How to Grocery Shop on a Budget & Stop Spending Money on Food

an individual that is walking through the grocery isle smiling knowing the budget tips learned during's educational courses.

When budgeting, our clients find that food and grocery spending is the most inconsistent and hard to plan for. To help you learn how to grocery shop on a budget, here are six steps to avoid overspending:

1. Eat before you go shopping for groceries.

Mom’s advice is still true; if you go shopping hungry, you’ll spend a lot more.

If you want to know how to stop spending money on food, shopping for groceries on a full stomach will help. But it goes beyond just eating first.

Don’t stop for fast food on the way to the grocery store. Take some time to prepare a full meal. Use your kitchen, your pantry, the leftovers in your fridge, and anything else on hand to put together something filling and satisfying. That way you’re not only less hungry when you shop, but you also have a good idea of what things you have on hand and what things you might truly need to stock up on.

In a sense, this tip on how to grocery shop on a budget isn’t “eat before you go”, but rather, “cook before you go.”

During this cooking and meal-prep process, organize your food supplies. Figure out what is going to expire soon and arrange things so you know what you have to use soon and what you’ll need to replace.

Part of the secret of how to stop spending money on food is to stop throwing out food you haven’t prepared before the expiration date. Having a plan for all of the food you buy cuts out waste and saves you money on groceries.

2. Make a list before heading to the supermarket.

A budget is a written spending plan, so the key to grocery shopping on a budget is simply that–have a written plan.

Sit down to make a shopping list on the day that coupons appear (usually Wednesdays and Sundays). Make the list comprehensive enough to include everything you need, then stick to it! There’s no point in planning your shopping if you’re going to add impulse items to your shopping cart when you get to the store.

Remember, we want you to survey what you have on hand and fill in your list with the things you truly need. You can’t figure out how to budget your groceries if you don’t have a good, solid idea of what you use on a weekly basis.

Besides knowing what food to buy, you’ll want to know how much you have to spend. This will help you take control and set priorities when shopping around.

3. Avoid taking your children or your spouse to the grocery store.

If you have kids, this one should be self-explanatory. It’s difficult to stick to a shopping list when you have other people throwing things into the cart.

We stressed that you should have a list when shopping, and that list should be made before you go to the store. Having shopping helpers who want to add impulse buys to the card undermines all of the work you did creating your list.

This rule is important, but it’s one you should definitely break if you’re trying to teach your kids how to grocery shop on a budget. But if that’s the goal, you have to be firm and make them stick to the spending plan.

One important way to budget your groceries is to buy items in bulk. This is especially important if you have a large family to feed. But that means each member of the family doesn’t get to decide which brand or type of item they want. You’re buying in bulk, and everyone has to accept what you get. So if your kids aren’t actively learning these important techniques, then it’s better if they aren’t with you when you shop.

A couple grocery shopping in a store looking at their budget on their phone to see how much money to spend.

4. Use a calculator.

Be prepared to put things back on the shelf if the numbers don’t add up. Get in the habit of including prices on your shopping list, and set priorities so you’ll know what not to buy if the prices aren’t right.

Shipping costs, supply chain issues, unexpected weather, and other factors can all play a role in changing the prices of groceries. If an item on your list is suddenly more expensive than you budgeted for, you’ll have to make adjustments on the fly. Take your calculator and figure out what the new prices mean for your total budget.

Even if it’s only a few dollars here or there, you’ll need to be firm and stay on budget. You’ll learn to have a plan for backup items or items you can easily cut from the list to keep things within your budget.

One of the key lessons of budgeting is that every dollar counts. A few dollars here and there add up, and when you’re learning how to grocery shop on a budget, you’ve got to maintain a hard line when it comes to your spending.

5. Plan to use coupons and consider adding items to your cart online before heading in.

When you go shopping, bring your list (or take a picture of it with your phone), and stick to it. Make it a rule that if you don’t have your shopping list with you, you can’t buy anything.

The idea here is to enforce the rule that every purchase should be planned in advance. If you don’t have it written down and accounted for in your spending plan, then you’re not allowed to buy it.

If you want to know how to spend less on groceries, this is the way to go. Be rigid about your list and your budget, and don’t let yourself cheat.

And don’t forget your coupons. It’s even easier to go paperless with digital grocery coupons by linking your store loyalty card to your account, adding coupons, and redeeming them at checkout.

What may seem like small savings today can really add up if you make it a regular practice. If you use coupons wisely, then get organized; put the items on the checkout counter in the order you have the coupons arranged so checking out won’t take forever.

Pro Tip: You can get discounts at more than just the grocery store. Look for coupons at electronics stores, department stores, and more.

6. Take a limited amount of cash into the store.

This is a next-level tip for how to budget your groceries. Once you figure out what you’re going to buy and how much you’re going to spend, take only that amount in cash to the store.

If you set a realistic food budget and only take that much cash to the store, then there’s no way you can overspend! Leave the debit card or checkbook at home, and you’ll have no choice but to stick to your budget.

Grocery shopping on a budget is hard work because you’ll be shopping so frequently for food for yourself and your family. Being diligent and limiting yourself is important, so using cash will make it easier to meet your goals without letting you go over budget.

Watch our short video to help you keep these six steps in mind when you visit the grocery store and get a big part of your spending under control immediately. That’ll make it a lot easier to cope with the other issues that are causing your financial distress.

If you have questions about budgeting, you can talk to our financial counselors for free. Contact us today to get started.

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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