Military spouses face a lot of unique challenges. Frequent relocating, long-distance relationships, and extended periods of time separated from a partner can be extraordinarily difficult, especially while trying to raise children and manage a household, often on a tight budget. Keeping a house running smoothly and everybody fed under those circumstances requires a ton of planning, forethought, and self-control. And not to generalize or anything, but that means military moms tend to be excellent at grocery shopping.
In the interest of finding out how some of the top experts shop for groceries and stick to a budget, we reached out to five military moms for their best grocery budgeting tips. Here's what they recommend.
1. Take advantage of online shopping and curbside pickup.
"My best tip is to find a grocery store that does online shopping and curbside pickup," says Suzanne, a Navy wife, baker, mom of four, and the blogger behind Bebehblog. "I do all my shopping from my computer at home, with the weekly ad in front of me so I can meal plan around what's on sale, and then I just have to hand my debit card and paper coupons over at the side door and all my shopping for the week is done. Since my husband is deployed I am never without at least one child and, this way, I can leave them in the car for the whole transaction. It also cuts down on the impulse purchases when the kids see some stupid new Pop-Tarts flavor and start begging."
2. Practice brand loyalty — but not for the reason you think.
Lakesha Cole, mother, military spouse, and the blogger and entrepreneur behind A Spouse Ful, has certain brand-name products she knows she loves. By sticking with the same brand, she knows the quality she'll get each time. She can also concentrate her couponing efforts on those specific products. "To save on my grocery bill, I use coupons for household goods, baby items, and mostly organic goods like cereals and frozen foods," she says. "I'm such a brand loyalist. There are about 15 to 20 items I routinely buy which I get for much less when I use coupons." Plus, she knows how much something should generally cost her and when a deal is too good to pass up.
3. Try vegetarian meals to keep costs down.
"I think there are probably two main ways I keep my grocery bills down," says writer and military mom Holly, who blogs at Leaves of Lavender. "The first is that I cook. Not everything — I often buy canned beans, for example, and I make bread as a treat, not as a staple — but I cook most of our meals." Holly also says being vegetarian helps her family keep grocery costs down because beans, lentils, whole grains, and tofu are cheaper than meat. Pretend like every day is Meatless Monday if you need to cut costs for a week.
Need inspiration? See our vegetarian recipes.
4. Budget for one special treat per kid.
Parenting coach, mom of four, and Navy wife Erin Henderschedt of The Deployment Diatribes has figured out a way to get the kids to help out with shopping and to keep the impulse buys down to a predictable limit. She writes her shopping list in order of the aisles, which keeps the gang on track and reduces the changes of getting derailed by a shiny new bag of chips. She also budgets for a few treats: "If you take little kids with you, tell them that at the end of the shopping, if they are helpful during the trip, they can each choose one item to put into the cart," she says.
5. Turn shopping into a scavenger hunt and meal plan as much as possible.
Korinthia Klein, a blogger, violin-maker, military spouse, and mother of three, says that she actually worried about money less during her husband's deployments because his combat pay was higher. But during those times she did have to deal with having at least one small child with her every time she went to the grocery store.
"My best grocery shopping tip in that scenario is to assign the kids parts of the list," she says. "When the grocery store becomes a scavenger hunt it's far more entertaining and less of a chore." Plus, the kids get engrossed in the game and are less likely to get a case of the gimmies.
Now that Klein's husband is home, she echoes the necessity of a meal plan — something that all the other moms mentioned, too. "Now that my husband is home and I am working outside of it, how savvy we are with the grocery budget fluctuates with how hectic our schedules get," Korinthia says. "I can say that the weeks we do best are the ones where we plan our meals and make a list. Less produce gets wasted, there are fewer times we're tempted to simply stop at a restaurant, and we can be smarter about looking for deals when we are focused instead of winging it in the store (which is a particularly bad idea if you shop while hungry)."
Do you have any tips to add? Military mom or not, leave your suggestions in the comments below!