our local food marketplace as well. It might not work for all families, but it helps us save money.
NOTE: If you’re spending more on gas to get to multiple stores, this is NOT an effective way to save money.
Use Pickup to curb impulse buys
When I go inside Kroger, I often throw extras in the shopping cart if they’re a manager’s special. It might not be something I “need” or have a plan for and this can throw off the budget and the meal plan if you’re not careful. I also tend to put extra snacks in the cart if I’m hungry. Scheduling pickup can help with these impulse buys. At Walmart it’s free over $30. (Get $10 off your first order here.) At Kroger, they often do specials for free pickup, but it typically costs $4.95.
Use seasonal ingredients to stay healthy on a budget
You don’t want to pay a premium for ingredients that are out of season (like strawberries in December in West Virginia) There’s a reason pumpkin spice has a season! (An exception is frozen fruits/ veggies, which typically stay the same price year-round.)
We go more in-depth about the benefits of eating seasonally here.
Stick to the Clean 15/ Dirty Dozen
If eating organic food is a priority for your family like it is ours, stick to buying organic produce from the Dirty Dozen. That’s the Environmental Working Group’s list of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed produce.
A simple way to remember this when you’re shopping is to think about fruits and veggies that you eat the skin or peel, i.e. grapes, apples, peppers, lettuces, etc. We typically don’t buy organic avocados, bananas, pineapples, etc. that have a thicker skin you typically don’t eat. It’s a great way to save money and stay healthy on a budget. You can get a free printable for the Clean 15/ Dirty Dozen here.
One note, ANY fruits and veggies are better than NO fruits and veggies. If organic is not accessible or affordable for your family, don’t sweat it! We’re all doing the best we can.
Make Your Own Bread
This might seem “extra”, but when we first switched to mostly organic, finding organic options for bread were few and far between. If we did find organic bread, it was upwards of $5.00/loaf! I was still working full time with (only, ha!) one child, so I had a liiiiittle more free time than I do now, but we made it priority to make bread. A typical loaf costs about $0.50 using organic ingredients, so it can be an easy way to stay healthy on a budget.
My favorite recipe is this homemade bread for beginners on Money Saving Mom. I’ve used a million substitutions (avocado oil, olive oil, shortening, butter, ghee, any kind of milk, etc.) and it almost ALWAYS comes out fine. I use the dough cycle in my bread machine and then pull it out to rise and bake in oven. We buy bread way more frequently now, but if you are really scraping by, this is a GREAT option to save money. This is the bread machine I use. (I also mix up homemade pepperoni rolls, rolls, pizza dough, etc.) I bought it for less than $40 and use it multiple times a week.
DIY Biscuit/ pancake mix
In the same vein, I also use the Money Saving Mom DIY biscuit/pancake mix. I make it every other month or so and keep in the fridge.
Use a lot of oats
Organic oats are typically more expensive than traditional (you can read more about why we ALWAYS choose organic when it comes to oats in this post about organic food), but we find them in bulk at a local health food store (Healthy Life Market inside Drug Emporium in Barboursville if you’re local) for $8.99 for a 5-pound bag. At Kroger, they are usually $2.99 for a 16-ounce container, and I’ve seen then for about $2.25/pound for Bob’s Red Mill organic old-fashioned at Big Lots. The 5-pound bag will last us about 3 months (depending) Sometimes we’ll spend $9.00 for a week’s worth of cereal! We do still buy cereal, of course, but putting oats in the mix regularly will add up in savings and keep you healthy on a budget.
There are a zillion variations of oats out there. We’ve rounded up about 40 recipes or so here, including old-fashioned oat ideas, steel cut oat recipes, overnight oats, muffins/bakes/breakfast cookies, smoothies and more. Check it out!
Cook dried beans
This is another item that was more difficult to find when we were first switching to mostly organic food on a budget. I used to be able to find dried organic black beans in bulk at Sam’s’ Club (my parents have always had a membership and will pick a few things up for us if we need it occasionally) I definitely keep some canned organic beans on hand for quick and easy dinners, but dried beans are extremely economical.
A one-pound bag of organic black beans at Kroger costs about $1.99 (we get frequent coupons for this though) A pound of dried beans will make about six cups of beans, which equals 4 cans. (About $1.00/can for organic at Kroger) so you’ll save about 50 percent. Again, it can add up. Having an Instant Pot is an absolute dream for cooking dried beans quickly.
Make your meat stretch
There are very few instances where we use a full pound of meat in a family dinner. I like to cook a full chicken (usually from Aldi, for about $2.49/lb). Yes, de-boning a chicken makes me want to vomit, but I’ve changed poop-filled diapers near daily for seven years, so… my grossness tolerance level is pretty high.
For a 4-5-pound chicken, we can make that stretch for 3-4 meals, plus we’ll get bone broth. If I’m making a homemade pot pie, chicken soup, or any other type of chicken recipe, usually 2 cups of chicken is plenty for us.
We eat a ton of:
We have no problems meeting protein requirements each day.
For ground beef, for instance, check out two of my favorite recipes from Beth at Budget Bytes. They each use a half-pound of ground beef, but easily feed our family of five with no problem.
Beef and cabbage Stir Fry (Budget Bytes)
Baked Beef and Black Bean Tacos (Budget Bytes)
I’ve found most recipes do just fine with slightly less meat than called for. Another way to make ground beef stretch is a big freezer batch of spaghetti sauce. Four pounds of ground beef make about six servings of spaghetti sauce for our family. (And we always have seconds! 😉 )
Cook stock from chicken bones
Another benefit of buying whole chickens is having the bones to cook for broth/stock. I used to do this in the slow cooker before the Instant Pot craze but smelling that broth cooking for 24+ hours was a little much! (Especially in the middle of the night when we lived in a little townhouse!) Now, I put the carcass in the Instant Pot with an onion and sometimes carrots and celery, fill to the max level with water, add some black peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves (and typically turmeric) and cook at high pressure for an hour. Easy peasy.
I get about three quarts. If you cook a lot of soup, the savings for buying stock adds up! I also like to use the organic version of Better than Bullion. You can get a ton of flavor from their pastes.
Go meatless once or twice a week
There are a million reasons to go meatless at least once a week. For us, it comes down to quality over quantity. We know it’s a priority to buy organic, grass-fed or pastured products (and preferably local). If that means we only do meat 5 days a week and maybe a veggie stir-fry, pasta, black bean or white bean soup, or lentil curry the other two days, we make it work. It’s way easier than you think to do a couple meatless meals each week.
Make your own pizza crust for pizza night
We will use anything imaginable for a pizza vehicle. Naan bread, tortillas, flatbreads, English muffins, bagels, biscuits. Eggplants. Zucchini. Seriously. We’ve tried it all. We also love trying out our own pizza crusts. It’s a fun family event to make pizza together! We love to make a big sheet pan pizza crust and we’ll each get a section to “decorate” with toppings.
This may be such a “duh” tip for some, but take a look at the shopping carts around you during your next trip… chances are they are FILLED with at least a pack or case of some kind of sugary beverage. The only beverages we buy at the grocery store are COFFEE and milk. (No explanation needed here)
We don’t buy Capri Suns, pop, or even flavored water. This can take a HUGE chunk out of your grocery budget. We prefer to ditch juice in favor of whole fruits and veggies. We don’t ban it outright for parties or other festive events, but it’s just another way for us to save money on groceries.
If that seems like cruel and unusual punishment, try swapping out one non-water beverage a day for water. A few weeks later, do it again. I’m a recovered diet drink lover and former Fresca addict, so I can assure you, eventually you won’t miss it! 😉
Final Thoughts on How to Tighten up Your Grocery Budget.
This is what has helped us stretch and stick to a tight budget (tight being relative or a matter of perspective, obviously). Our story looks different than Jodi’s, Lindsey’s, and Ali’s. Our choices and stories will look different from yours. These are simply suggestions on how to cut your grocery bill when you’re still trying to eat healthy on a budget.
Tell us in the comments, what are some ways you cut your grocery bill? How do you eat healthy on a budget? Do you follow any of these steps already? If not, what would you try first?