We’ve all heard the standard advice about grocery shopping on a budget: make a grocery shopping list and stick to it. We’ve all heard it. Plan out what you need and then only buy what you need. Meal plan, make a list before going to the supermarket- we’ve all heard it! However, when it comes to food shopping, I say: do the opposite!
I do a lot of grocery shopping on a budget. I work very hard to make sure my food budget stays low, and my grocery shopping bill is not too high. I have become pretty awesome at having a super low grocery budget.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget: The Best Tips
Don’t Meal Plan!
The conventional wisdom is to plan exactly what you will make each day for lunch or each night for dinner and then go shopping for what you need.
Having a shopping list is the best way to save money on your food budget. I guess this can help with impulse shopping if you are struggling with that. But, when you are on a tight budget, this is the best way to spend less on groceries.
When grocery shopping on a budget, especially when it’s a tight budget, I go to the store, see what’s on sale, and plan my meals around what I find on sale. So I do a meal plan- but I plan my meals based on what I bought; I don’t buy based on what I plan. This is such a simple way to save a little money in your grocery budget.
Are tomatoes on sale? Go home and google tomato recipes. Is canned corn on sale? Look in your cookbooks for recipes with corn. Don’t make teriyaki chicken if you need to go and buy teriyaki sauce. Make teriyaki chicken because the sauce was on sale.
I found some of my favorite food recipes because I was searching for what to do with the food that I bought. And you will discover new foods that you like. I had a memorable two weeks, where I tried tons of beet dishes because beets were dirt cheap. It turns out my kids like beets! Really.
My 6-year old will down a whole serving of beets for a snack. Who would have guessed? Not me. I would have assumed that he wouldn’t like them, and I would probably have never thought ever to include them in a meal. It would never have made my way onto a grocery list.
Once I bought the beets, I had to research how to serve them, and I realized that there were so many ways to prepare them. They are also great plain- just roasted or boiled. They are also super, super healthy, so score! Who would have thought beets would be one of the most eaten veggies in my house?
Don’t buy two pounds of a random grain just because it was on sale if you have never tried it before. You may not like it, and that would be a colossal waste and not particularly budget-friendly! But once you do try it and love it, run out and buy some more- some for eating and some for stocking up.
When you have a preconceived idea of what you MUST make for dinner or what you NEED to buy, it’s tough to leave the store without it- even if it’s more than you want or can spend.
When you plan your meals around what’s cheap and available, you can stay within your budget and eat deliciously even when you’re tightly budgeted. Don’t fall into the trap of finding delicious recipes online with exotic or expensive ingredients, and then buy them. Buy the ingredients, and then find the delicious recipes!
Use Building Blocks
What I do is I take a few hours and create the building blocks of a few meals. I don’t need to decide in advance what dishes I will be making- I just prepare ingredients. Then, I can choose what I am in the mood for and what works for me time-wise.
As a working mother, my goal is to get a decent supper on the table every night. I don’t always have time for a “fancy” home-cooked meal, which keeps me away from take-out or unhealthy, quick, kids-foods like chicken nuggets and hot dogs. I can also customize the dinner based on a kid’s current preferences, as my son likes to keep me guessing what foods HE HATES!
If you are beholden to meal plans, then you will find it more challenging to do your grocery shopping on a budget. I use the Building Blocks Meal Planning method instead (Meal prep and use leftovers from what is already available)- and it helps me save money and reduces meal planning stress!
It also discourages me from eating out because the food is already in the house.
Stock Up on Basics
It’s a good habit to buy one extra thing on sale to keep in your pantry. When a staple or a favorite goes on sale, buy it and put it in your closet. If you have basics in your pantry, you won’t be tempted to buy takeout or run to the store when you are hungry (a notorious budget-buster!).
Store-brand items are usually cheaper than name-brand- but if you must have the name-brand, wait until it goes on sale and then stock up, especially if it’s a pantry staple.
Remember, food prices are very seasonal and location-dependent, so not every cheap and budget-friendly recipe will be affordable and budget-friendly FOR YOU. That is why you have to know what you can afford before you plan what to make. See what’s on sale before you decide what to make.
You can also stock up on some veggies and put them in the freezer when they are in season so you can eat them all year round. Buying non-seasonal items just because it’s in a recipe is not the best way to save money on groceries.
Make Drastic Diet Changes
Eat more plant-based food and slash that grocery budget.
Of course, you can shop all the sales and use all the coupons and do all the tips and hacks to save money on groceries, but if you need to do your grocery shopping on a budget, you probably do not have much extra time on your hands. I can certainly attest to that!
As a mom who works full-time, I certainly have my hands full, and I can’t run around to every store to get the best deal and use each coupon properly. This is especially true if you are trying to feed a large family on a tight budget. You will need to make some drastic changes to get your grocery shopping bill under your budget.
For us, that drastic change was thinking of plant-based food as a main dish instead of animal-based foods. This means that instead of eating meat, chicken, fish, or cheese as a main dish, we switched to eating various beans and tofu as the main dish instead. Doing this major diet switch helped save us tons of money on food, and we started being more healthy overall, which is a great extra benefit.
Doing your grocery shopping on a budget is not an easy feat! Hopefully, these ways can help you grocery shop on a budget and save some money for you and your family.