The average grocery store in the USA has around 40,000 items and most of them are backed by big time marketing campaigns that are doing their best to make sure you choose them. So of course shopping at the grocery store can be overwhelming. These companies will do their best to take your money and most of them don’t really care whether you received a good deal or are slowly working your way towards a heart attack or diabetes. There is plenty of good news though. Their tactics can be beat. Every single one of their ploys and tactics don’t stand up to an educated and determined person. You can eat healthy for much less than they’d like you to think and it might even prove to be tastier! Here are 17 tips to help you shop on a tiny budget at the grocery store and get the most out of your money.
- Look at the price. This might sound like an obvious one but a lot of people just see what they want and put it in their cart. Know the price of everything you are buying.
- Pride yourself in being a smart shopper. Take the time to make sure you’re buying what you want and at the best price you can find. Be alert and pay attention when you are shopping.
- Don’t pay for convenience. Convenience is almost always going to be more expensive. Pre-cut fruits and veggies usually cost more than whole ones. For example, a bag of chopped kale is typically more expensive than a bundle of whole kale. Ground flax is usually more expensive than whole flax. An individually wrapped potato for baking sends the price skyrocketing upwards. These processes turn regular food into more of a commodity and make it easy for the companies to raise the prices.
- Don’t be fooled by marketing. Don’t pay any attention to the gimmicks on the products. This is food we’re talking about. It’s actually pretty simple stuff. To be honest, if the package has any selling points on it such as “low fat” or “all-natural” you’re probably best off avoiding it. Whole foods are almost always going to be a safer bet. When they tamper with foods like this you are very rarely getting the best bang for your buck because they’ve created a food based on their bottom dollar not your top health.
- Check the ingredients. If you don’t recognize something in the list as a food then it’s best to avoid it. If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients it’s also best to avoid it. A good rule of thumb is to buy food with 5 ingredients or less. Better yet there won’t even be an ingredient list because it’s simply a whole unprocessed food. Unprocessed whole foods are usually the least expensive way to meet your caloric and nutritional needs.
- Stick to healthy food. Even if it seems to be more expensive (which there’s a good chance it’s not) healthy food pays for itself in so many ways. The vitamins are already in there which means there is no need to buy supplements. A truly healthy diet would mean no need to spend money on fitness gear, DVDs, and gym memberships. Most health related issues today are directly related to the food we are eating. Eat healthy today and save crazy amounts of money on medications and doctor visits.
- Eat more plants. A more plant-based diet tends to be less expensive than a heavy meat diet for people who shop at the store. Hunting, fishing, and raising your own can be a different story. Plus one of the simplest ways to be much healthier, for those who eat too much industrial meat, eggs and dairy is to eat a lot more fruits and veggies.
- Compare the price per ounce. There are three different scenarios where I recommend doing this.-Size. For example, you’re looking at a large bottle of olive oil and a small bottle. The large bottle is 25 cents per ounce and the small bottle is 34 cents per ounce. You get 22% more food for your dollar if you buy the larger item. Make sure to do this only if you’ll use the food before it goes bad though.-Brands. If one brand is more expensive per ounce than another but they seem to be the exact same thing then this is an easy way to decide which to buy.-Different foods. I compared the price per ounce of quinoa to the price per ounce of rice and beans. The rice was 5 cents, the beans 8 cents, and the quinoa 40. Rice and beans combined are a protein just like quinoa is so for me it made a lot more sense to buy the rice and beans at about less than ten cents per ounce than the quinoa at 40 cents per ounce. You can also compare different fruits and vegetable at price per pound to decide which to go with.
- Bring a shopping list. Before going to the store make a list of what you need and don’t stray from it too much. This will prevent you from buying things on impulse and from overbuying.
- Don’t waste food. The average family of four in the USA wastes between $1,365 and $2,275 of food per year. If you are shopping on a budget not wasting any food is a very easy way to make your dollar go so much further.
- Make a meal plan. This will help you have an organized shopping list and keep you from wasting food. Writing up the meals you want to make for the week would be a great idea if you shop weekly for example.
- Look for reduced price items. You can often get foods at a drastically discounted price by looking for marked down items. Usually, the food is in just as good of condition and is just nearing its sell-by date or is very ripe. If produce is past its prime his is a great way to get ingredients for soups, smoothies, and juices. You’re also helping to prevent food from going to waste as well when you purchase reduced price items.
- Buy staple foods in larger quantities so that you get the best price and have to shop for them less often, saving you time. This applies to food that can be stored and will not go bad such as rice, beans, oatmeal, seeds, flour, popping corn, spices, oils, and honey. Make more frequent trips to the store for fresh produce.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season or on special. When it comes to your grocery list leave flexibility for choosing your fruits and vegetables. Rather than arriving at the store with the exact produce in mind buy the variety that is priced the best that week. It may be unaffordable to purchase exactly what you have in mind but if you go with the quality fruits and veggies that are the best deal that week you’ll be able to fit it into the budget. Buying whatever is in season is a great way to stick to this although with our globalized food system what’s in season at the store might be what’s actually in season thousands of miles away rather than what’s in season at your local farms.
- Don’t buy anything that is one time use or disposable. This is a tiny step away from food but it’s perfectly related. Forgot the disposable dishes, utensils, cups, napkins, paper towels, tin foil, plastic wrap, and so on. If you use it just one or a few times before disposing it you are burning money that you could be using to buy healthy food.
- Check your receipt. Multiple times I’ve checked my receipt to find that I was overcharged or double charged for an item. If you find this simply go to customer service and they’ll fix it. They may even decide to give you the item for free.
- Grow your own produce. This actually is a tip to keep you out of the grocery store and eating your own home-grown fruits and vegetables.
It’s a myth that healthy food is too expensive to afford. Sure there are plenty of honest reasons why someone might not want to eat healthy or has a hard time with it but the truth is that everyone reading this can afford to eat healthy. By practicing the tips above and dedicating yourself to health and happiness you too can eat your way to a happier, healthier way of being.
I’d love to hear from any savvy shoppers reading this! What are your tips to keeping your bill to a minimum at the grocery store?
For more inspiration to eat healthy read my transition from Clueless Consumer to Real Food Dude and to learn more about to eat in a way that’s better for the earth and yourself check out The Planet Friendly Diet!