How to Stretch Your Grocery Shopping Budget
Are your weekly trips to the grocery store busting your budget? Do you wander the aisles aimlessly, hoping for dinner inspiration?
Smart grocery shopping starts with three things: budgeting, menu planning and scoping out in-store savings. Before your next supermarket trip, consider the tips below to help stretch your budget without sacrificing nutritious meals.
Determine Your Food Budget
Many people don’t know how much money they should budget for food each week. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the average cost of a week’s worth of food for a single person aged 19 to 50 was approximately $60-70. A similar, moderate-cost food plan for a family of four would add up to between $205 and $245 each week.
Your costs, of course, will depend on your personal budget and dietary needs. If you have hungry teenagers or need to eat out frequently due to work travel, TheKitchn notes you may need to account for some additional expenses. Similarly, keep in mind whether a family member’s food allergies or special diet require any specific foods.
You may want to try using an online grocery budget tool. There are some available that allow you to customize calculations based on the number of people in your family, each person’s age or how often you eat out.
Plan Your Menu
Menu planning may be the key to smart grocery shopping. By taking some time each week to check what ingredients you already have on hand and to plan out your meals, you can avoid buying items you don’t need, according to the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.org. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach also provides practical guidelines for planning your weekly meals, including looking for sales, stocking up on items you use frequently and making sure you have items from each food group in most of your planned meals. You may even want to make some larger meals, says ChooseMyPlate.org, as this means you’ll have fewer ingredients to buy and leftovers for a quick, easy meal later in the week.
Even the most seasoned cook can run out of ideas for meals, though. If you’re in need of inspiration, search online for low-cost, healthy recipes. Some websites are even designed to help you find a recipe based on ingredients you already have at home. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends checking your pantry for what you have on hand and planning meals that use those products. Then, fill in your shopping list with ingredients to help finish those meals.
Look for In-Store Savings
Once you’ve determined your budget and planned your meals, the following tips can help you shop smarter while you’re in the supermarket.
Consider looking for store brands instead of sticking to just brand-name foods. You can often find the same or similar items for a lower price — often without sacrificing quality or flavor. For example, DaveRamsey.com compared the cost of both generic and name-brand ingredients for basic spaghetti, and it was around $2.70 less for the generic ingredients. If you make this household staple twice a month, that’s nearly $70 a year in savings. Using store-brand ingredients for tacos could also save you over $8 versus purchasing brand-name taco shells, seasonings, cheese, etc., according to DaveRamsey.com. While a few dollars here or there may not seem like a big deal, they can add up to serious savings over time.
Compare Unit Prices
Many store labels show the cost per unit, says ChooseMyPlate.org, which can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. These labels are typically on the store shelf under the product. It will contain both the retail price as well as the price per unit, which is usually a measurement like an ounce, pound or quart. Generally, the best bargain is the item with the lowest unit price, says ChooseMyPlate.org. For example, an 18-ounce box of cereal may cost $3.99, which is $0.21 per ounce. Compare that to a similar 24-ounce box of cereal that costs $4.29, which equals $0.18 per ounce. You may instinctively reach for the cereal with the lower price tag. However, when you look at the unit price, you’ll realize it’s actually $0.03 more per ounce.
When you shop smart, every cent can add up. With a bit of time and research, you can plan meals that work for your budget — and help make your supermarket trips a little less daunting. So put on your chef’s hat, select some tasty recipes and before you know it, it will be time to say, “Bon appétit!”
Originally published on March 1, 2016.