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Grocery spending is one of the most out-of-control categories in the average household budget. With all the convenience foods, packaged snacks, “helper” foods, and everyone’s limited time these days, plus the rising food prices, there is no better time to start grocery shopping on a budget.
My grocery budget story
When my first daughter was born, I decided I wanted to quit my job and be home with her full time. My husband was on board with it, but...it meant our spending would need to be adjusted.
At the time we were eating out multiple times a week, going to the grocery store most days, and living without much of a plan.
We made some significant shifts in our spending (including grocery spending) in order to make that plan work for us.
I hope these tips and tricks give you a place to start to reduce your grocery budget and shop on a budget.
If you're looking for more ways to save...check out the Ultimate Guide to Saving Money here.
How To Do Grocery Shopping On A Budget (& How To Determine The Right Budget For You)
Food cost is the highest spend after housing and vehicle costs. Many people start to feel like they’re running out of paycheck each week or month and realize that their food spending is a big part of the problem. The busier we get, the more readily we fall into the trap of take-out and drive-throughs.
Knowing how to grocery shop on a budget is important, but before you know how to bargain shop, you’ve got to know how much of a bargain you need to look for. Setting a monthly (and weekly) grocery budget is the way to do that.
Here are the simple steps for grocery shopping on a budget -- that you can actually stick to.
1. Track Your Grocery Spending
When you’re first trying to build a grocery shopping budget, you might not have a clue where to start. It’s important to be able to gauge where your spending is currently so that you know if and how much to cut spending by!
Look over your bank or credit card statements for the past few months, or grocery store receipts if you’ve saved them (if you pay cash and haven’t saved receipts, you’ll want to start). Tally up everything you’ve spent on food. In an ideal world, you’ll also include take-out, restaurant trips, fast food, etc, so that you can build a more complete picture of what you spend on food overall.
If this is something you feel totally overwhelmed with, snag your copy of the Ultimate Guide to Saving Money and get a head start on saving money today.
2. Set A Reasonable Target Monthly Budget Amount
If you’ve been spending somewhere around, say, $2000 all-in on food on average for the past several months, it’s just setting yourself up for failure if you try to limit yourself to a $500 budget for the next month.
A smart approach would be to cut your spending by around 10-25% of what you’ve been spending, on average. That way you’re making a solid improvement month over month until you find the “sweet spot” where you’re spending frugally on groceries but not overly restricting your pantry stock!
If you continually feel like your struggling to stay within your grocery budget, that might mean your grocery budget is unrealistic and it needs to be raised.
3. Prioritize Your Purchases and Set A Weekly Spending Cap
A monthly budget is great for someone just getting started, but it might be easier to fine-tune your grocery budget if you take a closer look at weekly spending. It’s a lot easier than you might think to blow 90% of your target monthly grocery budget in just one shopping trip, especially if you’re a sucker for a good sale price.
Setting a weekly cap (so, roughly, your monthly amount divided by the number of weeks in that month) will help you really dial in on “need vs. want” when it comes to what you put in your shopping cart.
For the average family, produce, meats, and staples are the priority items to grab each week at the store. Milk, eggs, bread, vegetables...the usual. If you've got food allergies or are following a special diet, your staples might be a little different than the average family, but you still have staples and items you use most frequently.
If you’ve got a healthy and productive backyard garden, your priorities may differ (and hopefully just be fewer) than other households. Good for you!
4. Keep Tracking Your Grocery Spending & Food Spending
It obviously doesn’t do you any good to set up monthly and weekly spending limits and then not even keep track of how much you’re spending when your turn in the checkout line comes.
Keep all your receipts from all food-related purchases to monitor your spending habits and your progress. You may decide that sneaking in that morning coffee is pushing you over each month, and start making coffee at home.
My style of budgeting is different than others because I don't actually recommend cutting everything across the board. Instead, I recommend creating a budget (even a food budget) that's based on your priorities.
5. Grab The Bargains When They Come (& Plan For Them)
With making a weekly spending cap for your grocery budget, there’s one thing to consider -- how to stockpile food on a budget?
I’m not calling you a hoarder! It’s smart for anyone to keep a little extra in the house so you don’t truly run out in an emergency, and it’s also well worth your dollars to grab those insane bargain deals when they come up.
But if you’re spending all of your weekly budget amounts on the essentials that will only last you for the week, then you’re not leaving room to grab those deals when they come.
If you're eating according to a special diet (gluten free, dairy free, Paleo, etc), I highly recommend a membership at Thrive Market. You can get healthy food (filter by your diet) at a 25%-50% discount. Sign up with this link and get 30% off your first order, and a free gift.
6. Keep Improving Little By Little
Shopping for groceries on a budget is a tough adjustment for some, especially if your spending is really high and out of control.
Give yourself the grace to recognize overspending as a learning experience, and pledge to do better the next month. Building these habits takes some time, and you’ll get there eventually with just enough diligence and determination.
Average Cost Of Groceries
The figures below show you roughly what people and families around the country spend on groceries each month. You’ll want to take these figures with a grain of salt, though.
These figures will likely be lower than your spending if you:
- shop exclusively organic
- have special dietary considerations (i.e. dairy-free, gluten-free, etc)
- have teenagers (the family numbers reflect elementary-aged kids)
- use a lot of home-grown veggies or live on a farm where you also raise most of your own food or if you hunt to get your meat
... Per Month For 1
According to mint.com, the average single person food budget is around $150-$300 per month.
... Per Month For 2
The average cost of food for two people is a little more than double, at around $350-700 per month.
Average Cost Of Groceries Per Month For A Family Of 4
On average, a family of four spends around $900 per month on groceries.
Quick Tips To Save While Grocery Shopping On A Budget
1. Buy budget-friendly foods
Some foods to buy on a budget are:
- Beans & Lentils
- Frozen vegetables (always cheaper than fresh)
- Canned fish (tuna & salmon especially)
- Peanut Butter
- Large meat cuts (chuck roast, pork shoulder, whole chicken, etc)
2. Don’t shop hungry
The emptier your stomach, the more full your cart will end up. It’s just facts, don’t fight it. Make a list before you go to the store so you know exactly what you need. If you have a hard time sticking with your list, I highly recommend trying one of these online grocery stores so you won't be tempted by those checkout lane snacks and spontaneous purchases.
3. Shop the sales
Watch for bargains and stock up on those staple foods when the sales come around. This is the best way to get the most bang for your buck! Check your mailbox for coupons and incorporate the items on sale into your meals throughout the week.
Also, don't forget to shop the day-old cart. You can find fruits and vegetables for a lot less that you can use right away without even noticing anything different.
On that note, I'm a big fan of using Imperfect Foods for produce delivery. I wrote a big review of my experience with Imperfect Foods, and love how they source foods that may not look perfect, and deliver them weekly to your door (at a discount). You can get $20 off your first box by clicking here.
4. Shop in season
For most of the country, citrus tends to be a seasonal delight. Buying strawberries in January and oranges in June is going to cost more than if you wait to enjoy them in their biggest harvesting seasons.
If you have Farmer's Markets near you, you can often find great deals (especially if you happen to be there when they're closing up for the day).
5. Go meatless now and then
Dry beans and lentils are pretty much always cheaper than meat, but they pack in comparable protein per serving. We like to have at least one meatless meal each week to help with the grocery budget.
6. Take advantage of cash back apps
If they’re willing to pay you for something you’re already buying, even if it’s just a few cents, take it! Over time this can add up to a nice payout, and that helps offset your grocery budget even further (or give you a little boost to do some stockpiling on those bargain deals)!
- Ibotta - Sign up for Ibotta (a FREE cash back app) and get digital coupons to the stores you're already shopping at. My favorite coupon is the $0.25 off coupon on anything at any store. After you've shopped, just scan your receipt and the item barcode (all with your phone), and the discounts will automatically be applied to your account.
- Honey - Sign up for Honey (a FREE browser extension) to get automatically notified if there are coupons you haven't applied to the item in your digital shopping cart. All you have to do is click a button on the checkout page and it tests every coupon in its database to get you the best deal. This is super helpful and can save you lots of money.
- Ebates/Rakuten - Sign up here for free! This service gives you cash back for shopping online at your favorite stores. While it's not specifically grocery-store specific, it can definitely help your budget out.
7. Meal plan
Make a meal plan for each week and stick to it. This will help you build your grocery list around just what you NEED, not what “might be nice” to have in the cabinet. It’ll help you save some money each week to either come in under budget or splurge now and then for a special occasion.
A recent study looked at the cost of 86 popular recipes and compared the price of making the meal at home vs. using a meal kit service vs. eating out at a restaurant. They found that people spend five times as much money buying a meal at a restaurant as they would by making the exact same meal at home!
Make a Meal Plan Today!
Get started meal planning and save hundreds every month with this bundle of meal planning templates. Opt in below to get this PDF delivered directly to your inbox.
8. Stockpile ONLY when it’s in the budget
You might be tempted to overspend by JUST a little bit, to grab that bargain deal on pasta or some canned good. If you can tweak your grocery list to get by and make it fit, go for it, but if you’re out of room in your weekly spend after the essentials are covered, then you’ll have to miss out this time.
The only way to know how to stockpile on a budget is by following the numbers game. Is cash available? Buy it. No cash? Skip it.
9. Clean out your cupboards
If it's the end of the month and you don't have money left in the budget, get creative and pull out some of those items you keep pushing to the back of the cupboard.
10. Use the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen
When deciding which foods are worth it to buy Organic, and which aren't, use the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 list here.
The list is based on studies that test fruits and vegetables each year to determine which 12 are the "dirtiest" (meaning they have the most pesticide residue on them when they reach the grocery store, and which 15 are the "cleanest" (meaning they have the least amount of pesticides when they reach the grocery store).
When you're shopping on a budget, instead of buying EVERYTHING Organic (because that can get super expensive), be strategic and buy Organic produce on the dirty dozen, and decide if it's really worth it for you to buy Organic for the produce on the clean fifteen.
11. Buy in bulk
Buying food in bulk is different than stockpiling. I'm referring to the bulk bins in the grocery store (where you fill up a bag of an item, and pay by weight for what you get). We buy dried fruit, nuts, rice, and more in bulk and save a lot of money that way, compared to the pre-packaged items on the shelf.
If you only buy ONE thing in bulk, it should be your spices. This is a huge money saving opportunity that many people don't know about. I can buy enough of most spices to fill up each spice jar for about $0.50, sometimes even $0.25 instead of buying a completely new spice jar for over $4.00.
Final Thoughts On Grocery Shopping On A Budget
Grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be hard, feel restrictive, or make you miserable. With a few small, conscientious changes to your spending habits and your kitchen-related routines, you’ll be making progress and getting your spending in check in no time.
The value of curbing your grocery spending isn’t just to stop enjoying take-out now and then. The goal is to discipline yourself as to how you take care of your money so that you can enjoy life in other areas instead of just enjoying your food.