[Guide] Grocery Shopping on a Budget Like a Pro

At this very moment, do you know how much money you spend on food a month? A week? Today alone? If you’re unsure like I once was, now is the opportunity to turn grocery shopping into a manageable expense and get the most value, both monetary and nutritional, out of your grocery shopping.

The better the plan the more time you can have to accomplish other things. You might even find out you’re spending more on food than you needed to, allowing you the option of diverting those savings into another investment.

According to studies done on income spent on food by the United States Department of Agriculture, households are spending anywhere between 10% and 25% of their income on food.

Budgeting is Your Friend, We Promise

Creating a budget doesn’t mean limiting your options. In fact, I argue it means the opposite. Buying and preparing your own dishes allows for limitless variations from changes in spices to secondary ingredients used.

Overall, it will help reduce expenditures while still allowing you to achieve a well-balanced lifestyle that is both healthy and affordable.

Buying for the home increases overall health benefits over the long term.

Building a foundation of plans in how you purchase, store, and prepare your food will open up more time in your days for other things and increase your productivity.

The only con I see here is that it can seem daunting at first because it seems like a lifestyle change. That’s why we’re here and you’re here with us. We’re going to walk through this process with you, from home to the checkout line.

Here is an easy to use a grocery budgeting calculator to get an estimate based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Low-Cost Food Plan. Once you calculate the average budget spent on food for your household size, you’ll be able to create a low-cost plan that also meets your dietary needs as a healthy human being.

A Note for Those Shopping for One

Shopping for one can be tricky. Keeping track of your inventory and purchases becomes more important because if you’re not eating it, nobody is and it’s going to waste.

Proper portioning out and freezing as much as you can is key here. Anything not being consumed within a few days should be stored for quality preservation.

Try buying in bulk and prioritizing loose items rather than individual packaging. Smaller portions are always more expensive because they’re based on convenient packaging and portability.

Developing a Plan to Go Grocery Shopping

Develop a plan for grocery shopping with a list

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There are things you need to know in order to budget like a pro. Or rather, before you start.

This part is crucial because it dictates how effective and affordable the rest of the budget is planned.

Preferably in this order.

Make an Inventory of the Fridge & Pantry

Knowing what you have and planning ahead saves you the most money. You’ll be able to plan around your current inventory items and buy only what you need.

Develop a Budget that Works for You

Let’s be honest, we like to eat what we like to eat a lot of the time. Having a variety in food choices can help keep us from impulse buying.

Identify your favorite foods, and find or create budget-friendly versions of them or variations on the dishes using spices and side ingredients.

What Factors Might Go Into Your Budget?

Overall Expenses

This is the biggest one. Before you can make your tailored budget specific to grocery shopping and everything food, you need to sort out the breakdown of your overall expenses to see what’s available to you.

After you calculate your potential budget, we can begin to maximize how much we can get out of that budget and how we can change it to fit our nutritional needs.

Your Food Content

Identifying what kind of food preferences you have will help you budget more effectively

Not all two foods are alike. Food of the same name can have different nutritional values based on type. Which ones are you eating?

An example of this is: are you a white flour and white rice kind of person? Or do you eat whole wheat and brown rice? White flour based items and white rice might be more inexpensive, but also have less nutritional value than their whole wheat and grain counterpart.

Another example is iceberg lettuce versus romaine lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is known for having very little nutrients in comparison to romaine. Little price differences for a much larger nutritional gain can be worth the change.

Sweet & Salty Tooth

Are you susceptible to purchasing extra snacks, drinks, and more outside of your budget? The bad news is that in a lot of budgeting, this can be a dangerous game to play as sometimes it can become hard not to replace healthy, hearty items with more junky counterparts.

The good news is with a steady plan and budget laid out, the potential to sneak some of life’s guilty pleasures into the rotation becomes a favorable one.

Overall, If you’re flexible to switch to a different brand or are open to a more nutritional alternative, it can affect your budget.

Choosing the Right Grocery Store

Grocery store shopping

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Prices can vary from store to store and depending on where you live and what’s accessible, can affect your budget.

Compare your shopping choices. Take note of various options in your surrounding area and their food offerings. Certain necessities might be expensive in one place, but could be more affordable in another. This is also true of in-store options.

Take advantage of region-based food items too. Some items will be more inexpensive and more accessible the closer you are to its source. If you live on the west coast or in California, avocados are inexpensive because their place of origin (Mexico) is right across the border.

What Are My Grocery Store Options?

This one might be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing the number of options we have at our disposals without even realizing it. We’ve laid out the majority, if not all, grocery shopping options available to you.

  • Check for chain stores
    • Trader Joe’s
    • Shoprite
    • Aldi’s
  • Grocery stores within places like
    • Target
    • Walmart
  • Wholesale warehouses
    • Costco
    • BJ’s
  • Local grocery stores
  • Butcher
  • Deli
  • Farmer’s markets (seasonal & year-round)
  • Drug stores
  • Convenient stores

Avoid Overspending or Unnecessary Purchases

In order to keep track of and develop better habits for both spending money on and consuming food, it’s important not to deviate from the budget when possible.

  • Don’t go into the grocery shop feeling hungry to minimize impulse buying
  • Avoid going to store outside of planned shopping (no more than once a week)
  • Think of home as the first and last option for food to avoid takeout and deliveries
  • Always use what you have on hand from your inventory to make a full meal
  • Create a meal plan for the week or pick days with specific meals, like meal events (e.g. Taco Tuesday).

Be Mindful of Food Quality

Expiration Dates

Be sure to check table-shelf life (perishable/non-perishable) for everything.

  • Some items come with extra dates that tell you to eat or freeze by then.

Versatility

Great value can translate into the potential for more food options. Eating the same dish can get monotonous and can cause impulse buying to satisfy a taste for something different.

Ask yourself some questions to figure out your options for new dishes.

  • How many dishes can I incorporate this into?
  • Is this portable?
  • Can I switch up the spices? Toppings? Side ingredients?

Nutritional Value

What are the nutritional percentages?

Ingredients are listed in order from most to least amounts. Shorter ingredient lists are generally better options with less filler.

Discounts & Sales

Be careful of overspending here, just because something is good deal doesn’t mean it’s a necessity. Buying something on sale for the sake of the sale is still spending money.

Look for discount items that are about to expire in a few days. A lot of these can be frozen when brought home and taken out to be used when necessary.

Not Eating It? Freeze It!

The general rule in preserving food for the long haul and getting the most out of your budget is if it can be frozen, freeze it. It allows you to save in bulk for perishable items when you need it.

Same goes for buying frozen items. Vegetables are flash froze at their peak for maximum nutrients.

Common Items for The Freezer

  • Bread and baked goods
  • Vegetables
  • Poultry, meat, and seafood
  • Meal preps of your own creation

Buying Items in Bulk

For these selections of non-perishables/perishables, consider buying in bulk. Bulk items are already good value, so when you find a good sale it’s beyond worth the investment. Avoid spending extra pennies on wasteful individual packaging, as tempting as the convenience of it is.

Bulk Shiz

  • Less Convenience More Product
  • Choose whole coffee beans and grind them yourself or in store
  • Choose loose tea over individually bagged tea

Food Basics to Have in Your Grocery Lineup

Non-Perishable Food

dry non-perishable food

Dry foods and preserved items that last long periods of time are the perfect investment to get your foundation started. There’s also the added benefit of being an emergency backup in the event something happens, such as your refrigerator breaking down leading to spoiled food.

If you have very little of these to start, it will be an initial hit to the budget, but it will be a temporary one because the more of these you have, the less you’ll need to purchase them in the future ultimately cutting down on long-term costs.

  • Rice
  • Legumes
    • Chickpeas
    • Beans
    • Lentils
  • Spices & Seasoning
    • Mixed seasoning
    • Black pepper
    • Garlic Powder
    • Coriander Seed
    • Cumin
    • Salt (Kosher, any salt with iodine)
  • Powdered
    • Protein
    • Greens
    • Milk
  • Whole Grains
    • Oats
    • Quinoa
  • Peanut Butter
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Canned foods

Perishable Food

fruits and vegetables and perishable foods

Here’s the tricky thing with perishables. It’s important to be aware of the expiration dates and either prepare to use early for a dish (plan it) or freeze it. Also, properly picking out portions when both purchasing and preparing a meal is essential so there’s no waste. Always make leftovers where possible.

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Fish (Salmon, Tilapia, Mackerel)
  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken (Breasts, thighs)
  • Ground Beef
  • Meats
  • Cold Cuts (better to buy whole)