Nothing feels better than trimming your grocery bill in half with smart shopping. But extreme couponing, which requires plenty of patience and practice, doesn't have to be the only solution. Grocery shopping on a budget is easier than you might think.
You can still enjoy nutritious meals and plenty of fresh produce without overextending your dollar. These shopping habits can help you reduce the stress of grocery shopping and save money to make it to payday.
How to Grocery Shop On a Budget:
Amazon, wholesale stores like Costco and even your local grocery store all have online shopping available for your convenience. You can often purchase non-perishable goods cheaper online than you can in person and compare prices more easily among retailers.
Tip: Buy shelf-stable essentials in bulk to save more per unit and never run out of staples.
Perishable items like fruits and veggies are most affordable when they’re in season. Seasonal produce can be sourced from local producers instead of shipping internationally or from specialized greenhouses.
Even some meats are more available and affordable in certain seasons than others. Knowing when your favorite foods are in season lets you make fresh and nutritious meals to stay healthy and save money.
Tip: Know what perishable foods are in season to enjoy your favorite produce at its freshest and cheapest.
|Nutrition In Every Season|
|Sources: USDA | Good to Know|
Meal plans can save you time and money in a busy week. Pre-plan your meals so you know exactly what ingredients you need and avoid the temptation to buy more.
Plan to eat meals with the freshest produce early in the week so you can avoid food waste as it ages and resist the urge to go out to eat if your ingredients have gone bad.
Tip: Plan your meals and weekly dinner schedule in advance to prevent impulse purchases and save on food waste.
Meat and grains are easy to buy in bulk and save until you need them. Meat in particular is much cheaper in large quantities and you can trim your own portions at home and freeze what you don’t use right away.
Grains are relatively shelf-stable and account for a good proportion of our diet, so they’re always nice to have around. Store excess grains in airtight containers and they can last several months without losing quality.
Tip: Invest in proper storage so you can save on bulk buys without sacrificing your food’s quality over time.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious (and delicious) as fresh produce without having to worry if they’ll go bad. Frozen ingredients are also cheaper at checkout and can be bought in large quantities or pre-mixed for your meals.
Tip: Keep a stock of frozen ingredients for your favorite quick and nutritious meals and save time and money on fresh produce.
As you prepare your meals, plan for the most perishable items to be used first. You’ll have more motivation to cook with a fridge full of food and you can use your produce before it goes to waste.
Check on your perishable items regularly and freeze, pickle or can any produce that’s about to spoil. Frozen fruits and vegetables are especially great for smoothies and soup stock.
Tip: Learn which produce can be regrown from food waste, like green onion stalks, and regrow your veggies before they spoil.
Frozen entrees make for an easy dinner, but they’re often more expensive than a homemade meal. You’re also given a smaller portion without the option to enjoy leftovers.
Enjoy the convenience of a frozen dinner by pre-preparing your weekly meals. You can prepare your produce and cook all raw ingredients ahead of time. Then just heat your meals in the oven and enjoy a cost-effective, ready-to-eat meal at home. This is a great way for busy parents to save on dinner and ensure their family is eating healthy.
Tip: Fully prepare your weekly meals so they’re ready to heat and eat, or just prepare the ingredients to save time and dishes each weeknight.
Keep an eye out for coupons and weekly ads, and plan your meals around available discounts to maximize your savings. Just be cautious to use coupons on what you actually need instead of buying discounted items just because they’re on sale.
You can also use rebate and coupon apps to get money back on some of your purchases. Grocery store apps will often offer custom deals based on your purchase history.
Tip: Combine store and manufacturer coupons for the best deals on your favorite products.
Online shopping allows you to compare costs with other products and even other retailers to get the best price. Grocery stores also include coupons on their websites and apps, and sometimes even exclusive discounts, so you’re not missing out on in-store deals.
Tip: Check the unit price available in product descriptions or the in-store price tag to directly compare the cost of items in different sizes.
Browsing sales and clipping coupons can help you save, but it can also influence you to overspend. Limit your coupon use to products that you know you’ll use and plan your list around sales. Avoid adding items to your cart just because they’re on sale.
Tip: Try to limit your shopping to the perimeter of the store, which has all of the grocery basics, and avoid the inner aisles with costly processed food.
Most online recipes tell you exactly how many servings they make so you can estimate how much you’ll have left over. Work leftovers into your meal planning and save them for lunch later in the week.
You can also plan to double your recipe so you have enough to freeze and enjoy at a later date. It’s much cheaper to buy extra ingredients for the same dish than to buy all new ingredients for a separate recipe. Many ingredients like fresh herbs and some produce are bundled so you buy more than you may need for a single meal.
Tip: Consider which meals will have leftover ingredients, like fresh cilantro or ginger, and plan other recipes that use these ingredients to use them before they age.
Pre-portioned snack packs make lunch boxes easy, but they’re not always cheap. Instead of packaged crackers and applesauce, buy snacks in bulk and portion them yourself.
Tip: Bento-style lunch boxes include compartments for snack-sized items, or you can use reusable bags and food containers for snack time.
Local bakers, butchers and other food producers may offer better deals than your local grocery store. Ask about their weekly specials and aging products. You may find stellar savings with aging bread or meat that needs to be sold quickly. You’ll also be supporting small businesses and local food producers.
Tip: Shop your farmers market at the end of the day and you may find great deals on unsold products.
Check out your pantry and fridge to see what’s already available before making your shopping list. Plan your first few meals around the remaining ingredients so you can use them before they go bad and save some money on your trip — especially if you consider that the average American home throws out $1,600 worth of produce alone every year.
Tip: Freeze items that may go bad before you use them. Vegetables can also be used to make stock that can be frozen for later use.
Generic brands tend to be more affordable than name-brand products. Most generic brands are just as high-quality as big-name brands, and some are even produced in the exact same factories.
Tip: Buy pantry staples like canned soup and sugar, as well as kitchen supplies like parchment paper and plastic bags, from generic brands to save.
A quick trip for an item or two can easily turn into an $80 bill. It’s best to get everything you need in one weekly trip to limit temptations to spend more.
You can also keep a list of cooking staples you’re low on so any time you need to make a quick trip, you know exactly what you need. You also won’t be caught without olive oil or fresh bread just as you’re ready to cook.
Tip: Consider ordering quick ingredients online for pickup so you don’t have to enter the store and can avoid temptation.
Grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be difficult, but it takes some practice and know-how.
If you’re trying to cut your grocery bill, consider going meatless a few meals a week. Meat is one of the most expensive ingredients on your list, and many recipes are just as delicious without meat.
Shopping for seasonal produce will also trim your expenses since they’re easier to source in certain seasons. Similarly, produce that grows locally will be more affordable than international foods.
It helps to know generally what products are most affordable by category. Check out this chart of the most affordable foods per pound across four key dietary categories.
Your grocery budget will depend on your family size, needs and shopping habits. The USDA estimates the average adult spends $60-80 a week on groceries. A family of four may expect to pay $220-300 a week depending on the children’s ages and family budget.
How much you should budget depends on your lifestyle. Consider how many times you eat out per week, what type of meals you eat and if you keep leftovers. Try meal planning for a few weeks to find a grocery budget that works for you.
The USDA also has guidelines for how much you should spend based on your age and your typical grocery spending. You can explore budget recommendations based on age, diet and spending with online grocery budget calculators.
Whether you love to cook for friends and family or you prefer a quick pasta dinner, you can grocery shop on a budget with a few simple habits and food knowledge. Reducing your grocery spending can help you save more to pay down debt and improve your credit.