Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Grocery shopping is my happy place. I don’t know how this happened but over the years, the weekly, bi-weekly or sometimes daily chore of going to the grocery store has become a serious high point in my days.
Perusing the produce section, sauce aisle, pickle shelves, international section, or frozen vegetable department is as entertaining as any television show. After a hard day or a stressful situation? A 15-20 minute grocery session can wipe my immediate worries away. I honestly don’t know what it is. Everyone has their thing and I guess mine is the grocery store.
I know not everyone feels the same. Grocery shopping can be stressful, especially if you’re working on a budget. However, there are lots of ways to save money at the grocery store. Most of them involve getting a little crafty. Here are a few ways I cut down on grocery bills. (Everyone has their own needs and home environment, so these may not be helpful to all.)
Make friends with rice and beans - There is a reason almost every culture has its own version of this dish. It’s cheap, nutritious and delicious. One pound of dry beans will rarely cost you more than two dollars. Additionally, most produce stands carry them in bulk so you can get an even better cost for a food item that won’t perish. Beans are a great source of protein and will usually be cheaper than meat. Plus, they have a ton of dietary fiber which meat is completely devoid of.
Rice has a similar low cost and comes in several varieties. Buy these items in bulk to get a nutritious meal at a low cost. Bonus: leftover beans and/or rice are almost always a great addition to soups or stews.
(Other cheap friends for healthy shopping on a budget? Root vegetables; pumpkin and squashes; cabbage; bananas)
Opt for whole foods over processed - Not only are processed foods generally worse for your body than whole foods, they are also harder on the wallet and the environment than whole food alternatives. When buying processed foods, you aren’t only paying for the low quality ingredients within, you are paying for the processing and the packaging.
Most of us rely on processed foods for the “in between” meals. Snacks, quick breakfasts, lunches on the go, etc. Take a little time to plan out alternatives. Instead of a bar for breakfast, could a banana and handful of nuts do the trick? Homemade granola and yogurt? Overnight oats? Focusing on whole foods is a good way to get more nutrients for your buck.
Buy fresh ingredients in portions you’ll use - this may mean going to the grocery store more frequently, but it can also save you money by reducing waste and helping you focus on buying only what you know you’ll eat.
Plan, plan, plan - Before you go to the grocery store, take stock of what’s already in the fridge and pantry. If you’re planning meals for the week, be sure to incorporate what is already in the house before planning a meal that is based on ingredients that still need to be purchased. This may mean making meals you aren’t as excited about, but it's a good way to tune in to your creative side and it will help with both food and money waste.
Most of the work for budget-friendly grocery shopping goes on before you even walk into the store.
Don’t be scared of the freezer - this comes in two parts. Don’t be afraid to freeze what isn’t getting eaten, and don’t be scared of buying frozen ingredients.
Frozen vegetables are frozen at peak ripeness and can often contain even more nutrients than freshies. They are especially good for soups, stews or casseroles where texture isn’t as big of a concern.
On the other hand, get used to using the freezer in your home. If you make a pound of beans one weekend, eat them for a couple meals and decide you need to take at least a week off, throw them in the freezer. They will be there when you need them. And, when you get to a tight week budget-wise, everything you’ve thrown in the freezer along the way will be a welcome surprise.
Day-olds - lots of bakeries have day-old options at a reduced price. Find a local joint where you can stock up on breads and other treats at a reduced price.
Drink Water - What? How is this a shopping tip? Well, it isn’t, really. But just remember, if you’re drinking anything other than water, you don’t actually need it. That may sound harsh, but beverages other than water are empty calories (for the most part) and empty spending opportunities.
Don’t forget reusable bags!