I’m New to Grocery Shopping — Here’s What I Learned About Spending Less from a Budgeting Expert

published Oct 31, 2022
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Last month I moved into my very first apartment — after living in my parents’ house for 22 years, it was time for a change. And while getting my own place was a big step on my journey towards adulting, there’s another area of life that I needed to pay more attention to: budgeting.

Prior to moving out, my grocery-shopping motto was “If you want it, get it.” If I wanted a large jar of pickles or a package of Oreos, I’d go for it. But once I was out on my own I realized that motto wasn’t great for my wallet. Last week my grocery bill was upwards of $200 for what I considered to be a week’s-worth of groceries. I’ve allotted $300 a month for groceries, so it was clear that something had to change. 

To help me in my grocery journey, I reached out to Diana Yáñez, a certified financial planner at Strategy Squad and founder of All the Colors. She shared some smart tips about how to shop more strategically and advised me on what I should do differently going forward. Here are the top five tips I’m putting into practice immediately. Even if you’re a seasoned shopper, you’ll likely find a tip or two for your next grocery run.

Credit: Mara Weinraub

1. Skip the pre-cut produce and invest in a chopper.

As someone who now lives on my own, my game plan was to get groceries that would make my life as easy as possible — microwaveable meals, non-perishable foods, grab-and-go snacks, and pre-cut fruits and vegetables. But these prepared items, particularly produce, come with some of the biggest markups.

“When it comes to pre-cut and pre-washed produce you pay a premium for the convenience of having it prepped for you,” says Yáñez. “To get around buying pre-cut veggies without having to spend an eternity chopping, you can invest in a vegetable chopper that will dice, slice, and prep veggies for you quickly.” While the chopper might cost a bit upfront, she said I’d eventually break even and actually save money over time by chopping my own fruits and vegetables. 

2. Check your store’s app for weekly deals. 

As a first time solo shopper, I wasn’t aware my neighborhood grocery store had an app for customers with a newsletter (or circular) offering weekly sales. It never crossed my mind to check, but that’s exactly what I will be doing before I sit down to make my shopping list.

“Look at the weekly grocery newsletter to see what produce is in season, which is typically cheaper, and what’s on sale, then create meal plans around those items,” says Yáñez. While she acknowledges this takes some effort, Yáñez says it’s worth it in the long run. I scrolled through the app recently and found it to be easy to navigate. Bonus: It’s also helping me discover new-to-me brands that are less expensive (or were on sale).

Credit: sdominick/Getty Images

3. Don’t waste your time with coupons. 

While I didn’t use coupons on my first grocery store run, it was definitely something I considered for my next… that is, until I ran this by Yáñez. Not only can couponing be extremely time-consuming, but you also might end up with a higher bill than you expected. That’s exactly what happened to Yáñez: “There was a time when I experimented with coupons and realized that I would end up buying MORE things just because I had a coupon,” she says. That time is much better spent on meal planning, as she mentions above.

4. Be more strategic when shopping for snacks.

While a majority of my groceries are ingredients like apples, broccoli, and grilled chicken, there’s no denying that I have a sweet tooth. On a recent grocery run, I stocked up on my favorites — Oreos, Pillsbury cookies, and Pop-Tarts — and spent roughly $15, which felt reasonable to me. But I was curious to see if I could spend less. 

Yáñez recommended stocking up on these items when they’re on sale. This is particularly helpful for shelf-stable items, like these sweets, and another reason to browse the store’s newsletter before you go shopping. (You may even notice a pattern in the sales rotation.) I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the promotional placards on the shelves for last-minute on-sale items or BOGO deals.

Credit: Rachel Reiss

5. Don’t buy kitchen tools at the grocery store. Ever.

Although these items may not be considered groceries in the traditional sense, they’re absolutely essential for preparing meals and are available at my local grocery store. At the time, I was so desperate to get the pots, pans, apple cutter, etc. that I didn’t already have, so I added them to my cart without fully realizing the expense. Big mistake!

“Grocery stores are often the worst place to buy kitchen gadgets,” says Yáñez. “The prices tend to be high because [retailers are] charging you for the convenience factor.” Instead, she recommends shopping for these items at a big box store, like Target or even online to find the best prices for your budget.

Do you have a tip to add to the list? Share it in the comments.