It's easy to consider your grocery budget non-negotiable. (After all, you have to eat, don't you?) The reality, though, is that most of us don't have infinite amounts of money, and just like your phone or utility bills, there are choices you can make to avoid overspending. Consciously managing your grocery budget not only makes good financial sense — it can also free you up to pay down student loans or even quit your job. Sounds good, right? Get motivated with our best budget grocery shopping tips of all time.
1. Make a budget.
You can't stay on budget if you don't decide how much you can or want to spend. Making a budget starts with becoming aware of what you're actually spending by tracking your groceries for a while (just write it down somewhere!), comparing that to national averages, seeing how that nets out with your other expenses (are you spending more than you're bringing in?), and adjusting from there. Until you put a dollar figure onto your budget, you'll probably always spend more than you need to.
More on Grocery Budgets
2. Plan your meals.
While this habit can take some getting used to, it's an essential tool for reducing food waste, eliminating extra trips to the grocery store, spending less at the store, and cutting down on the temptations of takeout. Although parents tend to be the biggest advocates of the practice, meal planning can help any person at any stage of life. So plan out your week and head to the grocery store with your shopping list in hand.
More on Meal Planning
- The Beginner's Guide to Meal Planning: What to Know, How to Succeed, and What to Skip
- Our Editors' Favorite Meal Planning Tips
- What's the Difference Between Meal Planning and Meal Prep?
- The Very First Step of Meal Planning Isn't What You Think
- Welcome to Meal Plan Club: The Answer to Stress-Free Weeknight Dinners
3. Comparison shop.
There's no glory in being brand-loyal! Resist shopping on autopilot and take the time to compare like with like at the store. You may find that different varietals of your favorite produce are much cheaper by the pound, or that a different cut of meat can save several dollars. When it comes to packaged foods, the store brand is almost always cheaper than the ones you see advertised, and even changing where you shop can save you money. And know that the larger container of yogurt might not be the better deal. Check your habit to make sure you're opting for the thrifty version when it's an easy tradeoff.
4. Go (mostly) vegetarian.
Meat and seafood are the most expensive fresh foods you can buy — especially if you opt for grass-fed, organic meats. Switching to vegetarian or vegetable-forward meals will instantly reduce your grocery bill, with health benefits to boot. While this can be tricky for carnivore-leaning omnivores and families, even just cutting meat from one or two meals a week can make a dent on the bottom line.
See all our vegetarian recipes here.
5. Keep some treats.
Just like going on a too-restrictive diet, if you find a budget too punishing, you're more likely to cave and overspend in a moment of weakness. So figure out what items are worth splurging on, whether it's the good butter or your favorite coffee grounds, and make room for it in your budget. Because we do have to eat to live, but it's not really living if you're eating bland, boring foods at every meal.