Creating a Menu Plan to Save on Groceries

A great way to reduce your grocery spend is by planning meals ahead.

Although it’s not particularly fun, creating menu plan is one of the simplest way to save money. If you can create a menu plan, you can save money. It is as simple as that. There are two main reasons that a menu plan can save money:

  1. You don’t eat dinner out as often.
  2. You know what to buy at the grocery store.

Let me explain how each of these really can affect your budget.

The Dining Out Sneak Attack

See if this relates to your life: You are heading home from a long day at work and when you finally tear through the door, the first thing you hear is “What’s for dinner?” or “I’m starving! When are we going to eat?” After the hectic day you’ve had, you realize you have no clue what you are going to feed the family. So, you end up spending a ton of money dining out — for the third time this week.

Now imagine reliving that same scenario eight or ten times per month. That means you’ll dine out for more than 200 meals in a year. Say you spend $20 per meal, in one year you’ll have spent more than $4,000 dining out.

Dining out is great, but it can quickly eat up your budget. Establish a dining out budget and stick to it. We started doing this when we were working ourselves out from more than $37,000 in debt. For us, it is normal to fix dinner at home and something to which we are accustomed.

Your menu plan helps you know what you’ll make for dinner every night. It is one less thing you have to worry about night after night and it’s a wonderful way to manage your food budget.

The Lower Grocery Budget

The other way we save money with our menu plan has to do with my weekly grocery shopping trips. Before we had a menu plan, I would walk the aisles of the store with my list while trying to figure out what I might have for dinner that week.

Of course, despite my very best efforts, I always found myself forgetting items. That lead to more return trips to the store during the week. And, when I did that, I would often toss additional items that we did not necessarily need into the cart. Plus, by making multiple trips, I was spending more money on gas.

When you create a menu plan, you know every meal and snack you will have for the week. Your menu plan then becomes your guide to creating a shopping list. The list will include all the items you need for every meal and snack for the week. You end up with a comprehensive, workable shopping list.

Creating a Menu Plan

When it comes to learning how to create a menu plan, the key factor is planning. It is simple to plan a weekly or even bi-weekly menu yourself, but you’ll need to take a few things into consideration before you do.

1. Check the Freezer, Pantry & Fridge

To start, look at items that may spoil or expire soon. Come up with a meal where you can use these items before you end up tossing it into the trash.

Next, check for items you have on hand. You may have found a great deal on noodles last week and stocked up. That may mean adding spaghetti to your meal plan this week.

You should also look for ways to make multiple meals out of one item. For example, you may make a large roast chicken for dinner one night and, later in the week, whip up a batch of chicken and noodles with the left overs. You won’t be wasting food and you’ll get your money’s worth.

2. Check the Grocery Store Ad

You might have several items on hand to make four meals, but that still leaves three more to plan. Rather than making whatever sounds good, look at the store flyer to find items on sale. You may see that ground beef is on sale, so that may lend itself to grilling burgers.

When checking the local grocery store ad, focus on the front cover and any short sales dates. These items are often best deals you will see for weeks. You should not only plan on making meals with items you can find here, but also stocking up on them so you have them on hand for future meal plans.

Bonus tip? Try using cashback credit cards while shopping for grocery stores. You can earn rewards that can go towards your monthly food bill. Before applying for any new credit, it’s best to make sure your credit score is high enough to qualify. You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.

3. Ask Your Family

Remember to ask your family for input while making a meal plan. If you find a package of chicken breasts in the freezer, ask them what chicken based meal they’d love to have that week.

This helps you come up with new ideas, but also helps you know that you are selecting meals your family will enjoy. By making things your family will enjoy, you can avoid wasting food and money.

4. Put Your Plan in Writing

When you create a menu plan, it is very important that it is in writing. You should also plan for every day of the week. Dinner is important to plan but don’t forget to include breakfasts, lunch (even if packing them for school or work) and snacks.

5. Don’t Plan Too Far in Advance

There are many who like to menu plan for a month. While that can be good for some, I don’t recommend this. When planning so far ahead it can be difficult to check the weekly ad to ensure your meals use items that are on sale. Planning meals for any period longer than two weeks can result in missing those key sales when prepping your meals.

6. Make Your Plan Visible

The final step is to make sure you plan is visible. If you and your family can’t see it, you can’t use it. Rather than tuck it into a drawer, put it on your refrigerator where you see it every morning. Then, before you leave for work, make sure that any frozen items get thawed properly so you can use them to make dinner.

I recommend that you print out the menu plan you wish to use and have it laminated. Put it on the fridge with magnets and you’ll have a reusable menu planning form.

It took my family and I a little time to get use to the menu plan, but now that we use it, we can’t imagine not having it available to help us plan our meals. I still am not a fan of sitting down to plan what to eat each week, but when I am done and realize the time and money I’m saving because of it, I always smile and then hang the plan back on the fridge.

Your menu plan is a catalyst to reducing your grocery bill and saving on dining out.

Image: RoBeDeRo

The post Creating a Menu Plan to Save on Groceries appeared first on Credit.com.

How Much Should You Budget for Groceries?

Groceries are an essential, but going way over budget isn't. Learning how to properly budget for groceries will save you a lot of time and money.

When creating your budget, it’s important to include accurate numbers. After all, an accurate budget sets you up for financial success. It’s easy to know how much you need to include for utilities, loans, and even fuel. However, it can be difficult to figure out how much to budget for groceries. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount to include on your grocery budget so you don’t overspend.

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to budget for groceries.

Average American Consumption

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, around 6% of their budget on food. However, the study also shows that they also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income.

If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out. If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, you should cut back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.

Actual Spending

A more efficient and realistic way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to find what you’re currently spending. Do this by completing a spending form.

A spending form will help you to review all of your purchases over several pay periods. The result will show you the average you are spending on groceries each week. If you feel that is too much, you can try to reduce your spending, keeping in mind that you and your family will also have to adjust the way you eat.

US Average Plan

Another way to choose a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans can be found on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the amounts listed for the people in your family.

For example, let’s say you are a family of four. Your kids are a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. You decide to try to live on a low-cost plan. According to the report, the total monthly amount for your son will be $236.30 and for your daughter $190.10. Dad’s monthly amount is $238.30 and mom’s is $206.30. That makes the grand total grocery budget $871.00 per month or $217.75 per week.

Special Dietary Needs

If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten, or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these specialty foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods.

Reduce Your Grocery Budget Further

If you’ve calculated your grocery budget but still want to lower the cost, try some of these simple ideas:

Reduce your dining out budget. Eat at home more often and avoid restaurants and takeout. This is a simple way to find money to add to your budget.

Use coupons. While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if the coupons aren’t available for the foods you need to eat, you can find them for household products you use, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.

Menu plan. Figure out your meals every single week before you shop. That way, you have a plan for the week. You’ll know what you will eat and you’ll have the ingredients on hand when it is time to cook.

Use a cash back credit card. There are a lot of great rewards cards that help you earn cash back and other perks while you shop. This can help lessen the stress of grocery costs. Remember, a lot of these cards require a decent credit score. Before applying, see where your credit stands. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Take the time to create a grocery budget that is feasible. Don’t try to make it so low that it is unrealistic, or your budget will fail month after month. Personalize it to your family’s needs and find a way to make it work.

Image: AleksandarNakic

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6 Ways to Stop Blowing Your Grocery Budget

Saving money on groceries doesn't need to be difficult and it doesn't always mean cutting back.

If you’re like many Americans, a large chunk of your budget is spent on food — maybe 10% or more. Percentagewise, we spend less on food than we did in the ‘60s, but 10% is not an insignificant portion of your income.That’s why so many money-saving articles focus on groceries as a great place to cut back on spending.

And the truth is that grocery spending is so variable. You could spend $200 per month to feed your family of four, or you could easily spend more than $1,000. With all that variability, it can be easy to blow your budget for groceries. If you find that you’re consistently spending more than you’ve budgeted for groceries, following these tips can help with saving money:

1. Figure out If Your Budget Is Even Reasonable

One issue might be that you have an unreasonably small grocery budget. Maybe your budget is inspired by a few articles from Pinterest about feeding a family of seven for a mere $250 per month. Let’s get real, though. Those families (often the moms!) spend hours meal planning, cooking from scratch, clipping coupons and driving to various grocery stores to snag the best deal.

Their results are amazing but that amount of effort isn’t feasible for everyone. As a working mom in a two-income family, there’s no way I can spend that much time saving money on food.

So if you’ve budgeted $150 per month to spend on groceries, maybe that’s not enough. Here’s how to find out:

a. Break Down Your Spending by Category

First, dig out your grocery store receipts from the past several weeks. If you don’t usually keep receipts, make a point to save them from your next few shopping trips. Shop as you normally would for those trips.

Then, break down your grocery spending by category. For instance, you might divide it into meat, dairy, breads and grains, premade items, veggies and fruits, etc. If you purchase items like cleaning products, cosmetics or toilet paper during your grocery shopping trips, divide those into a separate category as well. Remove everything that’s not actually grocery store spending from this category. Fast food and restaurant spending should be dealt with separately.

Once you’ve got your categories, add up what you spent in each category over the course of a month. This may not be a true average, but it’s a starting place.

b. Set a Reasonable Budget

Finally, you can see what you actually spend on food groceries. Now it’s time to see if that budget is reasonable. A good place to start is with the USDA Food Plans, which average the cost of cooking at home each month. In May 2017, the USDA thrifty plan for a family of four was $561 per month. The liberal plan for a family of four was $1,097 per month.

If your food spending is close to the thrifty end of things, maybe you’re actually not spending too much on food. Maybe you’re just setting your budget too low. But if you’re coming out on the high end of food spending — or if you want to outdo the USDA — use the following steps to trim your spending.

2. Look for Savings in Your Highest Spending Categories

Since you’ve got your spending categorized, you can easily find out where you spent the most money. For instance, if you’re consistently spending half your food budget on meat, it’s time to start cutting back there — perhaps by eating meatless meals a few times a week. Or maybe you’re spending a bunch of money on prepared meals that you could make much more cheaply at home.

Once you know where you spend the most, you can target that category for reducing spending. Some options include clipping coupons for items in that category, shopping manager’s specials, or simply cutting back on eating those types of foods.

3. Look Into Different Local Grocery Stores

There’s a reason Whole Foods is nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” It’s a great place to find certain specialty items. But if you’re doing all your grocery shopping at high-end stores like these, you will spend more.

Our family saves a fortune just by shopping at Aldi, a discount grocery store that’s becoming more common across the nation. We used to do most of our shopping at a local chain but realized we saved a couple hundred bucks a month just by buying what we can at Aldi.

Chances are you’ve got some cheaper grocery options local to you. For instance, ethnic stores can be a fabulous place to pick up exotic spices and basics like rice and pasta on the cheap. Or you may find that a wholesale store membership saves your family a ton on food staples. Plus, you can use reward credit cards while shopping to earn even more deals. (Before applying, remember that most reward cards require a decent credit score — you can check two of yours for free with Credit.com.)

4. Create a Bank of Easy-Fix Meals

If your family is anything like mine, quick to prepare weeknight meals are a necessity. Without them, you fall back on going out to eat. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes for quick and easy meals that rely on whole, healthy ingredients.

Start trying out these types of meals. If you find a hit, keep the recipe close by. Try to find at least a few of these recipes that use ingredients you tend to keep around.

5. Do Some Freezer Cooking

When you find a great sale on expensive ingredients, pick up extra. Then, double up on your recipe, and put half in the freezer. This is a win-win. You get to save on groceries, and you have a meal ready to go for a busy evening!

For instance, if you find a great deal on ground beef, buy enough to make two lasagnas. Make them both at the same time, and pop one in the freezer. If you get into this habit, you could suddenly find yourself spending less on expensive ingredients, and you’ll have a freezer full of delicious meals to choose from.

6. Cut Back on Waste

How much of your grocery budget goes down the drain the form of wasted food? If you’re like most Americans, it’s a lot!

Start keeping a tally of the foods you throw away after they go bad. Keeping track for a month or two could reveal some interesting information. Maybe you’re over-ambitious when you buy fruits and veggies. You think your family will eat them, but you never get through them all. Or maybe you consistently throw away leftovers. It’s time to freeze those leftovers, pack them for lunch or make smaller servings of your recipes.

Cutting back on waste is an amazing way to save on groceries. Make a point to wait to grocery shop until the fridge is nearly empty. You’ll get more specific with your grocery shopping and more creative with your meal plans.

Even if you’re already saving on groceries, there’s usually room to save more. These tips will help you do just that.

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4 Credit Cards That Reward You for Putting Dinner on the Table

Cash-back credit cards can help earn money back when you spend at the grocery store.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Whether you’re feeding a family of five or trying to craft the perfect Bolognese sauce, it can be easy to drop serious cash at the grocery store. (Although every meal doesn’t have to be pricey. Just take a look at this satisfying 16-cent breakfast.) But putting that expense on your credit card may actually help you save on this necessary expense.

Cash back credit cards can help by earning back money as you spend at the grocery store and put meals on the table. If this is something you’re interested in, you’ll want to consider your options before signing up for a new card so you can find the one that’s right for you. To help you get started, here are four options worth considering.

1. Blue Cash Preferred Card From American Express

Cash Back Rewards: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year, then it drops to 1%), 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and certain department stores, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $150 when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $95
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% intro APR for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%
Why We Picked It: The 6% cash back on groceries is the highest cash back rate we’ve seen, and 3% cash back on gas makes trips to and from the grocery store more rewarding.
Benefits: Grocery purchases earn 6% cash back, gas stations and select department stores earn 3% cash back and everything else earns 1% cash back. Considering the dent gas, groceries and clothing can put in a family’s budget, this is a fantastic way to supercharge your cash rewards. Plus, you get a $150 cash bonus for spending $1,000 in three months and a year of interest-free purchases and balance transfers.
Drawbacks: There’s an annual fee of $95, which can eat into your cash back earnings a little bit.

2. Premier Dining Rewards From Capital One

Cash Back Rewards: 3% cash back on dining, 2% cash back on groceries, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $100 when you spend $500 in the first three months
Annual Fee: None
APR: Variable 15.24%, 20.24% or 24.24%
Why We Picked It: The card earns 2% cash back on groceries and 3% cash back on dining for those nights you want to order a pizza.
Benefits: There’s 3% cash back on dining, 2% cash back on groceries and 1% cash back on all purchases, which is a healthy mix of ways to earn cash if you tend to cook and dine or order out a lot. Cardholders get a $100 bonus when they spend $500 in the first three months. Plus, you’ll get a range of other benefits, including concierge services, price protection, travel protection and travel upgrades and savings.
Drawbacks: If you don’t dine out a lot, you’ll be better off with a card that offers a better grocery rate.

3. Citi Double Cash

Cash Back Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases and 1% cash once you pay, for a total of 2% cash back on everything
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: None
APR: Variable 14.49% to 24.49% on purchases, 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: This card provides simple cash back earnings with no purchase types to track. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
Benefits: All purchases can earn 2% cash back by the time they’re paid off. You get 18 months of no interest on balance transfers. Plus, Citi has several travel and purchase protection policies that come standard with the card.
Drawbacks: If you want supercharged cash back categories, this probably isn’t the card for you. It’s a simple card that earns the same percentage of cash back on everything.

4. Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi

Cash Back Rewards: 4% cash back on up to $7,000 in eligible gas purchases (then 1%), 3% cash back on dining and travel, 2% cash on Costco purchases, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: None (Note: This card does require a paid Costco membership)
APR: 0% intro APR for purchases for seven months, then 16.24%
Why We Picked It: For people who spread their credit card purchases around, this card offers a range of ways to earn cash back, with 2% cash back on all Costco purchases.
Benefits: The card earns cash back on all purchases, with special cash back rates on gas, dining, travel and Costco purchases. Purchases are interest-free for the first seven months. Plus, travel and purchase protections come standard with Citi cards.
Drawbacks: You’ll have to be a Costco member to get this card. Cash back is awarded on an annual basis, so you must wait a year for rewards.

How to Choose a Card That Rewards Your Grocery Purchases

If you only use your credit card to buy groceries, picking a card to put dinner on your table is simple: Choose the card with the best cash back rate on groceries.

If you put other purchases on your card, such as dining, travel, gas and more, you’ll want to closely examine the other cash back rates to pick the right card. Look at your current purchasing behavior to see what you tend to spend the most on, and pick a cash back card that provides the best return.

Of course, if you crave simplicity and don’t want to track purchase types, you may want to find the card with the best flat cash back rate on all purchases.

What Is Required to Get a Card That Rewards Grocery Purchases?

More often than not, the cash back rewards cards with the highest rewards require good or excellent credit. Make sure to check your credit score before you apply for a rewards card. You can check two of your scores on Credit.com. A hard inquiry into your credit will lower your score a few points, so you’ll want to be reasonably sure you can qualify for the card before you apply.

Image: franckreporter 

At publishing time, the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express, Capital One Premier Dining Rewards, Citi Double Cash and Costco Anywhere Visa credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

The post 4 Credit Cards That Reward You for Putting Dinner on the Table appeared first on Credit.com.

Whole Foods Plans to Cut Its ‘Whole Paycheck’ Prices

The days of 16-cent breakfasts may be ending — that is, if Whole Foods makes good on its promise to lower prices.

The days of settling for 16-cent breakfasts may be ending — that is, if Whole Foods makes good on its promise to lower prices.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the Texas-based company is taking steps to put its expensive, “whole paycheck” reputation behind it due to pressure from investors who want the organic grocer to behave more like Walmart. However, experts warn shifting to a similar centralized distribution structure could tarnish the brand, which sells locally grown produce.

The company’s in deep water with stakeholder Jana Partners, which wants to see swift operational changes and a reversal of what the Journal described as Whole Foods’ “longest stretch of same-store sales declines since going public in 1992.”

For consumers, that means Whole Foods will be pressed to compete with the likes of Kroger and Albertsons, which have steadily been dipping their toes in the health-conscious market, and that prices will drop.

“Our culture is still very unique,” co-founder John Mackey assured the paper, but the company now has a tall order to mesh its style with big-box performance.

What that will look like in practice remains unclear, though Mackey said the new strategy will make it easier for national brands to pitch at Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas, headquarters, which in turn will enable the company to pass on “tremendous savings” to shoppers. For now, the future of Whole Foods — and its prices — are hazy at best.

How to Save at Whole Foods 

Most Whole Foods shoppers are used to paying a premium for their health-conscious food. But there are ways to save on your groceries when shopping at Whole Foods, as Credit.com contributor Kristy Welsh notes. Here are a few of her tips.

BYOB. Bring your own sack to shop, and Whole Foods will give you up to a 10-cent discount on your purchase. Shop weekly and use five bags each time, and you could save $26 over the course of the year, Welsh said.

Buy What You Need. Don’t hesitate to ask the butcher to take out one of those steaks in the pre-wrapped packet. Or to ask the baker for a half loaf of rye. They’ll do it for you, and the price will be cheaper as a result.

Download the App. With coupons and weekly sales in one place, the Whole Foods app is a handy resource for on-the-go savers. You can also check for upcoming sales.

If all else fails and you still find the price of your groceries too high, a rewards credit card can help you earn points for spending — and there are even some that offer higher rewards when you purchase groceries. Just don’t forget to check your credit before you apply to make sure you’re able to qualify, as these types of cards tend to require you have higher credit scores. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

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5 Ways to Drastically Save on Groceries

Food eats up a big portion of budgets. Here's how to slim that spending down.

According the USDA, the average American family of four spent an average of $250 per week on food in February 2017, if they had a moderate to liberal budget. That can mean upwards of $1,000 a month on food or $12,000 annually. That is a huge chunk of most budgets and can be scary to see in writing.

While this is the average, it does not need to be your reality.

There are simple things you can do to save money on your groceries. I’ve got my five best tips here. I’ve been following these ideas for years and they really can work.

1. Switch Stores

There are times when your larger grocery store might offer a better discount on some items — like these things grocery stores will do for you for free. However, have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you’re shopping at the store that offers you the best prices? It may not be worth driving too far, as you may lose more in gas expenses than you’d recoup in savings, but take stock of your local stores and see if there’s one that really may have better bargains.

For example, if you have an Aldi nearby and are not shopping there, you may be missing out on the simplest way to save. It is true they do not accept coupons, however, the prices there are often lower than the prices you pay at your regular store, even if you clipped a coupon. There are lots of options out there, so make sure you’re considering what others might be right for you.

2. Shop Ahead

Most people create a shopping list based on the items they need now. That is important, but you may also want to add items you will need later when you find them on sale.

To help, if you look at your store’s weekly ad, often times the items you see on the front page are loss leaders, which means the store may actually lose money on the prices they are offering. So this may be the time to get the best deal. These sale items can be discounted as much as 50%. This may mean that you purchase three, four or more of the item on sale. Doing so allows you to feed your family and get the lowest price possible.

Keep in mind, stores tend to do this with the idea that these extremely low prices will draw you in and you’ll do all your shopping there, ultimately making up their losses on their sales. If you do decide to shop there, and see other items that are “on sale,” make sure you flip up the sales tag to see if you’re really getting a discount.

3. Plan Ahead

The reason most grocery budgets fail is because people fail to plan. Each week, sit down and plan your meals including breakfasts, lunches (don’t forget meals for work and school), snacks and dinner. And make sure you do your planning the right way. (If you’re looking for frugal meal ideas, check out this 16-cent breakfast.)

The problem most people face with meal planning and budgeting is they do it backward. Most people plan their meals and then create a shopping list but you may want to consider working it from another direction.

First, check your pantry and your freezer. If you happened to get a deal on chicken breasts last week and three weeks earlier rice was on sale and you bought several bags, you can use these items to create chicken and rice. You now have a meal planned that will cost you no extra money.

Once you’ve planned your meals based on what you have on hand, look at the weekly ad. Check to see what is on sale that you might want to use for this week’s menu. Add in those extra items your family needs this week.

Finally, plan out additional meals you need and add those items to your list. Hopefully, most of what you need for your food for the week is already in your pantry or freezer or is going to be on sale.

With a bit of planning and changing your way of thinking, you can knock down that weekly grocery budget.

4. Create & Use a Price Book

As mentioned above, stores can offer amazing deals on items you need. You should stock up, but how much should you buy? That is a challenge, but if you track the sales cycles you can learn how much to buy as you follow when items go on sale.

The way a price book works is simple. You write down the product that is on sale including the size, date and what you paid (not taking coupons into account). Then, watch the weekly ads. The next time you see that same item go on sale, make a note in your book.

As you do this, you will start to understand the sale cycles and can buy just enough to get you through each period of time, so you don’t have too much on hand, but just enough to help ensure you always get the best price.

Of course, not all items follow a cycle, but you might be surprised to learn which items do. However, you have to put in a little bit of work to break the code for yourself.

5. Use Coupons the Right Way

I’m not against using coupons. In fact, I feel they are a great way to save money. However, you need to use them in the right way.

The problem many couponers face is they use coupons as soon as they get them. That is not always the best way to make them work for you. Instead, consider saving them to use when items are on sale.

When you find those items on the cover of the weekly ad (like we mentioned in point two) and you have a coupon to pair with the sale, you’ve really increased your savings and turned a hot deal into a smokin’ hot deal.

So when you get the coupons in your Sunday newspaper, file them away. Watch the weekly deals, and get out the coupons when you can pair them. In fact, if you really watch, you will learn that many items that have coupons go on sale after the coupons are released. That is not a coincidence.

Now you’ve got the tools and tips you need to really make a difference with your budget. It might take a little effort to implement some changes, but it can be worth it.

Want to save more? Here are five tricks to get discounts on everything you buy. And no matter how much you save, try to stay on budget. Going into debt to buy groceries could affect your credit. You can see where your credit stands by checking two of your scores free on Credit.com.

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10 Ways to Save on Groceries … Without Clipping Coupons

Hate clipping coupons? There are plenty of other ways to save on groceries.

One of the largest expenses for most budgets is groceries. As much as we want to save money on food, it can feel next to impossible — that is, unless you want to sit and clip coupons.

While using coupons works for many, it is just not an option for some. Of course, if you do clip, these are additional things you can do to increase your overall savings. Here are a few of them.

1. Shop Store Brands

There is a common misconception that store brand means lower quality. This is not true. In fact, many store brands are the exact same name-brand product, just with a different label on the front.

2. Look High & Low

When you shop, the most expensive products are usually placed at eye level. You will often find less expensive items on the very top or lower shelves.

3. Avoid the End Caps

People are drawn here, and when they see items, they often assume that because they are on display, it must mean they are a good deal. Check the original and competitor prices to make sure you’re really getting a bargain.

4. Don’t Fall for Gimmicks

There are some common gimmicks stores use to help trick you into spending more. Here are two you will want to watch for:

  • Buy quantities at a set price. For example, if you see something priced at 2 for $5, you do not have to purchase two items, you can buy one. Be sure to check any details.
  • Purchase limits. When you see terms like “limit three” next to a display, it makes you think that if there is a limit, it is a must-have item.

5. Redefine Dinner

There is no rule that says you have to make a huge three-course meal every night of the week. It is OK to have soup, sandwiches or even salads for dinner. By making simpler meals, you can save on the food you need to purchase, thereby dropping your grocery bill.

6. Shop the Right Day

Many grocery stores offer “short-sales” which are one-, two- or three-day sales. If you shop on one of these days, you will not only get those additional discounts, you will also get the regular weekly deals. Doing this will put you in the store just one day a week, which can absolutely help you save money.

7. Change Things Up

If you have more than one store near you, why not try a different one? If you can split your trip and shop the sales at each of them, you can save on your overall grocery bill. Of course, if they are not close, take into account the time and fuel you’ll spend on making two trips.

8. Make a Menu & Shopping List

By planning a menu and a shopping list, you not only know what you will need to purchase at the store, you’ll feel more organized when you get home from work and need to prepare dinner. You might check out my menu plan and shopping list forms.

9. Shop on a Full Stomach (& Alone if You Can)

If you have ever shopped when you are hungry, you usually find that you toss in additional items you normally would not purchase. If you shop when you are full, you will be more likely to stick to your list.

It is also easier to not purchase additional items when you shop alone. I realize this may not be an option for a lot of families, so just make sure that you shop once everyone has already eaten. You can also ask your kids to help you find certain items, which will keep their minds on what you need.

10. Shop in Season

When you shop produce, only purchase the in-season items. For example, black grapes are in season during the summer months. Sure, you might find them during the winter months, but you will pay a premium, as they are more difficult to get into your store.

Looking for more tips for lowering your food bill? Here’s 7 ways shopping like a chef can help you save. And, for more smart spending reads, visit Credit.com’s personal finance learning center.

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9 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save Money in the Kitchen

save-money-cooking-meals

If you’ve ever tracked how much money you’re spending each month, you’ll know that one of the biggest categories you can overspend on is food. In this day and age, we love our modern conveniences. But things like pre-packaged convenience foods, going out to eat and just not planning ahead when you go to the grocery store can wreak havoc on your monthly spending.

I’m the mother of 7 kids, and I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past 17 years. One of the ways that we have been able to afford to do this is by cutting corners in the kitchen. Here are some of our favorite tricks.

1. Don’t Wash Produce Until You’re Ready to Use It

Did you know that if you wash your produce it won’t last as long? There’s nothing worse than opening the produce drawer to find the strawberries you were going to use slimy and moldy. Instead of washing it when you get home, just stick it in the refrigerator in the packaging that it came in. This will prevent bacteria from growing prematurely, and will help you to not waste that food that you spent your hard-earned money on.

2. Ditch the Paper Products

Why use paper products when you can use the real deal?  Instead of using paper towels and paper napkins, we use cloth napkins, dish rags and dish towels. We just throw them in the laundry and reuse them as needed. We rarely use paper plates either, unless we have a large gathering of friends come over for a meal.

3. Shop at the Less Expensive Grocery Store

In our area, we find that Aldi has the lowest prices on most everything. But in other areas, you may find that it’s a different store. Take some time to compare prices on the products you use the most. For an easy way to do this, make a list of your most-used grocery items, and then visit each of the stores and write down the prices at those stores. You’ll find the grocery store where you should be doing most of your business quite easily.

4. Eat Leftovers

If you don’t get into the habit of eating your leftovers, you’re leaving money on the table. You could take them to work for lunch, serve them to the kids, freeze them as TV dinners or recycle them into a whole different meal (like a roast into beef stew). Whatever you do, don’t waste that food! For me, I like to make a Crockpot Freezer Meal and get my husband a portion out for tomorrow before I feed everyone else. That way, we’re guaranteed to have a little bit left over.

5. Re-use Foil, Baggies & Old Food Containers

If you regularly use these items, you may want to try this little trick to save money in the kitchen. I grew up watching my mom do this, and know that if I need to cut corners, these conveniences are one of the first to go.

6. Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent

Have you ever tried making your own dishwasher detergent? You can make it using ingredients you can find at the grocery store. Making your own is like paying pennies on the dollar for dishwasher detergent.

Try this recipe:

1/2 c citric acid OR LemiShine
1/2 c non-iodized salt
1 c borax
1 c washing soda

Mix together well, and use 3 tbsp per load. Be sure to use vinegar in the rinse compartment.

7. Buy Store Brands

Store brands are typically canned, boxed or jarred in the same factories as the more expensive name brands. They typically taste the same, too. Try switching out some of your nonessential name brands for the much cheaper store brands and see if you notice a difference.

8. Meal Plan

If you go into a store without a plan, you’ll come out spending a whole lot more money than you were planning. Be sure to make your meal plan at least a week at a time so you’re not making several trips to the grocery store throughout the week. If you think you don’t have time, I already have a One Week Freezer to Slow Cooker Menu that you can try out for free, so no excuses allowed! When you plan your meals regularly, you save yourself a lot of money. It means you eat out less and eat less boxed and convenience foods, which in turn saves you money.

9. Buy Food in Bulk

There’s certain foods that it pays to buy in bulk. You can find food at drastically reduced prices by watching the sales circulars, shopping the big box stores (like Sam’s Club and Costco) and by using coupons strategically. For our family, we buy our ground beef from a local farmer, our produce and canned goods from Aldi, and our cheese, peanut butter and other dairy products at Sam’s Club. We save $1.50 to $2 a pound by buying our cheese in this way. It really does pay to watch the prices at more than one store and to continually check back for sales.

I hope my tips on saving money in the kitchen pay off for you as much they have for me.

[Editor’s Note: You can use this free tool to track your financial goals, like building good credit scores, each month on Credit.com.]

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5 Pricey Groceries You Can Grow In Your Own Garden

grow-in-your-own-garden

If you’re lucky enough to have space for a vegetable garden, not to mention the time and inclination to do the gardening, you’ll want to be sure to get the most out of your efforts. That’s because gardening isn’t necessarily the most cost effective way to get your veggies.

It turns out some vegetables are actually cheaper to buy at the grocery store, particularly when bought in season. So, if you want to grow your own vegetables to save money, you’ll need to be selective in what you grow. Here are five vegetables that are cost effective for growing in your own garden.

1. Bell Peppers

Green bell peppers can cost $1.50 or more each at the grocery store, and yellow, red or orange peppers can be even more expensive. Pepper starter plants at your local gardening center, however, typically average about $1 each. Given that bell peppers also are reasonably hardy and easy to grow, they can end up saving you plenty of money, even when you consider costs for water, fertilizer and any necessary pesticides.

2. Lettuce

Lettuce can be really expensive at the grocery store, particularly if you’re buying it pre-washed in a bag or plastic container. But if you grow your own lettuce from a package of seed, typically costing $2 or less, you’ll easily recoup the expense within just a few weeks of your plants maturing. Leaf lettuces are particularly good because you can harvest the amount you need while still allowing the plant to grow, meaning you can have lettuce from just a handful of plants throughout the growing season.

3. Squash

Summer squash, zucchini and winter squash are all hardy and easy to grow, and the plants tend to be very productive, meaning you’ll have an abundance of them in no time. The initial cost for starter plants is more than for peppers or lettuce — typically about $2 each — but well worth the investment.

4. Garlic

If you love garlic, this is a no-brainer. Depending on whether you’re buying conventional or organic garlic, prices range from $2 to $4 a pound. You can easily grow your own for a fraction of the cost. It’s also very easy to grow, but you’ll need to properly cure the bulbs so they will keep for a longer period of time.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes come in so many varieties that it can be hard to decide which kind to plant. And because of that variety, it’s also hard to accurately estimate just how much you may save by growing your own. But because tomato plants typically yield a large number of fruit, you’ll likely have plenty for eating now plus enough left over for canning or freezing.

As you plan your garden for next year (or perhaps even this fall) keep in mind that you’ll not only be saving money, you’ll be providing your family with some of the absolute freshest produce available. If saving money is a big consideration for you, also keep in mind that you can save money on interest rates on loans and credit cards by improving your credit score. If you don’t know what your credit score is, you can check your two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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