How I get groceries for cheap is a topic I’ve been asked about a few times lately, so I promised I'd try my best to write up a blog post explaining all that I do. Here goes! Hope it helps!
We’ve probably all seen (or at least have heard of) the extreme couponers who somehow feed a family of ten on $5 a year, which are numbers I’m totally making up, but still, you see my point. These people spend the same amount of time sorting and clipping coupons for it to literally be considered a full time job! I don’t know about you, but I neither have the time nor the patience to do that. So, rest assured, this isn’t yet another blog about the ins and outs of couponing.
Now, I first started figuring out my way around a grocery store on a (very, very tight) budget once I was out on my own. Moving out on your own is hard! You go from having a roof over your head for no cost to you. Bill? What are those, right? And the pantry was magically filled every week when mom or dad (or whoever) came home and told you to help unload the groceries from the car. Once out on your own, you suddenly have rent to pay and electricity and oh my gosh! Has water always been so expensive? Add cell phones, which are basically a necessity in a world where the land line is nearly extinct, cable/Internet if you can afford it and suddenly your paycheck seems much, much smaller. How can you even begin to pay for groceries?
I’ve been out on my own 100% since I was 19 (nearly 5 years ago). I was married at 18, but due to a couple of different reasons, we weren’t able to live together on our own for another 7 months. So, once we did have our own place, I was like a fish out of water. I was very fortunate growing up in that my parents always made sure we had everything we needed, even when I know things were tight. Why did I never both to ask them how they did it? Now, here I was, across the country, miles upon miles away from home. It was time to figure this out!
From being so broke that we’ve had to ask for help (don’t be embarrassed, it happens to everyone at some point in time) to having kids and wanting to stretch a dollar as far as we can to better provide for them, these are tips I’ve managed to compile over the years.
Find your store!
Where you grocery shop can make or break it when it comes to your grocery bill. When we were first on our own, we lived within walking distance of a Super Target, so I figured it’d be the most convenient place to shop. Let me tell you, when you’re tight on cash, that is not the place to go. Basically, you have to just keep literally shopping around until you find the place that’s best for you. Pay attention to if the store carries their own generic brand, if they have great deals on high price items like meat, if they have nice weekly sales, and so forth. And always, always, compare! Some stores, you can buy a few items and walk out spending way more than you anticipated, only to drive a mile down the road to another store and discover you just got ripped off.
Don’t be afraid to check out budget stores, too! While I haven’t been to many to give my opinion, Save A Lot was a life saver for us when we were first on our own. You may not get the luxuries of all your favorite brand name items, but you start learning you don’t need them.
In the end, you may find some items are worth buying at one store, while others are better across the street at the competition. If you think it’s worth it, go to both! There were plenty of times I’d buy a lot of groceries at Save A Lot, but then drive across the street to King Soopers (Kroger) to pick up a few things I knew were better priced there. Just figure out what works for you and don’t be afraid to change it up if you think you could be doing better.
Make a meal plan
Before you go shopping, first determine how long you’re trying to make these last. Then, come up with meals for that allotted time. So, say you decide to get a week’s worth of groceries. Come up with about eight different dinners you’d like to have that week. Now, write everything you’d need for each meal on a grocery list. By choosing eight instead of exactly seven, you’re able to give yourself more choices during the week, so you aren’t as tempted to make a “quick run” to the store for something else. I’m telling you, you end up spending a LOT more money that way than sticking to your meal plan.
Also, when making your meal plan, don’t forget to think of more than just dinner. I admittedly still have issues remembering to think up ideas for breakfast and lunch. Obviously, you don’t have to get as detailed for these meals as you do for dinner, but you don’t want to forget about them. If you do, you’ll find yourself hungry in the afternoon and stuck with yet another peanut butter sandwich when you’d much rather eat anything else.
Make a list and STICK TO IT!
Following up on meal planning, you want to make sure you make a list that corresponds with the meals. Write down every single thing you think you’ll need or want during the week (within reason. Remember, you’re on a budget!) When you go to the store, don’t throw those cake snacks that look oh so tempting into the cart if they aren’t already on your list. Impulse buys will be your downfall if you don’t stick to your list.
If you live alone, this one won’t be an issue, but if you have a roommate, significant other or kids? Leave them at home. Come up with your list and meal plan together so they have a say in what comes back. Having extra people adds more chances for you to stray from your list. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had waited to go to the store without my husband because he’d start throwing whatever looked good into the cart, meaning I was spending more than I wanted to come check out time. It’s even worse with kids. They see the colorful boxes promising yummy goodies inside and, oh my goodness, Mom, I just need it. Save yourself the trouble and just shop alone.
Compare items (and bring a calculator!!)
Something I’ve noticed in a lot of stores is the price difference in similar products. For example, if you have chicken written on your list, you may wander over to the meat department and see the different packs and think they aren’t that bad of a price. But, over in the freezer section, you can buy the big bags of individually frozen chicken breasts/thighs/tenderloins that are a better value since they’re only a couple of dollars more, but with significantly more (which means you can use it for more than one meal!) Many grocery stores also have their own generic brand. In my experience, many store brand items are just as good as their name brand counterparts. This can go for nonfood items, too. I currently have two children in diapers. While you have to be careful using store brand on some things, I have found a few stores whose diapers are very nice (others, not so much.) For items like that, you can either experiment or research online for reviews. But there are nice ones, I swear (Personally, my favorite store brand is Kroger’s Comforts)!
I say to bring a calculator because it will really help decide if something’s a good deal or not. I personally will take two items and figure out which is the better deal. Let’s say there’s a jar of peanut butter on sale for $2.99 and it’s a 24 oz jar. Next to it is a 32 oz jar that costs $3.15. The $2.99 seems like a good deal until you do your math and realize it’s $0.12 per ounce where the other jar is only $0.10. I know it’s not much of a difference, but sometimes, every penny counts. So, basically, just keep your eyes peeled on price tags and make sure you really are spending your money the best way you can.
Learn to make homemade
I cannot tell you how much I have saved just by keeping standard baking items stocked in my pantry. Learning to make even a few items yourself can make a huge difference. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to learn how to make simple things. The items I usually try to make homemade are pancakes, biscuits (though, admittedly, I find myself often buying the cheap store brand canned biscuits because sometimes I just don’t want to go fully homemade. I always get the best deal, though!) and pizza crust. These are all so easy to make! The Internet is full of great, easy recipes that don’t require much baking skills at all!
Keeping baking ingredients stocked also helps when you get a sweet craving. Instead of running out to the store, wasting more gas and more grocery money, to buy cookies or pre-made cookie dough, you can make it yourself!
You can go beyond baking with going homemade, too. Instead of buying canned soups, find a recipe to make your own! I personally have two different types of potato soup (potatoes being another great cheap buy for your saving needs!) that we love to eat. One’s a nice filling cheesy that’s perfect for cold nights while the other is a lighter loaded baked potato flavor. All I did to learn them was search online and follow the steps! It’s that simple! And it can save you so much.
Even beyond cooking, there are certain things you can make to replace buying them. I’m talking cleaners, etc. Some people make their own dish detergent, cleaners and who knows what else, but I don’t know about all of that. I personally use white vinegar, diluted with just regular old tap water and occasionally a few drops of dish soap for some extra power mixed up in a spray bottle. I use it for everything from mopping to wiping my counters. A big jug of vinegar can go a long way. It eliminates the need to replace expensive cleaners and as a bonus, it’s safe!
I’ve only recently started dabbling with coupons. I’m not great at it by any means, but they really do help (if they’re for items you’d buy anyways!) Some stores even offer digital coupons that you can load onto your savers card (I know for a fact that Kroger does, as that’s what I use, but other stores might, too.)
Leftovers and the freezer
Something I’m still bad at is using left overs. I’m terrible about keeping leftovers and forgetting about them until they’re bad and end up in the trash, but if really, leftovers can help out so much! They’re great for lunches, a lazy dinner night or even to be made into something else! Something I definitely recommend when it comes to having a ton of left overs is the freezer. We sometimes smoke briskets and, if you’ve ever had brisket, you know that is quite a hunk of meat. When it’s freshly cooked, my husband slices it up and after a couple of days, when we’re not eating on it as much, I wrap it up nicely and throw it in the freezer. That way, it lasts longer and you don’t have to go out and buy a whole new brisket for a small craving. I’ve done the same in the past with soups.
Speaking of the freezer, freeze your meats! If you buy a big thing of meat (such as a couple of pounds of ground beef instead of individually wrapped one pound portions), portion it out and freeze them individually. Thaw them out when you need them instead of leaving them all in the fridge and risking them going bad before you’re ready for them. You may buy something and intend to use it the next night, but maybe that next night you decide to cook something different. A few days later, you go to pull that out and it’s gone bad. Nothing makes your wallet hurt like having to replace something you didn’t even get to use.
When quality counts
Lastly, there are times when shopping that you have to learn when spending the extra money is better than going with the cheapest price. My biggest example of this is dish soap, both for a dishwasher and for doing dishes by hand. A few months back, I had stopped into the dollar store for something and remembered I needed dish soap. I headed over to their cleaning supplies and saw the small bottles of name brand, but right next to them was a giant bottle of their own brand. This was an easy decision, I thought, and I bought the big bottle. Boy, was I wrong! I had to squirt so much soap to get even the smallest amount of dishes washed. Every time I did dishes, I regretted the purchase. I’ve done the same thing with store brand dishwasher detergent. You think that the jokes on the name brands because you just bought the same thing for half the price. Sometimes that is the case, but when you’re having to rewash half of your dishes, the jokes on you. Now, I’m sticking with name brands when it comes to items like this. Having a quality item that costs a little more is much better than using a large amount of a crappy item to get a fraction of the results.
Well, that’s that! There’s my tips on cheap shopping! I’m sure there are plenty of blogs with similar or even better tips, but that’s how I’ve done it the past few years and I’ve found it really helps. Hopefully, the tips can help someone else, too!
Hello! I'm Lindsey. I'm a writer with a ton of random thoughts bouncing around in my head. So I share them here in hopes that they reach others with these thoughts.