Tips and Ideas for Making Food Last on a Budget

June 21, 2020

Annette Breedlove

Annette Breedlove

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My husband and I have pretty much lived on a budget our entire marriage. Even before kids, we were in our last years of college, so we didn’t exactly make much money. But I have to be honest, we were terrible budgeters. If we had any extra money, we went out to eat. We lived a ways from the school, so it wasn’t convenient to go home and eat, so we rarely cooked our own meals.

It wasn’t until after we had our first child and moved into our own home that I started to actually cook meals on a regular basis. And by that point, I was a terrible manager of our grocery budget, so let’s just say we struggled for years.

However, those bleak times taught me so much about budgeting and meal planning. Over the years we have saved hundreds of dollars a month on groceries simply because we learned how to make our food and budget last.

dumped grocery bag with overlay - Tips & Ideas for Making Food Last on a Budget

Now that we have six children, our budget is even tighter some months. But we have completely changed the way we shop, which in turn has changed our budget. Although we haven’t seen a drop in our spending (hello teenagers!), we have seen our food budget lasting longer, so I call that a win!

If you’re ready to transform your grocery budget and make it last longer, check out these tips and ideas.

Meal Planning

Meal planning is probably my biggest tip for saving on your groceries. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll just go in shopping blind or hungry – and both will cost you more in the long run. So whether you choose your own meals and make a plan or you get plans from online, it’s important to have one before you shop.

Don’t miss over four years of Monthly Meal Plans!

Free Monthly Meal Plans

Shop From Your Pantry & Freezer First

Once you have your meal plan in place, then you can start organizing your shopping – at home. Yep! That’s right. Shop from your pantry and freezer first, before you ever step foot in the store. The last time we moved houses, I was amazed at much food had been “hidden” in our pantry.

And then I was appalled at all the money I threw away buying ingredients I already in the pantry or freezer! That’s when we started shopping from our pantry first. Using Pantry and Freezer Inventory Lists all the time is a big help.

Check out these Pantry & Freezer Inventory Checklists.

woman organizing her pantry shelves with overlay "Inventory & Organization Printables for Your Freezer & Pantry"

Pay with Cash

Years ago my husband and I went through a financial class in hopes of regaining a budget in our lives. And while we don’t believe in most of what was taught in those classes (we have our reasons), the one thing we did take away was, always pay in cash.

If you’re paying with a credit card, it’s easy to go over budget. If you’re paying with a debit card and have enough money in the account, you can go over your budget. But if you only take in cash, you can’t go over budget. You can only pay with what you have, which is a great way to stick to just what you need and no extras.

Shop the Sales

If you’re like me, cutting coupons isn’t on the list of daily tasks. There just isn’t usually time with all my other obligations during the day. And yes, in the past I have had my kids cut coupons as part of their fine motor skills work but I’ll be honest, we actually save more shopping the sales.

With our allergies and food restrictions, coupons didn’t do much good for us anyway. So we learned the cycle of product and meat sales and the best time to buy them at a good price. It definitely takes some planning and careful watching, but it is easier to us than clipping coupons and hoping you get the right thing from the right store.

The other important thing to know about sales is…STOCK UP! If you have room in your fridge, freezer, or pantry for extra items – buy them on sale! My husband’s grandfather knew the day of the week they marked down meat at their local store. So he made sure to go that morning, as early as possible, and stock up on the meat when it was marked down to sell. Let me tell you…he made the best ribeye’s because of it too!

Shop Different Stores

You don’t have to wait for sales to save money. This is something my husband is very good at doing. He pays close attention to the prices of our commonly bought items at the stores we shop. He knows exactly what everything costs and where it’s cheapest, which saves us even more money.

Don’t be afraid to shop around to find the best prices. As long as you’re not spending more in gas to get the good prices, you should still come in under budget.

Shop Less Often…and not when you’re hungry!

This may be hard for some people, like us who travel fulltime and have little storage space, especially for cold items, but it really will cut down on your grocery bill. If you can get in the habit of making your meal plan and grocery list and then only shopping once a week, you’ll be surprised at how much money you save.

It is true what they say, “Don’t shop hungry!” Not only will shopping once a week keep you on budget, but it will keep you from impulse buying on a hungry stomach. Everything looks and sounds good when you’re hungry and people tend to buy things that a) aren’t good for them and b) are over their budget. So plan your shopping trip early in the morning after breakfast or right after a meal.

Eat in Season

Several of my kids love fruits and vegetables. But they would literally eat apples and oranges all year if I let them. However, they aren’t always a good price. Same for grapes. So there are certain times of the year we either don’t buy them at all, or we buy them sparingly and give them a stricter limit on how much they can eat.

If you’re not growing your own produce, you’ll want to shop and eat in season to save the most on your produce. That takes planning and knowing when things are harvested. And don’t forget that many fruits and vegetables can be frozen for a period of time if you want to stock up at the end of their ‘season’. 

Leave the processed food behind

I used to think it was so much more expensive to eat whole, unprocessed foods. And while they are pricier than the pre-packaged processed foods, you don’t eat near as much so it evens out – or at least close. Due to my allergies and food sensitivities, I can’t eat most processed food so I stick to whole foods. And truth be told, I fill up on less food than those who don’t eat whole foods. 

So while it might seem like you’re spending a ton more on groceries, you’re really not in the long run. You’ll eat less, feel full for longer and you’ll be fueling your body with healthier foods rather than processed junk. If you really plan out your meals ahead of time, you’ll find that buying healthier doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

Don’t miss these Whole30 Recipes you can make this month!

collage of whole30 recipe roundups with title - Over 285 Whole30 Recipes

Find a good loyalty program

When we lived up north, we loved shopping at Kroger. They had great reward points that went towards our gas. Yes on some things they were pricier, but they often had great sales on pop (my husband loves Diet Dr. Pepper) and their brand of cheese. We would stock up and literally save not only on groceries, but also our gas bill for the week. It was a win-win!

Buy store brands

I know many people shy away from store brands, but there are many store brands our family likes better than the name brands. And some you can’t even tell the difference, except in price. So don’t be afraid to try out the store brands on certain items you buy most often.

Here are some great articles with even more tips and ideas to help you stretch your food budget even more!

Depression Era Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget | Premeditated Leftovers

Keep a Price Notebook | Fun Cheap or Free

3 Simple Steps to get your Food Costs Under Control | Happy Humble Home

How to Grocery Shop on a Budget | My Frugal Way

How To Stockpile Food On A Budget – 10 Easy Tips | Tuppeny’s FIREplace

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget | Walkerland

24 Minimalist Ways to Zero Food Waste | More Money Tip$

35 EASY Ways To Save Money On Groceries (Without Skimping On Nutrition!) | Orison Orchards

The Quickest and Easiest Way to Create a Grocery Budget (and stick to it!) | Unexpectedly Domestic


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