Cheap grocery list ideas can be a lifesaver when you’re living the low income life. I know firsthand that it’s practically impossible to eat well on food stamps, but I’ve learned some tips and tricks to help stretch our grocery budget.
Smart shopping techniques can make all the difference.
Going to the store hungry and without a clear meal plan is a recipe for disaster. If you’re looking to save money, you absolutely need to plan ahead.
HALT. Never go to the store hungry or emotional.
Don’t go to the store hungry. You’ll purchase more than you need and be more susceptible to impulse purchases. Similarly, strong emotions like anger and exhaustion can make it difficult to make (and stick to) a plan.
Look around because eye-level shelves are pricier.
Grocers are smart marketers. The most alluring and expensive items are usually on the shelves we see first. If you want to save money, look up and down at other shelves.
Watch the per-ounce price.
The actual item price can be deceptive. Keep an eye on the per-ounce price to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Choose stores with bulk bins.
In my experience, the cheapest food is usually bought from bulk bins. You should always compare prices at your local stores, but historically I’ve found that the per-pound price at the bin is the cheapest.
Locally, my favorite go-to store is Winco. They have bulk bins and ridiculously low prices.
Watch for the loss leaders.
Loss leaders are items that are sold for steep discounts, in the hope that they’ll lure you into the store so you’ll buy other things at full price. Loss leaders are easy to identify in the circulars that the store mails out. Keep an eye on the loss leaders and stock up when you find great deals!
Learn how, where and when to buy cheap produce.
Fresh produce can add color, variety and nutrition to your meals. Even if you’re focused on cheap grocery list ideas, you can use these tips to save money on your fresh fruits and vegetables.
Use Ibotta and other coupon apps.
Have you heard of Ibotta? This app can put money back in your pocket when you’re grocery shopping. I’ve used it and I love it. You can sign up here (and check here for 17 ways to earn even more money with Ibotta)!
Buy generic or store brand.
Unless you can get a great deal with Ibotta, buy the generic or store-brand alternative. It’s cheaper and usually just as good!
Check the clearance rack.
Always check the clearance rack. Don’t buy things you don’t need or won’t use, but keep an eye out for great deals on products you’d already planned to buy.
Look for salvage stores in your area.
Salvage stores sell canned goods and other items that are near or past their date. This may sound gross, but many food items are still edible after the best-by date passes. In fact, here’s a helpful guide that can help you interpret expiration dates, best buy dates and more. You can save a lot of money if you’re willing to shop at one of these salvage stores.
Buy secondhand gift cards at a discount.
You can purchase unwanted gift cards for a discount! This could save you money on groceries when you buy the gift cards in advance, and then use them to shop for groceries. Try it out at giftdeals.com.
Only buy what you’ll actually use and eat.
Don’t buy things just because they’re cheap. If you aren’t actually going to eat those green beans, it doesn’t matter how good the price is. Don’t fill your cupboards with food that you don’t want to use.
Focus on long-term staples that last a long time, and check out our recipe lists for common food pantry offerings like flour, potatoes, canned tomatoes, dried beans and canned meat. We also have lists for things like rice, pasta and ramen!
Don’t buy spices or spice mixes at the grocery store.
Remember, spice mixes are mostly salt. Don’t buy them. Buy the specific spices and mix them yourself. You’ll often save money if you buy them at a spice shop or market.
Get free food when you can.
In order to save the most money, get free food when you can. This could include visiting food banks. It could also involve getting free produce from your local farmer’s market, participating in a summer food program, or even picking up free fruit from local retailers (or getting a prescription for free fruit).
Plan your meals ahead of time.
It is almost always more expensive to purchase pre-packaged or prepared meals. If you can make your own meals, you will usually save a lot of money.
Create a menu for a week (or more) at a time.
Make a menu. This will help you know how much of each ingredient you need, so that you don’t waste money on things that are unnecessary. Planning for a week at a time means you won’t have to visit the store again for a while, which can help you save money in the long run.
Use the same basic ingredients, but vary flavor.
Rather than making dozens of different recipes every month, focus on creating a variety of flavors with similar ingredients. Black beans, for example, can be used in tacos, vegetable soups, black bean burgers, chili, breakfast burritos and more. That’s a lot of different flavors that can achieved with one staple ingredient.
This helps you focus your budget around a few bulk items and several seasonings, instead of purchasing a radically different set of ingredients for each meal.
In fact, here are a list of recipes that are centered around one affordable central ingredient!
Avoid prepared items as much as possible.
Canned beans are more expensive than dry. Cut-up carrots are more than whole fresh ones. Grated cheese is more expensive than a block. The more prepared items you can avoid, the more money you will save.
Look for recipes that use the cheapest vegetables.
Vegetables are an important source of nutrition. You can add them to your budget without breaking the bank, especially if you use this guide to the cheapest fresh, frozen and canned vegetables.
Reduce your meat consumption.
Meat is expensive. If you reduce your meat consumption, you may be able to save a lot of money! You can substitute other sources of cheap protein, including nuts, nut butters, eggs, beans, canned fish, and whey protein.
If you don’t want to cut back on meat, consider purchasing cheaper cuts. Cheaper meat cuts can be delicious in stews, soups and slow-cookers. If you purchase bone-in cuts, make sure to make bone broth with the bones to get the maximum nutritional value per dollar spent!
Make many meals at once and freeze the rest.
Freezer dinners have helped me save a lot of money on groceries. When I make a meal, I’ll make 3-5 times the amount that I actually need. The rest of it is labelled and put in the freezer to cook at a later date. This makes it easier for me to purchase in bulk, and the convenience of having a ready-made meal in the freezer saves me from indulging in costly fast-food when I’ve had a rough day.
Modify your recipes to save even more money.
Some recipes can be made cheaper by adding additional filler ingredients or by substituting cheaper items.
Add pasta, rice or beans to everything.
One of my friends was able to drastically reduce her grocery bill by adding a box of pasta to each dish. Tacos became taco pasta, etc. Since she had many children, this helped everyone eat well while keeping the costs low.
Rice and beans are also cheap filler ingredients. If you can add some dried beans and rice to each dish, you’ll help it go much further.
Use dry milk instead of fresh milk.
Fresh milk can become a major part of the budget, especially if you have young kids who drink it. You can control the amount of money you spend on milk by keeping dry milk on hand for cooking. Just reconstitute it with a bit of water, and you’re good to go!
Restrict your impulse spending with planned indulgences.
Impulse spending will ruin any budget. One of the key principles to learning how to save money on groceries is learning how to control your impulse purchases.
Buy a reusable water bottle instead of convenient drinks.
Unless your tap water is undrinkable, you can save a lot of money by skipping beverages. Sodas, juices, and water bottles add up quickly and are unnecessary.
A reusable water bottle or thermos can make it easier to drink water. You can even buy one with a filter to improve the taste of your local water. It may be a bigger initial purchase, but you will save a lot of money over time.
Plan to buy cheap snacks.
If you like to have snacks, plan in advance what you will buy. Avoid costly chips, crackers and cookies. Instead, purchase cheaper snacks like popcorn and raisins. You can also plan to make bar cookies and other snacks. They’re much cheaper if you make them yourself!
Order your groceries online and pick them up to avoid temptation.
When I’m planning my freezer meals for the month, I always do the shopping online. It’s more convenient and it keeps me from being tempted to purchase things I don’t need. I also don’t have to take my kids to the store, which is fantastic.
Stick to the plan!
The hardest part, of course, is sticking to your plan. It may take some practice, but I know you can do it!