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Save Money on Groceries by Shopping by Expiration Date

How I Save Money on Groceries for My Large Family by Shopping by Expiration Date

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or on a completely self-sufficient homestead, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the astronomical costs of everything – including food at the grocery store. We have 5 young kids and are spending more than twice what we were just a couple of years ago. I’ve pinched pennies, I’ve meal planned, and I’ve finally minimized our costs to a more manageable point – and it involves paying close attention to the expiration date on all of our food.

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How to Meal Plan to Save Money

I won’t go into crazy detail about how to meal plan here, because I really think the simpler a meal plan, the better.

To save money, we stopped risking making new meals that our kids may hate.

I can’t risk having to throw food away and I definitely don’t have enough bandwidth left to argue with them to eat all of their food.

Instead, I only make tried and true recipes and I make them on repeat.

One of my very best friends taught me that if your kids refuse to eat dinner, they can choose to eat a plate of vegetables (think a massive steaming bowl of broccoli) instead, or they can just eat what I’ve made.

While we do use this tactic sometimes, now we make the same few recipes on repeat so there is very minimal complaining.

If money is tight, I highly suggest you try this method instead of googling more budget friendly recipes to try.

How to Shop by Expiration Date

The next time you go to the grocery store, you can likely safely assume two things.

  1. The price on everything except for seasonal produce is likely the cheapest it will be for the foreseeable future – costs only continue to go up.
  2. Your family is going to continue eating, so you’re going to need to buy these things again anyway.

With that in mind, how many of the items that you’re shopping for are you going to use before the expiration date?

Buy that many – plus one or two for a rainy day.

For example, we go through a ton of egg noodles.

When I looked at the expiration date last week when we were at the grocery store, I noticed the expiration date was October 24, 2025.

How many will I reasonably use in that amount of time?

We go through about a bag every two weeks.

That’s 6 per year.

We’ll realistically go through at least 12 before the expiration date.

I bought 14 that day, adding two to that original calculation, to account for using them for holidays and for my kids favorite meal (chicken broth noodles) when they’re sick.

I use this expiration date shopping method for everything that I can financially, and rotate through my stockpile.

This means I won’t buy egg noodles again until at least the end of 2025.

Now if I’m making my shopping list next week and I realize we’re almost out of tomato paste, I’ll use this same method.

I can honestly tell you that I don’t remember the last time I bought tomato paste.

At least a year or two ago at Sam’s club.

I’ve already noticed this method working.

For example, I stocked up on frozen raspberries months ago.

We use them for snacks, crepe filling, topping for oatmeal – the list goes on and on.

They are now more than double what I paid when I stocked up on them.

If I needed to repurchase this family staple right now, it would put a huge dent in our grocery budget.

What We Don’t Stock Up On

The big thing I refuse to stock up on is meat.

This is more out of necessity.

We don’t have the freezer space or the budget to store an entire cow (or even half of one) so I try to use less meat and just stock up on enough for a few months when I notice a sale.

For example, at Sam’s Club last week, chicken breasts were $2 off per package.

I bought 6 packages knowing they’ll last us a few months and are cheaper with that sale price than I’ll likely find easily again.

This is way less than we could use, especially knowing we’ll drastically extend the expiration date by freezing, but I needed to get more than just chicken to sustain my family.

If I had a larger budget, I’d have stocked up even more.

What Our Stockpile Looks Like

Shopping like this means we have quite a bit of food to store.

We have a small closet off of our kitchen that my husband converted into a pantry.

We lived with no pantry for a LONG time.

Out of necessity, I had him make shelves from the back of the wall all the way to the doorway, creating this pantry with deep shelves that are super hard to organize.

I buy things like flour, rice, oatmeal, and dried beans from Azure Standard.

I store these in 5 gallon buckets with gamma lids on the floor of my pantry.

Everything else goes on the shelves, like with like.

Then, when I make my meal plan for the week, I sit down and look at what’s on sale.

Our local Winn Dixie had potatoes on a BOGO sale, so I added “baked potato bar” to our meal plan, for example.

Then, I make a list of every ingredient I’ll need for each meal.

I shop at home first, scouring our pantry, cabinets, and freezers for everything on my list and only buy what I absolutely need.

We’ll end up buying a full cart, but as you’ve probably guessed based on the rest of this blog post, that cart will be full of about 20 of each of 5 other things.

I don’t mean to imply that I’ve completely beaten this insane inflation or that we don’t still spend a fortune on groceries to feed our family of seven.

We absolutely do.

But at this point I do feel that I have simplified and minimized everything to within an inch of our lives and can honestly think of no other corners to cut.

If you’ve done all of these things and you still struggle to put food on the table, it’s time to look into local resources to meet your needs.

There are food pantries in most towns that are happy to help out without the slightest hint of judgment.

After hurricane Ian, our food pantries were wrapped around multiple corners of the neighborhoods, sometimes literally hundreds of cars deep.

Apply for EBT (food stamps) and WIC if your kids are under the age of 5 or if you are pregnant.

Those resources exist for times like these.

Take advantage of them if you need them!

I hope you are able to find some peace in your grocery budget by using some of these tactics. When life is stressful, the answer is almost always to simplify. Simple living has solved or eased the burden of just about everything for our family over the years. 

grocery cart