I like to think I’m good at a lot of things, but grocery shopping on a budget is definitely not one of them. I usually start off with good intentions – and a fabulous shopping list – but the moment life gets busy, our grocery budget is the first thing to slip. It seems like the more pressed for time I am, the more grocery store trips I make, which is completely counterintuitive, and while I’m fully aware that I’m my own worst enemy, I’ve just never really mastered a plan that allows me to eat healthy for less.
For a long time, I just accepted this as one of my character flaws, but when we made the move from a trendy mid-town condo that required us to drive 24/7, to an old Victorian semi-detached in an urban neighborhood that allows us to walk everywhere, I started spending more on groceries than ever before.
As it turns out, street parking in Toronto makes driving extremely inconvenient, and I’ve slowly traded my weekly stockpiling sessions with daily trips to our local grocery store, and the effect on our monthly budget has been exponential.
I’m spending an exorbitant amount of money on food, our fridge and kitchen cupboards are a disaster, I’m throwing away a ton of spoiled produce at the end of each week, and even though we eat 3 healthy-ish meals each day, I feel like my hand is forever buried in a bag of chips or gummie bears.
It’s not pretty.
And it’s time to make some serious changes.
So for the last few weeks, I’ve been learning the art of grocery shopping on a budget and the results have been pretty exciting. My long-term goals are to cut our grocery spending in half while simultaneously learning how to eat healthy on a budget, and I’m already seeing the benefits of my hard work. Not only am I spending less time at the grocery store each week, but I feel a million times more organized and we’re eating healthier meals that keep me feeling full so I don’t spend my evenings grazing, which has been fantastic for my waistline.
Check out 14 of my best tips for grocery shopping on a budget below to help you start eating healthy for less today!
1. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach
This is the first thing I read anytime I look for grocery shopping tips, and yet it wasn’t until I took the time to consciously schedule my tips to the grocery store – after lunch on Sunday afternoons – that I realized just how big a difference it makes. Visiting a grocery store on an empty stomach, or even a half-empty stomach, is like setting a 5-year-old free in a candy store. You end up getting distracted by things you don’t need, making you more likely to make impulse purchases and bad food choices. It’s a recipe for disaster.
2. Take your time
I realize this is difficult to do, especially when you have little kids in tow, but while rushing through the grocery store like a caged animal may help you get in and out in record time, it won’t allow you to spot sales, price match, and the like. So skip the grocery store when you’re tight on time, and only go shopping when you can be more deliberate and proactively search out the best deals.
And if you absolutely must bring your children with you, make sure they have been fed, their attention baskets have been filled, they aren’t tired, and that you have fun toys and games on hand to keep them occupied.
3. Plan, Plan, Plan
Carve out a chunk of time shortly before your grocery shop each week to take stock of what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry, plan out your meals for the week, make a list, and stick to it. This may seem like a lot of upfront work, but I guarantee you it will save you HEAPS of time in the long-run, and will not only help you save money, but also help with any healthy eating/weight loss goals you may have.
Suck at meal planning? I do too. I ended up investing in MyFreezEasy a few weeks ago, which is a fabulous course that taught me how to make 10 meals in…wait for it…an hour. I’m serious! Plans start at only $10/month and there are heaps of different meal options to choose from – gluten-free, slow-cooker, all chicken, etc.
4. Get organized
When I was buying groceries multiple times a week, our fridge and kitchen cupboards were a nightmare, and I inevitably spent Monday evenings (garbage collection is every Tuesday for us) throwing away a ton of spoiled food, only to repeat the same mistakes the following week. I’ve since learned that if I take the time to organize my kitchen so I can see what food is available to me – and when it will expire – I end up buying less and I rarely, if ever, throw away spoiled food these days. Give it a try!
5. Buy canned or frozen
While I’m not a fan of packaged foods, I refuse to pay $8 for a pint of blueberries when they’re not in season, so I try to find a good balance. You need to do what you feel comfortable with, but I do recommend having a selection of frozen and canned items on hand at all times to keep you going between grocery trips.
Buying in bulk when things are on sale is a fabulous way to save money, and I highly recommend it. We’ve been doing this with toiletries and cleaning supplies for years and it’s saved us a ton of money, and when I took the time to learn the art of freezing produce and creating delicious freezer meals (thanks Erin Chase!), it reduced our spending even more.
7. Only buy what you’ll use
As a follow-up to my last point, I encourage you to really think about your purchases. While stockpiling is a great way to save on groceries, you don’t want to buy something just because it’s on sale. If you aren’t going to use it, don’t put it in your cart. Period. It’s a waste of money and space, so be smart about your purchases.
8. Don’t fall for marketing traps
Grocery stores are fabulous at trying to trick you into buying things you don’t need, so before you put something in your cart, think long and hard about it. While that ‘buy 3 get one free!’ deal may seem like a steal, be honest with yourself. Will you actually use all 4 items you’re buying? No? Then it will be cheaper for you to buy the exact amount you need.
Opt for the self-checkout lane whenever possible so you aren’t tempted by the candies, magazines, DVDs, and toys that are strategically placed in the checkout area.
A few more tips to keep in mind…
9. Switch to no-name brands. More often than not, no-name brands are almost identical to their expensive counterparts, and a simple switch can save you a lot of money in the long run.
10. Save leftovers. You can package them up for lunch or freeze them for a quick meal on busy nights!
11. Prepare fruits and vegetables ahead of time. If you have a habit of throwing out expired produce each week, invest the time in washing, cutting, and storing fruits and veggies when you get home from the grocery store. This will cut down on meal preparation, provide healthy snack alternatives, and make you more likely to use what’s available to you rather than throwing it in the trash.
12. Say no to take out. When you commit to meal planning, you can make the same options for less at home.
13. Use coupons. Study weekly flyers, look for deals, and use them to your advantage!
14. Price match. Familiarize yourself with the grocery stores in your area to determine where you can score the best deals, and plan your grocery trips accordingly.
See? Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t as complicated as it sounds, and with a little planning and preparation, it is possible to eat healthy for less. The trick is to learn how to be more deliberate with your time and schedule meal preparation and grocery shopping into your week. Remember that practice makes perfect – the more you try to stick to your grocery budget, the better you’ll get at it.
Still need a little help?
Erin Chase offers a fabulous course called Grocery Budget Makeover that will teach you how to significantly slash your grocery spending. She’ll teach you how to create an effective shopping list, meal plan effectively, stockpile, avoid marketing traps, and score freebies, and she’ll also teach you the art of couponing (if you live in the US) as well as some fabulous time-saving kitchen and cooking hacks.
Registration is only open a few times a year, and with plans starting as low as $49, it’s worth signing up for the wait list!
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