Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Let me preface this by saying I am NOT a budgeting expert. I only recently started budgeting once my husband and I decided to take hold of our money and join FPU (Financial Peace University), Dave Ramsey’s financial course. We create a budget for EVERYTHING, every month. We tell our money where to go, because we found out if you don’t, it disappears. Poof. Gone. Leaving us scratching our heads every month wondering where our money went. *Hint: It went to Amazon and Target 99% of the time.
Another HUGE money sucking culprit is groceries. This is how I used to shop: Go shopping with no list, no plan and usually hungry. I fell for all of the grocery store’s master marketing schemes.
In case you didn’t know, grocery stores (next to banks) are the smartest marketers in the world.
They know exactly how to entice you to buy everything you didn’t come for.
Can someone say Target?
I realized I’ve been shopping blind my entire life. Doing it all wrong. Because friends, I am here to tell you - there IS a right way and a wrong way to grocery shop.
It takes more effort. It’s difficult. But it’s so worth it to leave the grocery store with all the food you need for the week, not feeling guilty for buying a bunch of junk you know you don’t need.
Here are tips that I’ve learned (so far) to shop the right way.
1.) Make a meal plan for the week and keep it simple. This to me is the golden rule. The most important. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It applies here 1000%. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried and failed and tried and failed to meal plan, ultimately giving up because I ran out of unique dinner ideas or just got burnt out on making these 10+ recipe meals every night. Go back to the basics when it comes to cooking. Use fresh meat, produce and seasonings and I promise it will come out yummy (and healthy). *My Instant Pot is literally my BFF. I use that thing for probably 4 meals every week. It is a major time saver, there are endless EASY recipes to try, it’s easy to clean and is almost impossible to mess up meals with it. It’s around $100 and worth every penny.
Back to meal planning.
Every Thursday, I pull out my meal plan list (I use the grocery/meal plan insert for my Happy Planner). I like writing out tangible lists so I can mark it off as I shop. If using your cell phone is easier, do that! Since I shop on Fridays, I make my meal plan for the week on Thursday, and our meals for the week begin on Friday. I write a meal for each day. I look up the ingredients and I put those on my grocery list. I also include lunch on my meal plan. Usually lunch will just read “leftovers”, but I still include it. I don’t meal plan for breakfast, only because we always have pretty much the same thing every day (eggs, toast or waffles, yogurt and fruit.) I love pulling recipes from All Recipes, as they have hundreds to choose from, along with photos of meals that people made, ingredient lists, ratings, etc. The app is free to download.
2.) Make a grocery list that corresponds to your meal plan. As stated above, make a list based on what you need for your meals and stick to that list like your life depends on it. Pretty easy, right?
Yeah, but what about snacks? The list I use includes a section for snacks, so if they fit within your budget, add you some snacks on there. Don’t go crazy here, but there is room for snacks. Trust me, your “list snacks” will not be as many as you think if you sit down and think about what you want as your make your list. This is much safer than stepping foot in that store and getting enticed by all the new shiny snacks you didn’t even know existed. You were much less impressionable in the safety of your house, not face to face with pumpkin flavored cake mix, or whatever those clever grocery people stacked on the end caps. Stick to your list, and only get the snacks you decided you wanted before you left the house.
3.) Shop your pantry and fridge as you make your list. This goes hand in hand with #2, but make sure you don’t already have flour, sugar, etc. before you go and buy more. I’ve been so guilty of doing this, and it wastes precious grocery money buying something you don’t even need.
3.) Eat before you shop, or even while you shop. We all know this rule and rarely stick to it, but I”m telling you it makes such a difference. We make BAD decisions when we are hungry. Hunger is so powerful. You’ll convince yourself you need so many things you don’t, all because you are hungry. It’s such a dangerous combination. Just don’t do it. To make sure I don’t go hungry, I always go shopping right after breakfast. I’m fed, the baby is fed and we are clear headed. When I shop hungry, not only do I make bad decisions, I also start feeling weak, which causes me to feel rushed, which leads to maybe missing some items on my list. Bring purse snacks for you and the baby if you start to get hungry while at the store, because surprise surprise…those clever grocery people have put into place MANY sneaky ways to make you hungry (fresh bread and pastries baking, putting all items you need like milk, eggs, etc. in the back of the store so you are forced to pass the chips, cookies and DREADED END CAPS, free samples…the list goes on).
4.) Grab a smaller cart. Has anyone noticed those carts are getting bigger and bigger? You guessed it. Sneaky grocery people. They want you to have a bigger cart, so you are more likely to fill it with more stuff you don’t need. Go for the half-size cart. Trust me, those fill up a lot quicker, making less room for pumpkin spiced potato chips.
5.) Avoid those inner aisles like the plague. I realize you may have to make a trip down the dangerous aisles to get things like canned goods, spices, baking goods, etc. This is where you have to dig deep and be strong. Hold that list high and stay focused. For me, grocery shopping has turned into a challenge to recognize the ways the store is trying to steal my money, and beat it. Say to yourself, ha…not today grocery store. I’m prepared!
6.) Look up. Look Down. Where do you think all of the more expensive brands are? Hiding on the bottom shelf? Nope. They are all at eye level. Exactly where they know you will look first. Be mindful of this. I always notice this on the bread aisle. The bottom shelf brands are not necessarily bottom shelf brands, if that makes sense. There are some good, less expensive brands down there. Scan all the shelves, and find the best deal. Once you do this a few times, you’ll know what brand works best for you and your budget, so it will become second nature to go straight to your brand, grab it and go.
7.) Calculate items as they hit your cart. Pull out your phone calculator, or bring one with you. People may call you a nerd in their head, but you are a nerd that’s saving money and being smart about shopping, so joke’s on them. Just to make sure I’m not going over budget, as I put an item in my cart I add it up on my calculator (you can cushion for tax). This is just an extra step to keep you accountable while you shop.
8.) Don’t be a brand snob. I used to be this way. Honestly, I’m still this way for a few items. There are just some products I can’t go full store brand on. Two things really. Ketchup and cheese. I have to go with Heinz. Other brands just taste like total crap. Please let me know if you have found a different ketchup brand that is delicious. Cheese. This one is tough, because my husband and I are total cheese snobs. We are obsessed with Tillamook extra sharp cheddar and those suckers are like $8 a pop. Everything else I have found we can go store brand and it tastes fine. There are some really good, less expensive brands out there. Store brands have come a long way. Give them a chance.
9.) Keep groceries to food only. I have found that it’s much easier to stick to your allotted food budget if you keep your shopping trips to food only. Once you start adding other items to your cart (or wandering down those temping beauty aisles) it can go downhill pretty quick. You can also find things like paper towels, toilet tissue, cleaning supplies, etc. all online for a cheaper cost. Try sites like Amazon (duh) and Vitacost for those items. Save money, and have them shipped to your door!
10.) Pay for your groceries in cash. This one is tough, but it really helps. I got this from the Dave Ramsey envelope system. It’s where you have an envelope for a specific category, like groceries (or whatever you decide you want to always pay cash for). At the beginning of the month, fill your grocery envelope with your grocery money for the whole month. EX: $400 ($100 per week). Be mindful that you can only spend on groceries what is in that envelope, and when you're out, you’re out. There is a whole mental and behavioral science behind paying in cash, that I can touch on more later. You are way more likely to overspend if you are using a card rather than cash. Knowing you may have to put some items back that didn’t fit within budget is good motivation to not put that pumpkin spice cereal in your cart.
*You’ll notice that I didn’t put a popular budgeting trick on this list. Coupons. It’s not that I don’t believe in coupons. I do! I just honestly don’t use them all that much. I find the items that have coupons are sometimes gimmicks, or unhealthy items I never needed in the first place.
However, I am a fan of coupons apps, like Ibotta. Super simple to use, and it provides you little cash back amounts for purchasing certain items on their list (depending on which grocery store you select).
Let me know what your biggest grocery hurdle or tip is! I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Shopping, friends!