Sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthily or that you must sacrifice nutrition for the sake of savings. In fact, smart grocery shopping may be the single most straightforward way to reduce expenses. While many regular costs in life are fixed, such as rent or utility bills, others, like groceries, are more flexible.
To get an idea of what is considered a sensible grocery bill for your family, check out the USDA’s guidelines for food planning.
7 Ways to Reduce Grocery Costs
Not all groceries or shopping methods are created equal. Getting the most financial and nutritional value from your groceries is dependent on several factors. Even if you don’t particularly like to cook, the following tips can help you lower your grocery bill, all without sacrificing nutrition.
1. Make a Plan
Making a meal and snack plan for an entire week can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by selecting recipes for a few meals, including some that will provide leftovers. After you make your selections, make a list of the ingredients that you’ll need. Make sure to shop your kitchen cupboard for ingredients you may already have around your home.
Making a meal plan that works for you will save you time and money. You won’t waste time wandering the aisles of your local grocery store and you’ll reduce the likelihood you buy more food than you need.
Pro Tip: Consider investing in a slow cooker to make cooking meals easier. Slow cookers are a great way to get started if you’re just learning to cook as well as shortening the amount of time it takes to prepare dinner since many meals can be made ahead of time.
If beginning to prepare a meal in the morning is too daunting of an experience for you, consider spending part of your Sunday prepping meals and snacks for the week. During your busy week, your meal plan will save you the stress of figuring out what to make or tempting you to order out, which is a surefire budget and waistline killer.
2. Make a List and Stick to It
Making a list is vital to slashing your grocery bill and keeping it manageable. Also, a list is a powerful defense against impulse buys, which always hurt your budget. However it’s also important to be flexible with some of the ingredients on your list. For example, if broccoli is on your list, but cauliflower happens to be on sale, consider substituting one for the other.
If you’re considering buying in bulk, stick to things that don’t spoil very quickly, like oats, nuts, and grains.
A word of warning: Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Studies have repeatedly proven that shopping when hungry can lead you to not only overspending but also in choosing unhealthy food items.
3. Live on the Edge
Of the store, that is. Every grocery store is set up to get you to spend more than you intend. Outsmart the marketing by sticking to the edges of the average supermarket, where the most nutritious food can be found.
The middle of the store, meanwhile, is where boxed and individually wrapped items live. Most of these items will cost you twice: First in the markup to cover all that packaging, and then again when your health takes a hit from the synthetic, preservative ingredients that allow these products to last longer on the shelf.
A notable exception to this rule can be found in the frozen food section: bags of frozen vegetables are an excellent way to add nutrients to a dish help you avoid wasting both food and money, as you can use what you need and store the rest for later.
4. Go for Whole Foods
No, we’re not talking about shopping exclusively at the well-known health food store comically nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” We’re talking about including nutrient-dense foods like broccoli, squashes, and nuts into your meals and snacks. Brown rice and wild rice are also nutritious dishes that have a long shelf life and can be paired with a variety of dishes.
Tip: Buy produce when it’s in season, as the glut of supply means that fruits and vegetables are priced to move. Freeze or can what you can’t use for use later on.
5. Pay attention to your protein
If you’ve ever taken a look at your grocery store receipts, you have probably noticed that the most expensive item on the list, next to processed items and alcohol, is meat. We’re not saying you have to go meatless, but substituting meat with other proteins like eggs or legumes one or two times a week can make a dramatic difference in how far your grocery budget goes, as well as your health.
You can also opt for subtle changes at first, such as with cheaper cuts of meat or chicken that still have bones and skin.
6. Love your Leftovers
If the idea of eating leftovers conjures negative connotations in your mind, you’re not alone. To keep leftover food interesting, try freezing some of your leftovers so you can heat it up on those nights when you’d rather not cook. Another way to avoid falling out of love with your leftovers is to re-purpose them to create a whole new meal. For example, a leftover veggie stir-fry can be mixed with eggs to create a frittata or quiche.
7. Indulge intelligently
A treat every now and again doesn’t have to impede your progress on paying down your debt or eating healthy. However, try to limit it to once a week to avoid getting into the habit of regularly indulging in expensive, empty-calorie items. If you miss eating out, you can challenge yourself to re-create some of your favorite dishes with some help of copycat recipes or check out similar recipes on Pinterest.
Healthy Groceries on a Budget
Conscientious grocery shopping is a vital part of any plan to get a better handle on your finances and take charge of your health. With a little planning, you won’t have to sacrifice nutrition while you pursue your financial goals. To implement lasting changes, start slowly. For example, don’t give up meat or other familiar items entirely all at once, and don’t devote an entire weekend to meal planning. In no time you’ll develop a shopping routine that gets you the most value, not only for your dollar but for your health as well.