When you're cooking for five or more people, the grocery bills can add up quickly. Beyond the sheer volume of food, balancing everyone's evolving preferences and dietary needs is a big challenge. So we figure moms of bigger-than-average families have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep their food shopping costs on budget.
Beyond the usual tips, here's what they told us.
1. Shop by yourself.
Unless your kids are either angels or robots, bringing the whole crew to the store is almost a surefire way to blow your budget. Whether you're stressed from making sure they don't sneeze on the free samples, or swatting hands away from temptingly designed cereal boxes, or getting worn down by the fatigue of saying "no" to every unhealthy item your child wants, more than likely your defenses will be weakened by the time you hit Aisle 3. "I like to go to the store right after I drop the kids at school at 7:45 so I can take my time," says Maura, a mom of four in Wykoff, NJ. Another good option: Shop after bedtime. In general, stores are pretty empty during these times, too.
2. Keep a list of the crowd-pleasers.
Most moms of big families recommend you meal plan to avoid making multiple trips to the store, buying things you don't use, or cooking a la carte dinners to suit each kids' tastes. At the very least, keep a running list of go-to meals that the entire family enjoys. "I tend to stock up on those necessary ingredients, otherwise I cook for the kids and then cook for my husband and myself and that's just too much," says Emily, a mom of three in Fair Haven, NJ. You don't have time to be a short-order cook, and you certainly don't want to start buying extra ingredients to make multiple meals each night.
3. Know your priorities.
"My preference is to cut back elsewhere and not sacrifice on food quality," says Nancy, a mom of three in Austin, TX. If it's important to you to buy organic fruits and vegetables, shop local and in-season, and chop things yourself instead of paying extra to have the work done for you. Consider buying cheaper cuts of organic meat, or buying it in bulk and freezing it in pre-portioned sizes.
4. Buy selectively in bulk.
The stuff these moms buy in bulk is as follows: pre-portioned foods for the kids' lunches (like cheese sticks, applesauce, yogurts, or juices), plus household supplies like toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, and other toiletries. "For these items, I'm not brand-loyal," says Maura. Keep an eye out for sales and coupons and buy whatever is best-priced at the store.
5. Consider delivery.
Especially when you're juggling multiple kids' schedules, finding the time to grocery shop is a challenge. "I would rather spend that hour or two I'd be grocery shopping with the kids," says Lisa, a mom of three in Birmingham, AL. There are a variety of ways to do this, including through store-specific programs, delivery-only companies like FreshDirect or Amazon Fresh, or services like Shipt or Instacart, which will shop local stores on your behalf. The key is to read the fine print to find the most cost-effective program in your area. Make sure you understand the delivery fees, if there's an upcharge on groceries, or what an annual membership will cost you. Counter-intuitively, paying a little more for groceries can also help with budgeting: Shopping on the computer makes it easier to plan your meals, avoid impulse purchases, and track your budget as you shop.
6. Pay with cash.
Studies find that people are less likely to overspend if they're paying with cash compared to a credit card. Christy, a mom of five in Virginia Beach, says it works for her: "Paying with cash forces me to pay attention to what's adding up in my cart," she says. And she's done the math: Her system saves her more money than her credit card's cash-back rewards system.
7. Be flexible.
Maybe you wanted chicken but turkey is on sale? Get the turkey. "Either sub it into your recipe or make something else entirely," says Laura, a mom of eight in Bethlehem, PA, who says it saves her money and also helps her find new meals to add into her rotation.
More on Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Do you have anything to add? Tell us in the comments!