Grocery Shopping on a Budget: Tips and Tricks
No matter what's on your list, grocery shopping on a budget is hard to do. But with a little planning ahead and creative thinking, you can stretch your food budget farther than you ever imagined. Here are ideas to get you started.
Create a Grocery Budget
Let's start from the start: Going grocery shopping on a budget means creating a budget in the first place. Every person's situation is different, and what works for your friend or neighbor won't necessarily work for you. To know how much you should spend on groceries, note your monthly income on a spreadsheet and subtract recurring expenses. Save receipts over time and note how much you're spending. Decide on a reasonable percentage for groceries and stick to it. How do you know what's reasonable? According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are specific food cost plans that take into account age and household size. And remember: Don't just go to the grocery store that's closest to you. Do some cost comparison with stores as well as food brands. A lot of times, store brands have the same ingredients as popular brand name items.
Make Food Last Longer
CNBC reports that the average American family throws away around $2,000 worth of food each year. Make your groceries last longer so you don't have to throw away spoiled food. Separate produce and meat in your fridge so they don't spread bacteria to each other. Poking holes in plastic bags will air out fruit and vegetables and make them last longer. And wrapping greens like lettuce in foil before refrigerating keeps them fresh longer, according to Self.
Bulk Up on Staples
Stock up on large packages of nonperishables, and buy in quantity when you spot a sale. Rice, pasta, oats and lentils won't go bad on you, and neither will canned tuna and beans. You can use these staples in many cost-saving recipes. Some grocery stores also allow you to buy ahead on baked goods. If you're planning a large gathering, ask your store's bakery if you can purchase that big cake or platter when it's on sale. Then bring in your receipt as much as a month later to pick it up for your big event.
Befriend the Butcher
There's no way around it — meat is one of the most expensive items in the store. To save, buy one large roast instead of shopping for various cuts of meat. Ask the butcher to remove the bone, which you can use for soup stock, then grind part of the meat for hamburgers and cut the rest for a pot roast. Or, consider pork — it's less expensive, especially if you buy a butt or shoulder, which you can easily shred to make pulled pork. While you're talking to the butcher, ask about getting a bag of chicken backs, necks and feet. Some butchers will just give it away and others may charge a small amount. Use these ingredients to make a rich stock for soups and stews.
Buy Your Own Cow
Got a big freezer? Some local farms and ranches might be able to help you with something that will probably go beyond your local butcher's scope. They may sell you a whole grass-fed cow — or one-half or one-quarter of one — for much less than you'd pay at a grocery store. If that's too much meat for you, consider splitting the cow with friends or relatives.
Going grocery shopping on a budget is easy once you've determined how much to spend. You can save money and still eat your favorite foods if you plan ahead and keep an eagle eye out for deals.