A family of four spends, on average, $243.70 per week on food at home with a moderate plan, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data from May 2016. Of course, that amount can be less with a thrifty plan — $148.50, on average, for families with children between 6 and 11. The average for a liberal plan featuring larger quantities of food is a shocking $296.30 per week.
Most weeks, I beat even the lowest average for food spending at home — and I buy organic items, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses and more for a family of five. I have two daughters who are 9 and 11 and a 4-year-old son who often eats twice as much as his sisters. And I’d say our meal plan is moderate, not thrifty.
Now, I know that there are people who can buy $200 worth of groceries for $20 with avid couponing. However, I manage to feed my family well for about $125 per week, without spending hours searching for coupons. Here’s how I do it.
1. I Shop at the Store With the Lowest Prices
One of the best ways I’ve found to keep the cost of groceries down is to shop at the store with the best prices. So, I have spent time figuring out which area supermarkets have the lowest prices.
After filling my cart with items we typically buy at Kroger, Meijer and Walmart — the three major stores in my town — I determined that I pay about 20 percent less shopping at Walmart. (Note: Aldi is even cheaper than Walmart, but its selection is too small for me to do all of my shopping there.) This is a price comparison exercise that you only have to do once to get an idea of which supermarket is cheapest.
Second, I check the stores’ circulars online each week to see which one is offering the best discounts on items we want. This task isn’t very time consuming, and it helps me determine whether to head to Walmart with its “everyday low prices” or one of the other supermarkets.
2. I Join Supermarket Loyalty Programs
An easy way to cut costs at the supermarket is to sign up for the store’s free loyalty program. For example, Kroger offers discounts — which are clearly labeled on shelves — to customers with Kroger Plus cards. Once you swipe your card at the checkout counter (or enter the phone number linked to the card), the discounts are automatically applied. I saved about $50 on my last shopping trip with the Plus card by buying items I needed that were on sale.
I also created an account on the Kroger website and linked my card to emails notifying me of sales and special offers on items I frequently buy. And I load store or manufacturer coupons from the Kroger site to my card.
3. I Use Supermarket Apps
I downloaded the free mobile apps of the supermarkets where I shop for those times when I forget to check for deals online before heading to the store. The Kroger app even shows sale items based on your shopping history. And you can quickly scroll through coupons and clip them to your Plus card for discounts at checkout.
With the Meijer app, I can also clip coupons and offers from the store’s loyalty program, mPerks, and add them to my account for savings at checkout. The Walmart app lets me see the weekly ad and use Savings Catcher to scan my receipts and get an electronic gift card for the difference in price, if a local competitor has a lower advertised rate on eligible items.
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4. I Buy the Store Brand
There are only a handful of brand-name food items that I loyally buy. For most purchases, I opt for the store brand because it’s significantly cheaper and tastes the same as brand-name products.
For example, a half gallon of store-brand organic milk at the three stores where I shop costs at least $1 less than Horizon Organic milk. Store-brand canned vegetables are about 40 cents to 50 cents cheaper than their brand-name equivalents. Frozen fruit can be a couple to several dollars cheaper when you choose the store brand. And the list goes on.
5. I Create a Stockpile
When an item I regularly buy that has a long shelf life goes on sale, I don’t buy just one. I purchase several at the discounted price to maximize savings and to build a stockpile. This tactic is especially useful for frozen goods.
Sometimes buying more scores me even deeper discounts. For example, Kroger occasionally offers a larger mark-down on sale items if you buy a certain number of them. You might see cereal marked down from $3 to $2.50 with an additional dollar off each box if you buy three boxes — bringing the discount to $1.50 per box for a savings of $4.50 on three boxes.
6. I Let Sale Items Determine My Weekly Menu
I love asparagus. But if I buy this veggie when it’s not in season, I wind up paying twice as much. So, the stalks typically don’t show up on our household menu until spring when they’re cheapest.
The same goes for other fruits and vegetables. I only incorporate them into my weekly menus when they’re in season. Then, I use items from my stockpile — grains, pasta, frozen chicken that was bought on sale — to round out meals.
If I were to create a menu based only on what I was in the mood to eat, rather than what was on sale, my weekly grocery bill would be twice as high.
7. I Skip Prepared Foods
Those pre-made salads, sliced vegetables and prepared side dishes in the deli department are tempting because they make at-home meal prep faster. But there’s a high price for this convenience — and that’s why I tend to skip prepared foods.
For example, a package of washed and cut romaine lettuce typically costs about $2 to $3 at the stores where I shop, depending on the brand. However, a head of romaine costs about $1 — and can be washed and prepared at home in minutes.
8. I’m Selective About Organic Items
I would love to feed my family nothing but organic food. However, it’s a lot more expensive. A 2015 Consumer Reports’ study found that organic foods were 47 percent more expensive, on average, than conventional foods.
So, I’m selective about the organic items I buy. Milk is the one thing I always buy organic because I don’t want my kids drinking conventional milk from cows that have been treated with growth hormones and antibiotics. When it goes on sale at Kroger — usually once a month — I stock up.
I tend to buy organic eggs, too, and organic chicken and produce when they’re on sale. For example, organic grapes were recently marked down to the same price as conventional grapes at one of the stores where I shop, so I opted for them.
Rather than buy all organic, you might want to focus on some of the foods that have higher concentrations of pesticides based on the EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Dirty Dozen list. Strawberries and apples topped the most recent list, so you might want to opt for organic rather than conventional buys for these fruits.
9. I Keep Meat to a Minimum
We keep our beef consumption to a minimum because it’s the priciest meat. A sirloin steak is almost six times as expensive per pound as chicken — $8.68 per pound for sirloin versus $1.48 per pound for a whole chicken, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When we buy beef, we tend to stick to less-expensive ground chuck or steaks that are on sale. Usually, we opt for chicken or other sources of protein, such as beans.
Using these strategies has helped me keep the cost of feeding my family under control without sacrificing food quantity or quality. It is possible to eat plenty of fresh produce, and some organic items, without amassing an outrageous grocery bill.
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