How a Large Family Can Reduce the Grocery Bill in 2023
by Andrea Norris-McKnight
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 given the sky-high food prices! I am desperate to cut it in half to $1,200 a month or even less. We have a family of 6 (children – ages 7, 10, 12, 15). 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. If you’re spending $2,400 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 January 2023, the average monthly food costs for home-prepared meals for a family of six (with the same ages of Debbie’s family members) ranged from $1,514.80 (Thrifty Food Plan) to $2443.80 (Liberal Food Plan).
To give smaller families a basis of comparison, families of four spent about $1,675 on a Liberal Food Plan and around $1,025 on a Thrifty Food Plan in January. Use these links to find the numbers for your individual family members: Thrifty Food Plan and Other Food Plans.
Right now, Debbie’s 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 can a family of six, or any size family, cut the food bill in half? Perhaps not in half with the current food prices we’re seeing, but she should be able to cut it down by 30% to 40%. For Debbie, she should be able to save $700 to $800 using the right tools.
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.
If meal planning is overwhelming, try reducing costs by focusing on meal time. For instance, how much can you save on breakfasts? Maybe you can start making your own frozen waffles, instant oatmeal packets or breakfast sandwiches rather than buying premade options. These are still items that can be prepared ahead of time to be eaten later, but making them can be much cheaper than buying them.
Remember what foods are in season. They’ll be cheaper. And always be on the lookout for recipes that ‘dress-up’ inexpensive cuts of chicken and meats (or don’t even require meat). Think potatoes, rice, pasta and beans.
Check the sales ads before you go to the store. Modify your meal plan as necessary and list to take advantage of sale items.
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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. However, making your meal plan and grocery list based on the weekly sales ad can help you avoid buying items not on your list.
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. A warehouse club may be even cheaper. 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.
Take these tools to the store with you
Whichever stores you visit, don’t forget to have a calculator handy. You probably have one on your phone. 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, especially if you’re tracking prices from more than one store.
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.
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 often 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 $1.09, don’t buy the nationally advertised brand for $1.59 because you have a 25 cent off coupon.
Coupons can be a big help. But think through the math before you ‘save’ all that money. This holds true for those cash back grocery apps, too.
Avoid non-food items
Don’t buy non-food items at the grocery store. Housewares, health & beauty items, greeting cards and holiday items can often 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.
Also watch your use of disposable items, such as napkins, paper towels and sandwich bags. Many of us include these items in the grocery budget. Replacing these items with reusable alternatives can help you save quite a bit month after month.
Reviewed March 2023
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