Food and groceries are one of the biggest expenses we have as a family of 3. It is also the easiest one to get completely out of hand. You get something from the vending machine at work, take an unplanned night out to eat with the family, buy your lunch that day, and all of the sudden you look at your budget at the end of the month and ended up somehow spending $1000 when you only budgeted $500. This is something I am very familiar with because it has and still does occasionally happen to me.
The average American spends around 6 percent of their income on grocery shopping. When I overspend on food it drives me absolutely crazy. My wife and I have a budget for food that we agree on at the beginning of every month. Depending on our plans we will budget anywhere from $100-$150 for food per week. We know that this is a good budget because during times where we are completely committed we never overspend and still get to enjoy high-quality meals.
We are always looking for ways to save more time and money on our grocery shopping, and in our two years of marriage we have discovered some strategies and tools to help us shop more efficiently. Read below to learn how we save money, plan our meals and even get time back on our grocery shopping!
Save Money With a Grocery List
It does not matter how good you think your memory is, making a grocery list that you bring shopping with you is a critical component to not overspending. One study showed that only 33 percent of people always shop with a list when they went out to buy food. Going shopping without a list can lead you to buy very inefficiently. For example, you might buy food for a meal you want that week but don’t remember all of the ingredients, so now you have to go back to the store to spend even more. This happens to Caroline and I almost every time that we forget a list when we grocery shop and it can result in us spending anywhere from 10 to 30 percent more than we meant to that week.
Another thing that happens when you shop without a list is that you may shop for less healthy foods. Like I said at the beginning of this segment: it’s hard to remember ingredients for a family sized meal. Many people will compensate for this by buying processed foods and packaged meals. These meals are worse for your body and your wallet, because the health problems that you can get from eating like that will lead to more costs for you down the line. Avoid all of these problems, stay within budget and eat healthy by never leaving home without a grocery list!
Prepare Your Meals in Advance
After our daughter was born Caroline and I found ourselves with much less time to spend on other activities, cooking being one of them. We would get back from work around 6pm and her bedtime was at 8pm. We only had those two hours on weekdays to enjoy quality family time and we didn’t want to spend them cooking meals. To address this we started preparing all of our meals for that week on Sunday.
The best type of meal to prepare in advance is a slow cooker meal. You can prepare them all on the same day and then freeze them until the day you assigned for that meal. Before we left for work we would empty one meal into our slow cooker and set the timer. When we got home we had a fully cooker dinner ready to eat. Slow cooker meals prepared in advance for the upcoming week made life much easier for it. It can be frustrating to spend several hours in one day preparing 5-7 meals, but the peace of mind that you will have for the rest of the week is worth it. The only thing we occasionally struggled with was coming up with different ideas for meals, which brings me to this next segment.
Let Somebody Else Do Your Planning
There are a lot of really cool apps and websites out there that will help you do your meal planning. This comes in handy for my wife and I because what we struggle with most is coming up with ideas of what to make. Breakfast and lunch ideas are easy for us, but we have a hard time coming up with a variety of dinners that are healthy and budget friendly. We eventually decided to seek assistance with our meal planning so that it wasn’t absorbing so much of our time. While there are many different applications you can use, I’m going to focus on the one we use for ourselves.
Last summer we discovered eMeals, a meal planning app that comes highly recommended by Dave Ramsay. eMeals allows you to pick a meal plan based on the style of food that you want. This includes options like Low Carb, Quick & Healthy, Slow Cooker, and many more! Every week the app publishes a set of recipes that you can then add to your grocery list. After you’ve selected the meals you want, all of the ingredients download onto a grocery list that you can then bring with you to the store! The meal plans primarily focus on dinners but you can also sign up for breakfast and lunch planning services for an additional cost.
One of my favorite things about this app is that it’s very affordable. You can sign up for a 14 day free trial to see how you like it, and if you do then you have the payment options of $10 a month for 3 months or $5 a month for 12 months. My wife and I only use the dinner plan (since that’s where we have a hard time) for the 12 month subscription. So far it has gone very well, and it makes building a grocery list much easier. Another cool feature of eMeals is that you can submit your completed grocery list to food services like Walmart Grocery or Instacart, which brings me to my third and final segment of this article.
Let Somebody Else Do Your Shopping
For those of us who don’t like to spend a bunch of time collecting dozens of items in the grocery store, there are many services you can take advantage of where others do your shopping for you. This can cost a little bit more money, but in my opinion it’s well worth it. With my wife and I both working full time with a young child, our weekends are incredibly important for the quality time we get together. Considering that, I don’t enjoy the 1-2 hours of daylight we lose shopping for food for the upcoming week. One week ago as of this writing we decided to try out one of these grocery shopping services: Instacart.
Instacart is a service that lets you to select and purchase your food online with participating grocery stores. After you finish selecting your items, you pay for it and somebody else collects the food and delivers it straight to your front door! There are some additional costs associated with this. First, there’s the mandatory delivery fee. You also have the option to pay a service charge (for the people who collect the food) and a delivery tip (for the driver who delivers your food). These last two charges are optional. You can’t use the in-store coupons on your groceries but Instacart does do their own sales.
We tried this out and were more than pleased. It took less than two hours for the food to be delivered straight to our house! Something I particularly liked was the text message updates. While the delivery guy was collecting my items from the store there were some items that were no longer in stock, so he replaced them with similar items. I would get real time updates via text message so that I could approve the replacement items. The ease that this process created for us was more than worth the modest fees when you consider how much time was saved on our end by doing this.
This is just one of the many service you can take advantage of. Amazon Fresh is another service that will deliver food straight to you. Another is Walmart Grocery, which will collect your food and even load your car for you (this is the best option for those seeking frugality, since pickup is free!) I haven’t used these two services myself yet but have heard nothing but praise from people who have. Once I take advantage of these services I will write up a review for you.
These are the strategies that we employ to save money and time on our grocery shopping. I hope you enjoyed the read! If you have any techniques you use to save time and money on your grocery shopping that I didn’t mention above, please tell us about them in the comments section below!