For the past couple of weeks I have been on a journey to cut our grocery bill down. There are a few glaringly obvious things that will help – not eating out as much, meal planning, and actually eating left overs. What I didn’t realize until recently, though, is that some of our make at home meals are expensive. After realizing how expensive some of our meals were, I made a goal for each dinner to cost us less than $6, total.
I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to put together healthy meals for two for under $6, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, it has been fairly easy. The hardest part has been my imagination.
How to Make Dinners for Under $6
Now, I know many of you super budgeters and couponers are going to scoff at this entire post. I am totally aware that it can be done for less, but I also know what works for me and my tiny family. Coupons are not my thing. I just won’t do it. It’s not right for us right now, but it might be for you. However, I’ve found several coupon-free ways of achieving this low-cost dinner goal!
Join the Rewards Program
If your grocer has a rewards program, sign up – yesterday. When we moved to New Mexico, we started shopping at Smith’s – a Kroger banner store – and we didn’t have a membership. One day, I was shopping in the meat department and I saw a roast for $14… or $9 with a rewards card.
That was my a-ha moment. a $5 difference for just having a rewards card? I signed up that day, and I save about $10 each visit with rewards specials. Sure $10 isn’t a ton, but it adds up quickly. Even if you only shop once a month, that’s $120 over the course of a year… and I know personally, I shop about once every 10 days.
Know What Ingredients Cost
One reason I didn’t realize how expensive our dinners were was that I had no idea how much our frequent ingredients cost. I didn’t really know how much a sweet potato was and I didn’t think about how much money was going into that guacamole we had as a garnish for our tacos.
I sat down, and I made a list of pretty much everything I buy at the grocery store: from milk and veggies, to snacks. Once everything was written down, I went to the grocery store and looked at the price for everything on my list. I weighed vegetables so I knew how much they weighed on average; that way price per pound made a lot more sense.
Don’t Forget About the Freezer
I am not the biggest fan of canned veggies in general, so I’ve always bought fresh. Unfortunately, I am not the world’s greatest meal planner. A lot of veggies go bad before I get around to using them. That could totally be avoided if I just planned, but once again – I know what works for me and my family. So far, planning far in advance does not work for us.
After looking at what fresh vegetables cost, I was almost positive we wouldn’t be able to make dinners for $6 or less. I like to include no less than 2 veggies for a meal – and many times I include others to flavor the main dish (like onion, celery, tomatoes). Then, I remembered the freezer aisle! I was astonished to see how affordable frozen veggies were and that’s where I made my mind up. I’d buy frozen vegetables.
At my grocery store, each package of vegetables is just about $1 and they are already chopped. Convenient, and affordable. I stock up on frozen vegetables now. I always have several broccolis, green beans, brussels sprouts, and bell peppers in my freezer. Sometimes, I’m able to split the package across a couple of meals, too.
Of course, I still love fresh veggies and we do purchase them. However, I’m much more selective and I compare prices of frozen vs fresh when available.
Buy in Bulk… Sometimes
Even though there’s only two of us, when we can, we buy things in bulk. Not everything, of course, but some things. For instance, we buy our Chicken from Costco. The price per pound is generally better than what we can get at the regular grocery store.
If you’re a member of any stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, look into items like this. Not all items are cheaper in bulk, but some are. Check out the price per weight/item depending on what it is.
Write it Down
Write down every ingredient in a recipe and price it out. You might be astonished to see that the “super easy, cheap” dinner is not so cheap after all. I always thought our tacos were a cheap, easy meal and I was so wrong. Ground beef + tortillas + several tomatoes + 1 onion + 1 jalapeño + 2 avocados = a fairly expensive meal… and one that doesn’t keep well. We don’t like to keep guacamolé because it gets soupy and brown, but we always have some left over. It’s such a waste to throw it away.
Of course, I will still make guacamolé for tacos, but this isn’t a once a week meal anymore.
Knowing approximately how much a meal costs will help keep your budget on track. You can see where the bulk of your grocery bill is going, and then you can redirect it. I’ve found that we’re still able to have our favorite meals, but maybe not quite as often.
To see how we saved almost $3k cash in a year, check out this post: Save Money by Skipping Your Morning Latte.
Meals Under $6
All of these things helped me cut our grocery bill down. We still have a lot of work to do. I haven’t even tackled our breakfasts, lunches, or snacks yet. BUT, we’ve already seen a dent in our grocery bill. The most painful part of this entire process is actually seeing how much you are spending what you could be saving. To me, though, that’s just added motivation!
As I mentioned before, I know there are a lot of other ways to save on groceries, but right now these are the ways that best fit our lifestyle. I’m so happy to see what’s working for us and maybe some of these tips will help you on your quest for a lower grocery bill, too.