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Monthly Food Budget: Tips To Save Money On Groceries

Sticker shock from grocery store prices is the new normal in Canada. If you’re like many Canadians, your monthly food budget is struggling to keep up with soaring costs. So, how bad is it? Studies show the price of groceries rose by 5-7% in 2023, and it’s not over yet. Experts predict the cost of food will increase by another 2.5%- 4.5% in 2024.

Food is one area where inflation remains stubbornly high. However, grocery costs aren’t fixed, like rent or the internet. You have more flexibility to reduce your monthly food budget than you have to reduce your heating or electricity bill.  Many planning strategies exist to maximize your money at the grocery store.

The Best Ways to Save on Food

Saving money on groceries can be challenging, but investing time in planning your shopping trip can significantly reduce your grocery bill. Being realistic about planning a menu, preparing meals, and preserving the food you buy will help keep your monthly food budget manageable.

Planning

Before going to the store, looking honestly at how you prepare meals is essential because good intentions can blow your grocery budget. If you have no time, no interest, or limited cooking skills, buying a lot of items you need to cook from scratch might cost you more in the long run. If, for example, you buy cheaper meats that require hours to prepare, they might end up in the garbage if you don’t have the time to devote to cooking them.

Taking stock of your equipment and storage space will help you determine what to buy and prevent you from overbuying. Make sure you have the right tools to prepare the food you buy. Also, bulk purchases will go to waste if you have no room to store them.

Before shopping, look at what you already have. This way, you won’t buy duplicates and can use what you have on hand for meal planning. Checking the best-before dates of products in your pantry will encourage you to use your food before it passes its best-before date.

Planning your meals will help you avoid buying too much or wasting food. There are different ways to meal plan. Choosing the best method for you will help you maintain your monthly food budget. Some ways to plan your meals are:

  1. Look at what you have on hand and find ways to incorporate your existing items into your meal planning.
  2. Build your meals around sales in the weekly flyers. The front and back pages often have the best deals, so using advertised items for meal plans can save a lot of money.
  3. If you don’t plan to cook, you can check online for restaurant deals, inexpensive ready-to-eat meals from the grocery store, and coupons to your favourite take-out places. Avoid using food delivery services like Ubereats to reduce your costs.
  4. Apps like Too Good To Go offer discounts on food that hasn’t sold by the end of the day that you can buy for a reduced price.
  5. Meal kits usually cost more than groceries but less than restaurant food. You can often get deals on your first few boxes; these kits help you avoid waste but are more expensive than cooking your own meals.
  6. If you’re short on time, find recipes you can make in 30 minutes or less.
  7. Find budget-friendly recipes for cheaper meals or recipes using fewer ingredients.
  8. Plan ahead by cooking double and freezing half the meal, stockpiling slow cooker meals in your freezer, and meal preparation.
  9. Cook enough for two nights of meals or enough to take for lunch the following day.

Maximize your monthly food budget

Before you can save money on groceries, you need to know how much you’re currently spending. Review your statements and receipts for the last few months to determine how much you typically spend.

You can compare the cost of your groceries to the monthly average in Canada. A family of four spent an average of $15,595.41 on food in 2023, or $1,299.62 monthly. Experts expect this amount to increase by $701.79 in 2024. These numbers show us that people are spending a lot on food, so it’s reasonable to want to reduce your grocery bill to save money.

Fortunately, there are many great ways to save at the store. Taking advantage of savings strategies is easier once you have determined how much you want to spend on food, the time you want to devote to meal planning and preparation, what you have on hand, and how much space you have for storage.

Buy only what you need

The best way to buy what you need is to make a list after you’ve taken stock of what you already have and stick to it. If you’re an impulse shopper who will scoop up a good deal or are tempted by extra treats, you can shop online for pick-up or delivery. Shopping online may have a fee, but the advantages are:

  • It’s easier to stick to a list.
  • You’ll get a running total of your purchases, so you’ll know if you’re going over budget.
  • You can compare prices.
  • The flyers, specials and digital coupons are typically available on the site, making it easy to see what’s on sale.

By buying only what you need, you’ll also reduce food waste. In 2022, Canadians threw out $1,300 worth of food, much of which could have been eaten. Carefully planning meals to avoid food waste could significantly reduce your food bill.

Buying in bulk

Larger quantities often offer lower prices and reduce the number of times you need to go to the store. Comparing prices per unit will tell you if a bulk purchase is a better deal than a smaller amount. To avoid wasting food you bought in bulk, you’ll either need a plan to use it or to store it before it expires.  If, for example, you find a good deal on a bulk pack of meat or poultry, you can separate it and freeze it in smaller portions or cook it to use in several meals.

Grocery coupons and price matching

Many stores offer digital coupons, and you can often get manufacturer coupons. Applying coupons to a sale price will lower your costs even more. Some stores in Canada will price match as well. You’ll need to find out if the store you shop at will match a competitor’s price and show proof of the lower price. Stores generally accept flyers in print or online. Apps like Flipp allow you to shop all the flyers and save competitor offers for price matching.

Substitutions and store brands

Store brands are often as good as or better than name-brand products. If you prefer to stick to your favourite brands, you can try substituting store brands for products where the impact will be minimal. Canned beans, for example, are pretty similar regardless of who makes them. You can save 20%- 30% by substituting a generic brand for a brand-name product.

Pay cash

It seems old-fashioned, but the advantage of paying with cash is you can only spend what you have. If you’re determined to stick to a monthly budget, determine how much you want to spend when you shop and leave your credit and debit cards at home. You can keep a running total of your purchases as you shop with your calculator to ensure you stay on budget.

Rewards

Maximizing rewards is another way to reduce the sting of high grocery prices. Some stores have loyalty programs where you can redeem points for merchandise. Other apps allow you to scan receipts to earn points for gift cards or cash. Depending on your credit card type, you may get cashback or points for grocery purchases. However, only use your credit card for groceries if you pay it off every month.

Where to Get Financial Help

If the high cost of living is putting you in a financial bind, help is available. Our Licensed Insolvency Trustees at Allan Marshall and Associates are experts in helping clients manage, reduce or eliminate their debt load. Call us today at 1-888-371-8900 or contact us online for a free consultation. We will work with you to find the best solution for your debt so you can get back on track financially.

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Mary-Ann Marriott

Mary Ann has been working in the insolvency industry for 25 years. In 2005 Mary Ann received her Chartered Insolvency & Restructuring Professional (CIRP) designation and attained her license as a Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) in 2014. She is passionate about helping others become financially literate, and has been a guest speaker to various groups and organizations on the topic of Money Management. Mary-Ann also hosts a weekly radio show, as a volunteer in her community. Her tagline is “Helping you have happier, healthier finances”.