Last Updated: 11th October 2016
You’re on a tight budget, but you want to make sure you and your family have the best diet. It can seem like going to the grocery store means spending a fortune. Only the bad stuff are on offer, and you’ll never be able to keep the budget down.
That’s where you’re wrong. Just because you want to eat healthily doesn’t mean you need to spend everything you have left. It doesn’t mean you need to scrimp on other areas of your life all the time.
It’s time to get your grocery list perfected to make sure you only spend what you have available.
Why You Need to Have a Shopping List
Do you really need to make a list? Surely, you can just go in and pick up things as and when you need them. The problem with this is you run the risk of overspending. Be honest with yourself: how often have you gone in for one thing and come out with much more?
Without a list, you’ll forget what you actually needed. You’ll see things and think that they may have been on the list or doubt that you still have them in the cupboard. You’ll start wondering whether the family will enjoy them as a treat or if they can replace something else.
Not only that, but you’ll be enticed by the offers. They’re always on the items that you tend not to need, but you think you really want. You’ll give into cravings as you make your way around the grocery store, forgetting all about that budget.
Before you know it, you’ve blown the budget and don’t even have the stuff that you do need! You’ll be at a point where you can’t afford to get the healthy options and will have to make do with the items that you did pick up. You won’t have the ingredients for those recipes that you wanted to try and will have disappointed family members.
Your grocery list is the most powerful item you will have walking into the store when sticking to a budget.
Don’t Go Hungry
Even when armed with a list, avoid going to the grocery store while hungry. While you’ll have all the good intentions of only getting the items on the list, your stomach will be calling out to you, and you’ll be tempted to reach for the items that really aren’t that good for you. Ready meals and chocolate bars will be far more tempting than if you’d just eaten.
Try to go with a full stomach, or at least as close to full as possible. Don’t even consider getting lunch afterwards or picking something up while you’re out. It can seem like a time-saver or an easier option, but you’re putting yourself at risk of spending way more than you really want to.
Sometimes you can’t avoid going after eating. When this is the case, have a healthy snack just before you shop or on the way around. This is also great for children who complain they’re hungry and often push for a packet of crisps or some candy. Pick up a piece of fruit and let them snack on that. If you’re getting a packet, you can open it and then pay for it at the end. If you’re looking at single pieces of fruit, you’ll need to pay for it first and then walk around; keep the receipt in hand.
There are some grocery stores now offering a free piece of fruit for children on the way around. Look out for these and encourage your children to have one if they’re really that hungry.
Don’t Forget to Shop Around
While you want to make your shopping trip as easy as possible, shopping around at different grocery stores will help you keep the cost down. This has been made much easier in recent years with the use of online shopping and grocery store apps. You can often scan a barcode or type in a product name and check the price in all the stores around you.
The hassle will certainly help you stick to your budget. You won’t even need to go out for it all, as there may be an online shopping option to save you time. This can also save you money since you won’t be tempted by the deals that you see on the way around the stores.
Not all options will be available online. Don’t forget about your local greengrocer or butcher. They will have fresh options, usually at a much lower price since it’s all locally farmed and not imported. You may also find you get the chance to barter at your local farmer’s market to help get the cost down.
Create a Menu Plan
To be able to create your grocery store list, you need to know the ingredients you’ll need throughout the week. The only way you can pre-empt that is through the use of a menu plan. Make sure you write down all the meals that you plan to make and list all the ingredients that you need. It’s also best having the quantities for the full week to make sure you get enough.
This will take time. You’ll need to think about the foods that you want everyone in the house to try and those that members are allergic to. You’ll have to think about all the meals that people in the house will be home for and those that will be eaten elsewhere.
Look through recipe books, online sites, and your firm favourites to get an idea for a weekly plan. Think about using the staples in the cupboard; those that are likely to cost much less than everything else.
When you’re creating your menu plan, you can even think about the desserts, treats and drinks you’ll have. This will help you limit the trips out and make sure everything sticks within your budget. It’s also worth considering meals that you can use two or three times during the week to keep the cost down.
While creating your menu plan, think about foods that are currently in season. Not only will they taste better and be more nutritious for you, but they will also be cheaper. They are usually sourced locally, which means there are no import costs involved. You can always freeze your in-season options, so they are available at a later date.
Bulk Buy and Separate
Buying in bulk tends to make shopping much cheaper. While you may pay a little more in one week, you’ll be able to keep the costs down throughout the month, as the products last for much longer. This is especially the case with the likes of pasta and grains, which aren’t likely to go off for a longer period of time.
You can also buy some vegetables, fruits and meats in bulk. The trick is separating them into portion sizes when you get home and then putting them in the freezer. When it comes to making a meal, you just need to pull the food out and defrost it. You will then have something to cook later.
This trick only works if you remember about it and stick with the plan. You’ll soon find that it becomes routine to open packets, wrap in cling film or sandwich bags and pop in the freezer. There are now some companies that allow you to buy meat and veg in bulk, so you can put it all in the freezer and keep to a budget.
Do keep a note of expiry dates and the date that you froze. This will help to keep the meat suitable for eating. Also, make sure it is fully defrosted before cooking to avoid food poisoning.
You can do this with in-season fruits and vegetables. Buying them now and freezing them for later will mean you have them when you really need them and keep your budget to a minimum.
Remember Some Items Last Weeks/Months
Not all the items you buy will be used within the week. You’ll need to accept that while they take your budget up one week, they will ensure your budget stays lower for the weeks and sometimes months into the future. This is definitely the case with bulk buying, mentioned above, and with seasonings and sauces.
When it comes to buying these, do it when you can keep your costs down in other areas. You could space them out throughout the month, making sure you can afford them all and your healthy ingredients.
Buying seasonings dried will help them last much longer than getting fresh. Most of the ingredients you find will work with dry ingredients. They just don’t taste as great as they would if you bought fresh. It’s something you need to consider while on a budget. As your budget gets bigger, you can always make the switch to the fresher options.
Look for the Cheaper Cuts
While the juicy chicken breasts and your favourite cuts of beef and pork sound more appealing, they tend to cost a lot more. There’s nothing wrong with getting the cheaper cuts. They will still have the nutrients within the meat, and you can usually get them at both grocery stores and butchers. These cheaper cuts include chicken thighs and organ meats.
You can make them taste deliciously juicy, too. A slow cooker or long-soaking marinades will help to seep in juices and will bring out various flavours. Some of them even take less time to cook!
If you’re getting the cuts from the butcher, don’t be afraid to ask for the fat cut off as much as possible. They will usually sell by weight, so you’ll be able to cut the cost by getting rid of some of the excess that you’d never eat anyway.
One thing not to scrimp on is your mince. You want to find mince that is 5% or 10% fat. Less than 20% if you’re really struggling to stretch the budget. If you can, opt for pork or turkey mince rather than beef mince to stick to healthier options. Some will even be cheaper, but you will likely get smaller amounts.
Bulk Out With Whole Grains
There are a lot of benefits to buying whole grains, including lentils and pulses. They come in larger packets—allowing for bulk buying—and will last for weeks. Another benefit is that they bulk out your meals, especially soups and stews.
Whole grains are also extremely healthy for you. Even if you’re not trying to keep the cost of your shopping down, you should look at opting for them on a regular basis. They’re full of protein, fibre, and starchy carbs. All of these offer various benefits, including the ability to make you feel fuller for longer. They break down slower, so you don’t feel the need to eat as much. Not only will they help you lose weight, but you won’t snack and spend as much money throughout the day.
With the protein benefit, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of meat that you buy. In many cases, you won’t even notice the meat is missing, especially in stews or stir fries. The whole grains are cheaper, especially since they last longer, so you’ll keep the budget down considerably with ease.
Look Out for Deals Before
Keep an eye out for all the deals that are coming up in grocery stores. Some stores now have booklets that share their upcoming week or two weeks of deals. Others will make their deals available online so you can check before you shop.
You can look at these when planning your meals. Create the plan around the deals so you can keep your costs to a minimum. When you’re then actually at the store, make sure you only buy the products that were available in the offers. There are some who won’t find them, so get a substitute. You won’t be able to get the discount if you don’t have the exact item.
If you’re really worried about finding something in the grocery store, you could always do your shopping online. This will help prevent confusing deals and accidentally picking up the wrong item.
Think About Meals You Can Bulk Cook
Like bulk buying, bulk cooking is something that you want to get into the habit of doing. Planning these meals will help you create a grocery store budget that is lower in cost. Some of these meals include soups, stews, lasagnas, Bolognese sauce and much more.
When you do bulk make them, separate the portions into tubs. Put them in the fridge or freezer—depending on what you’re bulk making them for—and don’t forget about them when it comes to a meal! This is a great option if you’re also cooking in a rush one night and just want something simple to grab and go.
Don’t Forget the Coupons and Cash Back Sites
Did you know that couponing is still a thing, and there are now even cash back sites that will help you keep the costs down? This will take some pre-planning, and you’ll need to have the patience to go through all the available coupons to make sure they are worthwhile. The last thing you want is to buy something just for the sake of saving money when you don’t really need or want it. You’ll end up spending more!
This will take the time to get into the habit. When you’re in the grocery store, you’ll also need the patience to look for the exact item, like you would with the deals and offers the stores put on.
When you get home, you’ll also need to scan receipts to earn your cash back. It can be a great way to make a little extra money, saving it on your food bill, but not everyone has the time or willingness to do something like this. It’s just an option for you.
Avoid the Bad Aisles
The way the stores get you is by putting all the deals out there in bright colours, drawing your attention in. Many will also be at the end of aisles or visible from them to pull you into them.
Only stick to the aisles that you definitely know you need. Watch out for going down ones that have all the bad stuff that ends up being tempting for you and your children. If you really need to go into them, go just for the one item and don’t allow yourself to look at the offers and other products available. You’ll only end up wasting money.
With this step by step guide and quick tips, you can create a grocery list that is healthy but sticks to a budget. Don’t forget to check your receipt at the end of the trip to make sure you’ve not been overcharged or had extra items accidentally added on. This is also a great way to budget for the next shopping trip to see if items can be added on.
That tight budget doesn’t mean no chance of eating healthily. Focus on those whole grains, fruits and vegetables and stick to cheaper cuts of meat to enjoy your lifestyle.
Getting used to building a healthy grocery list while keeping it in budget should be a great way to stretch your finances without compromising the your and your family's health. It is a fact that healthy food is not cheap, but being wise on your choices coupled with timing your trips to the grocery store accordingly should do the trick.