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How to Save Money on Groceries and Not Eat Junk

a smiling Chelsi jo holds a cut avocado in a crisp white kitchen

March 8, 2023

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When I started the discussion on how to save money on groceries in the Facebook group, I was a little surprised at how all over the place we mommas are with how much we are spending on groceries. I’ve been intrigued by this over the the years and fall in and out when it comes to tracking it for my household. Today, I want to tell you about another layer in the system I use to feed my family healthy, nutritious foods and stay in a budget.

Listen below for the entire episode on The Systemize Your Life Podcast

My System for Handling Meals

I use a menu board to manage meal planning at our house. You can find all the details on how to set that up way back in episode 8 of the podcast. If you need to set yours up, give that episode a listen and check out the blog post:

Between those two links, you should be up and running with your menu board in no time. Once you do, let’s dive into the post!

Feeding Your Family is More Than Just Food

Like I said above, this post is an extension or another layer of my menu board system. Today we will talk about how to get your meals on the table in a simple form but in a cost effective way while maintaining the integrity of the nutrition and micro nutrients inside these meals. It’s more than just how to save money on groceries.

I’m a huge advocate for nurturing ourselves and our family through what we feed them. Let’s face it, most of the time we are the ones making the plan, going to the store, cooking the food, and getting it on the table. This is a profound way to pour into your family. You do this through how you are stewarding your money with what you purchase and how you are caring for the minds and bodies of your family.

Let’s see if you can use my equation to save money on your grocery budget!

My Personal History with Learning How to Save Money on Groceries

Over the years, we have gone from massive budgeting masters to nothing at all. We’ve kind of done it all. Years ago we followed Dave Ramsey to get out of some massive debt using his paper envelope system. I’ll tell you, one of the best ways to learn how to save money on your groceries is to only carry cash in the store. You can’t spend what you don’t have!

Then we got so used to our system that we didn’t need the actual envelopes to keep us on track. After a while we ended up on the happy bandwagon of not paying attention and guess what? A lot of extra things ended up in that grocery cart. After a year, it was too excessive and one of the things that is super important to me in how I run my ship is the choices I make with the money I’m responsible for spending.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, Momma!

Blaine and I have a very teamwork focused mentality when it comes to finances. He leads, but I am full of ideas and opinions that I make sure are heard. It’s a beautiful meshing of his leadership and my offerings.

When I was in college, I made different choices. I’d buy plane tickets and travel as much as I wanted. After we were married, I became more disciplined and stewarding our money wisely became very important to me. Blaine has amazing skills in this area and I’m super grateful for that.

One of the ways that I can help out, even though saving money isn’t my passion (Blake is passionate about it), is in the grocery store. I can learn how to save money on groceries and how to not be frivolous with our money because homegirl likes some expensive bars and expensive kombuchas.

Two Kinds of People, Which Are You?

I find that when it comes to those looking to save money on groceries, there are usually two kinds of people.

  • The first woman doesn’t really care what everyone is eating. She is simply looking to buy the cheapest things on the planet to feed her family. It’s all about the budget.
  • The second woman doesn’t care how much she is spending. She just wants to make sure her family is either happy with what they are eating or that it is super healthy. For this woman, it is all about the food.

I believe there is a good place in between these two options. We can all work to be responsible in the way we provide and put food on the table. However, the main goal of this post is to teach you how to spend less money on your groceries. So let’s jump into that formula!

Learn What Your Numbers Are

After you have set up your menu board, you need to know just how much money you are currently spending on each person per meal for the entire week. There is an easy formula for this, so grab your paper and pen.

1. Start Where You Are

I know the ultimate goal is to save money, but to do that, you need to know how much you are actually spending right now. So add up all those receipts and write that number down. You are looking for an average per week. If you spend $400 one week and $100 the next week, your average is $250 per week.

2. Count Out Your Meals

You want to know exactly how many meals you are trying to fit into your budget. I figure 3 meals and 2 snacks per day times 7 days a week for a total of 35 meals a week per person. You may only want to have 1 snack or your entire family may not each lunch at home, but you can adjust that later.

3. Find Your Total Number

Take 35 and multiply it by the number of people in your home. For us, that is 4, giving me a total of 140. That means this lady right here is accounting for 140 plates per week.

Now is the time to make adjustments for meals not in the home. For us, not every single person is home for every single meal. Frankie Jo is not here for 12 and Blaine is not here for 9, so we subtract those from the 140, leaving me with 119 meals in total for the week.

Find your total number of meals and then…

4. Divide It Up

Our typical budget is $200 per week. We divide that by 119 meals and we have approximately $1.68 to feed each person those meals.

Does my number feel high or low to you? How does your number feel to you?

“It’s irresponsible to just go to the store and throw a bunch of food in your cart without any thought behind it. You have been trusted with the money your family has been given. Man it well. Plenty of other families would love to have the budget you have. Care about that, be thankful for what you have been given.”

Your Goal May Be Different

Some of you are looking at that number and thinking “that’s not bad considering what it costs when we go out to eat.” Where can you get a meal for $1.68 other than a 99 cent hot dog at Circle K? Some of you may be thinking “how in the world do you eat nutritious food on less than $2 per person?”

Here is the thing. My $200 is totally doable to me and I can even get it to $180 and still eat the foods I feel comfortable feeding my family. I know this because for years $180 was our budget, that’s how much I had in my paper envelopes each week. And I don’t shop at mainstream grocery stores. I shop at Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. Now, when I was single and shopping at Whole Foods, that number was significantly higher.

Your Grocery Bill Matters

When I needed to be better disciplined with my grocery spending, I was able to learn from my upbringing. My mom was completely frugal, like go back in the store for a nickel overcharge kind of frugal. She loves to pinch pennies. When I was a child, I was like, “Mom, please, it’s just a nickel!” when she would march us back in for that nickel. Now, as an adult looking at the cost of groceries, I get it.

When you look at a $200 per week grocery bill and know that we average 4 1/2 weeks in a month, you know you are looking at $900 per month. That is a lot of money! Taking the time to really look at where all your money is going makes you think twice about eating out. When you know you can feed your family on $1-$3 per person, it is difficult to justify spending $8-$18 per person.

Do You Know Your Number?

Most people probably don’t know what they are spending per meal per person. Take the time to do the math so you can know your numbers.

Word of Advice for When You Really Need to Cut Your Spending

If you are on the really low end of the spectrum for what you are spending or can spend per meal, use this to find money in what you are putting in your mouth and where you can make adjustments (go to one snack vs. two, homemade pancakes instead of buying frozen, etc.), but please do not sacrifice the type of foods you are buying just to save a buck.

Cutting Costs vs. Sacrificing Health

When we got serious about getting rid of our debt, we could have done what Dave Ramsey says to do. He says to eat “rice and beans, beans and rice” and that has a lot of potential to save money. However, I was not willing to sacrifice the health of my kids by eating that way.

What I did instead was make switches and shopped smarter. Instead of buying microwavable, precooked rice, I bought rice in bulk and made it at home. Is precooked faster? Yes. Is it more expensive? Much more so. That was an easy call to make.

Another example is the bread I buy. It costs $6 per loaf at Sprouts. There is a bread/bakery outlet on the way to my grandmother’s house. At the outlet, the exact same loaf of bread is $2 per loaf. So it makes total sense to stop there every so often and fill my freezer with loaves of bread for 1/3 of the cost.

Let’s Talk About Mindset Again

If you have been around at all, you will know that I believe that our mindset matters. The way we think about ourselves, our motherhood, and our everything else, it matters. But before you think I’ve got it all down perfectly, let me tell you that I do struggle with it sometimes.

When Blaine and I were going back to our paper envelopes, I got pouty. “It’s so much harder to do this with a budget,” was my pout because this takes discipline. It is wise though. It’s irresponsible to just go to the store and throw a bunch of food in your cart without any thought behind it.

You have been trusted with the money your family has been given. Man it well. Plenty of other families would love to have the budget you have. Care about that, be thankful for what you have been given.

How to Save Money on Groceries With My System

You know I want my blog posts and podcast episodes to be practical, so here is how I use my menu board system with a budget to save money on my groceries.

When I sit down and pick out my menu cards each week, I know exactly how much those meals cost to make. I know that my salmon and rice meal costs $3-$4 per person because I don’t buy farm raised salmon. I buy wild caught salmon because that is super important to me.

On the other hand, I also know that chili costs pennies on the dollar to make. So these two meals are great to pair in a week to balance my average cost per meal. I know these costs because I’ve taken the time to calculate them and I’ve written them on the back of the menu card.

Getting Started

When you start with your menu board system, just get your family’s first five meals they love and figure up those costs. Write it on the back of the cards. You want to know how much the meal costs per person so you know when meal planning what to pair with what. This way you won’t put all your high cost meals on the same week and blow your budget.

How to Simplify Your Meal Planning

Almost all of my meals consist of the following:

  • a green
  • a carbohydrate (goal is grain-free, but not always)
  • protein

Setting most of my meals up this way simplifies the planning process, but it also simplifies the actual grocery shopping. I go to the store knowing I need seven greens, seven proteins, and seven carbohydrates when all the meals for the week are planned this way. This is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way for me to feed my family the foods that I want to feed them on my budget, over and over again.

Breaking Down the Costs

What happens when you break down the costs and you are over budget? That is when you get strategic.

For example, I used to buy frozen paleo pancakes, but when we started to focus on our grocery budget, they had to go. I buckled down and made a big batch of pancakes one day and froze them myself. Now, does the paleo pancake mix cost more than standard Bisquick? Yes. But when I break down the cost per pancake of homemade vs. the cost per frozen pancake, there is no competition.

Plus with the homemade ones, I can add berries and seeds to up the nutrition!

Menu Board + Budget = Lower Grocery Bills

The menu board system has worked for years, but when I want to take it a step further and really dial in my budget, this is how I go about it. Making sure each meal actually makes the mark for what I want to spend.

Taking Your Budget Food to the Next Level

One way you can make sure you are feeding your family the food they need to sustain them, to help your kids grow, to keep immune systems strong, and to allow you to be high performing in your motherhood and the business you are trying to run, is to look at snacks. Snacks also help you to not be a grumpy wife and keep your husband fueled.

Buying bars and fruit that is already prepared in cups instead of fresh fruit is a budget buster. Buy the fresh fruit and veggies. You pay more money for things when some of the prep work has already been done for you. I know I tell you that it’s ok to buy frozen veggies and they are still in my cart. But when I know that I’m going to put a $15 piece of salmon in my cart, then I probably also know that I’m not paying for the convenience of already prepped veggies.

I once shared one of my favorite things on Instagram. It was this tray that I bought and use for the girls for snacks. I put fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and occasionally a processed thing. The tray is available to snack on for the day instead of grabbing a bar. Or let’s be real, two bars. These bars are easily $1-$2.50 each. Talk about a quick budget buster!

Final Notes

These are the decisions I’m cognitively making as I go through this system of feeding my family well and saving money. This is how I do it and it is completely doable for you, too. I want you to walk away from this post with two things:

  • Knowing the exact amount you spend per person per meal
  • Deciding on one thing you can do to meet both goals (feed your family more nutritious food and save yourself money)

You can do this, momma! Remember to check in with us in the Facebook group for even more support. I’m rooting for you!

Chelsi chops some greens by a recipe box, text reads how to save money on groceries and not eat junk

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I save money on my groceries? Where do I start?

The first thing you need to do is to start paying attention to what you are already spending. You can’t cut your costs if you don’t know what those costs are. The next step is to look for ways someone else is doing prep work for you. Buying packaged granola bars, fruit diced in cups, and pre-chopped veggies will cost more than making an prepping your own. Join us in the Facebook group and ask other mommas how they did it for more tips and tricks!

a bundle of fresh green beans tied with twine, text reads how to save money on groceries and not eat junk
Chelsi Jo holds a cut avocado, text reads how to save money on your groceries without cutting quality

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