Practical tips for grocery shopping on a budget

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed that your food budget is growing and growing. And no, you’re not imagining it. But there are some creative ways to get smart about grocery shopping, meal preparation, and cooking to save money and eat well. So, I reviewed comments from the BuzzFeed community and the r/budgetcooking subreddit. Here are some helpful tips.


“Keep in mind that your first grocery store will likely be expensive. If you’re just starting to cook for yourself more regularly, you may need to stock up on more things in advance. Expect to spend on your essential spices, pantry items and condiments – but know they’ll last you a long time.”


“I like to organize my grocery list so I don’t forget things or waste too much time at the market. I organize based on where certain ingredients are, such as produce, eggs/dairy, meat, canned goods, dry goods, frozen, and so on.”


“Stock up on frozen vegetables – or freeze leftover fresh vegetables after they’re on the verge of spoiling. Frozen vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh…in fact, they’re sometimes even more nutritious. If you keep a few bags of your favorite vegetables in your freezer, you’ll always have them on hand and not worry about them going bad.”


“If you’re shopping on a budget, many grocery stores now have apps that allow you to add coupons for the ingredients you need. When you scan the app barcode at checkout, the coupons will be applied.”


“Sign up for a short-time meal kit to get inspired and learn how to cook. Many meal delivery kits have promotions for new customers. You can avail the offers and try them out. Keep the recipe cards because you can use them to prepare future meals.”


“Find a few quick recipes you like and master them. Think: easy, comfort foods like stir-fries, pasta, or a skillet dinner. Once you’ve prepared these meals enough, you’ll be able to whip them up in no time. They will become perfect options for lazy nights when you don’t feel like cooking or have no idea what to cook.”


“Invest in a slow cooker. If you are at school or work, this is especially useful. You can set up your ingredients in the morning before an hour and let the Crockpot do the work for you. When you return in the evening, dinner will already be ready. Plus, you can cook in large batches and make meals from leftovers.”


“I keep a mini whiteboard in the kitchen so I can write down anything I’ve run out of or have a sudden thought to buy so I don’t forget it. Then I take a picture of it and it’s my shopping list when I go to the store. I know there are better ways to grocery shop, but this is a solid tactic that works for me.”


“I always keep my freezer stocked with a few comfort foods that I know I can count on if I’m short on fresh produce or just don’t feel like cooking. I usually have cauliflower pizza, fish sticks to make crispy fish tacos, frozen broccoli or another vegetable to fill a box of mac and cheese, and frozen shrimp to toss on a salad.”


“Use a calculator while grocery shopping. It helps you prioritize what you really want in your cart. It also made me realize that I was spending a lot on junk food and not enough on vegetables.”


“Cook with friends! I lived in a house during my senior year of college, and my girlfriends and I designated several dinners each week as meals that we cooked together. We’d pick a recipe, split the grocery costs, and cook all together (with a bottle or two of wine, of course). Not only was it a really fun social activity, but it was also much more affordable than going out to eat. We also learned about new recipes.”


“Price match if your grocery store allows it! Apps like Flipp let you browse each grocery store’s flyers so you can compare prices and get the same items at cheaper prices. Prepare your items of the same price to help the cashier and make their job easier while saving money.”


“For a breakfast you can make ahead and enjoy on the go, try overnight oats. All you need is a fridge and there are so many different recipes and ingredients you can use depending on your favorite flavours.’


“Adopting a store (or two) as ‘yours.’ Shop there every week. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the store, learn where to find things and when certain ingredients are discounted, find out when food is refilled and what the prices are in general. I’ve shopped at the same Target almost every week for four years, so when the prices went up due to inflation, it was very easy to tell which items were now not worth the price and which were now a bargain. I also organize my grocery list according to the flow of the store.”


“Don’t buy small bags of prepackaged snacks. It’s cheaper to buy a big bag of things like crisps and then pack them in smaller lunch bags yourself.’


“Get a Keurig coffee maker. I bought one my first semester and it was a lifesaver. I saved so much money by not buying all my coffee and I never had to clean a coffee pot (which is a real challenge in the dorm bathroom sink).”


“Lately, I’ve been taking out a certain amount of money to take with me to the grocery store. It helps me focus on buying only what I absolutely need, as I only want to spend the money on hand.”


“If you want to make shopping and cooking easier, try Trader Joe’s. Most of their frozen or pre-made meals only need you to do half the work and you can get a taste of what cooking from scratch is like. Also, their products are usually well priced.”


“Consider buying a rice cooker. When I lived in the dorm, I had a small rice cooker that I put in the microwave (electric was not allowed) and I used it at least three times a week. I’ve mostly used it to make rice, but you can make quinoa or even sauté some veggies if you’re feeling ambitious. It was nice to be able to make healthier food for myself every now and then.”


“Stop buying pre-cut vegetables, meat and grated cheese. They are about 75,439 times more expensive than all their counterparts. The same goes for those prepackaged salads.”


“Jazz inexpensive, store-bought foods like instant ramen, frozen pizza, and packaged mac ‘n’ cheese into meals that feel fresh and exciting with just a few extra ingredients.” For example, adding a poached egg, extra vegetables and an exciting condiment like chili oil to instant ramen can go a long way.”


“Embrace the magic that is store-bought grilled chicken. You can usually find it cheap and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. You can repurpose grilled chicken into so many different dishes, whether it’s chicken salad, tacos, chicken noodle soup, and SO much more.”


“Learn some basic recipes. Sure, that bag of flour may seem expensive at first glance; however, you can make pancakes, waffles, cookies, and more with it. You save money over time by not having to buy frozen food every time you go to the grocery store.”


“If you’re flexible with your shopping times, check Google to see when the store is less busy – it’s usually easier (and less hectic) to shop when there are fewer people in the store, especially start while this is still new and you’ll probably want to spend some extra time.”


“Scan your fridge and cupboards and take inventory of what you have on hand. Then check out what’s on sale. Make a menu of recipes for next week, using as many items as possible that you already have or are on sale, and make a list of items you need to buy.”


“Use the pickup service at your local grocery store. I found this worked well for me. I get anxious when I walk into the store, then I get overwhelmed and forget things. Big stores like Walmart have free pick-up options where you don’t have to shop inside the store. It can be extremely convenient.”


“Brand name products are usually just as good—if not better—than the name brand. And they are generally much cheaper.”


“Make ‘modular meals.’ For example, almost every week I make a batch of roasted vegetables, a grain (like quinoa or rice), and a protein (beans, tofu, or sometimes fish/meat). Once you make these three components, you can eat them over and over again. You can change them up by adding interesting dressings, fresh herbs, sprouts, egg, nuts, cheese, etc…”

What are your top tips for anyone grocery shopping and learning to cook for the first time? Tell us in the comments.

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