Budgeting and habit building is a large piece of the personal finance puzzle. For many, knowing limits and how to spend money in each area of life is crucial to success. A big piece of the budgeting pie is how to budget for food, and how to stretch that food budget as far as possible. Today I’m sharing with you six tips and tricks that got me through when I had very little money to budget, and have now become habits that help keep my spending in line with my overall financial goals.
One: Know Your Budget
Step one is a pre-step, but in order to spend money on groceries, you need to know your grocery budget. Most personal finance coaches recommend spending 10-15 percent of your income on groceries. So if you make $2,000 a month, you should spend between $200 and $300 a month on groceries.
Is budgeting a foreign concept to you? If you’ve never created a budget before and don’t know where to start, check out my post about creating a budget here.
Two: Plan Ahead and Shop the Ads
One of my biggest keys to success with budgeting and keeping my costs low at the grocery store is planning ahead and shopping for items in my grocery stores’ advertisements. When I say planning ahead, I mean that I do a couple different things.
- Check my schedule and plan my meals. Before I even head to the grocery store, I use my planner to check what my week will look like. Will I be working late? Do I have a happy hour planned with girlfriends? Does my boyfriend have late engagements? I like to know and note those things so I can plan my meals and have them written out before I even go to the store. I take inventory of what I already have at my house, and try to use those things first, before I buy more.
- Always Bring Lunch to Work This tip alone saves me $200-$300 a month. Think about it: if I didn’t bring my lunch to work I would have to grab something from a local restaurant, or I would have to run home and eat there. I don’t have time to drive to my house , eat lunch, and drive back during my lunch break, so I would have to buy something at a local spot. If I figure the average lunch costs $10, and there are 20 work days in a month, that would be $200 dollars a month. Just on lunch. That’s not an option.
- Go to the store once a week, and at a quiet time. I try to go to the grocery store just once a week, and at a time when other people are not there. Some of the busiest times at the grocery store are Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning and afternoon. I always try to avoid the store at those times. I normally go to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon for the following week.
- Eat before buying groceries. Studies show people are prone to impulse buying at the grocery store when they shop hungry, so always eat before you go in the store so you won’t shop with your stomach!
- Shop the ads Nearly every store puts out a weekly advertisement with special pricing. I like to check multiple stores while planning my grocery list to see what’s on sale. The stores in my town will also price match the competition so check and see if your store will do that as well. Be prepared to buy in bulk if something is a really good deal. If shredded cheese goes on sale for 3 bags for $5, I will stock up and freeze for a later date. The same with meat; I may not need to eat it that week, but if it fits my budget that week, I can stock up for future weeks and save in the long run.
Three: Avoid Purchasing Instant Options
When I’m trying to save money on my grocery bill, I avoid things that have been processed and cook quickly. For example: I can buy microwave rice packets for $2 a serving, but I can buy an entire bag of rice with 15 servings for for $3. If I’m meal prepping anyway, I will cook rice for the entire week and stretch my budget. The same goes for chopped veggies and salad kits. Yes the convenience is really nice, but the cost is much higher. When it comes to saving money and stretching your budget, buying food raw and fresh is the most affordable.
Four: Buy Meat Wisely
- Buy in Bulk: Just like I shared before, I try to buy in bulk and when on sale. I apply these same concepts to meat purchases as well. For example, every few weeks, my store will sell pork butt for 99 cents a pound. I will get ten pounds for $10, and each week for a few weeks I will make pulled pork to take in my lunches. Here is my favorite pulled pork recipe!
- Check out your local meat locker: My other tip for buying meat is finding a local meat locker, and buying a portion of an animal at a lower cost per pound than at the grocery store. You can often buy beef or pork by the pound and pay between $2.50 and $3 per pound for cuts that would cost much more at the grocery store. This is how I get great cuts (like ribeye) for super cheap. I also love that I know that the meat is raised locally. If you don’t have a ton or space to store meat, go in with a friend and split an order.
- Go meatless: This is one of the best ways to save on your grocery budget. Often, meat is the most expensive item in your grocery cart. When you meal prep, see if you can go a couple meals without meat. If you’re concerned about protein or iron, replace your meat with high protein foods like beans and legumes, or quinoa. It can save you tons on your budget.
Five: Shop the Outer Ring of the Grocery Store
A lot of people apply the concept of “shop the outer part of the grocery store and avoid the aisles,” to a dieting concept, but it’s also for saving money on groceries. What does this mean? It means shopping the fresh grocery areas; normally the produce, meat department, and dairy department are located on the sides and back walls of a grocery store. Taking more time to plan ahead, and finding items on the outside of the store can help you save a lot.
Six: Use a Cash Back App
I took advantage of a cashback grocery app a couple years ago, and I wish I would have sooner. I use Ibotta (enter code chhlxak for instant cash back), an app that pays you for purchases you make at the grocery store by scanning your receipt after you’ve finished shopping. Just this year, from March to September, I’ve made $60, and I’m mostly just shopping for myself. This app is great because it’s like a savings account. I can’t withdraw the funds until I’ve reached at least $20 cash back. This app was crucial to me when I was trying to save when I had very little money to save. If you’re going to be buying groceries and feeding yourself (which I assume you will be), you might as well save money while doing it.
Those are my tips for saving money and stretching your budget at the grocery store. Do you have any tips?
If you’re looking for more personal finance guidance, check out my other posts: