15 BETTER WAYS TO GROCERY SHOP ON A BUDGET

If you’re looking to spend less on groceries, it all starts with a plan. Try a few of these tips, and see how far you can stretch your dollar.


BY: JILL CLODFELTER-MASON, RDN, CD

A big part of bringing joy back into eating is to embrace the variety of foods that exist out there.  This is especially important when it comes to grocery shopping. Purchasing foods that you actually enjoy, and trying new ingredients.  

Given that so many families spend a large portion of their income on food at home – on average, $4,049 annually per household – here are some strategies to help your dollar stretch further while you’re grocery shopping.

1. Set a budget.  

Review your grocery receipts/online grocery bills from the past 2-3 months and add up the total.  Then calculate an average weekly estimate for your grocery budget for you and your household.

With time, you can analyze if you’re coming in under or over your weekly/monthly budget – making changes as needed to try to support a realistic budget that enables you and your household to feel well nourished and satisfied by the foods that you’re eating.

2. Understand what the expiration dates on food labels mean.

Some of the typical phrases that are listed on food packaging are “use by,” “sell by,” and “best by.”  Understanding what these definitions truly mean makes it easier to identify when you need to use a food that you’re storing in your house – versus discarding it prematurely.

Plus you’re promoting food safety, which is always a win.  Click on the following link to understand the difference between these categories of expiration dates.  

3. Evaluate your food inventory for the week.

Explore which items you have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer prior to purchasing your groceries.  This enables you to know which foods would be helpful to use up before they go bad – and avoid purchasing foods that you already have on hand.

4. Compare different stores’ sales on your favorite foods – and think through some delicious meals that contain those ingredients AND your food inventory.

If you’re super busy, you may or may not want to run with this suggestion.  But if you are open to shopping at more than one store for your favorite items that are on sale, this strategy can save you money!  

By finding deals on foods that make your taste buds smile, in addition to using ingredients that you already have at home, you are stretching your dollar farther without sacrificing flavor.  So have fun thinking of a variety of scrumptious meals that you can prepare at home for the week! Mix it up as you honor both your hunger and taste buds.

5. Create a grocery list.

Before purchasing your groceries, create a grocery list.  Coming up with a few meal ideas ahead of time can be helpful for incorporating items that are on sale – and ingredients that you currently have on hand in your home. This will increase your chances of staying within your grocery budget.   

6. Join your grocery store’s loyalty or rewards program.

By joining this type of free program, you can take advantage of the discounts, promotional items, and rewards points that are only available to customers who sign up for the loyalty/rewards program.  

7. Compare the unit prices of food items.

The unit price for a food is frequently featured as the cost per ounce, pound, etc. on in-store shelf price labels.  This is a great tool for comparing similar products.

If you’re not looking at the unit price and see that one brand is priced less than another brand for the same product, it could be easy to assume that the lower priced item is the better deal.  After analyzing the unit price of both items, you may find that this isn’t the case. Always check the unit price to be sure that you’re getting more bang for your buck.

8. Explore the store brands.

Once you’ve compared the unit price of the grocery items, if you determine that the generic brand offers the lowest price, buy it.  The generic brand frequently tastes just as good as the name brand products – and sometimes better.

9. Use coupons for foods that you would actually enjoy eating.

We all know that we can find coupons in newspapers and online.  If for some reason you don’t find coupons for foods that you enjoy eating, consider using coupons for things other than food that you could purchase at the grocery store – like toilet paper, paper towels, and toothpaste.  It all adds up in the end!

10. Buy seasonal produce.

If you’re buying fresh produce, you can frequently save money buying seasonal produce.  Not to mention that seasonal produce tastes its best.

You will most likely find that certain locally grown fruits and vegetables will be less expensive at the farmer’s markets, while certain types of produce will be more affordable at the grocery store.  Here is a list of seasonal produce, a CSA Directory, and a resource for finding a local farmer’s market in your area.     

11. Buy frozen produce.

In certain cases, frozen vegetables and fruits can be less expensive than fresh, and can help reduce food waste by giving you a longer time frame to use up the produce.  You can also remove a little at a time from a bag of frozen produce, and return the remainder of the bag to the freezer for future use.

Since the produce is flash-frozen at its peak of ripeness, in many cases it’s just as nutrient dense as the fresh produce – and sometimes more.  Frozen produce also decreases the amount of minutes that you need to dedicate to preparing a meal. You can thaw your frozen fruit and add it to things like cereal, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, and muffins.  Frozen vegetables can be used to prepare soups, lasagna, sauces, casseroles, side dishes, and more.

12. Buy grains and spices in bulk.

These items frequently provide more of a savings than other bulk items.  But again, double check the unit price to be sure that you’re obtaining a good deal.  

13. Add some beans, tofu, nut butter, and other affordable plant proteins to one or more of your meals.   

Let’s say you want to make a burger or a pot of chili that contains ground meat.  However, you want to save some money on the protein portion of your grocery receipt.  One way to save money and stretch your meat further would be to cook dry beans and add them to the burger.

For example, make it with 1/2 ground meat and 1/2 cooked beans – or add an extra large amount of beans to the chili while using a smaller portion of meat.  You can also look for deals on canned beans to save yourself some time in the kitchen.

14. Use that freezer.

A variety of foods freeze well.  To save money, in addition to freezing meat when it’s on sale and purchasing frozen produce, try cooking a big batch of dry beans or rice and freezing it for future meals.  

If you find that you can’t get through your loaf of bread in time, freeze the loaf and toast individual slices when needed (I can thank my mother-in-law for this tip).  Preparing freezer-friendly meals for future use is another great way to use us up food that you have on hand, and take advantage of foods that are on sale that you can buy in bulk.  You can also freeze leftovers from a dish that you prepared, but are done eating for the week – such as leftover lasagna, soup, and shredded chicken.

15. Use as much of each ingredient as possible.

If you’re cooking with meats and produce, reserve the bones and vegetable peelings to make an amazing stock!  If you’re preparing a meal that contains Parmesan cheese, save the Parmesan rind for a terrific sauce. Click here to obtain more ideas on how to use your ingredients to the fullest, and get more bang for your buck.

Happy shopping, cooking, and eating!

Adapted from the original article.

Jill Clodfelter-Mason, RDN, CD,  is a private practice dietitian, health coach, food blogger, and owner of Cultivate Joy Nutrition in central Indiana. She assists her  clients with developing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. Jill’s mission is to help women overcome the ‘shoulds’ that rule their lives, so they can become fully present in celebrating delicious, nourishing foods and reconnecting with who they are – mind, body, and soul. To learn more about Jill, check out her website, www.cultivatejoynutrition.com, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook @cultivatejoynutrition.

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