Grocery shopping can derail a budget pretty quickly, especially if you go in with an empty stomach instead of a list. If you find yourself (or your wallet) frequently in checkout despair, take a look at our tips for staying on budget at the grocery store (besides not shopping hungry):
Take a look at what you have first. Before or during your grocery shopping list, take stock of what you already have on hand, because this might frame your meal plans for the week. Have a lot of BBQ sauce? Maybe planning some pulled pork or BBQ chicken for the week would make sense. Or maybe you have some bananas that are about to become overripe, in which case you could buy additional ingredients for smoothies or banana bread. Taking inventory before heading to the store will not only give you better brainstorming ideas, it can also save you money by figuring out what you already have plenty of and using certain items before they go bad.
Shop what’s on sale. People sometimes have the misconception that when certain meats or produce are on sale, it means that they are about to go bad. However, this is not the case as grocery stores (like other retail stores) have sales cycles where certain items go on sale at a set schedule. It can help to build your meal ideas around these on-sale items, too. If your pantry search didn’t yield any results, finding out what produce or meat is on sale is the next best way to plan your week. Grocery shopping apps can help you do things like compare weekly grocery store flyers for pricing (or get paid rebates for what you are buying anyway.)
Get it Fresh from the Farm. Summer and Fall are great times to peruse local Farmers Markets or participate in a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) Share. CSAs can also encourage culinary creativity in that you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting week to week- it depends on availability. As a result, you may be introduced to new things you wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. With Farmers Markets, you get to interact with the growers directly, and they may have certain options available that you wouldn’t be able to find at your local grocery store. And, it’s not just a “money saving” reason, you also have a better grasp on where your food is coming from. Both Farmers Markets and CSAs can make the shopping experience fun again! (Read more on Wisebread.com)
Make it Social. This article from The Simple Dollar suggests getting a group of friends/families together every so often for potluck dinners. People take turns hosting and everyone brings just one dish that’s big enough to share among everyone. The pros are that you can often do this at a fairly cheap cost, plus you get to hang out with your friends without everyone having to spend a ton of money at a restaurant. Doing some sort of potluck BBQ is a fun idea for the summer months, too.
Get the Most Out of Every Meal. In addition to the tips from our guide to leftovers, there’s even more you can do to make the most out of every meal (no matter how big or small your family is). The Simple Dollar also suggests techniques such as creating soups and crockpot meals (including roasting a whole chicken, which may require some labor in terms of cutting and prepping, but will lead to a lot of meat being available for meals and leftovers. You can also check out All Recipes’ Leftovers page, and search for leftover recipes by the type of food (pasta, chicken, beef, etc). Making sure nothing goes to waste (unless it’s gone bad, that is) ensures that you’re not wasting money on your shopping trips.
No matter what time of year it is or where you live, there are different ways you can save money on your grocery budget without having to go on a Ramen Noodle diet. We all have to eat and thankfully, we can all save money, too.