6 Ways I’m Slashing My Ridiculous Grocery Budget As A Mom Of 5

It’s rough out there — and eggs are expensive. When people see my five kids trailing behind me at the store, they always have lots of comments, but the most popular by far is, “Do you have any idea how many cartons of milk they’re going to go through as teenagers?” They are especially concerned because four are boys, who apparently eat more than girls, according to the Grocery Grandmas Who Know.

Granted, their worries aren’t entirely unfounded. After all, inflation has sent even the bravest parents running from the overpriced egg aisles, pushing bowls of off-brand cereal at their kids instead for a bit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, as of March 2024, the struggle is very real — egg prices are predicted to increase by 4.8% in 2024, and all food prices are predicted to increase by 2.5% in 2024, they report.

And it isn’t a new problem this year; it’s something many have been struggling with for a while. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, retail food prices increased by 11% from 2021-2022 — the largest increase the U.S. has seen in over 40 years. This is hitting families hard, particularly as we come off the pandemic years of additional economic and job insecurity, coupled with rising prices from supply chain issues. The result? A huge spike in food insecurity (with child food insecurity up by 45%).

So, gone are the days of buying three types of cereal because the kids couldn’t agree on one. Here are some strategies I’m using as a mom of five kids under 9 to trim the grocery budget.

Go in person.

I know, I know — Instacart lovers and curbside pickup friends, I see you. I am you. At least, I was. Once my number of kids passed three, there was no way I was hauling them all in a grocery store if I could prevent it. Not on a busy weekend shopping day, and not after work when they were grouchy and ready for bed. But over time, the fees, tips, and product markups added up.

It’s always been a mysterious and debatable markup, with independent shoppers trying to compare in-store prices versus delivery rates across stores. Some have concluded that products are marked up even 25%, though this varies between reports. Still, when you have so many kids, any sort of reasonable tip ends up totaling the cost of a whole extra grocery trip by the end of the month.

Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at Truetrae.com, suggests, “Limit takeout orders and cook at home, or at least pick up your takeout orders to avoid service fees and tips. We also always order takeout on our laptops so we can take advantage of cashback offers or coupons from sites like CouponCabin.com, which right now has offers for Grubhub, Doordash, and more. My teen daughter always does this now when she places takeout orders when friends are over.”

Don’t fear the (near) expiration dates.

Most stores have a clearance section where the cinnamon rolls aren’t as squishy, the bananas aren’t quite as yellow, and the watermelons are a crapshoot. If you go to the store more frequently and use the food more quickly, though, you can save quite a bit. You also might end up trying some foods you otherwise wouldn’t have. After all, who knew my pickiest kid would actually love sourdough over the “honey wheat” bread he’s demanded from the same brand his whole life?

Bodge adds that, of course, there’s an app for that: “Flashfood partners with grocers around the country and helps them sell through their merchandise nearing the best buy date or is in surplus by offering up to 50% off the retail price. You shop through the Flashfood app — which is something you can do with your kids — and then pick up your order at the grocer.”

Make some staples yourself.

Nobody needs another job. However, if you are someone who occasionally cooks with your kids, you can make a fun little event out of learning how to make some staples yourself. For example, did you know the main ingredients in ketchup are literally sugar, vinegar, and crushed tomatoes? Neither did I… until I questioned if I really wanted to spend $5 on brand-name ketchup. So, the next time your kids get the urge to cook with you, take the opportunity to make something with them — a lesson in itself.

Bodge says, “Things like hummus and granola can be expensive at the store, but they can be made at home fairly easily for a fraction of the cost. Another teachable moment: Invite your kids to help you in the kitchen, and then show them how much money you saved.

Give the store brand a chance.

At some point in your parenting career, you may have been shocked by the price of children’s liquid Motrin — only to realize the store brand has the exact same ingredients for nearly half the price (along with a little sticker that says “compare to” and the name brand). These swaps are all through the store: liquid detergent for the dishwasher in less exciting packaging from the store’s brand, tortillas for a few dollars less, and more.

“This can sometimes be tricky when you have kids because they want the item that is familiar to them, but don’t be deterred. Make this a teachable moment and explain that you are switching to save money so you can afford other things they enjoy,” Bodge says. “We have always kept our daughter Sadie, who is now almost 18, in the loop regarding money swaps like this, and she’s now a skilled smart-shopper.”

She adds that sometimes these items are even made in the same factories as the name brands.

Utilize the fruit and veggie rotation system.

Kids are fickle as heck — one minute, cucumbers are their jam, and the next, you better get them away from them or they might puke (so they say). So, to keep fruits and veggies novel and interesting and save money, we rotate fruit and veggie selections. For example, multiple kids like multiple types of berries, yet we don’t always have strawberries around. That way, when it is their turn, strawberries are more exciting and seem special because they weren’t here last week. Similarly, kids don’t have to navigate a veggie they dislike every week.

This tactic has helped our family cut down on the number of purchases, as a large case of strawberries is cheaper than two smaller cases of other types of berries, for example. It also allows me to shop for sales and specials without the kids feeling like they are missing something.

Saving drinks

Five kids times three drinks per day results in 15 sippy cups, crowding the dishwasher and the countertops. How many of those were actually fully consumed? Probably none. That’s a lot of apple juice, milk, Prime, and such to be pouring down the drain. So, I bought a small tray, and when kids don’t drink something, I save their cup and leave it right there (unless it’s milk, which obviously needs a fridge). Then, when they want a drink five seconds later, it’s still around. Do they mix up their cups and share germs? Probably. Then again, they were already doing that anyway.

I know our grocery bill will only creep up in the next few years, and I’ll probably need a third job when they are teens. Still, I try to remember that it’s all worth it — and that the quest of feeding a large family is a privilege (and of course, a massive undertaking).

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