Food prices in the US have soared over the last couple of years, prompting many to reevaluate the way they shop for groceries. Thankfully, with a little planning, you can continue eating healthy and even indulge your cravings from time to time.
We’ve got time-tested hacks and well-researched tips from seasoned shoppers that’ll help you make a budget-friendly grocery list and not stray from it - we know how tempting all those shining, stocked-up aisles can look, especially when you’re on a thin budget.
Grocery Shopping When Budget is Tight - 15 Proven Tricks
1. Get Your Budget Right
The first step to saving money on groceries is to make a budget. The amount you’ll set aside will depend on the number of people in your household and how much you typically spend. You can figure this out by looking over previous months’ receipts. Once you’ve got a ballpark number, ask yourself if you want to spend less than or maintain your average spending.
A general rule of thumb is that a household’s food budget shouldn’t exceed 15% of the income. If your goal is to spend not more than $500 on groceries, divide it by the number of grocery runs you expect to undertake. Make sure you plan the number of visits, as impulse grocery shopping is never good news for the budget. If you plan five grocery trips a month, you’ve got yourself a budget of $100 for each trip.
2. Make a Grocery List
If you walk into a grocery store without having a list in place, chances are you’ll overshoot your budget. And how can you not? With all your favorite and new products gleaming on the shelves, it’s hard not to drop a few into your cart. Here’s what you need to do: check your pantry and fridge to find out the items you already have to avoid buying duplicate items. Next, do some meal planning and create a list of items you need to stock up on.
For a cheap and healthy grocery list, include as many simple, fresh, and local ingredients as possible. Also, find different ways to use ingredients and leftovers. A meal-planning app is a great way to find meal ideas that align with your grocery budget. These apps also let you create lists and upload them for delivery or store pickup.
3. Keep an Eye Out for Offers
Nearly all stores hand out discounts and offers through weekly sale flyers to increase footfall. But they may not always be the brands you love. You’ll need to throw loyalty out of the window and be okay with substituting your favorite brands with generic alternatives. Many stores also run loyalty programs that can get you personalized offers. So make sure you sign up for these.
Clipping coupons off Sunday newspapers is a time-tested hack at saving big on groceries. But don’t forget to check out digital coupons on store apps or coupons.com. You can also earn cashback on your shopping with apps like Ibotta.
4. Buy Non-Perishables Online
You can save on gas and avoid impulse shopping by buying groceries online. At least the non-perishable ingredients. Things like granola bars and other dry pantry staples can be easily ordered online after comparing unit prices and adding promo codes. Subscriptions get you additional discounts, so consider availing that for ingredients you often use. When you’re shopping from home, you’re closer to your inventory and can crosscheck if you really need an item.
5. Don’t Go Grocery Shopping Hungry
We’ve all been there. Made poor and unhealthy purchases on an empty stomach without paying attention to the nutritional content. A study revealed that people who shop between 1 and 4 pm make healthier choices in favor of low-calorie foods than those who visit the store between 4 pm and 7 pm. Eat a healthy and filling snack, like a handful of almonds or an apple, before your grocery run can help you fight cravings.
6. Buy Fresh Seasonal Produce from the Farmers’ Market
Off-season produce generally comes from far-flung places and travels thousands of miles to arrive at your table. The long-haul transport is factored into the cost. In-season and locally grown fruits and veggies, on the other hand, are fresh, flavorful, and economical. Farmers’ markets are great shopping hubs for grabbing freshly picked, colorful, and flavor-packed produce.
Cheap and Healthy Seasonal Produce
Spring: Broccoli, artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, spinach, kiwi, pineapples, and strawberries.
Summer: Bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, beets, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, plum, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
Fall: Cauliflower, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, yams, parsnips, turnips, pears, grapes, and kiwi.
Winter: Turnips, leeks, winter squash, kale, potatoes, pumpkin, rutabagas, Swiss chard, oranges, and grapefruits.
7. Cut Back on Meat and Pre-packaged Foods
No, we’re not asking you to give up meat. Just cut back on it, as it happens to be one of the more expensive grocery items. There are more economical grains and ingredients to help you meet your daily protein intake. We’re talking about beans, tofu, legumes, and tempeh. If you can’t go meatless, consider buying whole chicken or larger cuts that’ll come out to be cheaper per pound. We also recommend steering clear of ready-made food aisles. As convenient as they seem, the cost of packaging and processing is generally transferred to the customer. They also contain higher sodium content and preservatives.
8. Consider Buying Store Brand Products
Most grocery stores sell private-label or store-brand products that are typically cheaper than national brands. In quality, quite frankly, they often turn out to be as good as reputed brands. Stores often give deep discounts on pricier items like dairy and seafood if you buy a version sold under their store name. Across categories, buying store brands can help you save up to 40% on grocery bills.
9. Opt for Whole Grains
Let’s move on to other pantry staples. Both whole and refined grains are fairly cheap, but whole grains have a leg up in health benefits. They are nutrition-dense and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Adding whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, rye, barley, and brown rice to your diet will keep your digestion healthy while reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the USDA.
10. Check and Compare Prices
There are multiple ways you can compare unit prices without having to drive down to the store. You can download the store’s apps to make a cost-effective choice. Check which name brand or private label is offering the best deal that particular week. Even when you decide to go down to the store, avoid going during the rush hour. Because when you shop during quieter hours, you can leisurely compare prices across the board to get more bang for your buck.
11. Buy in Bulk
Bulk buying is another time-tested hack for saving big on groceries. Go for pantry staples like grains, nuts, spices, or even frozen foods - pretty much anything that you use regularly and has a long shelf life. For this you can use our reusable muslin produce bags.
In other words, if you see something on sale that you love eating or cooking with, grab extras.
12. Skip Sugary Drinks
Beverages with added sugar, like sodas, energy drinks, iced teas, and even those with artificial sweeteners, are best avoided. Sure, they might seem cheap, but you’re not getting any health benefits by consuming them.
13. Try Different Stores
Do you have a favorite grocery store where the staff knows your name? You might need to be a bit more flexible as far as store loyalty goes, at least when the money is tight. We recommend checking off your grocery list by shopping at private label stores and then heading to cheaper ethnic stores, bakeries, and farmers markets closest to you to source the rest.
14. Opt for Frozen Fruits and Veggies
A great trick to save money while also loading up on nutrient-dense fruits and veggies is to buy their frozen version. You could also buy fresh in-season produce and pop it in the freeze to enjoy later. Bags of frozen berries, Brussels sprouts, and spinach don’t cost much and are typically frozen fresh from harvest at their ripened glory. This makes them rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
15. Bring Your Own Shopping Bag
Imagine doing everything perfectly to stay under budget and then paying extra for disposable bags at checkout just because you forgot to bring your own! Avoid that scenario by carrying reusable grocery totes and produce bags. Not only will you avoid paying the bag tax levied in many states, but you will also keep single-use paper or plastic bags out of circulation.
Eco-Friendly Bags For Grocery Shopping
Once you’ve got your budget grocery list in place, you’ll need a bunch of reusable bags for groceries before swinging into action. Organic Cotton Mart’s space-saving grocery bags are crafted from 100% organic cotton canvas and offer ample room to accommodate every item on your list.
These are easy to wash and reuse and can be folded down to a compact size once you’ve unloaded them. Keep a few of these in your car’s trunk, and you’ll never have to pay extra for bags again!