The biggest area I've worked on saving money in is groceries. Groceries are a major expense for us because we eat almost all of our meals at home. We go out to eat (including fast food) maybe twice a month, and we get at least one free meal per week at church activities. The rest of the time, we eat at home or bring food from home for lunch. Also, baking is my hobby, so I spend more than the normal person on baking items. Here are a few things we do to save money on food.
- Track every penny. I started a spreadsheet to track the price of groceries. Every time I buy something, I log it, along with the date, price, and store. (I've been doing this for a few months, so now I usually just log new items or note a new low or high price.) I bring this information to the store with me. If an item's price is significantly more expensive than the lowest price I've ever paid for it, I don't buy it.
- Buy only on sale. I look at my store's circular every Sunday when it comes out (it's online!) and plan our meals for the week based on what's on sale. When staples (like flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, chicken broth) go on sale, I stock up. As you can imagine, this process takes a lot of time, but it is so worth it. It's amazing how much price fluctuates on grocery items. I never really paid attention before I started tracking it.
- Plan your meals for a week or more at a time. This way, you don't end up with a bunch of ingredients that go bad before you can use them. If we have one dish with mushrooms, you can bet we'll have one or two more before the week's over. Also, having meals planned out helps me avoid the temptation to just go out to eat.
- Shop around, in moderation. I rarely buy groceries at Wal-Mart. They just don't have good sales. I go to this really dinky store to buy our milk because it is $1.50/gallon cheaper than my regular store! When I'm a stay-at-home mom, I plan to look at circulars for several different stores and shop around even more, but now I don't have quite enough time.
- If possible, make it yourself. I'm not a health nut, but packaged, processed foods are waaayyy more expensive than whole foods. I used to bring canned soup for lunch most days, but at $1.25 or so a can, it was kind of expensive for something that's not very filling anyway. Now, I try to just make large dinners and bring the leftovers to work. It's cheaper per serving and tastier, too. We used to end up throwing some of our leftovers away, anyway. I've just started experimenting with cooking my own beans. I always used to buy canned beans, but they are also fairly expensive per serving. Then, I found out you can cook beans in the crock-pot very easily. Soak dried beans overnight. Drain. Put in crockpot and pour in enough water to cover. Cook on low 5–8 hours. I have a big crockpot and can do two small bags of beans at once. I freeze them in smaller containers. I probably made about 8 cans worth for $3. 8 cans would cost $4 if they were having a really good sale and $6.50 if they were regular price. As soon as I get the bean routine down, I'm going to start making my own chicken stock. It might not seem like a lot, but those little savings add up.
Using these strategies, I've brought our grocery spending from $300-400/month down to around $200/month. It's time-consuming but really rewarding. I love seeing the little box at the top of the receipt that says, "You saved $____ today." Makes my week. :)