Essential Tips For Lowering Your Grocery Bill

One of the big reasons the Honeybee has tolerated me for so long is because I love to cook. Some of you fellas out there would be wise to keep that in mind.

Why is that, you ask? Well, it’s somewhat ironic, but the fact remains, the more time men spend working in the kitchen, the less time they spend in hot water with their wife or girlfriend.

Trust me.

Anyway, as the Penzo family chef, I’m always trying to make sure that our grocery bills remain under control. I have to; especially with two teenagers in the house. Last year, I spent $11,722 on groceries, so I have lots of incentive to save.

Now, there are many methods for cutting the grocery bill that go way beyond shopping at discount grocery stores, taking advantage of in-store specials, and using coupons — but I always focus on three key areas to keep my food costs as low as possible. They include:

1. Dinner Menu Planning
2. Grocery Shopping Strategies
3. Pantry Management

In this post, I’m focusing on four key tips that I use to keep the family grocery bill under control with respect to planning and development of the family dinner menu:

  1. Create 14-day dinner plans. I’ve talked about this tip before, but it is worth repeating. Menu planning is one of the very best ways I know to control the grocery bill. It requires about 90 minutes of my time twice per month. I create a menu and then build the grocery list based upon the dinners that were selected for the next 14 days. This process has kept us disciplined in eating the great majority of our meals at home and minimizing the temptation to simply go out for pizza or run down to the local fast food joint to avoid cooking. It also virtually eliminated those annoying quick runs to the store to get ingredients for one measly meal. For more details on my family menu planning, check out: Planning Your Dinner Menus In Advance to Save Big Money.
  2. Don’t be afraid to go vegetarian! I know. But before you roll your eyes, keep in mind that, whether it’s pasta with a simple marinara sauce, Chinese stir fry dishes with rice, casseroles, or eggs, most vegetarian dishes are quick and easy to prepare. I make sure my 2-week dinner menus always include at least two or three meatless dishes.  I know for many people mac & cheese is only served as a side dish, but in the Penzo household, it’s a main dish that we have at least once per month. I’m not talking about the boxed stuff either. I always make my mac & cheese from scratch; it’s quick and easy and the kids love it! In fact, it’s so easy that my son has been making it on his own since he was 11 years-old.
  3. Quit being a baby and embrace leftovers! The number of people I know that refuse to eat leftovers is amazing. What a sad waste of food, not to mention money. In 2011, we spent on average $2.78 per person per meal — of course, that cost would have been higher if we didn’t eat the leftovers. Thankfully, my family loves raiding the refrigerator for culinary odds and ends — so much so that we’re currently saving money by eating leftovers to the tune of roughly $1400 annually.
  4. Leverage your leftovers. If you simply refuse to eat leftovers as a second meal, this tip makes for a great money-saving compromise. Coming from an Italian family, I regularly make a big pot of pasta sauce. I always use the sauce for the original pasta dinner, and then freeze the leftover sauce to make lasagne, chicken Parmesan, ravioli or some other pasta dish a week later. I also use left over chicken and beef to make fresh soups and chilies.

The more of these tips you can utilize, the bigger the savings you will realize on your grocery bill. As you can see they are all very easy to implement. All it takes is a little commitment from you to turn these tips into real savings!

Next, I’ll focus on several key grocery shopping strategies I use every month to save big money on my food bills.

Photo Credit: Matt MacGillivray

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on March 25, 2009.)

11 comments to Essential Tips For Lowering Your Grocery Bill

  • Minelly

    Love your tips. Can you send me your 14-meal plan or recipes, so I can use it as a guide??? Saludos desde PR!!

  • I just found your blog through a post on MSN. I am loving your articles. I love all your helpful tips. I have been trying to get myself on a budget for a long time. I kept saying tomorrow, tomorrow. Now faced with a layoff coming soon, I am buckling down and cutting expenses. I think the biggest thing isn’t can I do it, it is mental. I think we get ourselves in these spending habits. That is the issue. I had gotten myself into the habit of eating out from Fri through Sun almost all means. Yeah, I admit it was bad. But I look at everything in a positive light. Facing a layoff has given me the spark I needed to get myself back on track. Hopefully I will be able to find something soon. Keep the good tips coming!

    • Len Penzo

      Thank you, Jacqueline! The biggest hurdle is getting motivated — once you’ve accomplished that, it gets a lot easier.

      Here is wishing you a quick recovery from your impending layoff!

  • Keeping a bunch of basics like beans, rice and other grains is insurance for keeping our grocery bill low. It leads to a lot more options when you have them on hand.

  • Joe

    At work, I have garnered the nickname “Joey Leftovers” because of all of the food that I bring from home. I think this is the number one way I save money throughout the year. Many of my workmates spend gobs of money on take out and frozen meals.

    I second the vegetarian approach. More often than not, our dinners will be a pasta dish, soup, or breakfast (eggs) for dinner. Meat can be super expensive these days!

  • My wife and I do all these things except we only plan menus for a week at a time. We use leftovers as lunches the next day. I have been doing this for 40 years!

  • deborah

    I love your articles and your sense of humor!

    I work on an organic farm and plan all my menus around what’s growing on the farm. I’m a vegetarian and make a huge pot of vegetable soup every week for all my dinners. For lunches, I roast a week’s worth of vegetables and add edemame for protein. I also make big batches of beans (with garlic and onions and jalapenos) for beans and rice meals. Even if I had to buy my own vegetables for my meals, my grocery bill would be very low. The only food I regularly buy are yogurt, nuts, fruit, popcorn, beans, rice, and coffee. And chocolate! I raised two sons, who are now in their 30s, and it feels very nice to grow older and live a minimalist life, work hard on the farm, eat simple and healthy foods.

    I’m learning a lot from your articles about how to live a minimalist financial life also! Thank you!

    Happy Holidays!

  • We use these ideas in our house, too! My wife loves that I cook. She is home now, so I don’t do it often – but the fact that I can is a big bonus. We find that vegetarian chili or black beans and rice both go a long way and are extremely inexpensive. We also avoid processed foods that tend to cost more.

  • Pat

    Who doesn’t eat leftovers? When you make a pot of soup that takes several hours of prep and cook time, are you just going to make enough for one meal or make a GIANT POT OF SOUP. Pasta sauce dito.

    Also I make soup when I am cleaning out my refigerator. It cuts down on wastage.

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