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10 Easy Ways to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Food is one of my absolute favorite things in this world. Costco actually has its own category in my budget because those samples just speak to me.

I’m not alone in my passion for food: The average American family of four spends between $567–1,106 on groceries each month.1 That’s a big slice of your budget, which makes sense because groceries are a huge part of our lives. But it’s easy to go overboard with splurges and nonessentials at the grocery store.

The good news is, grocery shopping on a budget is easy once you get the hang of it. Your money can only do what you tell it to do, so you have to be intentional and wise with your choices. The grocery budget is one place where a little intentionality will go a long way!

Here are ten easy ways to save money in your grocery budget:

1. Revisit Your Grocery Budget

If we want to take control of our money instead of having our money take control of us, then we have to learn to live within a budget. Budgeting impacts your buying and makes your money go further. It also helps you avoid unnecessary spending.

So, how much money did you assign to the grocery category in your monthly budget? You’ll need to divide that number by the amount of times you’re going to the grocery store this month. If you go once a week and have $600 to spend, that means you can spend $150 at the store per trip.

2. Meal Plan

Meal planning is one of my personal life savers as a busy working mom. It’s like budgeting with your food!

Meal planning also reduces your stress throughout the week because you don’t have to think about what’s for dinner. You’ve already decided that and shopped for it.

The reason this helps save money is because you know exactly what you need to buy to feed your family all week, without relying on last-minute takeout or impulse purchases at the store. Plus, when you get strategic about what to make, you can cook a big batch or use the same ingredients in multiple recipes. If I know we’re going to make a big pot of white bean chicken chili, I know I’ll have leftovers for lunch or even another dinner.

No matter what you’re hungry for, there are all kinds of money-saving meal plans online.

Bonus: Planning out your meals for the week will give you the chance to save even more by looking for the best deal or coupons for all the ingredients in advance.

3. Make a Grocery List

A shopping list is a huge way to stay on track. A grocery list will help you:

  • Stay accountable to your budget.
  • Avoid getting distracted by impulse items.
  • Manage your kids’ expectations. “Sorry, Oreos aren’t on the list.”
  • Save time inside the grocery store.
  • Remember everything in just one trip.

I use the notes app on my phone and make a list before I go to the store. Not only does it help me avoid impulse purchases, but it also makes me happy when I get to delete items off the list once I have them in my cart. It’s super gratifying! Enneagram Threes—you know what I’m talking about.

Think of your grocery list as an extension of your budget. You’re the boss, so you can make whatever choice you want about what you’re going to buy at the store. You just have to decide before you leave home. This will help you stay accountable to the list and to your budget.

4. Take Cash Out for Groceries

Study after study shows that you’ll spend less money when you pay with cash versus swiping a card, so be sure to withdraw cash for your grocery shopping.2

shopping cart

Try our free Meal Planner to save money on groceries!

The envelope system has been around for decades, and I’ve given it my own spin and call it the clip system. I use small binder clips (the kind you find at an office supply store) to keep my cash in my wallet separated by category. I like this because I can still use my wallet instead of carrying around actual envelopes.

The clip system works like this: Let’s say you have budgeted $600 for groceries every month. When you get paid, you dedicate a clip for groceries and take $600 cash out of the bank. Then, when you go to the grocery store, you use that cash to pay for the groceries. Having cash for a budget category like groceries is great because you always know exactly how much you have left to spend in each category each month.

5. Try Aldi (or Other Discount Grocery Stores)

Smart shopping isn’t only about what you buy, but where you buy. We all know certain stores are more expensive than others, so be mindful of that. Maybe one store has better quality of meat, while another’s produce is perfectly fine and reasonably priced. You can save a lot of money just by shopping around for different products at different stores.

For example, so many people in my Facebook group swear by shopping at Aldi. The German-owned family discount grocery store is known for saving people a lot of money on their grocery bill. I’ve even heard of people saving up to half of their grocery budget simply by making the switch to Aldi!

I actually interviewed Angela Harmon, the Debt Kickin’ Mom, on how she feeds her entire family for under $125 per week. You can watch that interview here

6. Learn the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen

Shop for foods that fit your budget and priorities. The truth is, buying healthy food doesn’t need to break the bank. These days, you can even buy organic groceries affordably!

If buying organic is important to you, do it! If you choose organic for only some foods, you can save a little money. Plan around the organic items that are important to you, but don’t be scared to buy the non-organic version of other food items.

(Personally, I refuse to give into the social pressure to buy organic exclusively. I’m not going to pay $40 for farm-to-table firewood, no matter how “natural” it is.)

A good place to start is with the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. These lists are released every year by the Environmental Working Group and refer to the level of pesticides used on these crops.3 Experts recommend buying items on the Dirty Dozen list organic whenever possible. The Clean Fifteen have a much lower level of pesticides, so you can save money on those groceries by not buying organic.

A graphic listing the 2019 Dirty Dozen foodsA graphic listing the 2019 Clean Fifteen foods

Feel free to save these graphics to your phone for easy referencing at the store!

Now, if you value organics and have an all-or-nothing approach to it, your food budget is going to be higher. If you want to spend more on food, then you’ll have to take that money out of some other areas of your budget, like clothes or entertainment. If that’s what you value, go for it. Just don’t assume you can pay for everything you value all at once.

Oh, and here’s another pro tip for you: Produce should always be cheaper when it’s actually in season. Have you ever noticed that strawberries are more expensive in the winter? That’s because they’re harder to get that time of the year. However, you’ll find the best prices on avocados, grapefruit, and kale at the end of the year. Check out my Guide to Seasonal Grocery Savings here!

7. Shop Generic

According to The Wall Street Journal, generic products cost 29% less than name-brand products.4 You guys, this is a super simple hack to save one-third of your money without even cutting back.

A lot of people might get a little bougie here and think generic products really aren’t as good as name brand. But guess what—generic is actually what doctors and professional chefs prefer.

When surveyed, chefs are more likely to buy generic over name brand, especially when it comes to baking ingredients, soup and dips.5 And doctors and pharmacists are likely to do the same: 90% buy generic over name brand medicine.6 If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!

8. Buy in Bulk (Sometimes)

One way to save money on groceries is to buy in bulk, like at a warehouse club. Walking into an enormous warehouse full of pallets stacked floor-to-ceiling with things I could buy does my heart good. A warehouse club is a little slice of heaven to a natural spender.

The key with buying in bulk is to only buy things you know you need and will use. It’s easy for me to get carried away in those stores, so I have to be aware. Winston and I will never eat five gallons of honey mustard, no matter how good of a deal it is.

We still shop at a standard grocery store once a week for most food, but the warehouse store is a great place to buy the things we know we need to have on hand all the time. We buy all of our paper goods, meats, batteries and dog food in bulk.

Of course, you have to factor your bulk purchases into your monthly budget. If you know you’re going to take an expensive trip to the warehouse club every other month, your budget needs to reflect that. You’ll spend more money on groceries in the months you stock up on toilet paper, toothpaste and cases of soda. If you don’t plan ahead for it, the trip to the warehouse store will wreck your grocery budget for the month. This is a classic example of why you need to do a new, original budget every month.

9. Use Coupons

When it comes to grocery shopping on a budget, it would be crazy not to include coupons. It’s basically free money!

Factor in how much time you’re spending versus how much you’re saving. Some people can spend five or more hours a week pouring through coupon websites to save $5 on their weekly grocery bill.

If you’re working on getting out of debt or saving for the emergency fund, coupons should be your best friend. Every dollar you save at the grocery store gets you one dollar closer to being debt-free! But if you are out of debt and are funding retirement, saving 75 cents on juice boxes probably won’t make or break your budget.

Growing up, couponing was a part of every Sunday afternoon in our house. My mom was a pro at finding and cutting out coupons from the newspaper. At that time in our lives, it was wise for Mom to take time out of the day to find deals and take advantage of ways to save money. It would’ve been unwise for her just to go buy whatever she felt like, no matter the price.

One warning about coupons: They only save you money if you were going to buy the product anyway.

Coupons are a form of marketing. Companies put coupons in the mail and online because they want you to buy their stuff. If you buy something you don’t need just because you have a coupon for it, you’re wasting money—no matter how much you “save.”

10. Use Fuel Rewards to Your Advantage

There are several grocery stores that offer fuel rewards programs. While this doesn’t immediately save you money on your grocery bill, it’s a way to make the most of money you spend at the grocery store.

By the way, this isn’t the same as signing up for a store credit card. Don’t get suckered into one of those!

Here are just some of the stores that offer fuel points:

  • Kroger
  • Safeway
  • Harris Teeter (regional)
  • Giant Eagle (regional)
  • Hy-Vee (regional)

When you sign up for the fuel rewards program at these stores, you’ll get points for buying groceries there. Once you earn a certain amount of points, you’ll save money on gas at their gas station or affiliated gas station.

For example, for every $100 you spend at Kroger, you’ll get 10 cents off per gallon of gas. That’s a dollar or two off every tank of gas, and—depending on how much you drive—could easily add up to several hundred dollars a year.

But here’s where you can get really savvy: Many of these programs offer double points on gift card purchases. Instead of giving the gift card away, buy yourself gift cards for restaurants or stores where you’re already planning to spend money, like a gift card for gas, or the very grocery store you’re shopping at!

There are also special times of the year when some of these grocery stores offer promotions where they’ll double the amount of points you can earn, so keep an eye out for that!


How Much Could You Save in Your Grocery Budget?

Just think, if you could reduce the amount of money you spend on groceries each month, what would you do with that extra cash? How much more debt could you pay off? How fast could you build up your emergency fund? How much sooner could you save up for an awesome vacation?

If you’re looking for even more ways to save money, check out my 14-Day Money Finder! The average person finds $2,000 for the year in just two weeks. And remember to take control of your money and create a life you love!

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Rachel Cruze

About the author

Rachel Cruze

Rachel Cruze is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, financial expert, and host of The Rachel Cruze Show. Rachel writes and speaks on personal finances, budgeting, investing and money trends. As a co-host of The Ramsey Show, America’s second-largest talk radio show, Rachel reaches millions of weekly listeners with her personal finance advice. She has appeared on Good Morning America and Fox News and has been featured in publications such as Time, Real Simple and Women’s Health magazines. Through her shows, books, syndicated columns and speaking events, Rachel shares fun, practical ways to take control of your money and create a life you love. Learn More.

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