It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget. Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change. In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip. Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store. Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!
Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away! Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up. Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.
I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money). Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.
If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt. Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.
The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling. That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan. Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.
There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy. You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area. When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.
While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies. One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer. Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.
There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves). On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.
That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that. I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices. Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.
Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery. Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you. If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.
While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher. I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer. My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!
You know those bulk bins at the grocery store? That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money! Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs. What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.
Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes. Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes. I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month. Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store. But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!