Family life

Cut Down Your Grocery Bill by Doing This

How a fun family challenge ended up cutting our monthly grocery bill by 60% and what we learned in the process.

Cut Down Your Grocery Bill by Doing This


I don't know about you, but I have a lot of food in my freezers. I have a standard fridge/freezer combo in my kitchen and a deep freezer in my basement. They're both very full. I have dry goods in three areas of my house: pantry, linen closet (for smaller-sized extras), and on shelves in the garage (for larger dry goods) – my husband and I think it's price-conscious to stock up on things when they go on sale, but in the end, I end up with more dusty cans than we need week to week. And yet, I still spend a minimum of $150 a week on groceries.

Plus, those groceries are getting very expensive (I can't believe what I pay for milk these days – and we go through 12 litres a week!). Food prices will likely rise by 2.5% to 4.5% in the coming year, and the average family of four is expected to spend $16,297.20 on food in 2024, an increase of up to $701.79 from last year (compared to an increase of $1,065 in 2023).

I decided enough is enough. I was sick of throwing out foods I had kept in my freezer too long and became freezer-burnt or looking at those same cans of black beans and extra jars of pasta sauce on basement shelves. So, I decided to challenge my family (including myself): we will eat only what's in the house for one month.

family cooking together iStock

Okay, we couldn't eat just what we already had – we still needed fresh milk, bread, and produce. But I decided to try to use up all the food in our house that was already there. That meant creating lunches from the leftovers we'd kept for "one day" or getting creative with dinner menus that included the random ingredients I had stockpiled.

I would finally make stews and soups with the chopped veggies and leftover stocks in my freezer. I would gather those odds and ends of frozen appetizers and make a few snack-based dinners that are quick and easy to prep. I'd figure out some new salads we could have for those spare cans of tuna, salmon, beans, etc.

We actually succeeded. We cut our grocery bill that month down 60% and finally used up a good number of extras, both perishable (extra-cooked meats, like taco beef and homemade breaded chicken fingers) and dry goods (canned vegetables we'd bought in bulk, variously shaped pasta that had gone on sale, and canned crab and salmon became delicious crab cakes and fish patties). There are a few reasons why everyone should try this challenge in their households. Why?

box of non-perishable foods iStock

It's cheaper


Why keep buying ingredients for dinner when you already have so many in your house? It's time to inventory everything you have. Make lists of what's in your freezer(s) and cupboards, and tape the lists to the doors so you and your family can keep track of what you've used.

Also, when planning dinner, instead of looking for recipes you like and then buying the ingredients to make them, do searches for recipes that use the food items you already have. You'll discover an easy spinach dip to use up the frozen spinach, a can of water chestnuts, and a packet of dehydrated veggie soup you've had for months, or a fantastic pot pie for the leftover pie dough, cooked chicken and frozen bag of vegetables at the bottom of your deep freezer.

In the end, you will save a lot of money.

It's more environmentally friendly

If you're not buying everything locally (and really, who can), then your food purchases leave a carbon footprint every time they're delivered to your local grocery store. By making use of all the excess food in your home, you'll be giving a little nod to Mother Nature by not needing to transport food items from the grocery store. There will also be a lot less transportation pollution (from planes, trains, and trucks).

And if you can consume the leftovers in your freezers and on shelves, that's less waste you'll create when they eventually go bad and you have to throw them out.

mother and son making a pizza together iStock

It gives you a new way to prepare foods


I don't know about you, but I get stuck in a rut coming up with new meal ideas. All too often, I resort to those tried-and-true (read: boring) recipes that I know are easy to make and will please my whole family. So, look for new recipe options – bust out those cookbooks and download a new app (there are thousands out there) for inspiration. Taking on this challenge might involve a bit of research into what you can make with what's in your house. It's easy enough, though – the internet has loads of websites where you can enter a few ingredients, and it pulls up recipes that match. Sure, it's more legwork seeking out new meal ideas, but since you're saving time by not doing as much grocery shopping, it's a reasonable trade-off.

It's less stress on the shopper

Whether you or your partner does most of the grocery shopping, they'll enjoy the month-long break from longer lists and larger food orders. Since they will only need to pick up produce and dairy, they can use the extra time to help look for recipes or do more food prep with existing ingredients. It will be a nice breather from the monotony of grocery shopping so they can get back into it in a month, refreshed and ready to get back into it.

For us, this was an exercise in discipline. We all work, and it's always go go go, so we often resort to shortcuts at mealtime:

  • Buying ready-made food
  • Ordering in
  • Just resorting to the easiest thing possible (cereal for dinner, anyone?)

But if we pay more attention to the things we already have in our kitchens, we can use up any excess and, in the process, save money on our ballooning grocery bills. And couldn't we all use a little more pocket change?

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