22 Simple Tips For Grocery Shopping On A Budget
If you stumbled upon this article, you’re most likely looking for ways to do grocery shopping on a budget. You’re not alone.
Food prices have been increasing so it’s getting harder to keep the costs low. However, it’s still possible. In this article, you’re about to discover actionable tips you can implement right away.
Save by Planning Ahead
“Every Battle Is Won Before It Is Ever Fought.” – Sun Tzu
When it comes to grocery shopping on a budget, it all begins from your home. Invest the time to do careful planning before going to the store. Then, you will have a much easier time to shop on a budget.
1. Create a Menu for The Week
One of the best ways to save money is to create a meal plan for the week. This may sound like hard work and time consuming, but it’s worth it.
Choose one day of the week to plan out your meals. And stick to it every week.
Plan out the breakfast, lunch, and dinner for you and your family for the whole week. You can add some snacks to the list too.
Once you have created a meal plan, stick to it. Make a grocery list of the things you need to buy.
By having a list, you can refer to it in the supermarket. Buy the items on the list, nothing more and nothing less. This helps you stay on track and avoid buying unnecessary things.
Imagine if you forget to buy something, you end up wasting precious time and use more gasoline money to go back to the store. Having a list helps you buy everything in one trip.
2. Raid Your Kitchen
Before you go grocery shopping on a budget, make sure to look at what you have in your fridge, freezer, and shelves.
Refer to your grocery list. Strike off those items you already have. You don’t need to buy more lean chicken breasts when you have some in the back of your freezer.
Another way is to plan your meals around what you already have. Ask yourself, “What can I make with these items?” Maybe you already have noodles on the shelves, cheese in the fridge or some ground beef in the freezer.
Buying something you already have is a waste of money. Raiding your kitchen will help you save money before leaving your home.
3. Design a Standardized List of Items
There are many things that go on the grocery list. It’s not limited to food. For example, there are cleaning items and paper products that you buy on a weekly or monthly basis.
To make your life easier, create a list of all the products you buy on a recurring basis. These items can be like your breakfast cereals, milk, and a loaf of bread. Or cleaning items like laundry detergent, soap, and toothpaste.
When you’re at the store, you don’t want to start worrying if you’re missing something on your list. What’s even worse is you are about to reach home and realized you forgot to buy something. That’s why it’s best to have everything listed out.
When you have them all listed out, your grocery list is already partially done. You will make your grocery list faster and with fewer headaches.
4. See What’s on Special
Grocery stores usually put ads for their weekly specials. In your area, it could be in the local newspaper, the stores might send them to you by mail, or you can look them up online.
Have a look at what products are on sale. Then use it to plan your meals and grocery list.
For example, if it’s chicken on sale this week, perhaps your meal plan will be mostly chicken. If it’s beef, then plan it around beef.
Moreover, look for other types of goods on sale. If the laundry detergent is on sale, you may consider taking advantage of the low price and stock up on them. You can keep them for a long time without going bad.
When regularly looking at the ads, pay attention to when things go on sale and by how much. Observe if there are any patterns in the sales cycle. It may be handy to record it down in a notebook or your phone.
Once you see a trend, use it to plan your purchases. Perhaps you will buy less when you know a sale is coming up. And when it’s on sale, you know how much you need to stock up until the next sale.
5. Save Money With Coupons
Coupons might seem like very small savings. On average, coupons save you 25 cents. You don’t need to be an extreme couponer to benefit from it.
These small savings add up. It’s not uncommon to see many 25 cents coupons add up to a total of $20 on your grocery bill.
When using coupons, you need to be careful because they are a double edge sword. They can save you money when used well. But if you are using it to buy impulse purchases and spend on unnecessary items, you end up increasing your cost of groceries per month.
The best way is to make your grocery list first. Then look for coupons that will help save on your grocery list. This helps you to make sure you’re not buying items just because you have a coupon for it.
6. Get More Savings With Your Smartphone
There are many apps out there that help with grocery shopping on a budget. These apps give you rebates and cashback. If you don’t want to take the time to clip coupons, this is a good alternative. And if you want to use it in addition to coupons, it will save you even more.
One example is the Ibotta app. When you have your grocery list, open up the app and look for those items.
It will give you some tasks to complete. It can be writing a comment about the item, sharing it on social media or answering a survey.
Then it will give you a list of stores where you go buy the item and get your cashback.
7. Use Your Freezer
Freezing and storing meals can help you save money. When you see a sale for meat, you can buy more of them and store them in the freezer for some time.
In the summer, the farmers market will be flowing with ingredients. You can buy them in bulk and preserve them for the winter when they’re more expensive. It may seem like you’re spending more in the summer. But you will save in the long run.
Plan a day when you will make the big batches of sauces. You can make tomato sauce and put them in a jar. In the winter, you can just buy the pasta and use the ready homemade tomato sauce you made in the summer.
You can also look into freezer meals. Set aside one day of the week to make several larger meals. Divide them into portions and freeze them. In the future, you’ll be surprised that when you need something, you open up your freezer and find out you already have them.
8. Consider Other Grocery Stores
You may have one grocery store that you like to visit. Maybe you’re already familiar with the aisles. Maybe you already know the friendly staff working there. Or maybe the location is the most convenient.
However, that store may not be the best option if you want to save money on your groceries.
Ask yourself why you are going to that particular store. Ask your friends and neighbors if they know where the best deals are.
When you are checking for weekly specials, also look at the specials happening in the other competing grocery stores in your area. You never know the grocery store just down the street a block away may save you money in the long run.
Also, check what is the best credit card for groceries for that store. If you have that card, take the potential savings into consideration.
You can save money by jumping around different stores. You could be going to buy spices at the dollar store. Then you go to your grocer for fresh vegetables and fruits.
However, if you don’t have time to hop around the different stores, then focus on choosing a store that generally offers lower prices. For example, Walmart, Aldi and Trader Joe’s tend to offer lower prices. While Whole Foods and The Fresh Market tend to be more costly.
9. Know Store Policies
When doing groceries at a particular store, it’s important to know the store’s policies. Especially when it comes to using coupons.
Find out if they accept competitor coupons, allow stacks of coupons and accept expired coupons.
By knowing these policies, you can make a better decision on which store you will go to. The last thing you want is to go to a store, spend all your time adding items to your shopping cart, only to find out at the cashier they don’t accept your coupons.
10. Timing is Essential to Stay Under Budget
Timing is also key for grocery shopping on a budget. The worst time to go is when you are hungry.
Many people make silly buys when they’re hungry. They start grabbing anything that looks good. And end up buying more food than they need in the fridge. And the fresh food items may go bad before they can eat them all.
Instead, go to a store when you’re full, and you’ll be surprised how much lower your grocery bill is.
Another thing about timing is when the stores do discounts. Some grocery stores have deli and bakery sections. They may discount their meat on certain days. Or they may discount their bread at the end of the day.
For example, most farmers at the farmers market don’t want to take their food home with them. So they discount them at break-even prices. You can take advantage of this to get a good deal on fresh fruits and vegetables.
11. Finish Shopping Before Reaching the Store
What if you don’t have to be at the store at all?
Today you can buy almost anything you want online. Many grocery stores offer online shopping options. You can have them delivered to you or you can choose curbside grocery pickup.
Some stores offer it for free while some may charge a small fee. If they do charge, don’t forget to include the cost in your budget.
Even with the charge, you can still benefit by saving time. You can focus on preparing meals.
Moreover, shopping online allows you to choose the exact items you want. Look at your grocery list and buy exactly what you need. There’s no impulse buying on the snacks that catches your eye in the store aisles.
And you no longer have to go to the cash register only to find out that the can of sauce you wanted is not on sale after all.
Save While at the Store
Now that you’ve done your planning, it’s time to visit the grocery store. Here are the tips and tricks to help with grocery shopping on a budget.
12. Only Buy What You Need
This sounds obvious but it’s actually difficult to do. There are many temptations in the supermarket so you need to practice some self-control. Stick to your grocery list religiously. Don’t buy things not listed.
You can do one better by not going near the tempting aisles in the first place. Look at your list, find exactly what you need, go to the checkout, and leave the store as soon as possible.
If you struggle with impulse buys, the first thing is to notice that you are doing it. Then start small by cutting down one impulse buy this week. Then another one next week and so on.
This is even more difficult when there’s a sale. Everyone loves a good deal. But if you buy stuff you don’t need, are you really saving money or spending more?
Before adding to your cart, ask yourself: Am I buying just because it’s on sale? And just because the shopping cart may be big, doesn’t mean you have to fill it up.
13. Buy In-Season to Keep Costs Low
Fruits and vegetables are essential for a balanced diet. But they can be expensive if you buy out of season and they don’t taste as good.
You want to stick to vegetables and fruits that are in season. It will help you keep your costs down and they taste better.
For example, you may be buying more oranges in the winter and peaches in the summer.
14. Consider Buying Generic Items
When doing your grocery shopping, you may have noticed name brands and store brands. Most of the time, store brands cost less. However, if you have a coupon, the name brand might be cheaper.
Some store brands are very similar in quality to name brands while some are not as good. So you need to take that into consideration.
When making a decision between name brand and store brand, don’t just look at the price but also at the quality.
If the store you go to only has name brands, consider going to another store that offers store brand products.
15. Check the Unit Prices
Don’t assume that bulk items or bigger packages are cheaper.
To know for sure if you’re getting the best deal, calculate the price per unit or price per ounce. Some stores already show them on the price tag but some are not so obvious.
You also want to compare the same item with different sizes. And also the same item offered by other brands.
If you have a coupon, also check the cost per unit. Just because it’s on sale or you have a coupon, doesn’t mean that it’s cheaper.
You can easily do quick calculations on your phone. Here’s how you do it.
Divide the item’s price by its quantity. Let’s say an item is marked two for $5 and another is marked ten for $25. After calculating, you’ll see that you actually get the same price. It’s not saving you money by buying in bulk.
16. Look High and Low for Better Deals
Grocery stores are smart. The way items are shelved are strategic.
Psychologists have studied consumer behaviors in grocery stores. What happens is people tend to buy things at eye level. So stores often put their most expensive items and brands at eye level. The cheaper alternatives are on the higher or lower shelves.
For items that appeal to kids like cereals, they put it at the kids eye level. It will attract your kids and get you to buy it for them.
As you go through the store, remember to check all the shelves for other affordable brands. Now you don’t have to fall for their marketing trick anymore.
17. Choose Unpackaged and Whole Ingredients
Prepackaged and pre-cut items may look convenient and save you time and hassle. But it’s not friendly to your wallet.
For example, compare chopped red peppers with whole red peppers. Chopped ones are more expensive and you get less quantity than whole red peppers. Those pre-cut things don’t stay fresh as long as whole.
There is also lettuce sold in a pre-packaged bag with a packet of dressing. It sure is convenient. You can just open it up and eat it. However, if you buy one head of lettuce and use a simple homemade dressing, it will save you money.
It’s possible to do grocery shopping on a budget by buying unpackaged and whole ingredients. They are cheaper and healthier.
18. Buy Meats When It’s On Sale
You can save on meat purchases by buying it on sale. Find out when the store you visit has a sale. Some stores have it on a certain day of the week. Some discount the meat when they are close to expiration.
Don’t be afraid to purchase them. Meat is like wine, it tastes better with age. Try it for yourself and see if clearance section meat tastes better.
You can also look for cuts of meat that are cheaper. For example, chicken thighs are cheaper than chicken breasts. Ground chuck is cheaper than sirloin. And pork loin is cheaper than pork chops.
When there is a good deal, purchase more to stock up. You don’t need to worry about it going bad since you can always put it in the freezer.
19. Leave Overspenders Behind
If you’re looking for a quick way to cut costs, find out who in the household is the overspender. Maybe it is your spouse or maybe it’s your kids.
It can be tough especially with kids. They get attracted by many things in the supermarket and they beg you to buy it for them. Some may even put it into your shopping cart without you knowing it.
You also end up watching what your kid is grabbing instead of comparing unit prices or finding the best deals. You can be stern but at the same time, you may feel bad about not buying what they want.
After finding out the overspender, leave them at home. And watch how quickly the average cost of groceries per month drops.
20. Pay with Cash
There is no point in knowing how to budget groceries if you don’t stick to it. If that’s you, leave your credit card at home and pay using cash.
When you pay cash, you pay more attention to what you’re spending because you need to physically count the cash. It’s not as easy as signing on a piece of paper. You start thinking about how it compares to your actual budget.
Another trick is to put unnecessary items at the end of the counter. Tell the cashier to stop once you reach the budget allocated.
These tricks will help you to stick to your budget.
21. Watch Your Purchases Get Scanned
Pay attention when the cashier is scanning your products. Sometimes things are mislabeled, products don’t match up on the system or the quantity isn’t correct.
If there are any problems, let the cashier know right away.
If you can’t watch the cashier scan, always check your receipt before you leave the store. If there are any mistakes, get it fixed right away so you don’t have to waste time and gasoline money on a second trip.
22. Keep a Running Total while You Shop
One way to stay within your grocery budget is to keep a running tally of the costs of items in your shopping cart. All you need to do is pull out your phone and use the calculator app. Every time you put something in, add to the total.
This simple action helps you to stop and ask yourself if you really need that item. This will cut down on buying those junk foods. Moreover, you won’t be surprised when you overshoot your budget at the cashier.
Another trick is to round up every number while you calculate. For example, $2.48 becomes $3. $6.75 becomes $7. $9.50 becomes $10 etc.
You will still have a good estimate of how much you’re spending. When checking out at the cashier, you’ll be surprised and happy to know that you are under budget!
Bonus: If You Buy It, Use It!
Here’s a bonus tip for you.
Your most expensive purchases are those that are left rotting in the pantry. You end up throwing them away. Those are money wasted.
If you have bought something, make full use of them. Have a look at what’s in your fridge, freezer, and shelves and use them. Don’t let them go to waste.
Grocery shopping on a budget is simple but it takes time to plan and you need to stick with the plan. But the savings are well worth it.
Start applying these tips and tricks for your next grocery trip. Once you have developed a good habit, you no longer have to be anxious at the grocery checkout line. Instead, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to be under budget week after week.