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How to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Healthy foods can be expensive, and with a tight budget, sometimes it isn’t easy to find nutritious foods that satisfy your dietary needs.

The good news is that low-cost, healthy meals on a budget are within your reach. Here’s how you can create a budget, control your spending, and save money while grocery shopping.

What is a Budget?

A budget is a spending plan based on income and expenses or how much money you will make and spend over a certain period of time.

Budgeting for grocery shopping is a critical factor in balancing your income and expenses. Everyone spends different amounts on groceries based on income level and the number of people per family.

Knowing how much to allocate for groceries and how to do so can take time and effort, but with the right resources and knowledge, you will be on your way to an excellent budget.

How to Create a Budget for Grocery Shopping

  • Write down your expenses; what you spend money on, like rent, utility and credit card bills, food, gas, car insurance, clothes, and entertainment.
  • Write down how much money you make: this includes your total wages or salary minus deductions for taxes, and any other money, like child support.
  • Subtract your expenses from how much you make. This number should be more than zero. If it’s less than zero, you are spending more money than you make. Look at your budget to see what you need and what you could spend less on.
  • Try spending around 10% of your income on groceries; adjust if necessary
  • Utilize a grocery budget calculator to assess your spending

Additional Budget Strategy:

The 50/30/20 rule is a great way to budget by spending the right amount on essentials while also experiencing the things you enjoy. This rule devotes 50% of your income to necessities (groceries & other needs). 30% is allotted towards products and services you want but don’t necessarily need (experiences & luxury items). Lastly, 20% of your income should go to financial goals, including saving money.

Grocery shopping and budgeting can be daunting, but knowing how much you have to spend can help you stay on track. You can save money by budgeting while also making low-cost, healthy meals that your entire family will love.

How to Grocery Shop on a Budget


Plan your meals for the upcoming week.

Planning your meals is a great way not to overshop or overeat while also feeling organized and ready for your upcoming week. Check your fridge to see what food you already have, and only plan to buy the food you know you’ll eat. Then plan a grocery list of everything you need to prepare meals throughout the week.

Stick to your grocery list.

Try to shop the edges of the grocery store first. This is where whole foods are typically placed. The outskirts of stores tend to hold your dairy, protein, and produce. These foods are healthier and fresher, so starting your shopping trip in these areas is excellent. The most expensive items are usually placed at eye level, so when shopping, try to look on the higher or lower shelves.

Cook at home.

Cooking at home is generally cheaper than dining out. A family of four can be fed for the same price as buying food for one at a restaurant. Not only is this a more budget-friendly way to dine, but you can also use this time to spend time with your family by preparing meals together.

Cook large portions and use your leftovers.

This is great when you’re on a budget because on days when you don’t have time to cook a meal, having leftovers can stop you from eating out. Also, by cooking large quantities, you can prepare/ plan your meals for the week and save time and money. You can freeze leftovers to save for a later time, too.

Don’t shop when you are hungry.

When hungry, we tend to make rash decisions and buy more unhealthy food without giving it much thought. If you do this, you’re more likely to stray from your grocery list and purchase something (generally unhealthy) on impulse. Try eating something, even if it is just a small healthy snack, to curb your appetite before grocery shopping to avoid unnecessary purchases.

Buy whole foods.

Some foods are more affordable if they are less processed. Look for foods with shorter ingredient lists; the fewer unknown ingredients, the better. Whole foods work to lower rates of some lifestyle diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole foods can be less expensive, tastier, and more nutritious; what else could you ask for?

Buy generic brands.

These brands may have the same quality as national brands but are less expensive. Generic brands generally provide the same taste and nutrients while being affordable. This is an easy swap to save money on the products you love. What’s better than enjoying your favorite foods while saving a few dollars?

Avoid buying highly processed foods.

These foods are typically high in sodium or added sugar and are very expensive. Not only are these foods not good for your wallet, but they also aren’t as nutritious as natural whole foods. Help your body feel its best while saving money in the process.

Shop for nonperishable items online.

Shopping for nonperishable items online can help you save time and money while also being able to easily compare prices online to find the best offer. You can buy products like protein bars and dried fruits from online retailers like Amazon. You won’t have to pay a food tax, and shipping may be free.

Stock up on sales.

If you have some favorite items or find items you will use that you can freeze or have a long shelf life, buy them now to save money later. Purchasing your most loved items when they are on sale or when you find a coupon is a great way to keep your favorite products at your fingertips at a lower price.

Buy cheaper cuts of meat.

Fresh meat and fish can be expensive. To save money, look for chuck steak, pork top sirloin steak, whole chicken, or ground meat or poultry. There are many options for more affordable yet still delicious meats. Take some time to find something new and less expensive that might be your new favorite.

Replace meat with other proteins.

Protein aids in curbing hunger and helps with lean muscle growth; it also comes in all tastes, shapes, and sizes. Try other proteins like beans, eggs, or canned fish for a couple of days per week. Switching up your protein options is a great way to save money and add variety to your meals.

Shop for produce that is in season.

Utilizing in-season fruits and vegetables can make your meals unique and exciting from time to time. Local, in-season produce is typically cheaper and healthier than out-of-season options. In-season produce contains more flavor and nutrients, too. Find fun seasonal recipes to try out as new fresh produce becomes available.

Buy frozen fruits and vegetables.

Fresh fruit is usually in season for only a few months and is typically expensive. Frozen produce is just as nutritious, cheaper, and sold all year round in large bags. This is a great way to buy more food at once, making it more affordable and easier for you in the long run. Having frozen produce constantly at home is perfect for quick and convenient meals that are equally tasty and nutritious.

Buy meats and cereals in bulk.

Buying items in bulk that you know you will use is an easy way to save time and money. By freezing/ safely storing your food, you can get the most out of your money. When purchasing a large quantity of one food item, try looking up alternate ways to prepare the product to incorporate new, exciting meals into your diet.

Limit your purchase of ready-prepared food.

Only get ready-made refrigerated food occasionally when you’re willing to pay for the convenience. Discover quick and easy meals that you love that are nutritious, more affordable, and convenient. Pre-prepared refrigerated and frozen meals often include preservatives and fewer fresh ingredients. Not only are these meals not as healthy, but you are also paying extra for the price of convenience.

Look for outlet stores such as day-old bakeries.

Finding grocery stores or bakeries that sell baked goods like bread at lower prices when the item is a day old is an efficient way to get more affordable great products. You can even find delicious recipes that work well with these items and enjoy trying something new. This tip is highly underrated and forgotten, but it is a smart way to save money.

Grow your own produce if you can.

Seeds are cheap to buy, and having a continuous supply of produce at home saves you money at the store. In addition to having a constant supply of your favorite produce, you can pick up gardening as a new hobby and ensure you are getting fresh foods. Home-grown produce can also be great to share with family and friends to show them a little extra love.

Pack your lunch.

Eating out is expensive, especially if done regularly. Take time at the beginning of your week to prepare and pack your lunches for a healthier collection of meals. A great way to incorporate home-cooked lunches is to slowly increase the number of times you pack your lunch compared to eating out each week.

Use coupons wisely.

There are many coupons available for grocery stores. Find quality deals, and stock up on cleaning products, nutrient-rich foods, and more. Coupons can be found from various sources, including in stores, online, couponing apps, and more. Try contacting friends/ family to share information about coupon finds and good upcoming deals.

Buy from cheap online retailers.

Online retailers are great resources that can save you time and money while being able to order your favorite foods. Some online retailers offer healthy foods for 50% cheaper than grocery stores. By registering, you can access daily discounts and deals, and the products are delivered to your door.

Some Grocery Budgeting Apps are also Available to Help You

Basic budget apps can connect with your financial accounts, track spending, and categorize expenses to see where your money is going.

Here’s a list of grocery budgeting apps that you can download in the iOS App Store or on Google Play:

  1. Mint

    This free app can sync with all your accounts (checking, savings, credit cards, loans, etc.). Mint tracks your expenses and places them in unlimited budget categories, which you can personalize. The app lets you know if you’re approaching the limits you have set in each category.

  2. YNAB

    This app allows you to plan for your financial decisions rather than track past transactions. The app is designed to help you become more intentional with your money when prompted to decide what to do with it actively. As soon as you get paid, notify YNAB how much of your income should go toward various categories, including expenses, goals, and savings. This app costs $14.99 monthly and can sync with your checking, savings, credit cards, and loans.

  3. Goodbudget

    This app allows you to portion your monthly income toward specific spending categories (called envelopes). Goodbudget doesn’t connect your bank accounts, but you can manually add account balances, cash amounts, debts, and income. Then you assign money toward envelopes. This app is free.

  4. Every Dollar

    This app allows you to enter incoming and outgoing money throughout the month manually. You can also categorize line items in your budget and set reminders for bill payments. This app is free.

  5. Honeydue

    Honeydue is a free app designed so you and your partner can view your financial pictures in one app. Both partners can sync bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investments. The app automatically categorizes expenses, but you can also create custom categories. You can set up monthly limits together on each category, and Honeydue will alert you when you or your partner are nearing them.

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