Recently I sent my teen sons to a four-day leadership conference where the dress code ranged from business casual to business professional. Brilliant mother that I am, I left the clothes check for the final 36 hours before they were to depart.
For a blue-collar mom living in southern California where jeans and T-shirts are de rigeur, this was an epic gamble. While I survived, the feat cost me five trips to Target, two to Ross, and one to the mall — as well as several hundred dollars I hadn’t planned on spending because I thought the boys had clothes that would work.
While we’ve got savings in reserve to cushion the blow, I prefer not to go there if I don’t have to. Instead, I’m turning to my geeky grocery ways to help stem the tide.
In fact, I’ve learned over time that my grocery budget can be pretty flexible and that there are lots of ways that I can eke out some extra funds to reallocate to other budget line items or to allow for some splurges on fun food.
If you find yourself in need of some dress pants for your 15-year-old, or just want to trim down your grocery spending, consider these tips for saving $100 a month — or more — on groceries.
1. Shop your pantry.
You’ll be able to keep your grocery spending low on the regular if you shop the pantry before buying more food. Inevitably, we all buy more than we actually need for a given week or month. That excess accumulates over time. A pantry challenge can help you use it up so that you don’t lose that investment. This also keeps you from wasting money on stuff you already have.
2. Plan your meals.
Plan meals based on what you have so that you can prioritize your pantry. Choose recipes that are generally budget-friendly so you can maximize your time spent planning. If you have a plan for the week, you can do all your shopping at once (saving you time and money) and you won’t have to fall back on takeout. We have plenty of meal planning ideas to get you started.
3. Shop the sales.
Once you know what you have on hand, be sure to check what’s on sale at your local grocery store. The “loss leaders,” those sale items on the front page of the sales flyer, are typically killer deals that will help you make the most of your grocery dollar.
4. Check the clearance rack.
Just today, I found some fabulous markdowns at my local Ralph’s, including lunch meat for 99 cents (normally $3.99) and salad kits for $1.99 (normally $3.98). I can buy more when I keep an eye on the best section of the grocery store.
5. Omit expensive ingredients from recipes.
You don’t always have to follow a recipe exactly. Take your favorites and tone them down with lower-priced substitutes, such as frozen produce instead of out-of-season fresh stuff or chicken instead of shrimp. Or, if something won’t be missed too terribly (looking at you, teaspoon of pomegranate molasses) leave it out entirely so you don’t have to buy a bottle of something that you won’t use up later.
Related: The Little Rule That Keeps My Budget in Check and My Pantry in Order
6. Swap meat for beans or mushrooms.
Many of your favorite recipes will taste just as great with beans or mushrooms pinch-hitting for the meat. If you don’t want to omit the meat altogether, use less and stretch it with some plant-based protein.
7. Watch where you shop.
Not all stores are created equal. Choose the store that offers the lowest prices for the things you normally buy. For what it’s worth, Kitchn editors love them some Aldi.
Related: Is It Cheaper to Shop at Amazon, Walmart, or Target? The Answer Might Surprise You.
8. Choose generic.
The name brands are not necessarily better than the store brand, and they’re almost always more expensive. Lose the brand loyalty and save some money.
9. Use your leftovers.
Americans waste up to 40 percent of the food they buy. If this is you, you could save 40 percent of your food budget just by avoiding waste! Use leftovers in creative ways in future meals or pack them for lunch.
10. Be sure to read your receipt.
I know from experience that cashiers and cash registers make mistakes. To err is human, to save divine. Be sure to read your receipt before you leave the store to make sure you were charged appropriately.
11. Clip coupons for things you normally buy.
If your local store offers digital or paper coupons, pay attention. While it doesn’t always serve you to clip coupons — sometimes they prompt us to buy things we don’t need — it’s definitely worth using coupons for regular purchases. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
12. Use a grocery rebate app.
Likewise, take advantage of rebates and offers that apps like Ibotta are dishing up. If you’ve already got an item in your cart, why not get 50 cents back for it?
Read more: I’ve Been Using This Cult-Favorite Money-Saving App for Four Weeks — Here’s What I Think
13. Take advantage of those gas points.
If your store offers a shopper loyalty program and one that includes gas rebates, be sure to use it! What you save in gas can be reallocated back to groceries or wherever you most need it.
And don’t forget the option of sending your teen boys away for four days where someone else feeds them. Those kids can eat a lot!
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