The Seemingly Counterintuitive Thing That Actually Helps Me Stay on Budget

updated May 1, 2019
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If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: It’s best to plan your meals ahead of time and make large, infrequent trips to the grocery store, they say. The thinking is that you’ll spend less time running around and you’ll save money because you’ll have fewer opportunities to make impulse buys and throw stuff you don’t need into your cart.

Ignore that, I say!

It sounds counterintuitive, but I grocery shop every day in order to stay on budget.

Technically considered a European-style shopping strategy, making daily trips to the grocery store to buy ingredients to cook that night is completely different than the “stocking up” kind of shopping many American households rely on. I’m not from Europe, but my daily shopping habit actually started when I was living alone in New York City and I realized my big weekly grocery trip was resulting in spoiled food and wasted money. Since I walked by a small grocery store on my way home from work every day anyway, I decided to switch up my routine and start picking up whatever dinner ingredients I needed for that night. I still made bi-weekly trips to a bigger grocery store to get pantry staples and snack food, but food shopping every day for dinner completely changed things — especially my finances.

Despite what you might think, daily grocery shopping has actually helped me cut down on my monthly food budget.

I don’t live in the city anymore, and I’m now shopping for a household of three, but I still haven’t reverted back to my old ways. Although slightly more time-consuming, grocery shopping every day easily fits into my daily routine of going to the gym or running other errands, and the money I save doing it — an average of at least $50 a week — is worth the trip.

How Daily Grocery Shopping Keeps Me on Budget

1. I can take advantage of daily sales I wouldn’t otherwise see.

Grocery and food stores are unique in that they sell things that can, well, go bad. That means that their sales change daily: Those chicken thighs that were $1.25 a pound yesterday may only cost $0.89 today because of the sell-by date. By going to the store every day, I am able to take advantage of these daily sale changes and specials. And because I cook or eat my purchases that night, I don’t need to worry about the food going bad before I get a chance to eat it.

2. The food I buy never goes bad or goes to waste.

Grocery shopping every day means that whatever I buy I cook that night, so nothing goes bad or gets thrown away in my kitchen. My greens don’t get wilted before I can use them, and my meat doesn’t get forgotten in the back of the fridge. If I don’t feel like cooking a particular night because I am busy (or lazy), there’s nothing in the fridge that will “go to waste.” I only buy what I need and what I intend to make, so everything that comes into my kitchen has a purpose, which I make sure gets fulfilled.

3. It is easier to shop around at different grocery stores.

I am lucky to live in an area with multiple grocery stores, and my habit of food shopping every day makes it easier to take advantage of that fact and shop around. Because I’ve been able to learn which items are cheaper at which store, I use what I want for dinner to help me decide which store I’ll hit. On the other hand, if I am busy, I let what I am doing any given day — going to the gym, meeting my writing group at the library, taking the dogs to the park — dictate what store I go to.

4. I buy fewer snacks and things I don’t need.

When I make my daily grocery shopping trips, they are purposeful, meaningful, and generally quick. That means I buy what I need for dinner that night, and usually nothing else. I stick to the sections of the store I know I need ingredients from — produce, meat, dairy — and avoid the allure of the snack and candy aisles. It makes sticking to my budget so much easier when the temptation to stray isn’t there.

How often do you go to the grocery store? Do you go every day like me? Once a week? Or even less frequently? How does your method help you stay on budget?