With 14% inflation from 2020 to 2022, grocery shopping on a budget (let alone eating healthy) has become a challenge even for frugal people. No matter if you are shopping for yourself, or your family or friends, our tips will help you save and eat well.
Learning money-saving tips and becoming a savvier shopper will help you make the most of your shopping trips, while eating healthy and enjoying new recipes and flavors.
- You can shop healthy and save money on your grocery budget.
- Shopping while hungry can lead you to spend 60% more than you would otherwise.
- Planning out your meals and comparing prices online make it easier to create and stick with a grocery list and budget. Bonus points if you gear your grocery list for batch cooking.
- The most underrated tips are to use rewards credit cards, shop locally, use grocery pickup, and using coupon search apps.
19 Hacks for Grocery Shopping On a Budget
1) Make a Grocery List
Making a budget grocery list will help you become a more mindful shopper. You’ll find it easier to make your desired grocery store purchases without overspending while shopping at your favorite grocery store.
Most grocery stores are designed to put tempting items at eye level to spur shopping on a whim. A fun fact I learned recently was that grocery stores make a lot of money from the candy and sodas next to checkout lanes because of impulse shopping.
2) Create and Maintain Food Budgets
Having a separate food budget as part of your larger household budget will help you stay within your means. Your food budgets should include all your food purchases, such as your groceries, dine-out, or takeout.
There’s a lot of ways to get started, including using an app like Mint to help setup budget goals and track your spending.
3) Meal Plan Like No Tomorrow!
Learning the ins and outs of meal prep will make your journey easier.
Meal planning (aka meal prep) is becoming increasingly popular. These days, many people post their favorite Instant Pot or air fryer recipes on Pinterest.
Plan your meals around your dietary needs and grocery budget a few days to a week at a time. Doing so will save you stress and give you the time to cook interesting and healthy meals.
Don’t forget to consider what’s on sale at your local grocery store! For instance, if you see that chicken breasts are on sale this week, make dishes that include chicken. Chains like Costco regularly sell $5 rotisserie chicken to draw in customers.
Combined with the above two tips, meal prepping will go a long way to help you save money on groceries.
4) Compare Prices Online
Look at each grocery store’s website to price shop and find sales. Some grocery store brands like Kroger have mobile apps with unique coupons, discounts, and deals, making it worthwhile to shop online.
Additionally, you can use apps like Ibotta, Flipp, or Checkout51 to look for deals or coupons and cashback on various products. Keep tabs on sales to buy meat products at discounted prices, as their prices have gone up with inflation.
5) Use Coupons and Look for Sales
Finding coupons and sales can be a part-time job in itself. Using the apps above will help you quickly find coupons and deals and save time. Coupons.com is a great website for finding both digital and printable coupons across a wide variety of brands.
You can also check your mailbox for coupon books or promos or your local newspaper for deals, especially weekly deals from local businesses. To make the most of coupons and sales, be smart about how you combine them so you can stack their benefits.
6) Buy Fresh Fruits and Produce In Season
Explore your palette and save more money by buying different fresh fruits and produce when they are in season. You’ll find fruits and veggies are cheaper when they’re in peak season, offering an opportunity to experiment with new recipes and try out new foods. Here’s a quick list of fruits and vegetables by their peak season:
Winter – Oranges, Lemons, Kale, Tangerines, Grapefruit
Spring – Apricots, Avocados, Pineapples, Strawberries, Carrots, Mango
Summer – Blueberries, Raspberries, Peaches, Plums, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Cucumber
Fall – Pears, Apples, Grapes, Mushrooms, Pumpkin, Chard
7) Get Time Back with Grocery Pickup
As the saying goes, “Time is money.” Your budget includes your time too. The average person spends 2 hours per week grocery shopping and 41 minutes on a round-trip commute. The shopping alone comes out to 100+ hours a year.
Take back your time by shopping online and choosing grocery pickup. You still get discounts and the best prices your list — making it a solid deal. Major grocery store chains offer grocery pickup for free, such as:
- Aldi (costs $1.99)
If you have a busy schedule and the budget for it, then grocery delivery might be for you.
8) Try Store Brands
To keep quality and cut costs, opt for the store brand (generic) items. Many grocery stores offer products of similar quality to a name brand, but at a lower price. Sometimes, the same product is branded differently to sell at a higher price point — like with prescription drugs vs their generic version.
I often shop at Costco, Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, and Target and will compare the price and quality of their store brands to name brands I am familiar with. Some major grocers with their own store brands are:
- Ralphs (Kroger)
- Costco (Kirkland)
- Trader Joe’s
9) Make Use of Leftovers
Get more from dining out by keeping those leftovers. You can eat them as a side dish or as their own meal or put them in the freezer to eat later.
10) Batch Cook
Do you like to cook only once or twice a week? Do you like to cook as much as you can at one time? Then batch cooking is for you!
You can produce a few days to a week’s worth of food at a time, portion them out in containers, and then store this food in the freezer. When you batch cook, the food you produce is more nutritious and better on your bank account than premade frozen meals (with lots of processed foods!) or regular dining out.
Batch cooking regularly is a great way to make cooking more efficient and to have fun with your roommates or family. You can make the cooking process easier by using an Instant Pot or air fryer. One of my favorite recipes is to batch-cook lean ground beef with Mexican-style spicing to make taco dishes.
11) Buy in Bulk When Possible
Perhaps you’re a gym person and find yourself eating more for the gains? Or you have roommates or like to eat a lot? No judgment, I do too!
Then bulk buying your food is for you.
Common items to buy in bulk include grains such as quinoa and brown or white rice, legumes such as beans and lentils, and spices. Don’t rule out frozen foods either! Frozen vegetables, fruits, and meats often cost less than buying them fresh, have the same nutritional value, and will last longer.
Some stores offer bulk discounts like Aldi and Winco chains while stores like Walmart or Costco offer good prices for buying groceries in bulk.
Bulk buying pairs well with batch cooking too and helps you get the most out of grocery shopping on a budget!
Don’t forget — if you’re buying for others, you can split the grocery bill with them. But, if you are shopping just for one, then bulk products may not work for you.
12) Make Groceries Last Longer
Storing your food properly will make them last longer. Take a look at the packaging to learn if the item should be stored at room temperature or put in a refrigerator or freezer. Freezing foods that you won’t finish before they expire, such as fresh fruits or vegetables, can extend their shelf life or introduce you to a new frozen treat. When I was younger, I enjoyed eating frozen grapes and strawberries because of the difference in texture and flavor!
If you are on a limited budget, buying foods with longer shelf life or preparing freezer meals are good options. Meal ideas can be basic and include items like canned meats, frozen vegetables, or canned fish, or dried fruits. The occasional frozen pizza works as a treat.
One of my favorite items with a decent shelf life is cottage cheese. I eat it with my breakfast for most days and it’s a great source of carbs and protein.
13) Repurpose Food Before It Goes Bad
Use old vegetables or produce as compost. Use leftover seeds, cuttings, or pits from vegetables to grow your own. Share your food with friends and family or donate to your local food pantry — giving it a new home before it becomes food waste.
14) Avoid Convenience Foods (i.e. Unhealthy Stuff)
When grocery shopping on a budget, it can be a trap to buy convenience foods. They are often high in calories, saturated fats, cholesterol, etc., and do not contain key nutrients. Even if they are cheap in price, they have a high cost to your health. Saving money while grocery shopping can be good for your health and you wallet — and is possible.
Buy whole-ingredient foods and cook at home instead of prepared ones, which are usually pricier. Additionally, buying cheaper cuts of meat can introduce you to new and flavorful recipes while satisfying your protein fix in the midst of food inflation.
In 2020, I was learning how to cook and used a meal-prep service called Hello Fresh. It was not good for my health as the ingredients were very carb-heavy (e.g., lots of white rice) and high in cholesterol (lots of pork and red meat). Nor was it budget-friendly, as I received low-quality ingredients while overpaying for a monthly subscription.
I only used the service briefly before canceling, as I returned to food shopping at the local grocery store, such as Safeway and Trader Joe’s. After making this move, I felt healthier and had my energy return, while reducing my food bill.
15) Shop Local for the Best Food
When I was younger, I often bought fresh fruit at a good price at the local farmers market. It was a great family bonding experience and a fun time to see the foods, snacks, and other attractions.
Checking out your local farmers market should be a part of anyone’s grocery shop habits as they offer affordable access to fresh and specialty foods while supporting local farmers. Their prices are often lower than those at most grocery stores and offer better quality produce.
If you don’t know where to start, do a quick Google search. Your local market may also have flyers around your area.
Also, don’t forget your local ethnic stores — you can often find spices and other select items at affordable pricing.
16) Use Rewards Credit Cards
This is one of my favorite hacks because of how automatic the benefit is!
Using a cashback rewards card like the Amazon Prime Visa Card, Citi Double Cash or Chase Freedom Flex will get you points on all your grocery purchases, working like a discount. You can redeem these points for airline miles, hotel points, gift cards, cash, etc. The reward rates for your grocery spend are as follows:
- Prime Visa – 5% on Amazon, Amazon Fresh, or Whole Foods / 2% on drugstores
- Double Cash – 2% on anything
- Freedom Flex – 5% quarterly bonus on grocery stores / 3% on drugstores
Other credit cards can offer better rates on your grocery spend — sometimes more than 5%. But these cards come with more conditions, such as the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred which offers 6% on grocery spending but only up to $6,000 in yearly purchases — capping your cash back reward at $360.
17) Get a Membership to a Warehouse Store
Get a membership to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club. They offer large savings on bulk items and host a wide selection of products — just be sure you’re able to take advantage of that quantity.
Warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club rock! I’ve been going to Costco for most of my life and now that I have my own membership, I realize it’s been a great investment. From the discounted gas, pharmacy, and other in-store offerings, a Costco membership can give more back than you pay for it. These stores offer a great way to save on gas, car, health, and travel expenses too.
The lowest membership tiers at each chain are:
- Costco: Gold Star – $60/year
- Sam’s Club: Club – $50/year
18) Shop at Discount Stores
You can start grocery shopping on a budget at stores like the Dollar Tree that offer some of the lowest food prices you’ll find. These stores often have a smaller selection of products available. Read nutrition labels on food items before purchasing as these stores often sell processed foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats, etc. that will impact your health long term. Even if you are looking at some of the cheapest groceries out there, it helps to keep health in mind.
Other discount store chains include:
19) Don’t Shop Hungry
Of all the tips on our list, this will save you the most.
Shopping when hungry makes you more likely to do impulse buying. You put more food and non-food items in your cart, which can total up to 60% more in extra spending at the checkout counter. Researchers found that hunger induces a state of wanting which motivates a person to acquire non-food items, even if they don’t feel like wanting or needing them.
Anything that catches your attention from baking supplies to socks could be seen as filling a need.
The Bottom Line
Grocery shopping on a budget for healthy and filling food is possible on a budget and doesn’t have to be a struggle. By following these tips you can save money while eating healthy, flavorful, and delicious meals. Ultimately, health is wealth.
To better make a budget for your specific needs, check out this food inflation calculator from Intuit.