8 tips for keeping your grocery budget in check

Written by
Peter Dunn

I have long been convinced that you can change your financial life by being a better grocery shopper. I know this seems hyperbolic, but I assure you it isn't. While there is a ton of money to be saved at the grocery, the real "life changing" starts happening when you utilize critical skills that can/will transfer through to the rest of your life. You will find that planning, resourcefulness, and critical thinking will save you hundreds of dollars per month at the grocery store, and possibly change the way you live your financial life.

I have, for quite sometime, spent $62/week at the grocery store. I'm not cheap. I'm not crazy. I'm not a waif fashion model. I just follow these 8 tips. You should too.

  1. Create a menu, then shop with a list- Menu planning is essential to cutting your grocery budget. You should not only know what meals that you plan on having on what days, but you should also plan meals that allow you to re-purpose ingredients and leftovers. Need half an onion today for a recipe? Cool, but just make sure that tomorrow's meal can incorporate the other half of the onion. Buying fresh herbs (which are brutally expensive - that's why I have an herb garden)? Don't use the $3 cilantro once this week, use it two or three times. Although outlets like the Food Network have changed the way we will eat forever, it has also changed the way we waste "specialty" ingredients. Having a menu will also reduce the amount of "convenience dining outs" that you randomly fall subject to mid week. Once you make your menu, then make your list. How do you know what to choose for the menu? Move your eyes to tip #2.
  1. Get the eNewsletter/flyer- Do you know that pork shoulder is on sale this week? Yes, I dig on swine. Get over it. Waiting to see what is on sale at the store can lead to disaster. It can cause you to buy what you had planned on buying AND what is on sale. That defeats the purpose of the sale. Create your menu based on what is on sale. For instance, back to the swine, let's say that pork shoulder is on sale. You could braise the pork shoulder which then gives you plenty of pork for 2-3 meals. You could have pulled pork BBQ, then carnitas tacos, and even a shredded pork panini. You just have to be creative. By the way, don't be the weirdo that only buys chicken breasts. Chicken breasts can cost up to $6/lb, while a whole chicken can cost $.79/lb. Buy the whole damn bird and learn to cook.
  1. Bend your knees- Awkward. No, what I mean is stand in front of the ingredient that you want in the grocery aisle, then bend your knees. Off brand (generic) foods are usually located right below name brand foods. You can save 20% by buying store brand canned veggies and other kitchen staples. Many times these foods are manufactured by the same companies as the name brand foods. You should also know that food companies pay a premium for eye-level shelf space in grocery stores. This means that they pass on those costs to you. Bend your knees.
  1. Shop for what's in season/local- Why do $6 strawberries exist? Because people buy them when they shouldn't. Fresh foods are generally seasonal. This means that having them shipped in from Uruguay when they are out of season will cost you more money. Base your menu on what is in season. And better yet, base your menu on what is produced locally. If you support fresh local food, then it will always be there to serve your family. If you buy $6 strawberries out of season, then you deserve to not have fresh local food.
  1. Look for your protein sources in alternative forms- Do you remember when Oprah questioned the beef industry, and then got taken to court? Yeah, me too. So, I'm not going to blast livestock producers. I just know that American's eat waaaaay too much expensive proteins. We eat protein in OUR house, but we mix it up. Sometimes it comes from pork, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, eggs, and occasionally beef. The more that you are in touch with your body, the more you will understand the "energy source" qualities of food. I love to enjoy good food, but I also see the value in having food nourish my body.
  1. Cut out the junk food- Junk food seems addictive at times. Sometimes it's monetarily cheap. Sometimes it's monetarily expensive. But you will ALWAYS pay the ultimate price if you are hooked on junk food. By avoiding junk food you will be able to avoid health problems later in life. We just talked about this, people. Live, learn, exist without diabetes. (Do you think that could be their slogan? I doubt it too. But I like it.)
  1. Go alone- I love Mrs. Planner. But every time that she goes to the store with me, our grocery bills climb. I ALWAYS do the grocery shopping, and I generally try to go to the store alone. The more grubby little hands that are with me, the more random food items end up in my cart. On that note, you should also consider going to the same grocery store, at the same time in the week, every week. This will help create a good routine that will help familiarize you with your store's options and induce you to spend less money.
  1. Identify free meals- We each have 93 meals per month that we have to account for (3 meals per day for 31 days). If you spent $5 per meal, then you would be in trouble. You need to find ways to "eat for free." Do I mean making ketchup soup from the free ketchup packets at Wendy's? No. I mean having a "pantry meal" once every month or so. A pantry meal, not to be confused with a panty meal (I don't know exactly what that would be) is when you don't buy any specific ingredients for a meal, and just create a "free" meal from ingredients that are deep within your pantry and/or freezer. We do this all the time. It's actually pretty fun. Whole wheat pasta with artichoke hearts, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. Creamy polenta with mushrooms and thyme. The sky is the limit. Be creative, eat well, and eat cheap.

Do you have a favorite grocery tip that you would like to share? I'd love to hear it. I may even steal it for my next book. Besides, these tips all came from my last book 60 Days to Change. Check it out. And by check it out I mean don't check it out (at a library). Buy it. A brother's gotta buy groceries.

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