9 Easy Tweaks to Make to Your Grocery Budget (Summer Edition!)

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the grocery store.

We love having food in our fridge, but we hate figuring out what to cook, shopping for all the ingredients, and handing over our hard-earned cash each week. But it’s part of life—a big part of it.

So how can you save more time and money on this necessary task?

While there’s no magic number for how much your grocery budget should be (that varies based on family size and income), there are some easy ways to keep your family fed for less. Especially during the summer months when fresh fruits and veggies are on sale!

Here are nine coupon-free tweaks that will change your summer grocery shopping (and dinner plans) for the better:

1. Head to the Farmer’s Market First

When it comes to variety, you can’t beat the farmer’s market for fresh, organic and heirloom fruits and veggies at a great price. While you’re there, look for high-quality meats, cheeses and baked goods that fit within your budget.

If your farmer’s market is too pricey, ask a gardener friend in your neighborhood if you can buy any extra produce from them. They’re probably happy to earn a little cash from their hobby. And we bet they’d give you a few freebies too! Because really, who can eat that much kale?

2. Grab Seasonal Fruits and Veggies

When you’re at the grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for in-season stuff like watermelons, avocados, cherries, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, summer squash and cucumbers. Their prices go down as their availability goes up. So eat what you can, then freeze the rest for smoothies, cobblers, stews and casseroles. Yum!

3. Head to the Grill

Summer cooking is the easiest (and dare we say the most delicious?) cooking of the year. Here’s why: All you have to do is marinate your favorite meats and veggies the night before, throw them on the grill after work, and in 15–20 minutes you have a simple, affordable meal!

A word of caution: Avoid the temptation of prepackaged, preseasoned kabobs. It’s much cheaper to keep your veggies and meats separate while you grill. You’re just going to take them off the skewers and chow down anyway. Why pay double the price for a few sticks of bamboo?

4. Have a Last-Minute Picnic in the Park

We all have those nights when the slow cooker destroys our perfectly seasoned pork chops or our mushroom noodle casserole ends up looking eerily similar to cement. Instead of heading to the nearest restaurant, save some cash by heading to your favorite park. On your way, swing by the grocery store and grab a few cheeses, fruits, olives, and breads—whatever finger foods you can find. Bonus if they are on sale! Set a budget, and get in and out in 10 minutes. Make it a game!

When you’re done eating your snack-tastic meal under a giant oak tree, end your perfect summer evening with a game of Frisbee, a leisurely stroll, or a lightning-bug-catching contest with your kids. That’s how you do adventure with a budget!

5. Simplify Your Suppers

For the nights you stay home, meal-planning doesn’t have to be a big production. If the word dinner conjures up a big homemade meal with a nice cut of meat, two steaming sides, a crusty French loaf and a chocolaty finish, cut yourself some slack!

When you’re not grilling out, plan BLTs, omelets or a nice salad. These are great budget-friendly additions to your weekly dinner plans. So don’t be afraid to plan simple, one-item-only meals. Reduce your guilt and your spending by redefining the most expensive meal of the day.

6. Go for Generics

You know generic pasta is cheaper, but you’re still not convinced it won’t ruin your great-grandmother’s lasagna recipe. In a Consumer Reports study, 29 brand-name foods went up against their generic counterparts. Of the 29 pairings, 19 scored “equally good” in the blind taste test. In other words, your less-expensive lasagna will taste just as delicious.

Still not sold? According to a 2014 academic study, when chefs bought staples like salt, sugar and baking soda, they were much more likely to buy generics than were non-chefs. And they’re the food experts! The study concluded that if more of us purchased store brands, we could save roughly $44 billion collectively. It pays to be brand un-loyal.

7. Do a Grocery-Store Swap

What made you pick your current grocery store? Is it the friendliest? How about the most convenient? Maybe you just know where everything is—but don’t let a comfortable routine cost you money. You may even find that two grocery stores are your best bet—one for meats and bulk items, and another for everything else.

If you’re still not sure which grocery stores are worth checking into, ask around. People love talking about getting a good deal, and the ones who are getting the best deals will gladly gush about their favorite spots. Figuring out a new grocery store may be frustrating at first, but it’s worth learning a new layout to keep some extra money in your bank account.

8. Embrace Your List

A list is simply a plan. Before your trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market, plan out what you’ll make for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next week, then write out each ingredient you’ll need for those meals (plus a few snacks, of course).

When you arrive at the store, remember to buy only what’s on your list. This is key to staying on budget! And if you go shopping as a family, let your kids help plan the meals on the front end so they know this trip isn’t a junk food free-for-all. It’s much easier to stay on budget when you’re shopping with a plan and working as a team.

9. Forget the Credit Cards

The best way to stick to a lower food budget is to pay for your groceries now, not later (and definitely not with interest). That means no credit cards! When you know the money’s coming out of your account today, you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan.

This will also help you stay focused on the meat-and-potatoes necessities of your budget rather than your ice-cream-and-cookie impulse buys. If you still find you’re eating high on the hog at the beginning of the month and scraping by on tuna fish by the end, tweak your budget to allow a more realistic weekly amount for your family.

New Habits, Big Savings

By simply starting a few new habits, you can lower your monthly food budget and meet your money goals even faster. That means more cash to pay down debts, invest for the future, or save up for something fun—like a babysitter and a nice meal out where someone else cooks and cleans up.

Set your grocery budget and use these tips to stay on track all summer!