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Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Posted By Jamie On 04/01/2009 @ 12:10 pm In Frugal Living | 23 Comments

I often wonder what keeps many from grocery shopping with a budget in mind and then sticking to it. I have actually sat down with a friend before who is trying to save money on her grocery bill. We have literally sat at my kitchen table together, gone over the store ad, planned out our meals, made the list, priced out the items and have gone to the store together. Essentially we had the same list – plus or minus a few things, but still with very similar approximate total prices. A few times during our outing we strayed from each other, but in the end, met at the cash register. Once there, her total bill was double what mine was.

So, what happened in the straying? What was different between the shopping trips? How could we have done all the work together, but ended with such different results?

Here are a few thoughts about grocery shopping on a budget:

  • Have a budget in mind that you can’t stray from. I have sat down with my husband, decided what the lowest realistic budget is for our family to spend, and then I stick to that each week. If you are hesitant about what your budget is, you will buy more than you mean or want to. Simple as that. If you don’t have something to stick to, you won’t. Even if you don’t need to have a super low budget, having a price in mind will help you stick to whatever your monthly goal is.
  • Use cash to make your purchases! This is something we have only recently started and I can already see that it’s really going to keep us accountable in sticking to our budget. After hearing Dave Ramsey talk about how we tend to spend more money when using credit, and even debit, cards (even if we pay it off each month) we’ve started trying to use cash for as much as we can. Having money in an envelop and seeing it disappear with each purchase helps put spending money on groceries into perspective.
  • Stick to buying sale items: Base your meals around those items and/or items that you already have at home.
  • Write a grocery list of exactly what you need – think of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and household items. Also, remember staple items that you normally keep on hand so that you don’t have to run out later in the week when you need something and have run out of it. Taking a general inventory of what you have on hand is very helpful. Don’t forget about what fruits, vegetables, and side items you need for side items for your meals.
  • While at the store, hold yourself accountable. If I purchase items other than what’s on my list I write it on my list first and then cross it off, just like I would any other item. I also ask myself if we really need it or if it’s a treat. If it’s a treat, I may still buy it, but I will have already known that we have some extra money in the budget that week and I see it as a special treat. It’s important to write down the item, as well as the price, and then add that price to your approximate total price. Then you won’t overspend or be surprised at the end.
  • Take time to get to know the prices of items so that you can tally up approximate cost of your list and make adjustments if necessary. There are a few ways you can do this…
    • Write up the usual items that you buy and take that list to the store and write down prices as you go
    • Generally, start being conscious when at the store of the prices of items and what a good sale price is
    • I have a list within my eBook, A Month of Meals, [3] of general prices for the items needed for the meals in the book – use that list to compare prices at the store you regularly shop at so you know your striving to get the lowest price possible
  • General rules for going to the grocery store and sticking to your list:
    • Don’t go to the grocery store hungry
    • Don’t bring kids or a spouse that will detour you from your list
    • If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it
    • Don’t go when you are feeling really rushed. By using a good system of meal planning and planning grocery shopping trips I’ve found my time at the store is minimal, but I still like to go at time when there are fewer people and I’m not in too much of a time crunch.
  • Have fun in the process! Take coffee from home, cross things off your list, make a game out of looking for the cheapest prices…

Being wise with how you grocery shop can save you a lot of money as well as be a lot of fun! Some of the ideas I’ve shared are things we’ve been doing for awhile, while others we are still “perfecting” in our own striving to do grocery shopping on a budget. I’d love to hear tips and ideas that you know about or have done that keep your grocery bills low!

(Photo: ralphbijker [4])

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