Starting your week off with a full pantry and fridge is always a good feeling. Grocery shopping on a budget, however, takes a bit of planning to perfect. Understanding the ins and outs of your local stores, how to find grocery deals, and choosing cheap, healthy meals that work for your family are well worth the challenge.
Figuring out how to grocery shop on a budget helps you with far more than meal planning. When you cut costs, you have more room in your budget for other things like bills, family outings and even reaching larger money goals. Here are 21 tips to help you get the most out of your grocery budget:
1. Set a Strict Budget and Stick to It
Ever wonder what the common food budget for one or more people is across the US? The USDA keeps track of the average grocery budget each month. The data varies by family size, the age of household members, and levels of budget plans. Though prices range per family, a general rule of thumb is to try to stick to a budget of $100 per family member per week.
Most importantly, find what grocery budget amount works within your larger budget and set this number in stone at the start of the month. This will advise everything from grocery list making, to when to seek out less expensive online options, to ideas for eating healthy on your budget.
2. Make a Shopping List Ahead of Time
Without a grocery list, it’s easy to slip into autopilot in the grocery store, especially if you’re hungry or tired from a busy week. As ideas pop up throughout the week—either for cheap healthy meals or staples that have run out—mark them on a running grocery list.
You have many options available to you for creating grocery lists. Some people prefer to write on a physical list that they keep in their purse or on their kitchen counter. Others prefer to use a refrigerator whiteboard or the “Notes” app on their phone. We suggest keeping an electronic grocery list, as it is easily accessible on-the-go, and can be shared with friends and family who may be doing some of the grocery shopping themselves.
If you’re looking for an easy way to create and organize your grocery lists, try the Fetch app. The app has a shopping list generation tool that makes it easy to compile the perfect grocery list for any budget.
Once your grocery list is complete, it may be helpful to separate it into categories to guide your shopping. We suggest dividing your list into categories by the stores you intend to visit during your grocery shop. For example, items that can be purchased at the discount store should all be grouped together. Finally, if you clip coupons or scan your local paper for grocery deals, mark any discounted items on your grocery list.
3. Be Smart About When You Shop
One of the best tips for grocery shopping on a budget is heading to the store when you’re feeling rested, fed, and focused. Though it can be hard to avoid, rushing off to the store in a hurry can mean missing grocery deals or making impulse purchases.
Though kids can be a fun distraction for getting through a shop, you’re more likely to save money on groceries if you’re concentrated and calm.
Most importantly, never head to the store on an empty stomach. You may even consider keeping some cheap healthy snacks in your car or purse if you forget. If you’re hungry, you’re more likely to branch off your grocery list.
4. Make Meal Plans
Sit down with your family and brainstorm both your must-have snacks as well as some cheap dinner ideas for the upcoming week. This helps to get the whole family involved in reaching your grocery budget goal. You can also plan who is cooking and helping out with dinner each night.
Check what you currently have in the pantry and build your basic grocery list from here. If you need new recipes, look at your favorite blogs, cookbooks, and recipes on online grocery shopping sites for new suggestions of how to eat healthy on a budget. You can also check out the recipe inspiration feature on the Fetch app for healthy, budget-friendly recipes for any occasion.
5. Limit Your Number of Shopping Trips
Though it can be helpful to break up your shopping between a few local stores and online grocery shops, create one designated time per week to buy food. Quick, unplanned stops throughout the week mean buying things outside of the cheap and healthy meal plan you spent time building. On these hurried trips, you’re more likely to grab items without checking for sales and coupons elsewhere.
6. Use Rebate and Savings Programs
Taking advantage of grocery rebates and savings programs can help you save money just by making your usual purchases. With Fetch, all you have to do is snap a photo of your receipt and rack up points toward rewards and discounts on thousands of products. This makes heading back to the store next week even more exciting.
7. Start with What You Have
The first step for cooking on a budget is utilizing what you already have in the pantry. Do you have leftover meat in the freezer that could work into your meal plan? What about leftover pasta that’s been piling up? Dig into the back of your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer—you may have a special sauce or seasoning that could inspire a cheap, healthy meal.
If you’re new to cooking, it’s important to know that many ingredients in recipes can be swapped out for alternatives. If the recipe calls for a specific protein, you may be able to use what you have at home instead. Try to avoid purchasing spices, herbs or sauces that you don’t foresee yourself using in the future—a similar option may work just as well.
8. Know Where to Shop
Quite often, even the cheapest grocery stores in the area won’t have everything you need. A unique way to save money of groceries is to consider shopping at discount stores like Dollar General and Save-a-Lot for your non-food items. When buying in bulk is the best option, stores like BJs and Costco may be cheaper and require fewer shops a month.
Stay in the know about stores with special savings programs. For example, Target will match the prices of goods from select online competitors.
Local farmers markets may be the best option for cheap and fresh produce, and discount stores like Aldi may be a good option for select items. Be sure to check out all of your options as you build your grocery shopping list.
9. Try Price Matching
Many big name stores, like Walmart and Target, have price matching policies. This means that they will match the price another store offers on a product, given that the item size and type are the same.
Before you shop, check local ads, grocery store flyers, and even junk mail ads to see if you can find discounted prices on items you need. Once you get to the grocery store, pick up these items in the quantity indicated in the ads. If your grocery store price matches, all you have to do is show them the price another store advertises and they will match it.
10. Buy Food in Season
The more sustainable and cheapest grocery options often go hand-in-hand. By sticking to seasonal produce, you’re more likely to pick out the cheapest vegetables and fruit in the store. For example, root vegetables are more plentiful in the fall and winter, and stores often mark them on sale during this time.
Peruse online shopping sites for seasonal sales and specials as well. Some companies may even connect with local farms in the area and will offer deals on ongoing purchases.
Both of these tactics will also help you eat healthy on a budget. By keeping your recipes simple and filled with fresh, seasonal items, you’re less likely to need heavy salt or seasoning.
11. Buy What’s on Sale
Grocery sales often require you to buy more than one item to get the discounted price. Though sale items are always a great way to save money on groceries, only purchase the amount you will use before the expiration dates. Dry goods are perfect for this reason, as are canned vegetables and condiments.
12. Calculate As You Go
This helpful grocery store saving skill can become a fun challenge as you get used to it over time. Keep a running tally in your mind or on a phone calculator as you pick up items from your grocery list. If you’re concerned that you’ll go over budget, choose the items from your basic grocery list—made up of all your essentials—and add on any cheap healthy snacks afterward.
Grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking, and this game, in particular, relieves the fear of the checkout counter. If you have a sense of what to expect when you arrive, there’s no sticker shock when it’s time to pay. This also keeps you more aware of potentially double-swiped items or missed discounts.
13. Build in Variety
Add some excitement to your grocery shopping list with a few new items each week. It’s easy to fall into dependable recipes that you know help you shop on a budget, but throwing in some variety keeps you motivated to cook each week.
New meal ideas will help you avoid heading to a restaurant throughout the week. Trying new recipes also helps you broaden your cooking skills. This eventually leads to the ability to substitute ingredients more easily, which is always a dependable way to save money on groceries.
14. Know Your Splurge Items
If there are brands or specific food items you cannot live without, build your grocery list around them first. Items like meat, paper goods, and pet food can tip the scales of your budget, but at times, it may be unavoidable. Choose which products are absolutely necessary for you and make the rest of your grocery decisions from here.
15. Price Check at the Counter
Grocery stores move quickly, and it isn’t abnormal for a sale to not make it into the checkout system. Keep an eye on the screen as your food is rung up. If you know a sale did not ring up properly, let them know. To save time, snap a photo of sale displays on your phone in case there are any issues.
As mentioned earlier, shop around for the best price online in case your store practices price matching.
16. Double-Check the Receipt
As you head out of the store, take a glance at the receipt to make sure nothing was rung up twice or without its sale price. This is especially helpful if your original estimation was way off from the actual total. Speak with customer service if you spot an error.
17. Eat Leftovers
Make a leftover game plan as you write your meal plan for the week. By avoiding lunch restaurants and takeout, you’re more likely to stick with your goal of eating healthy on a budget. Transform some recipes into new meals such as adding taco meat to a casserole or turning roasted chicken into a salad.
18. Learn How to Properly Freeze, Store and Even Can Your Food
Finding food in your ridge past its expiration date is always a disappointment. As your week goes on, store all leftovers in airtight containers. If you plan to wait more than a few days to eat something, pop it in the fridge. Some foods, meat and certain vegetables require specific freezing instructions.
For easy meals, freeze and store food in their individual or family portion sizes. This is especially helpful with soups and stews. Simply pull them out of the fridge and warm in a pan on nights you cannot cook.
If you have a large batch of tomatoes or cucumbers from your CSA or a bulk sale purchase, learn how to can them. This stretches your veggies into the next season while allowing them to stew and develop flavor in the meantime.
19. Track Your Spending
Using a debit or credit card at the store allows you to more easily track your spending. When all your purchases are in one place, you can budget more clearly. A mobile banking app is especially helpful for this.
Go a step further by creating a family budgeting sheet in Excel. After grocery shopping each week, add your receipt to your total budget for the month. This way, you can adjust the following week’s grocery list based on your budget.
Grocery shopping on a budget is a breeze once you get the hang of it. By sticking to your grocery list, considering cheap online shopping options, and using programs like Fetch, you can lower your grocery bill instantly. Plan a week of cheap healthy meals with the help of this guide and simplify your entire grocery shopping experience.