Let’s talk about grocery shopping on a budget. You can cut lattes and your cable bill, but the one thing you can’t cut from your budget? Food. Food is expensive. Whether you’re a student on a low budget or a parent trying to keep the food bills at bay, we could all use some tips on managing our grocery budget properly so we can save more money.
The average American spends around $7,300 on food each year. And, your grocery spending can eat up anywhere from 14% to 34% of your household income.
That said, grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health. It’s about shopping smarter to make the most out of your monthly grocery budget. It’s also very easy to do if you carve out the time. You’d be surprised at how simple it can be to cut your grocery bill in half!
So what can you do today in order to save money on your next grocery run and minimize impulse purchases? Here are 20 ways to get more out of your monthly grocery budget. (Be sure to check out our frugal meal plan ideas as well!)
1. Review what you have in your pantry
The easiest way to reduce your grocery bill is to simply buy less food. And no—we’re definitely not suggesting that you let yourself go hungry to save a few bucks.
Instead, give your pantry (and fridge/freezer) a double check before you head out to the store. Do you really need everything on your list? You may have already written “almond milk” on your grocery list—but turns out you bought in bulk last time and still have another box in your pantry.
Or maybe you wanted to buy beans to make tacos for dinner. But checking your pantry reveals that you already have a few cans of chickpeas on hand—and those will do just fine for tacos, too!
Bottom line: Before you head to the store (or even make your grocery list), take stock of what’s already in your pantry. You may need to buy fewer groceries (and spend less money!) than you thought.
2. Create your grocery budget
If you want to save money on groceries for the long term, then you need to create a budget—and stick to it.
Start by figuring out how much you currently spend on groceries. Review credit card statements and receipts from the last 2 to 3 months. What is your average spend on groceries each month?
If this number is above your target grocery budget, then it’s time to make some changes. An easy way to redesign your grocery budget is to work backward.
First, decide how much you want to spend on groceries each month. For example, let’s say you’re comfortable spending $250 per month. That equals $62.50 per week.
Next, make your weekly grocery shopping list—and make sure it does not top your weekly budget (in this case, $62.50).
If you tend to lean on credit cards and have a hard time holding yourself to a budget, try going to the grocery with just the $62 in cash. This way, you can be sure that you won’t buy more than you can afford—and you’ll stay true to your ideal grocery budget.
3. Plan your meals
A big part of grocery shopping on a budget is planning your meals. Meal planning is the key to saving money, as well as saving time. Start off small and plan your meals for the entire day.
Once you’ve mastered that, proceed to plan your meals for the entire week, then work up to creating a monthly meal planner. Meal prep is easy, and everybody can do it! Cook your meals in bulk and store them for later in the week. For example, you can plan casseroles, pasta dishes, sandwiches, side dishes and more!
This process not only ensures that you save money by making sure that you’re able to distribute your ingredients over several meals evenly, but it also ensures that you’re able to conveniently heat up your food and eat it immediately.
By the way, there are tons of creative and frugal meals you can try out!
4. Create a grocery list
We often spend more than we need to when we’re shopping for our groceries. We buy more than we can eat, and we often lose track of what we intended to purchase in the first place.
Much like how a to-do list keeps us on track with our tasks, a budget grocery list is imperative to keep us on track with what we must buy.
While it may sound basic, this factor must not be overlooked. How many times have you made a quick trip to the shops to buy one thing, but you end up buying a lot of other items you didn’t really need?
Writing up a quick budget grocery list — or on your phone, if pen and paper are a little too ‘old school’ for you — before leaving for the store will effectively prevent you from buying any unnecessary items as it keeps you on track.
5. Don’t limit yourself to one store
Sales don’t just happen at one store. Every store is different, and each of them is constantly competing to provide consumers with the best prices. Take advantage of this and shop for the best prices.
You’re not constricted to purchasing your groceries at just one store so take the time to scout out the varying prices and follow the cheapest prices. Shopping at different stores is one of the simplest ways to save money on groceries.
6. Shop for store-brand goods
Store-brand items are indisputably cheaper than commercial goods, and usually, you can’t tell the difference, apart from the packaging. Due to store-brand goods being independently produced and packaged by the store itself. It’s no wonder that they’re cheaper.
While not all foods have a store-brand counterpart, items such as canned foods, condiments, and other processed foods are definitely guaranteed to have store-brand versions.
7. Bargain hunt
A huge part of grocery shopping on a budget is bargain hunting. Sometimes all the planning in the world can be fruitless if that one head of lettuce you need is $6.99.
When you head to the supermarket, take note of what fruits and vegetables are on sale. Most likely, it will be things that are in season and in excess.
If you see something on sale in the shops, make the most of it. Notice that 2 lbs of pumpkin are only $.50? Why not grab a couple? Vegetables can be so diverse and used in so many different recipes.
It might be just pumpkin soup, or you can get creative and make things like pumpkin cornbread, pumpkin beef, black bean chili, or pumpkin cannelloni.
See some cheese, eggs, ground beef, chicken breast or pork chops on sale? These can be stretched across multiple meals in your meal plan.
You might also see an abundance of cabbage or corn. You can preserve these foods and enjoy them at a later time, saving you tons of money down the road.
8. Prioritize your food needs
Defining your needs vs. your wants isn’t just for items you buy. This method can be used when you are making your budget grocery list too. It’s easy to buy up a bunch of random food that we really don’t need just because it sounds tasty.
For instance, do you NEED to buy steak every week, or could you find a cheaper option for dinner? Finding ways to save money on groceries by defining what you truly need can lead to big savings every month.
9. Pay with cash
People tend to spend more money when using credit and debit cards. Paying in cash can help you stick to your monthly grocery budget easier. The cash envelope budgeting system can be a great way to switch from cards to cash.
This is where you have dedicated envelopes to put specified amounts of cash in to pay your bills. For example, you would have an envelope specifically for your groceries for the month. This helps you stick to your budget and prevents overspending.
10. Use store rewards cards
Most grocery stores have a free discount card, points card, or rewards card. These are cards that you can use to earn points and get sale prices and other discounts when you shop.
In many instances, unless you have the store card, you will not be able to get the items you want at the sale price.
That being said, it’s very easy to miss out on receiving the sale discounts. During checkout, items are scanned pretty quickly, and you may not realize it until after you get home and look at your receipt — that’s certainly happened to me many times.
To ensure you always get the discounts, put your points card next to your source of payment. If, for some reason, you were not asked for it, or you forgot to use it, be sure to head over to customer service for a price adjustment.
Keep in mind that you can also use your points card online too. Rewards cards can help you stick with your monthly grocery budget.
11. Sign up for your store emails
In addition to signing up for the store points card or rewards card, be sure to sign up for your store email newsletters. Many times stores will email additional discounts, including printable coupons or free grocery delivery or pick-up offers.
They may also make you aware of sales going on in-store that are based on your shopping habits or things you typically buy or have bought in the past (using information from your points card).
Be careful not to get caught up shopping every store sale you are emailed unless you really need the items and they fit into your monthly grocery budget.
12. Search online for manufacturer coupons
Just do a quick Google search before you go grocery shopping to see what you can find. (Here’s our list of best coupon sites!)
13. Buy in bulk
Heading to your local farmer’s market may be your favorite Sunday afternoon activity but it may not be the most friendly on your wallet.
We’re not saying you should stop supporting your local farmers (not at all!). But to trim down your grocery bill, consider buying some of your pantry staples in bulk.
For example, shelf-stable products are great picks to buy in bulk for the following reasons:
- Buying in bulk means you can score bigger discounts
- Focusing on non-perishable bulk goods means you can shop once and have enough food to last weeks or even months.
Want to watch your grocery bill shrink? Head to warehouse stores like Costco or BJ’s to stock up on must-haves with a long shelf life, like:
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Canned tuna
- Rice and pasta
- Peanut butter (or other nut butters)
- Pasta sauce
- Spices & dry seasoning
14. Shop discount grocery stores
If you need to get groceries on a budget, another easy way to reduce your bill at the check-out counter is to stay away from boutique grocery stores.
After all, food is food, right? So head to discount grocery stores like Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Lidl, and Market Basket for your weekly shopping run. These stores often sell grocery staples at just a fraction of the prices you’ll find at fancier shops, like Whole Foods.
So give discount grocery stores a try—your tastebuds won’t be able to tell the difference, but your wallet sure will!
15. Buy generic vs. brand name
We all have some brands we’ve been loyal to for years … but if you want to trim down your grocery budget, it may be time to evaluate your long-standing favored brands.
If you’re skeptical about switching from name-brand groceries to generic, here’s some food for thought: A study from CNET reveals that generic groceries are about 40% cheaper than name brands.
Let’s do some quick math: That means that if your current grocery bill clocks in at $400 per month, switching to generic brands could end up saving you $160 a month or $1,920 per year!
16. Learn how to store your food
It’s important to learn how to store your groceries properly (and safely). And storing your food properly will prevent food from getting spoiled and in turn save your money.
While canned goods, seasonings, and noodles aren’t necessarily a problem when it comes to shelf life, it’s a whole different story when we’re talking about other foods.
Dairy products like milk, cheese, eggs and yogurt are highly perishable and should be refrigerated as soon as you get home. The same applies to salads.
Vegetables and fresh fruits should be replenished every one to two weeks because they don’t last very long, even if they are stored in the fridge.
However, the shelf life of foods can definitely be prolonged by placing them in the correct location of the fridge and freezer.
Make sure that you store all meats in the freezer immediately after you get back from the store. Freezing meats will definitely make them last for weeks so buy them when they’re cheap and don’t be afraid to stock up. The same can be done for bread.
17. Get the store flyer when you walk in
Ever noticed that pile of papers as you walk into your local grocery store? The next time you walk by these, grab one!
You might just find a few cutout coupons in there, and they are a great way to get a summarized view of what’s on sale in the store. This way you can determine what items on your list are discounted.
18. Buy your groceries online
Online grocery shopping is a great way to save money because you aren’t distracted by yummy smells or product placements; you can simply search for and purchase what you need.
In addition, you have time to think about whether or not you really need the items you have added to your cart because you are shopping online.
Yes, the delivery fees might be pricey — typical fees are from $10 to $20. However, you can find promotions offering free or low-fee deliveries if you try a new service.
And how many times have you spent much more than the delivery fee in-store after falling into the temptation of buying things that you didn’t plan for?
You may be able to save money on the cost of delivery by opting to pick up your online shopping at the store. You basically place your order online, and then your store provides you with a pickup time to come and get your pre-packed groceries.
Often, the cost of a pickup can be cheaper than delivery by up to 50 or 75%. If online shopping is something you have available to you, you should definitely consider taking advantage of it! Shopping online makes grocery shopping on a budget much easier.
19. Learn how to cook
It’s not a secret that home-cooked meals are cheaper than eating out at restaurants. However, the process of cooking may seem daunting for those who aren’t used to it. Anyone can cook. You just have to start off with simple recipes with simple ingredients.
Cooking at home ensures that you know exactly what you’re putting into your body. Also, if you have bought your ingredients on sale, the cost of your meals will definitely equate to less than what you pay for at restaurants, about $20.37 per meal. Learn a new skill and save money while you’re at it.
20. Use leftovers
One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to utilize your leftovers. Repurposing dinner from the night before into lunch or another dinner idea can stretch out your food longer.
For example, if you have beans from the night before, you can use them in another main dish, such as tacos.
Rather than letting food go to waste, get inventive and make more cheap meals. Make a goal to use everything you cook. Check out Pinterest for ideas on how to use your leftovers.
Expert tip: Create a grocery budget you can stick to
Sometimes, it can be a little too easy to get carried away when creating a new budget. Don’t get us wrong—if you’re enthusiastic and motivated about improving your financial health, this is a good thing! But sometimes those moments of inspiration can lead to biting off more than you can chew.
For example, say you currently spend $400 per month on groceries and you want to cut your budget down to $100. That’s quite a big jump! And it may be harder to pull off in a one-month turnaround than you think.
For long-term success in learning to shop for groceries on a budget, start small. If your current spending is $400, maybe aim for $300 for this month, $200 for the next month, and $100 for the month after that.
Often, slow-and-steady baby steps help turn big goals into regular habits so you can commit to them for the long term.
How do I start a budget for groceries?
To start shopping for groceries on a budget, there are three key steps to follow.
Step 1: Review the last two to three months of your groceries expenses. How much have you been spending at the grocery store?
Step 2: Determine where you can make cuts. Are you buying more pre-made meals than you need to? Are you making a lot of small, frequent grocery store runs … that amount to a big monthly total?
Step 3: Add some structure to your grocery shopping routine. Decide how often you’ll head to the store—once a week? Twice a week? Give yourself a weekly spending cap on groceries—and stick to it.
By being aware of your spending, trimming the spending fat, and holding yourself accountable to a shopping schedule, you can keep your grocery spending in check.
What is a reasonable amount to budget for groceries?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan, the average woman between 20 and 50 years old can expect to spend $55.8 per week on food—or $241.90 per month.
Note that this Thrifty Food Plan considers that ALL snacks and meals are prepared at home. To give yourself some wiggle room for dinners out and coffee runs, you may consider raising your grocery budget to between $250 and $350 per month.
Can I spend just $25 a week on groceries?
While spending just $25 a week on groceries may be a bit limiting for the long term, it is certainly possible.
To drastically reduce your grocery spending, look for low-budget staples that you can turn into many different meals, such as chickpeas, rice, lentils, potatoes, etc.
Also, learn how to get the most out of every piece of food! For example, you can easily get three meals out of a whole chicken: 1) Dinner the first day; 2) Lunch the second day; 3) Homemade soup from the bones and scrapes.
Cutting your food budget in half is easy. It is time-consuming and requires a little effort and discipline, but the savings are well worth it!
Finding ways to save money on groceries can help you save towards other goals too. Let’s say you start saving $50 a month on groceries; that’s $600 in just a year!
Learning how to be frugal in all aspects of your finances will help you stop wasting your hard-earned money and bulk up your bank account! Learn how to save even more with our FREE savings challenges bundle!