- Buy gift cards - "I decide my food budget for the month and then on the first put the money on the cards. That way I cannot go over. I made a rule...no using my debit card to buy groceries! This is the 3rd month and it has worked really well."
- Use that calculator - "This plan came right after I'd officially switched to cash for groceries ... and was feeling a little overwhelmed. Not sure WHY I'd never thought to carry a calculator - now I do it every week!"
- Plan meals for the month, and supplement as needed - "[This list] actually might last most the month except for buying the staples and veggies we need weekly."
-Plan ahead - "Cook once, eat twice (or more!) meals. A whole chicken is always cheaper than parts. So for example, the first night, roast the whole chicken. After dinner pick the carcass and save the leftover meat and throw the bones in a crockpot or stockpot overnight to make chicken stock. The second day you can have chicken sandwiches, or enchiladas, or stir fry etc. And maybe even a third day of chicken noodle soup or chili. With chicken the possibilities are endless. I freeze my chicken stock in approx 2 cup portions to pull out as needed."
- Use the savings - "Don't just shop the sales for your current menu plan. If you have leftover money in your budget pick up one or two extra items that are at their rock bottom prices to have on hand for when you need it. This saves you from ever having to pay full price for an item, and over time this savings adds up specifically."
- Know when to buy -"To know when an item is at its rock bottom price, you need to also know its regular price, and how often you can expect it to go on sale etc. Also there are sales and then there are good sales. I suggest figuring out the top 15 grocery items you purchase and figuring out your buy price and stock up price for each. The buy price is the price it has to be before you will buy it and the stock up price is the price it needs to hit when you'll buy more than one (for most things 75% regular retail, but not all)."
- Use coupons - "Typically I save over 50% every week just by matching coupons with sale items and stocking up. It could be higher, but the bulk of my grocery budget goes to produce, and its hard to get that at 75% off. You don't have to do these matchups yourself, there are tons of blogs that do it for your local stores."
- Break it down - "I've had the most success planning meals by prices. Like, I think of the total price of the meal, then I think of how many times it will feed us. So a $7 meal sounds cheap for our big family but if it leaves no leftovers it's actually pretty expensive. And a $15 meal that gives us dinner Monday night and lunch the rest of the week is totally worth it."
- Some meal ideas:
Chicken Florentine Pasta (Pioneer Woman)Meaty Spinach Manicotti (Taste of Home) ChiliCalzonesAutumn Chowder (Taste of Home) & drop biscuitsQuicheCrock Pot Sesame Chicken (Pinterest)StewTortilla SoupChicken and SaladSpaghetti with MeatballsItalian Chicken Soup (PW)Taco SaladSalmon PocketsSushi & eggrolls
Thanks to KR, MW, GT, and JP for the insights! Ya'll are awesome.