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Before switching to a real food diet, we were spending a relatively small amount of money on food. Our monthly budget for food was $180, for our then family of four (almost five).

The #1 Way to Save Money on Real Food

I had a very well-thought-out menu and grocery list, and when I went shopping, I stuck to that list. I didn’t leave Costco with a basket full of stuff I hadn’t planned on spending – I left with exactly what I went for and rarely spent more than $70 there.

When I started learning about real food, though, I realized that I would need to increase my grocery budget. I had been buying the cheapest meat I could find and depended heavily on things like pasta and white bread to stretch our meals. (Might I add that I felt sick all the time).

As I started the transition to real food, I found that I could nourish my family without quadrupling my food budget. I did that the same way I was able to keep my food budget so low before:

With a plan.

There are three ways I plan for saving money on food. They’re simple to do and you can implement one or all of them to save money on your grocery budget:

Plan where to shop

Much of my grocery shopping skill comes from the book, The Complete Tightwad Gazette. I learned lots of different tricks for saving money on food, including starting a price book for different stores I shopped at.

Over the course of a few months, I learned which stores  had the best prices on the items we used the most. I wrote those prices down in a notebook for a while but, well, I got lazy and stopped. (You definitely don’t have to be perfect to do this!) By then, though, it was pretty much committed to memory and I had developed a grocery-shopping routine.

I visit a few stores now for food. I also get some stuff from a local buying club and my mom’s lovely hens are the source of our eggs. (In the summer, we grow veggies and we’re planning to buy beef from a local farmer).

If going to a few stores to save on food sounds like a pain, remember you pay for convenience. If that’s in your budget, go for it. If it’s not and you find yourself out of, say cinnamon, and you don’t go to the store you know has the lowest price to buy it,  don’t beat yourself up – it’s a learning process. It takes time to become a Jedi Grocery Shopper.

Plan what you’ll eat

The reason you hear so much about  using menu planning to lower your food bill is because it works. When you plan what you’re going to eat in advance, you know that you only need to buy what’s needed for those meals.

Some people menu plan with their  grocery store flyers in hand, either for a week, two weeks or a whole month in advance. Others, like the author of The Complete Tightwad Gazette, plan one day in advance, based on what’s in their pantry.

They create a master “pantry list” that includes all food items they have on hand and shop to replace those items. Meals are then planned from the pantry list.

I do a mix of the two. I menu plan a month in advance based on our pantry list, but I only buy enough for our meals. So, instead of buying a certain amount of chicken each month, it varies depending on what we’ve planned, but chicken is always on the list.

Plan what you’ll buy

Going to the store without a grocery list is dangerous for your grocery budget (as is going to the store hungry). When I forget my list, I usually come back with things I didn’t need and forget what I actually went to the store for.

There are some great ways to keep track of your grocery list.

Apps, like Out of Milk, offer a simple way to keep track of your grocery list and pantry inventory right on your smartphone. You could use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of what you need or just a piece of paper or an index card affixed to your fridge.

Whatever method you choose, don’t forget to take your list with you so you’ll know exactly what you do (and do not) need.

A gift for you

To make things a little easier, I put together a few worksheets for you. Included is a list of gluten-free meal ideas (in case you need those), a sample menu plan, a blank menu plan, a copy of my master grocery list and a blank form for your master grocery list (you can print this out and stick it on the fridge and circle items that you need).

You can get the form below for free! No strings attached, though, I would really appreciate if you share this post with your friends. 🙂

Meal Planning Download (Right-click to save to your computer)

How do you save money on real food?