How a Large Family Can Reduce the Grocery Bill
by Gary Foreman
A family of six wants to cut the grocery bills in half. Sound impossible? Read on for tips that can help any size family eat well on a tight budget.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am just learning how to be frugal. Our grocery bill is outrageous! I am desperate to cut it in half to $700 to $800 a month or even less. We have a family of 6 (children – all boys – ages 8 mo., 2, 6, 8). I would like to know how much everyone else spends for their size family and what they do to keep their grocery bills down.
Good question, Debbie! If you’re spending $1,400 to $1,600 each month in groceries, even for a family of 6, you have definitely found an area where you can save some money. Let’s look at this as two separate questions. First, what do other families spend on groceries? And then, what can you do to reduce that bill?
What’s the average family’s grocery bill?
To get a handle on what families spend for food, we went to the USDA website. In March 2020, the average monthly food costs for home-prepared meals for a family of 4 ranged from $569 (Thrifty Food Plan) to $1297 (Liberal Food Plan). The information is for a family of 4 and Debbie has a family of 6, but it gives us a good idea of how Debbie’s family compares to others.
Right now, her family food budget would be categorized as a Liberal Food Plan. She needs to take steps to reduce her food bill down to the Thrifty Food Plan amount.
So how can a family of 6 cut the food bill in half? Let’s see what solutions are available to help achieve that goal.
Master meal planning
The first step in reducing your grocery bill is in sound meal planning. Make your menu with grocery shopping in mind. Try to select recipes that use items that are already in your pantry or fridge. Remember what foods are in season. They’ll be cheaper. Always be on the lookout for recipes that ‘dress-up’ inexpensive cuts of chicken and meats (or don’t even require meat).
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Resist impulse purchases
Have a definite list when you go shopping. Don’t impulse buy. If you find an item on sale that you know you’ll use later, feel free to add it to your cart. But beware of pretty displays that can cause you to overspend your plan. Check the ads before you go to the store. Modify your meal plan and list to take advantage of sale items.
Shop without your kids if you can
Leave the kids at home with your spouse or a neighbor. Most of us don’t have the heart to tell our little angel that she can’t have those special frosted cookies in the bakery section. Stores have been known to put tempting treats within a child’s reach. If the little hand is not there, it can’t reach!
Consider where and how you shop
Generally speaking a larger supermarket will be cheaper than a smaller one. That’s due to volume discounts. But check the ads. You might find that it’s worthwhile doing part of your shopping at one store and finishing up at another. Nothing says that you have to use the same store week after week. It’s a good idea to scout out other stores periodically.
While you’re shopping don’t forget to look up and down. No, I’m not suggesting neck exercises. But stores will often put the most popular and expensive items from waist to shoulder level. The less expensive brands will often be on the lower or upper shelves. It’s worth the stretch.
Take these tools to the store with you
Don’t forget to take along a calculator. You’ll want to be able to compare unit prices. A less expensive price on a larger size is only a savings if you’re going to use those extra ounces. If you’ll end up throwing them away, it’s not a bargain.
You also may want to start a price book in which you track frequently bought items. A price book is a great tool for helping you know when a sale really is a good deal.
Avoid prepackaged and convenience foods
It’s handy to slip a small bag of chips into Junior’s lunch box. But it’s much less expensive to put a handful into a sandwich bag and have Junior bring it home so you can refill it again tomorrow. There are exceptions, but convenience foods are also often less nutritious, too.
A healthy diet is less expensive than an unhealthy one. Rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables are all less expensive than meat. Nothing says that you have to be a vegetarian. But it’s not healthy or frugal to fill up on meat. You might also save a bit on doctor bills later.
Comparison shop at the meat counter
Look for the less expensive cuts. Oftentimes your cooking skills can make a cheaper cut seem better than it is. Use chicken, turkey and fish. They’re less expensive and a great change from beef.
Limit the use of coupons
Use coupons only for items that you would buy anyway. If you’re used to buying the store brand for 79 cents, don’t buy the nationally advertised brand for $1.19 because you have a 20 cent off coupon. Coupons can be a big help. But think through the math before you ‘save’ all that money.
Avoid non-food items
Don’t buy non-food items at the grocery store. Housewares, pharmacy items, greeting cards and holiday items can all be purchased for less elsewhere. Cleaning supplies can be a big part of the total at the checkout line. Wherever possible buy generic cleaners. Better still, learn how to make your own cleaners. You’ll be surprised at the savings.
Bring your lunch to work or school
You can make a great sandwich for the cost of a ‘Big Burger’ and fries. If you have a microwave available consider bringing some leftovers. You’ll find your lunchmates glancing longingly at last night’s meatloaf when they get a whiff of your lunch.
Be smart when eating out
Most families enjoy an occasional meal out. Certainly the cook does! But restaurants can be a real budget buster. Dinner is the most expensive meal to eat out. Why not go for breakfast or lunch? If you must go for dinner, be careful about appetizers, alcoholic beverages and desserts. They can bloat a bill in a heartbeat.
Reviewed April 2020
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. You can read Gary's full bio here. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews.
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