A few of my grocery budget tips -
- Coupon. Only clip coupons for the items you'll actually use. Don't buy something just because it has a coupon. But even $5-$10 savings on each trip helps. Depending on the week, I save anywhere from $15-30 per trip. And it doesn't have to be time consuming - I print and clip coupons on my breaks at work, and organize my deals and shopping list either on the train or when I'm watching a show on TV.
- Shop the sales, but don't go crazy. If you have to spend time and gas money driving to five stores every week, you're negating the grocery savings. Pick one or two stores with the best deals to shop at each week. For me, it's Woodmans (local employee-owned small chain in northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin) and Target. I shop Woodmans because they have some of the best prices around, they put out tons of coupons each week on the shelves and they're a local business. I shop Target for stock up deals, because they'll stack coupons (which means they will take both a Target coupon and a manufacturer coupon for the same item - double the savings!).
- Try to stock on things you will always need when you've got great coupons and/or you run across a good sales. Toiletries are great for this because they don't take up a lot of room. We've picked up deodorant, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, etc. (all in our preferred brands) this way. Combine sales with your coupons for the best possible deals. Likewise, we've stocked up on dried beans, pasta, meat (we do have a chest freezer) and other pantry items. It makes cooking easier too, because you always have staples on hand. It seems counter-intuitive, but changing the way I shop in these basic ways allows me to buy more stuff for less money. It really does work. And I'm never running out of something right when I need it either.
- Save all of your receipts. It's the only clear way to understand where the money goes, and exactly how much things cost. It will also help you understand which things you buy frequently in order to decide what to stock up on. You can also start doing your own price tracking - once you have a couple month's worth of receipts, you can see when things to go on sale. There are websites and coupon blogs that track the major retailers for you as well, so if you get really into it, just look up a few.
- Crockpot. I second what other's have said - it's such a great tool. You can make a big meal with less effort and freeze half. Building a freezer stockpile is huge - that way when you're sick or out of time or don't feel like cooking, you can defrost something instead of eating out. Eating out can bust a food budget fast.
- Garden. Even if you can only grow herbs or lettuce greens in your window, that's still a big savings on your grocery budget. A packet of seeds can be had for less than a dollar - and you can get up to hundreds of dollars of produce out of it. Huge savings. If you have the space and inclination, grow enough to preserve. Even just three jalapeno plants has given us more than we can eat fresh, so I've been cutting them in half and freezing them on a cookie sheet, then dumping them in a freezer bag. I'll have enough jalapenos for the next year just from those three plants.
- Don't ignore the "scratch and dent" or "close dated" section at the grocery store. I've gotten huge bags of organic bananas that we just starting to go soft for $1. I stuck them in the freezer for banana bread. Same thing with sweet peppers - a huge bag for $1 that were just overstock, and I sliced them and froze them.
- Bring your own bags. Some stores in some areas are starting to charge for plastic or paper bags, and some stores (like Whole Foods) give you a bag refund if you bring your own.