5 Ways to Cut Your Food Budget


It goes without saying that we get our food relatively cheap in the United States. Americans spend an average of about 10 percent of their income on food, as compared to 13 percent for Japanese and South Koreans, 22 percent for Mexicans and 37 percent for Russians. Nevertheless, it still seems like a shock when you are feeding a family of four or five, and your supermarket trip averages anywhere from $150 to $200 a week. The amount of money we spend feeding our families definitely makes a dent in our family budgets. So what can we do to curb the spending? Here are five easy ways to shave some dollars off your grocery bill.

1. Buy in season. I love fresh fruit, from blueberries to strawberries and even pineapple once in a while, and my kids will gladly eat fruit for snacks and even fresh vegetables for supper. But loading up in the produce can be costly. The important thing is to watch what you’re buy. Get produce only when it’s in season. Not sure when pineapple season is? The best way to tell is store’s generally have it on special. And you don’t have to wait for fruits and vegetables to be in season here. You can get great deals on strawberries when they’re being picked fresh from Florida in February, and Chilean grapes are at bargain-basement prices during the winter months.

2. Buy frozen. There’s a misconception that fresh is better than frozen. That’s not necessarily true. Fruits and vegetables are flash frozen right after they’re picked, so when you steam those frozen mixed vegetables, you’re basically eating something fresh from the garden, not a carrot that’s been trucked from a few states away and then sat on the produce shelf a couple of weeks.

3. But family packs of meat. Most stores do this, where they’ll pack up three sirloin steaks or a pound and a half of stew beef and sell it for less per pound than the smaller packs. Sure, it might look counter-intuitive to spend $8 buying a big pack of sirloin. But it makes sense if you are going to go home and freeze half for next week. If you can get on a good schedule of buying in bulk, so that you don’t buy everything all at once, you’ll see a noticeable difference in your supermarket savings.

4. Stretch your meat. Rather than having grilled chicken, where each person in the family gets their own chicken breast (or two if you have a teenage boy), find some recipes your family likes that use cubed meat with rice and lots of vegetables. Things like stir-fries, casseroles, tacos and pasta dishes can fill up your family with less meat per meal.

5. Make a list, but be flexible. It’s no secret that making a shopping list it one of the best ways to cut unnecessary spending. Plan out your meals for the week and put those ingredients on your list, then check your pantry for any staples that need to be re-stocked. The important thing is to be flexible once you hit the store. Say you’ve planned on having roast beef and mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner, but you get to the meat department and whole chickens are on sale (usually under $5) and roasts are not (making them at least $8 and up). Just switch out your main dish, you can roast a chicken in even less time than a roast beef.

The same holds true for the produce department. If you don’t have time to check out the sale papers before making your list, realize that when you get to the store you might decide to skip the pears that aren’t in season anyway and buy a pineapple that’s on sale.

Karen Alley is web editor at PiedmontParent.com.