This post contains affiliate links that help me support my business with no additional cost to you.
According to the USDA groceries and dining out are the third-highest expenditure for a family after housing and transportation. The average dollar amount can vary widely from region to region (very similar to how wages can – anyone think that’s connected?? Yeah, me too). Knowing that you are spending so much of your budget on food it’s no surprise that you want to know how to start grocery shopping on a budget. Let’s get started!
Before we get started…
I just want to review a few basic tips that everyone probably knows already and get those out of the way. I’m sure you’ve read those articles that tell you it’s all about clipping coupons, buying generic, buying in bulk, checking the unit price, shopping the outside of the store, and shopping with a list. That is all fine advice. But let’s be clear, that is not the advice I’m offering here because you likely know it already and you’ve tried it. So let’s discuss some other things that can make a big difference in helping you start grocery shopping on a budget.
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #1 – Set a target
First of all, just deciding to spend “less” on groceries is pretty much setting yourself up for failure so let’s get rid of that ‘goal’ right now. You want to set a specific dollar target that you want to stay under whether it’s weekly or monthly. And in order to do that you need to know how much you are currently spending (are you tired of me telling you this yet?). Pretty hard to set an achievable goal if you don’t know how much you are spending right now. So just look over the last few months (3 is good enough) and see how much you spend.
Hint: This is one of the key reasons that I lump all my household and grocery items into one budget goal category. I do not have time to sort out what I spent on toilet paper versus milk and I bet you don’t either. Do yourself a favor and decide now exactly what you’re going to include in this category so when you set your budget amount you have a better chance of meeting it.
If you want to decrease your spending start by decreasing by a little bit at a time. Don’t even try to go from $1200 a month to $500. It won’t work. I would say start with 5%, 10% if you are really ambitious. Then you can slowly adjust it down as you learn what works for you from the rest of this list. This is the true key to grocery shopping on a budget – you have to have a realistic target number.
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #2 – Meal Plan
Hear me out! Meal planning is the most critical thing to my personal success when it comes to saving money on groceries. That said, I’m not crazy strict about how I use the meal plan and I’ve kind of made up my own system. So don’t think you have to suddenly have a plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with 2 snacks a day that you can never vary from. Here’s how I do it.
I only meal plan dinner and I do it a week at a time. For the most part, those dinners could happen any night of the week unless we have something specific happening. I put them in my family calendar app so that no one asks me what’s for dinner (secret sanity saver) and that’s it.
The main reason that I meal plan is so I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner and I’m guaranteed to have the ingredients to make actual meals. Seriously, how many times have you grocery shopped, come home with a cartload of groceries and had nothing to make a square meal? Meal planning doesn’t have to take long and it certainly doesn’t have to be crazy detailed. I do it because it reduces my stress and my grocery bill. That’s enough for me!
Hot tip: There are an abundance of meal planning services out there. I’ve tried several including Emeals, the Fresh20, and PlateJoy. My favorite is the Fresh20 because it takes advantage of reusing items throughout the week and is seasonal (extra savings). If you don’t want to plan your meals yourself it’s still worth investing in a meal planning service to save you time and money – check Groupon for some steep discounts on many services.
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #3 – Buy the least processed version
This one is way simpler than you might imagine and will save you a bundle. Whenever you are buying something, especially produce, buy the least processed version. See below for some examples of simple swaps (prices taken from the website of my local Kroger on the day I wrote this post so please know these are an estimate)
- Bagged romaine lettuce – $4.99 32 oz.
- Head of romaine lettuce – $1.79
- Savings – $3.20
- Pre-chopped garlic – $1.98 for 4.5 oz.
- Head of garlic – $.50
- Savings – $1.48
- Apple slice packages – $3.50 for 12 oz.
- Apples – $.90 for two gala apples
- Savings – $2.60
You get the idea. I’m all for saving some time but there is a lot of saving money on groceries to be had here too. Pick the things that are easiest for you to do without and do that.
Along the lines of processed foods, a scary stat to throw out there for your consideration, 16% of grocery budgets in America go-to snacks and junk food… So picking less processed food and less junk food will help you save money and probably lose weight too!
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #4 – shopping online
Bet you didn’t see that coming. Avoiding the grocery store is one of the best ways to save money on groceries. The best part about this tip is that it feels a little luxurious to avoid the crowds and craziness of the supermarket. Whether you choose to shop online and pick up curbside or spring for delivery (my personal choice) not roaming the aisles will save you a lot.
How does this work? When you are shopping from a list and you go through and search just the things on your list. You aren’t roaming ever aisle getting tempted by processed food (remember how we avoid that?) and wanting things that you didn’t even think of. You are essentially helping make yourself immune to the supermarket’s marketing! No more tempting chip endcap displays that make you think, “Oh chips! And then I need salsa, and guac, and maybe some jalapeno poppers!” and then before you know it you have half a cart full of Super Bowl snacks and it’s not even football season.
I have personally paid the annual membership for Instacart and have not looked back. It calculates how much time I’ve saved by using it and they deliver the groceries straight to my door whenever I want. No grocery store checkout lines AND I save money?? Boom! I’m sold.
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #5 – Make more things from scratch
Channel your inner Martha Stewart (or Rachel Ray if she’s your gal) and make a few more things from scratch to save tons of money on groceries. I am super fortunate that I grew up with a mother that taught me to bake and cook things from scratch so I’ve never found it to be a big deal, however, I realize that is not true for many of you. I want to encourage you that it is totally possible to half-ass it and still save some dough. (See what I did there? Great pun huh?)
You can make a cake with flour, sugar, butter, etc. or you can buy a cake mix for $1 and still save way more than buying one from the bakery. Kids like those packages lunches with crackers and cheese? You can buy lunch meat and a block of cheese and have them go to town with some cookie cutters for some fun shaped lunches to go. Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of buying the frozen premade ones. Make your own vinaigrette and save not only the $4 for salad dressing but also the years of it living half-used in your fridge door.
Grocery shopping on a budget tip #6 – Be selective about organic
If you live in a tree-hugging, hippie-ville like I do, eating all organic can be a serious social pressure. I get it, if I had the funds I would eat all organic. But when you are cutting back it’s time to choose your battles. So I go with the buying just the Dirty Dozen organically.
Never heard of the Dirty Dozen? It’s a list that is put out that lists the top 12 most pesticide-filled fruits and vegetables that you should avoid buying conventionally (non-organic). It’s easy to just keep posted on the fridge or saved to your phone and you can feel good about not buying too many terrible chemicals to ingest.
Finally, grocery shopping on a budget tip #7 – stop replacing things
I like to do this with things like spices and other odds and ends that we sometimes keep in our pantries but never seem to use. Whenever I purge our stuff I just don’t buy those things again until I have need of them. I’ve greatly reduced our spices, condiments, sauces, etc. I tried it with sandwich bags? No one noticed or has asked for them, they just use our reusable glassware.
Take it to the next level:
This last tip can be taken even further to add additional savings on your groceries. Stop buying things that are one-time use and/or disposable. Invest in glassware instead of the throwaway plastic stuff. Buy some dryer balls once and eliminate dryer sheets (and static) for three years. Start making French press coffee – you’ll feel fancy and eliminate pods and filters. There are many ways that you can buy something reusable that will save you a bundle in the end.
Speaking of taking it to the next level – if you have not checked out the Savings Success Guide you are MISSING OUT my friend! It’s free for Pete’s sake and it will help you so much in hitting your savings goals. Don’t wait! Check it out by clicking below.