Grocery Shopping on a Budget: Saving Money When Shopping for Food
Shopping for groceries when you’re on a tight budget can be intimidating. But the truth is that many people spend way more than they should on food — or more than they need to. It is possible to buy groceries while pinching pennies. It just takes a bit of preparation and practice. But with enough of both, you’ll be an expert at feeding your family on a dime.
How Much of Your Monthly Income Should You Spend On Groceries?
When you’re wondering how to budget groceries, the first thing you need to know is how much, ideally, you should be spending. Grocery bills stack up at an astonishing rate, with many families spending more than they need to.
Food costs range depending on your area, family size, and dietary needs. But in general, budget experts recommend an average of about $250 per person, per month. This will also depend on a person’s age since children have smaller nutritional needs than adults.
How to Grocery Shop on a Budget
There are many ways to cut down your grocery budget. Follow the tips below to save some money.
Plan Meals Ahead of Time
This might be the most essential part of cutting back on your grocery bill. Planning meals ahead of time means that you’ll know exactly what you need to buy and how much, generally, it will cost.
This also allows you to plan more affordable meals. If your budget is tight, there’s nothing wrong with having pasta, omelets, or grilled cheese sandwiches make a regular appearance on your dinner menu.
Meal planning also reduces the likelihood that you’ll be going back to the store in the middle of the week. Having what you need at home means you don’t need to go out and spend more money.
Look For Generic Brands
Brand name items advertise themselves as better quality than store brands. But the truth is that many of these items come from the same manufacturers or companies. The brand names are then marked up in price — even though they’re the same product as the other brands.
You can save yourself quite a bit of money by buying store and generic brands of items and skipping the name brands. If you are a hardcore devotee of brand names, try to narrow it down to just a few items. It’s OK to splurge on a few select things as long as you choose the cheaper option for most items.
Stick to Your List
Go to the grocery store with a list and stick to it. Make your shopping trips quick and businesslike. A leisurely trip around the store makes it tempting to buy things that you don’t need. But a budget grocery list is a handy reference to keep you on track.
Some experts even recommend shopping exclusively with cash. While this might seem like overkill, it is an excellent way to grocery shop on a budget and stick to that budget. When you’re paying with cash, you don’t have an option to buy more than what you can afford.
Buy Ingredients, Not Ready-to-Eat Items
Ready-to-eat items can be tempting, especially since they’re often more convenient. Unfortunately, they’re usually more expensive, too. Stick to versatile, nutritious items that you can buy in bulk, such as rice, pasta, vegetables, and alternative protein sources.
Skip the Beverages
Extra beverages like juice, soda, carbonated water, and alcohol can add a shocking amount to your grocery bill. While these items are nice, they’re not strictly necessary — and many of them aren’t good for you.
Instead of spending a lot of extra money on drinks, stick to the essentials. Water and milk are a necessity. It’s up to you to decide if you want to continue buying coffee or tea — we all need some comfort items, after all. By prioritizing must-have items and skipping the unnecessary ones, you’ll give your wallet some much-needed relief.
Use a Discount App
Discount apps can be a helpful tool for saving money on groceries. These phone applications provide digital coupons for items in your area or grocery store, including household cleaners, baby items, and toiletries.
Some of these are applied at the cash register (all you have to do is show the cashier your phone), while others are applied retroactively in the form of cashback. Popular discount apps include Ibotta, Rakuten, Checkout 51, Fetch Reward, and Coupons.
Do the Math as You Go
Some grocery stores have a handy calculator built into the shopping cart, so you can calculate your costs as you go. If yours doesn’t have tools like this, feel free to use your phone or a piece of paper. Keeping track of the expenses as you shop will ensure that you don’t get caught off guard at the cash register — and that you stick to your budget.
Even if it’s not exact, it’s a good idea to do a general tab in your head. Round up to the nearest dollar, so $1.75 becomes $2.00. Overestimating is an excellent way to make sure you stay economical in your choices.
Cut Back on Meat
Meat is nice to have, but it’s also expensive. To cut back on your grocery bill, try to reduce your meat consumption. Even just eating it once or twice a week is better than every day. Another benefit? It’s better for the planet.
Instead of meat, look for protein alternatives like beans, rice, eggs, nut butter, dairy, and tofu. If you’re a big meat eater, don’t despair. You can still have meat occasionally while cutting back on your grocery costs. In the meantime, take advantage of the many websites that share delicious vegetarian recipes. The planet — and your health — will thank you.
Becoming a Pro at Shopping on a Budget
Grocery shopping on a budget is a challenge that takes time and practice to perfect. Don’t despair if you still find yourself overspending during those first few attempts. Eventually, you’ll perfect budget grocery shopping with a method that’s perfect for your wallet and your family.
Cary Silverman is a consummate entrepreneur having sold multiple companies during his 20 years of business experience in the financial industry, but for him, it isn’t about the money. His success is rooted in his passion to focus on doing something better today than it was done yesterday. These days, he’s the CEO of Waldo General, Inc. that oversees the operation of King of Kash.