How to Spend Less and Still Feed Your Family Well

For a family of four, cutting food costs depends on flexibility.

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Family shopping together in grocery store
Ariel Skelley/Getty ImagesYou can keep your fridge stocked even when cutting back on your grocery store trips.
By John Schmoll

If you've gone to the grocery store lately, you've probably noticed that prices are steadily going up. Whether you're single or feeding a family, the cost of food can really add up. Prices from beef to staples like milk are all increasing so it can be difficult to shelter yourself from the rise in cost.

Recent studies indicate that some families of four can expect to spend nearly $1,200 a month on food if they're not careful. It is also important to point out that this number doesn't include costs for dining out, just simply shopping at the grocery store. If that number sounds too high to you and you're looking for ways to lower your grocery bill, these tips should help.

Shop less often: One easy way to spend less on groceries is to shop less often. If you go shopping once every week, try extending it to once every nine or 10 days. Averaged out over a month, this would cut out one major trip to the store per month and thus help you spend less.

While it might seem difficult at first, it is possible to reduce your trips to the grocery store and still keep your pantry full. Beyond spending less, the act of shopping less frequently also has two other major benefits -- it forces you to eat more of the food in your home and it helps you greatly reduce food waste. These two things together will help you stretch your groceries and thus lower your spending.

Shop around a meal plan: As simple as it might sound, shopping with a meal plan can help you lower your grocery bill. You can make this meal plan to fit your needs, whether it be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Having a meal plan will not only allow you to bring more discipline to your grocery shopping but it also has the benefit of giving you flexibility in when you have your meals.

If you use your meal plan strategically, you can use it to shop around sales and coupons in order to maximize your savings. If you have not given thought to a meal plan, try using one for a few weeks and you should see it help you lower costs in the long run.

Think about value: It is a common misconception that you can't eat healthily on a budget. That is an understandable belief but is largely a myth. When you take a look at your grocery spending, consider the kind of items you are spending money on. Are you stocking up on empty calories like soda and snacks? Some of that is OK, but taken to an extreme it will add up.

The often overlooked side effect of spending on empty calories is that they will not fill you for very long. Items that are higher in protein, as well as some fruits and vegetables, will generally keep you satisfied and thus cause you to spend less in the long run. While those items that are considered empty calories might seem cheaper in the short run, they generally are more expensive in the long run as you will end up buying more as well as possibly deal with poorer health. That can lead to more visits to doctors and other costly health care costs.

Be flexible: Few people enjoy eating leftovers, but they can do wonders to helping you lower your grocery costs. In fact, you can even include leftover nights within your meal plan once or twice a week. You can make this work even better if you make meals that complement each other when you pair them together later in the week.

Having leftover nights also has the dual benefit of infusing a little more creativity into your meals, especially if you feel like you're having some of the same things time and again. If leftover nights aren't desirable, then at the very least use your leftovers as a way to supplement the lunches you take to work.

Lowering your grocery costs, especially in a growing family, can be a challenge. However, with a little planning and commitment, it is possible to save money and not spend an arm and a leg at the grocery store.

John Schmoll is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting and frugal living. He is a father, husband and veteran of the financial services industry who's passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality.


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