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7 Easy & Cheap Grocery List Tips to Keep Your Budget on Track

While I am definitely saving money during the coronavirus, I am spending much, much more on my grocery list!  That’s not necessarily a bad thing though because my total food spending is going down since I am not eating out as much, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t actively target some cheap grocery list tips to drop it down even further!

There are a ton of things tips that you can implement to create a cheap grocery list, so why waste anymore time?  Let’s go!

1 – Have a Plan/List

if you don’t have a plan or list, then you’re absolutely going to go spend more than you would otherwise. 

It’s super easy to make impulse purchases if you don’t have a plan and stick to it and even worse, you’re likely going to miss an item without a list, meaning you have to make ANOTHER trip to the store at a different time, meaning even MORE impulse purchases.  Plan out your meals for the week and then you’ll already be in a much better spot. 

Not to mention, when you have a list you can simply get in and out faster than you can if you don’t have one.  I take 5 minutes to take our meal plan for the week, make a list and organize it by the general way I’d get the items (dairy, then aisle items, then meat, then produce, then frozen items) and that extra 10 minutes will save me 30+ minutes in the store aimlessly wandering the aisles hoping that I grabbed all that I need…which I probably didn’t. 

2 – Meal Prep Your Meals

This is a huge one for me and one that I implemented out of health reasons but has evolved into budgetary reasons as well. 

When I was single, I would eat the same exact meal M-F for breakfast, the same for lunch, and the same for dinner, and it was easy!  Sure, the food got boring, but that’s why they make hot sauce…lol.  I have since turned this into a more feasible plan with my wife where we will eat the same meal for lunch M-F, then will cook on Monday dinner and have leftovers Tuesday, cook Wednesday dinner and have leftovers on Thursday, and then cook Friday dinner. 

It’s a good mix that still allows for meal prep.

I will literally buy one of those 4-pound trays of chicken for $8, a box of pasta sauce for $1, a box of whole wheat pasta for $1, and some random veggies like a zucchini, onion, jalapenos, etc. 

So, I’m all-in for my lunches at about $13 total for 5 days, or $2.60/day!  And honestly, I will have leftover sauce, chicken and pasta, so it’s actually much cheaper than that, but it’s all feasible because I meal plan with super cheap meals!

I also will do it with breakfast and make egg muffins!  Legit just put one egg, some jalapeno and red onion into each muffin container in a muffin pan and then you have 12 egg muffins!  I will usually make 2 trays worth and freeze the rest just to help me save even more time in the future!

3 – Shop the Specials

I ALWAYS do this.  And honestly, it’s kind of fun to feel like I’m pulling a fast one on the grocery store! 

I think that this is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of cheap items when you’re at the store.  For instance, we shop at Meijer and they had bought one get one free (BOGO) pork chops this week from Sunday – Saturday. 

So, I bought some on Sunday for dinner that week and I bought some on Saturday for dinner the following week.  All that I did was plan ahead, understand how long the special was running, and then I made that special work for me!

4 – Buy Ahead of Your Needs

If you want a pork meal, try to avoid waiting until that week to get it and paying full price.  In addition to buying pork when I wanted it in my example above, I also bought about 4 pounds to freeze it. 

Sure, it’s costing me more upfront, but $5/pound of pork chops at BOGO, for 4 pounds, means that I saved $10 ($20 worth of work chops for $10).  Now I’ll just freeze that pork and continue to look at the specials and if I don’t like anything on sale that week, I’ll pull from my stash in the freezer! 

I do the same thing with all items as well including rice, cereal, oats, whatever!  If it’s on sale and you can hold it for a while, do it!  The beauty of this is it gives you options without having to sacrifice the cost of something and honestly, frozen pork chops taste just as good when you fire up the grill and get a nice char on them!

5 – Buy Produce in Season

This is a big one for us.  We LOVE fresh veggies and will even pay up for them if we need to, but if you just plan ahead, you don’t need to! 

I like to see what is in season because it can save you tons!  For instance, when I meal prep, I can personally eat 3 stalks of asparagus in a week, easy.  It’s as low as $.99/pound in season and I recently saw it at $3.99/pound. 

That’s the difference of $9/week simply by buying when it’s in season.  Take advantage and plan your meals around the cheapest (and most fresh) fruits and veggies! 

6 – Understand Unit Pricing and Buy the Cheapest Option

A lot of people say “buy in bulk” but that’s not always the best option.  A general rule of thumb is that the bigger the container, the cheaper it is per serving, but like I said – not always true.  For instance, my wife and I absolutely love Wheat Thins (with hummus). 

Well, Wheat Thins at our Meijer are typically $4 for the 16 oz container and $2.39 for the 9 oz container, so you’d always get the 16 oz container as it’s $.25oz ($4/16 oz).  But, sometimes the 9 oz containers are on sale as 2/$4, meaning you can get 18 oz for $4, or $.22/oz.  Not a huge deal, but you’re getting 2 oz for free by buying two of the smaller containers, so basically a $.50 savings. 

It might seem minimal, but if you’re able to capitalize on a few of every time you shop, you can easily save $2-$3 extra/trip, meaning about $150/year. 

Another one that I see a lot is with almond milk.  Frequently, like more than half of the time, the gallon chug is more expensive than the half gallon jug on a per ounce basis. 

Honestly, you can save much, much more than that if you are willing to even buy a lot of things way before you need them.  Like I mentioned earlier, you can do this with items like cat litter, toilet paper, paper towels, etc., as long as it’s not perishable!

If you struggle on how to calculate this, simply do this – take the price of the item and divide it by the weight/volume.  Do that for the other item too and then you’ll know which is cheaper.  It’s soooo easy but many people won’t take the 15 seconds to do the math. 

A lot of stores will even have it listed for you on the actual price tag but some are cryptic.  I’ve seen some do things where the smaller option is $/oz but the bigger size is cents/serving. 

Like, are they trying to make me mad?

Just do whatever is easiest and for me, that would be to take the total cost and divide it by the volume so I knew it was an apples-to-apples comparison.

7 – Always Leave Options at Home for “Emergency Meals”

The fastest way to ruin all the money that you save from grocery shopping is to “have nothing to eat” and then run to Chipotle or Chick Fil A and then you’re out $10/person or more because you don’t have options at home.  So, make sure that you always have some staples at home when you’re in a crunch.  It can differ for everyone, but the things that we always have on hand are:

  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Frozen Chicken
  • Frozen Beef
  • Frozen Veggies
  • Salsa
  • Rice
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Pasta

Simply by having these items on hand, we can make the following meals:

  • Breakfast
    • Scrambled Eggs
    • Oatmeal
    • Egg Cups with veggies
    • Omelets
  • Lunch/Dinner
    • Chicken & Veggies
    • Bun less Burger and Veggies
    • Burrito Bowl with Chicken or Beef, Veggies, Rice and Salsa
    • Spaghetti & Meatballs

These are things that essentially will not go bad (except eggs, but we go through those rapidly) and will always be able to help us out in a pinch.  It happens quite frequently where we will be too lazy to go to the grocery store and will choose to make one of these meals instead of eating out. 

I mean, a chicken burrito bowl with veggies and salsa costs less than $2/person when Chipotle is about $8 for that exact same meal, and Chipotle is even a relatively cheap option of eating out.  So, as a couple, we spend $4 when we would’ve spent $16. 

$12 isn’t some astronomical savings, but if you’re only investing like $50/month, then I essentially just showed you a way that you can double that, you know?

These items are honestly basically a list of “oh crap” meals where you’re scrambling for something and guess what, you can buy these MONTHS in advance (except eggs, again, although you can freeze those egg muffins I mentioned!), meaning you can shop deals and just buy a ton at the same time to capitalize when deals arise.

In addition to my super 7 tips above, there are also some well-known tips that I think are worth bringing up but with less detail:

  • Avoid prepackaged stuff – rather than buy a 100-calorie pack, but the whole container and then portion into your own calorie pack.  This is basically buying in bulk and then packaging for a “grab bag” on the go.
  • Buy on a full stomach – this is an easy one.  The fuller that you are, the less likely you will be to impulse buy when you’re at the store.  If you’re starving, your cart will be full of snacks and unhealthy treats that not only will make you unhealthier, but also will tank your budget.
  • Buy the off brand – this one drives me NUTS.  I know so many people that feel inferior or judged because they buy the off brand.  The off brand is almost ALWAYS cheaper, so…who cares?  Who do you think is judging you?  It’s essentially the same product.  Nobody cares that you’re buying the $.45 off brand green beans rather than the $1 can of green giant green beans.  This is such an easy way to save money if you can just stop getting in your own head.
  • Avoid the “add ons” – this is one that I struggle with all of the time.  I am a sucker for trying different types of hot sauces, marinades, dressings, etc. I love options, but the things that I find is that I’ll always stick to my staples and the rest will just sit in the fridge and eventually expire.  If you’re going to make Greek salads for a week and you need Greek dressing, fine.  But if you’re buying some special $5 salsa for taco night and don’t ever eat salsa, is it worth it?  No.
  • Use a coupon app – I like Ibotta a lot and while the discounts aren’t huge, I typically can save about $40/year for literally 0 extra effort. For instance, look at this from my most recent trip to the store where 1 minute of scrolling my phone saved $1.45:
  • Loyalty – be a loyalty member if the store offers it.  Meijer is a pretty good one where I get about $6 off every few weeks.  When I went to Kroger, I got $.10/gallon for every $100 spent in store.  So, a $500 grocery bill in a month was worth $.50 off on up to 25 gallons.
  • Bag your groceries – this one is a stretch for sure, but I always bag my own groceries, and one specific employee at Meijer would ALWAYS give me $10 off when I did this.  Legit every single time.  So, I would always try to find him and wait in his aisle no matter how long the line, just to bag my groceries like I always do regardless of the money incentive (I mean, why just stand there when I can help them and get home earlier?).  Maybe I should say to “just be nice” but I know that seems awfully hard to do for people in today’s world…but not my readers!!

Hopefully you’re able to take some sort of tangible steps out of this for your next grocery shopping visit and you can start to reap the rewards of some of these savings.  None of these are hard to do any they all can generate some good savings as long as you’re dedicated and willing to do it. 

And not only does it save money, but I’ve noticed that they oftentimes will cause me to eat healthier and spend less time at the store, therefore giving me more time with my family.  I mean, that’s a triple win! 

Hard to beat that one…