Are you having trouble finding extra money in your budget to save or pay off debt? Did you know that one of the easiest categories to cut is your food budget? Most families drastically overspend on food each month but there are many ways to do budget grocery shopping and stretch your food budget without feeling deprived.
The real problem is that most people have no idea how much they’re actually spending on food?!
If you don’t know exactly what you are spending on food, groceries, and restaurants each month, it’s a good idea to track your spending for a month. Hang a piece of paper on the fridge and write down every single cent you spend on food, whether it be your weekly grocery trips, the drive-through, the coffee and donut you grab on your way to work most mornings…all of it.
Track all your food spending. And at the end of one month, I can almost guarantee you will be shocked when you add it all up.
21 Budget Grocery Shopping Tips
These simple budget grocery shopping tips will help you stretch your food budget further than you ever thought was possible and save thousands of dollars each year.
1. Make a List
Sounds pretty basic, right? I mean, everybody has a grocery list, right? Wrong, wrong. So many of us either forget to make a list, don’t have time, or just prefer to wing it.
So, essentially, you’re going to the store with no plan, which may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Because when you go grocery shopping without a plan, you’re just cruising through the aisles tossing things in your cart.
Once you get home and begin to cook, you realize you have only half the ingredients you need causing you to run back to the store again (and again), leading to consistent overspending.
Take a couple of minutes and make a list. Trust me, it’s time well spent. Hang a sheet of paper up on the fridge, use an app, or even sticky notes…whatever works for you.
This way, I can contribute, my husband contributes, and even our kids can add things to the list, and the responsibility doesn’t lie solely on my shoulders.
We do this for non-grocery items too, which is super helpful when I pop into Target. I just check my Alexa app while shopping and see if there is anything we need – it really helps reduce the number of trips we make to the store.
2. Create a Meal Plan
This allows you to purchase exactly what you need (and only what you need) when food shopping, ensures you have everything you need when preparing meals, and reduces the number of trips to the store.
3. Don’t Go to the Store Hungry
Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry. In fact, don’t do any shopping when you’re hungry. Did you know that people spend 64% more money when shopping hungry than those who don’t? Crazy, right?
Things that you normally wouldn’t even buy, you’re like, “Oh, that looks good, that looks good, that looks good”, and you’re just going to throw it all into your cart because you’re hungry.
Make sure you have a meal or a least a snack before you go. Do not go grocery shopping hungry. I guarantee your wallet will regret it.
3. Buy Generic
I used to be a total food snob. I would never buy generic. I insisted I could taste the difference. But generic brands, in many cases, are so similar it’s tough to tell the difference. Except for pop-tarts, just saying.
You’ll save around 25% off your normal brand price by buying generic. Get in the habit of buying store brands, and you’ll see a huge reduction in your monthly food bill.
4. Grow Food at Home
No, not all of us can have a whole farm in our house, but just pick a couple of fruits or vegetables that work in your climate and the area where you live and start a small garden.
If you’re able to grow some fruits and vegetables your family eats often or if you eat a lot of eggs, perhaps raise some backyard chickens, you’ll find you can considerably offset your grocery costs each week.
5. Shop in Bulk
Purchasing a membership to a wholesale club such as Sam’s Club or Costco can help you save big on the items you frequently purchase, but you want to be sure you will actually use the membership enough to make it worth the money.
Years ago, we were members at BJ’s Wholesale Club but probably only shopped there once, maybe twice a year, so our savings amount did not outweigh our membership fee.
Now we belong to Sam’s Club, and since it’s close to home and we get there a few times a month, it saves us a good amount of money throughout the year.
And while the savings can be substantial, you want to be careful because these warehouse clubs have a lot of amazing deals that can be tempting. Keep your blinders on and make sure you’re grabbing only what you’re intending to purchase, or you’ll find yourself overspending.
6. Track Your Spending While Shopping
There are a couple of ways you can do this. I used to use the calculator on my phone, but I was fumbling to hold my phone, a pen, my list, pushing the cart, and grabbing the items – and inevitably, I would accidentally clear the calculator total at least once during each trip.
Then I discovered the grocery clicker, which is actually a lap counter for swimming, but it works just as well for tallying up your groceries.
Here’s how we do it: for any item that ends in zero to 49 cents, we round down, and for any item that is 50 cents and up, we round up to the next dollar. It’s not exact, but you’d be surprised how close it all evens out at checkout time.
The coolest thing about the clicker is you can hook it on your finger and click as you go – it really doesn’t take an extra hand, plus there’s no accidental clearing and having to start over.
7. Track Your Overall Spending
Tracking you’re spending is a great way to learn about your spending habits. It will show you where you are overspending and where you are sticking to your budget.
This spending data is valuable when trying to save more in different areas of your life. Try to track for a full month, if possible!
8. Set a Food Budget
Make sure you’re living on a budget in general. Learning to live on a budget is going to be your biggest asset always when trying to save money in any area of your life. Setting a grocery budget and sticking to it is going to serve you like no other tip on this list.
A good place to start is a hundred dollars per family member per month. We have four people in this house. The entire time we were working to pay off debt, we stuck to a $400 grocery budget a month.
Two things to consider when setting your food budget would be any dietary restrictions a family member may have and the quality of food you purchase. For example, if you eat only organic food, your costs will be higher.
Start at $100/month per person and tweak it according to your needs and your budget.
9. Compare Prices
Price comparisons can take some extra time, but if you’re the person who does the majority of the food shopping you’ll likely start taking a mental note of item prices, especially if you purchase the same items each week.
Compare the prices in your area over the course of a few shopping trips. Collect circulars from each of the stores you frequent, spread them out on your table, compare the prices, make your list from those circulars, and decide where you want to shop that week.
What I like to do is create a spreadsheet. I am a rare kind of super-nerd who’s obsessed with spreadsheets. I put everything on a spreadsheet, so I created a spreadsheet where I track the prices at a couple of stores I go to often, and I just keep a list of them. This is especially helpful on the weeks when our budget is extra tight.
10. Shop the Sales
When checking the circulars, make note of which items go on sale and begin to pay attention to the sales cycles at your specific stores. Set a portion of your budget aside so you can stock up on frequently used items when they’re on sale to ensure you’re getting the best prices.
Many stores also have their sales listed on their apps and/or websites too.
11. Go to Multiple Stores
You’re going to want to take the time and plan out your shopping, so you’re able to accomplish everything you want to accomplish in one trip. This is going to be a lot easier for somebody that lives closer to town and closer to the stores.
I know it could be difficult for the people that live a lot further out, and in that type of situation, if you still want to take advantage of the sales and go to multiple stores, an option for you could be maybe to shop on a monthly basis or biweekly basis instead of every single week. That way, you’re saving the gas, and you’re saving the time, and it’s going to be worth it in the end when you’re saving all that money.
12. Use Coupons
I know this kind of sounds a little old-fashioned, but there are so many people that save a crap ton of money from couponing, and since we are in a new decade now, you don’t necessarily have to pull out the coupons from your Sunday newspaper. However, they are still good, and they work just as well.
There are so many coupon apps now you can use or coupons you can print online where you’re just printing the specific ones you need, and you don’t have to go through all of those ones you don’t need. Just a simple Google search will give you a whole bunch of different online coupon sites that you can use.
If you’re someone who goes to a regular grocery store and you shop a lot of brand names, and you don’t want to give up those brand names, make sure you’re looking for coupons.
13. Use Cashback Apps
Using coupons coupled with apps can really, really kick up your coupon game and help you save a ton of money. And while I don’t do normal couponing, I do use cashback apps, and I consistently earn a ton of free gift cards all the time.
These gift cards allow me to get free Starbucks, and they allow me to enjoy these things that I otherwise don’t want to spend the money on. Just taking a couple of extra minutes to scan my receipts after I’m finished grocery shopping is really all it takes.
Ibotta and Fetch Rewards are my favorite cashback apps that I use every single time I purchase groceries! They are simple to use, and you’d be surprised how quickly a little bit of cashback adds up.
14. Build a Freezer Stash
If you have extra freezer space, it’s time to fill that bad boy up! If not, you can often find good deals on chest freezers on Craigslist or ask a friend or family if they have one they’re willing to sell.
Building a freezer stash is a great way to shrink your budget on weeks when money is extra tight. No money? No problem! Simply head to your freezer stash and grab a meal that you’ve already pre-made or some meat you stocked up on during a great sale.
15. Eat What’s in Season
If your family eats a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can save a lot of money by paying attention to what food is in season at what time of year.
Fresh produce will always be more affordable and more plentiful when in-season, and you’ll see this reflected on your grocery bill.
ALSO READ: Frugal Living Tips: 55 Hacks to Save Money
16. Subscribe and Save
This can be used at places like Amazon and Target. Personally, we’ve only ever used this on household goods or pet products. But other household areas, such as baby products or cleaning supplies, also work great with Subscribe + Save.
Maybe you don’t consider any of those products part of your grocery budget, and that’s okay, but if you do and you’re purchasing them regularly, using subscribe and save is going to help you save a substantial amount – and SO convenient as your items just magically appear on your doorstep.
17. Shop for Groceries Online
I’m just gonna say it…Walmart Grocery Pickup has changed my life. Not only is it so incredibly convenient (especially since we have a Walmart close to us), but it has also helped me better stick to my weekly food budget!
It minimizes distraction and specials jumping out at you when shopping in-store, it’s a lifesaver if you’re usually stuck bringing kids to the grocery store with you, and the best part is that you can see a running total of your virtual cart and be aware of how much you’re spending at all times.
This is helpful because it’s a constant reminder if you’re sticking to your budget (or not), and you’re able to head to your cart and delete unnecessary items to keep yourself on budget.
18. Shop Discount Grocers
Discount grocers get a bad rep because people think that the items are expired or messed up in some manner. But that’s not necessarily true. These types of stores are selling normal fresh grocery items that are well within their date range. They are not one of those stores that all of the dented boxes or the expired food goes to, so check out discount grocery stores such as LIDL, WinCo, and Aldi.
Not only does Aldi have very affordable prices, but they also have a ton of their products that don’t contain specific preservatives, MSG, or synthetic food dyes now, and I really liked those options, especially for my children.
19. Meal Prep
You might think that meal prep is strictly for fitness people or somebody on a diet, but it’s not. The best thing about meal prepping is you are making sure that you’re going to eat the food that you spent money on.
We always have the best of intentions. We make our meal plans, we make our lists, we get everything we need, and then life gets in the way, and maybe you have to work late, or somebody gets sick.
One of the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen and keep yourself on the right track is to prep your meals or a portion of your meals.
Taking the extra time each week to prep some or all of your meals ensures the food you’ve purchased actually gets eaten. You’re not going to run to the drive-through or you’re not going to call an order takeout because you ran out of time to make dinner, and it’s already six o’clock, and you’re starving.
Take some time: the beginning of the week, twice a week, whatever works for your schedule, and prep your meals, your snacks, and your lunches. You’ll be setting yourself up for a big win!
20. Batch Cook
If ‘batch cooking’ is a term you’re unfamiliar with, it simply means to make a larger portion of food.
In our family, this usually looks like doubling our dinner recipe, portioning the food out into two separate containers (usually large containers like this one), cooking one for dinner, and putting the other in our chest freezer to eat at a later time.
If we’re on a tight budget some weeks or run out of time some nights, or just plain old don’t feel like cooking, we have a homecooked meal just waiting for us in the freezer. Just pull it out and bake – you don’t even have to defrost it.
21. Shop Once a Week
Yup. Just once. Limiting your trips to one time a week will force you to be more intentional about your food shopping process. It will force you to plan better and make sure you’re getting every item you need for the week.
You won’t forget ingredients because you’ll have already made a complete list, and you won’t waste your time stopping by the store multiple times throughout the week.
Plus, limiting your grocery trips will also help you limit any extra items that will find their way to your cart each time you’re at the store.
This article was produced and syndicated by Cents + Purpose.
Kristin Stones is the owner of Cents + Purpose, an online community dedicated to sharing practical personal finance content. Her mission is to equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge to take back control of their money and live a more purposeful life. She creates actionable content to help her audience achieve financial wellness using her simple approach to managing money - all learned through her personal experience of paying off almost $55,000 of debt in under two years.