Grocery shopping on a budget can be a challenge, but one with a huge payoff. Here are some easy tips to get you started—and keep you going!
In the United States, consumers are dealing with the biggest jump in grocery costs since 1981. Unfortunately those rising grocery prices can put a strain on many household budgets. (Do you know what groceries cost the year you were born?)
I talked to fellow financial expert Chris Browning, host of Popcorn Finance, to get his top tops for grocery shopping on a budget, whether you’re struggling with high costs or simply trying to streamline your spending.
How Much Should I Budget for Groceries?
According to the KPMB Consumer Pulse Survey, most consumers are budgeting over $600 per month for grocery spending this year. But figuring out how much money you should set aside for your own grocery spending requires a little legwork.
First, you should uncover how much you’ve already been spending on groceries. Taking a look back at your bank and credit card statements for the past few months could help you answer this question. As an alternative, write down all of the purchases you make at the supermarket over the next 30 days.
Next, you’ll want to consider your income and expenses. How much can you comfortably spend on groceries while still having enough money left over to take care of your other financial obligations and goals?
Remember that a good budget should have room for realistic spending. An overly ambitious restriction sets you up for failure before you start. If you have to make deep cuts, look for every place you can cut back, from frivolous items to name brands, and work some under-$10 meals into your repertoire.
How to Grocery Shop on a Budget
Making a plan to manage how much you spend on groceries is an important step. Yet the real challenge is following through. Below are three tips to help you succeed.
1. Stay accountable
Tracking spending is essential to your budgeting success, especially if you’re changing bad grocery shopping habits. Apps like Mint and Qube Money can make this process easier. Other people might prefer to use a spreadsheet or stick with an all-cash grocery budget to avoid overspending.
No matter how you decide to keep tabs on your spending, consistency is key. A grocery budget can only be effective when you stick to the plan.
2. Don’t be afraid of failure
Introducing a grocery budget into your life can be a big change. So don’t be surprised if you fail to meet your goal, especially in the first couple of months.
“The important thing is to not let those first few failures discourage you,” says Browning. “Budgeting, particularly for groceries, is a skill that takes time to develop.”
Browning suggests using the first few months of your grocery budgeting experience to learn a few things about yourself. As you figure out what food you like and low-cost recipes you’ll actually make without throwing out food at the end of the week, you can set yourself up for even better results moving forward.
3. Shop online
A supermarket is full of temptations to make you spend more money. One easy way to overcome these obstacles is to shop for food online.
“I learned that if I do my grocery shopping online I am much more likely to stay within my budget,” says Browning. “I am horrible at keeping track of the total dollar amount of food that I have put inside of my shopping cart. Shopping online allows me to see a running total and make adjustments as I go.”
If you do shop in the store, make sure to take advantage of their best deals and perks.
What to Buy at the Grocery Store on a Budget
What you shop for depends entirely on your tastes and family needs. Naturally, affordable pantry staples like dried beans, grains and nuts are a standby. Cheaper meats, like ground beef or on-sale cuts, are versatile and filling. Don’t overlook opportunities to save even small amounts, whether you switch to a generic brand or meal plan based on sales.
Grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be a painful or depriving experience. There are plenty of ways to stretch your food budget without sacrificing taste. If you make the effort to stick to a budget for groceries, your finances and stress levels will thank you!