Stretching your grocery budget pays off

At the beginning of this year, MaryAlice started the 52 week challenged for her followers.  One of the very first challenges was not to buy groceries for a whole week. To live on only what they had in their pantry, fridge, and freezer. As an employee of Coaching with Grace, I was also challenged to follow along with each challenge. This was a little challenging to say the least as I’m a weekly meal prepper, but I decided to accept her challenge, just like everyone else out there I want to save money. While I did buy one thing, I think I did pretty good. She invited me to share my results with you and to share some of my tips for keeping your grocery budget down!

Let’s start with what meal prepping is. There’s a number of ways to meal prep and I choose to do fully-cooked individual and family style meals depending on what I’m prepping. The week that I completed the challenge, I did individual, but the noodles could also have been prepped family style. Each week I decide what I want to eat and spend a day preparing and cooking everything. Then throughout the week, all I have to do is take one of my meals and pop it in the microwave and I have a fresh meal in no time. I know some people can’t eat leftovers, if that’s the case, fully-cooked meal prepping isn’t for you, but you can look into other styles of meal prep, if it’s something you’re interested in. Either way, keep reading as I share some good tips for saving on groceries that can be applied to any style of cooking!

The first step is to begin all my meal preps by looking at what I have that needs used up. Zucchini about to go bad? Had that bag of frozen peas in your freezer forever? Look at what you can make with what you already have. For MaryAlice’s challenge, that was the bulk of this meal prep. I had a pad thai kit that I didn’t even remember buying, two just past fresh zucchini, and this bag of veggies I found in the freezer. For my second meal, I utilized a pack of turkey bacon that I quite literally lugged from Nevada to New York when I moved because I had just bought it. It was still sitting in my freezer a year later. I realized, with a loaf of bread, I had everything I needed to make a delicious French toast meal.

My 2nd but equally important step is to make a grocery list. If I can only teach you ONE way to save on your groceries, it’s to NEVER go to the store without a plan. Not everyone likes to use list but this is the exception that I think everybody should make when buying groceries, that and making sure you do not shop hungry.  Make it fun and enjoyable, I use this pad and love it! (see photos in blog) I love that I can check things off as I need them. Ran out of ketchup? Check the box. They even make a keto, vegan, and vegetarian version! Now full disclosure: I live in an RV which means my fridge is the size of a shoebox so I did purchase additional items like fresh fruits and veg for snacks and yogurt that I eat for breakfast and dessert. I only applied MaryAlice’s challenge to my meal prep. If I wasn’t so heavily dependent on my pantry this week, I also would have checked out the sale ads for the week. Eating and shopping what’s in season can greatly help reduce your budget. If pork loins are on sale, maybe I’ll do pulled pork that week, this also helps you explore items that are in season but you have never used before. Check these out while you’re planning your meals and lean into any good sales, who knows you may find a new fruit or vegetable that you love.

My next tip would be to utilize what I call the “scratch and dent” sections. Most grocery stores have a section(s) where they put merchandise that isn’t aesthetically pleasing but doesn’t impact the taste. These can be dented cans, crushed boxes, items about to expire, or items being discontinued. If you’ve never seen these, good places to look can be around the bathrooms or around employee doors to the back. Usually, they’re just a wire rack with random stuff shoved on it. Don’t fall into the couponing trap of buying what you won’t use though off these shelves either. A box of Cheerios for 70 cents sounds great, but if you won’t eat Cheerios, don’t buy them! You can sometimes find a section like this in produce where fruit and vegetables slightly past their prime are sold at a discount. The key to these is they need to be utilized quickly. I love finding apples in this section and making up a big batch of apple bread. And if there’s a ton of bell peppers one day, slice them up and throw them in the freezer and you have the beginnings of fajitas or cheesesteaks! I like to add onions to mine and mix in all the seasonings so it’s ready to be dumped in an Instant/crock pot. All I must do is add some meat and let it cook! You can usually find discounted meat and seafood if your grocery store has a fresh meat/seafood counter, just make sure you’re careful with this. Some of this can be marked for non-human consumption if it’s too far past its prime. If your store has a fresh bakery, you can usually find day old baked goods too. Last time I went grocery shopping, I had all the stuff for bruschetta on my list but forgot to pick up a baguette. I planned to go back, but when I got to the day old bakery items by the milk I scored a garlic loaf for $2!

The last tip that I am leaving you with begins when you get home and is sometimes the hardest one. If you don’t eat the food, it negates all your savings. If you buy a bunch of fresh veggies but just let them rot in your fridge, it would have been faster to just throw your $20 into the trash. That’s part of why I like to meal prep. I can take my time cooking and it helps ensure food doesn’t go to waste. Most people don’t like to work all day and then come home and cook a grand meal, but the follow thru is what’s important. Saving $30 on your groceries isn’t going to count for much if you spend twice that on takeout while your fresh food rots in the fridge.

With the current rise in grocery prices, I hope that these small tips help you safe big on your next trip to the grocery store.  Remember, we are always here to help you “live your financial dream your way.”

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