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13 Tips to Stretch Your Grocery Budget

Kylyssa is an artist who works in a wide variety of media that has included fondant since 2008. She enjoys creating and sharing sweet tips.

Vegetables at the grocery store

Vegetables at the grocery store

Learn to Make the Most of Your Food Dollar

The economy is rough right now, and many people have to cut expenses just to make ends meet. Food is a much larger expense than many people realize. A few years back, it was enough for most people to cut back on dining out and cook more meals at home. But for many people, that's no longer enough. More people than ever are struggling just to put food on their tables.

These days, people need all the help they can get to save money on food. So I decided to share my tips and tricks for eating well on a tight budget. Please share any money-saving food-related tips you may have in the comments at the bottom of this page.

1. Discount Food Stores

Don't forget to pay attention to prices, even in discount food stores!

I have found good quality food at discount food stores like Aldi and Save-a-Lot. They generally carry such staples as milk, butter, cheese, eggs, rice, fruit, and potatoes at prices below average. My favorite discount grocery store is Aldi, mainly because of some of the imported European foods they carry on a regular basis. My favorite is an indulgent, silky textured 5.29 oz. dark chocolate bar made in Austria that sells for less than $1.50. I also love the 10-pound bag of baking potatoes they sell for under three bucks.

Dollar stores can also fall into this discount food store category but only for certain products. While their groceries are generally all under a dollar per unit, they tend to slip in items for a dollar that cost less than a dollar at the regular grocery store or dedicated discount food store. However, one category in which they beat most other stores hands-down for cost is herbs and spices. While the selection isn't always great, they often carry staple herbs like basil and oregano and spices such as cinnamon and peppercorns.

2. Save Money on Food at Ethnic Grocery Stores

Try something new and spend less

My major sources for more exotic, quality ingredients are ethnic markets. The labeling and packaging are a bit different, but the quality is as good, if not better than similar products purchased at a regular grocery store. My theory on ethnic markets is that people buy the things they long for from their childhood or from their country of origin. They only long for what would be considered the "good stuff," so markets stock these things.

Asian markets often have surprising deals on high-quality ingredients. For example, that package of roasted chestnuts at the gourmet market that runs $7 sells for less than $2 at the Asian grocery. A can of coconut milk often costs less than a dollar, less than half the cost of an often inferior product found at an average American grocery store. They also stock a wide variety of dried beans, a good, cheap source of non-meat protein. But, for me, the big money saver at the Asian grocery store is rice. You can buy a big bag of jasmine rice for far less per pound than white rice from the regular grocery store.

You can also find treasures at the Mexican grocery store or supermercado. I get many seasonings and sauces, fresh tortillas, tasty baked goods, and good quality meats from the local supermercado.

image by Billy Alexander

image by Billy Alexander

3. Don't Buy More Than You Will Use

People waste an awful lot of food. So when you stock up on things on sale, only stock up on non-perishable items such as canned goods or have a plan in place to preserve the extra food.

Bread can get popped into the fridge or freezer to extend its life, and fruit can be washed, cut up and frozen, or cooked and canned. Vegetables can be blanched quickly in boiling water and frozen for later use.

If you can't freeze it, can it, or eat it inside a week, don't buy it.

To prevent waste, immediately package and refrigerate or freeze any leftovers in serving sizes. Clearly mark all leftovers and write the date on them, so you'll know how soon they have to be used.

4. Farmer's Markets and Flea Markets

Buy local, buy fresh, and save money on quality food.

In season, local farmer's markets and flea markets provide fresh produce at excellent prices. You can also feel good shopping at the farmer's market because the produce is mostly locally grown and hasn't spent days riding around in fuel-guzzling trucks to get to you. Shop local to save money on groceries and to be kind to the environment.

5. Pay Attention to Unit Prices

Most American grocery stores have labels on every shelf that not only tell you how much the items cost but how much they cost per ounce or pound. They've done most of the math for us! When comparing values between brands or sizes, use the unit price guide. Just be sure they are calculated in the same units.

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Read More From Toughnickel

Companies have gotten wise to shopping patterns and know that most shoppers think that a bigger package or "value size" package is cheaper per serving than smaller packages of the same product. But it's not always true—one large package may not be cheaper than two smaller packages. That is why checking the unit price is important.

photo by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

photo by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

6. Angelfood Ministries

Angelfood Ministries provides food relief for people struggling to make ends meet. Each month they sell boxes of assorted food items at roughly half the cost those items would run in a grocery store. I know Angelfood Ministries is intended to help poor people get food, but if you are reading this, you probably aren't rolling in the dough—if you catch my drift. The food quality is good, but the boxes tend to run a bit meat heavy for my tastes. You can check out what comes in their boxes and find out where you can buy and pick them up through their website. They sell to people of any income, and they even accept food assistance cards for payment.

7. Don't Shop When Hungry or Anxious

This goes double if you have kids along.

Have a snack or meal before shopping and get yourself in as relaxed a state of mind as possible. People are more apt to buy luxury food items if they are hungry or stressed out.

Play soothing music on the way to the store, or even just take a couple of deep breaths before entering the store.

photo by Davide Guglielmo

photo by Davide Guglielmo

8. Buy Generic or Store Brand Products

Try store brand and generic products instead of name brands. I say try because you might not like the generic as much as a name-brand product. But in most cases, store brands are just as good, if not better, than name brands. If you are fortunate enough to have Aldi stores where you live, they have some really excellent store brand products. In fact, I prefer their canned fruit (peaches, apricots, pears) to name-brand products.

But if a name brand product you use and prefer is on sale for less than the generic—stock up!

9. Coupons Plus Sales

Only buy sale products that you normally use to make the most of your grocery dollar.

This part gets a little dicey. Cutting coupons can save you money, but often coupon use can inspire you (or at least me) to buy unnecessary products sometimes. The thing to do is to make a strict rule that you don't even clip a coupon for a product you don't already use or didn't desire before finding the coupon.

But then there are sales. Check the sales fliers to your local stores online each week because many of them offer a search feature. That way, you can look at your coupons and search for those items as well as items you are out of. Whenever a sale item matches a coupon, savings are greatly increased. Combined coupons and sales can even sometimes get you free or nearly free grocery items.

10. Plan Ahead

Plan your meals before making your grocery list. Tailor your grocery list to your meal plan and do your best to stick to it. Only make exceptions if you discover that something you usually buy is on sale, then stock up on it if it isn't perishable.

Don't just plan your meals; plan what you'll use the leftovers for as well. It prevents waste, and it saves money.

11. Clearance Racks

Save money on close-dated or seasonal groceries.

Check out the non-perishable clearance racks, especially right after the holidays—Christmas cookies taste just as good in January and chocolate hearts are still delicious on February 15th. Also, there's no reason canned pumpkin or cranberry sauce can't be eaten at times other than during the winter holidays.

Check out the day-old bakery rack, and the marked-down produce in your grocery store. Our local Meijer store also has a discounted cheese bin in the cheese cooler. Sometimes, I can get wonderful fancy cheeses for just small change.

12. Replace Meat With Other Proteins

Save money on groceries and eat healthier, too!

Cutting out or drastically reducing your meat consumption can cut up to 50% of your grocery bill, depending on how much meat your family usually consumes. Pound for pound, ounce for ounce, meat is more expensive than vegetables, grains, and fruits. Eating less meat, particularly red meat, is also better for us and for the environment. Replace some or all of your meat protein with eggs, dairy, and legumes, and you'll save big on groceries.

One of the big objections people have to eating more beans and lentils is that while dried beans are extremely inexpensive, they take a long time to cook. My solution to this is to invest in a crock pot or slow cooker. If you can't afford a crock pot right now, simply bring the beans to a boil whenever you have an opportunity. Then, turn off the burner and cover the pot. Allow the beans to cool down, then stick them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. This will knock a long time off of their cooking time, and you can do these days ahead of when you need them.

13. Don't Pay for More Processing, Shipping, and Packaging Than Necessary

Buy in bulk and make your own single-serving packages.

Don't buy pre-packaged convenience foods. What you are paying for is not more or better food but more labor and packaging.

  • Buy regular package sizes, whole vegetables, and ingredients rather than prepared meals.
  • Invest in re-sealable sandwich bags to put individual portions of snacks in or, better yet, be environmentally responsible and buy some small plastic containers or reuse product packaging such as margarine tubs.
  • Buy every member of your family a lunchbox, lunch bag, or bento box to take homemade meals with them to work or school.
  • Skip the bottled water entirely. Buy water bottles and a filter if necessary. Reusable bottles are better for the environment, and it's cheaper to buy and use a filter than to buy water in a bottle. Besides, most bottled water is just filtered tap water from some municipal water supply.

How do you stretch your food budget?

Share Your Money-Saving Grocery Shopping Tips!

Linda Nichols on May 21, 2019:

Fred Meyer grocery stores in Washington state has free fruit snacks for children. They have apples, bananas & oranges. A free healthy snack for kids

frugalfinance lm on October 29, 2012:

Great tips here, thanks for sharing! I agree that buying brand names vs generic and own brand labels is the way forward. I personally can't taste any difference!

anonymous on July 10, 2012:

All good tips. Especially the one about buying generic. I've read that some products are literally the same thing, made together in the same facilities, then some is sent off to get a brand name label while some is sold to stores and gets their label. I hate the thought of paying more specifically because of packaging. It's downright insulting if you think about how poor food quality truly is and how much advertising tricks us all into thinking big brands are somehow better. Some might not take these seriously, but they are researched articles even though it's a comedy site. Sources are linked. Read them and be horrified.

VarietyWriter2 on May 01, 2012:

Great tips! Blessed :)

gatornic15 on April 08, 2012:

Great lens. With the increase in food prices over the last couple of years, it is always nice to try to save when you can. I always try to stock up on things like chicken breasts when they are on sale, and I freeze what I won't use that week for later.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on October 23, 2011:

Excellent information. We love shopping at Farmers Markets, and in the UK you can often buy meat at a Farm Store, where it's not only at supermarket price, but fresh and locally sourced too. Where possible buy cheaper brands of products, buy fresh produce rather than pre-processed, and it is possible to save a significant amount. It's hard in these days where costs keep rising, and incomes are either frozen or in our case shrinking. Nicely presented, blessed.

goldenrulecomics from New Jersey on July 23, 2011:

nice lens. My tip would be: forget loyalty. Always be willing to take your business elsewhere for a better price.

anonymous on June 04, 2011:

Great lenses, it really makes you appreciate life.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 24, 2011:

Excellent tips especially now because so many people have never had to worry about counting pennies so don't know how to save on their grocery bills. The economic recession has made the world a very different place for many.

anonymous on February 27, 2011:

adding you to blog roll for students university, homework, décor, furniture, entertainment - blessings by squid angel

anonymous on February 04, 2011:

Oh my goodness, excellent tips for us all! I live on my Squidoo income, so I don't waste a thing. I'm grateful for a food basket ~ the last one had a big pack of frozen chicken and 4 packages of cheese., which I shared. My sister also sends me a care package at least once a month with everything from soup to nuts. She often sends cans of chicken and I freeze the juice to flavor soup. She also sends rocks, just because she knows I like them.

jdwheeler on January 06, 2011:

Don't buy groceries while you are hungry is a tip I need work on.

desilegend on October 29, 2010:

Love each of your lenses! I know I can save but I have learned even more

CCGAL on October 07, 2010:

The biggest thing I think a person can do to stretch his or her food dollar is to learn to cook from scratch. Never buy a convenience food if you know how to do it yourself for less. The other "secret" I can share is to read some depression era cookbooks - some of our family's favorite dishes are from those old cookbooks. Very nice lens, this. Useful and well laid out. Blessed by a Squid Angel.

eclecticeducati1 on April 01, 2010:

Great tips! Most people are needing to save money right now. You have a lot of great tips listed. Blessed by an Angel and lensrolling to my "Lynn's Tightwad, Frugal. Penny Pinching" lens.

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on March 29, 2010:

Great resource; I frequently pick up a treat from the baker's clearance shelves. Normally I wouldn't buy those items but they are so inexpensive when they are marked down. I don't have to worry about them getting eaten in a flash so they are a nice choice as a treat.

Tarra99 on March 27, 2010:

Great tips & ideas here...thanks for sharing...and thank you for popping into my recycle toothbrushes lens...I appreciate your comments!

hayleylou lm on February 28, 2010:

Some great tips here - I totally agree with not shopping when hungry - I come home with a trolley full of chocolate ! Funny how never hungry for apples, hey ? I am leaving you 5 stars for the tips.

HowToSaveMoneyNow on February 27, 2010:

Hi, I truly enjoyed your lens! You provided some great tips on saving on your grocery bill. I'm sure with this lens you will beat out that person who WAS on the first page of Yahoo. I emphasize WAS because I am sure you will be #1 now! Thank you and keep it up!

GroceryCosts on February 22, 2010:

Great Lens

JanieceTobey on February 08, 2010:

What an excellent group of ideas for stretching your grocery dollars! I'll have to check into visiting an Asian market!

sheriangell on January 31, 2010:

Excellent tips here! I am on a constant mission to cut costs on this gigantic expense. I try to visit my local grocery store bright and early on Monday mornings as I've found that meat not sold over the weekend is marked down dramatically.

myraggededge on January 31, 2010:

We love Aldi... mainly because it has far LESS choice than major supermarkets... and less choice is surprisingly better. My grocery shop for 4 of us at Aldi costs half of what it does in Tesco... and takes 30 mins as opposed to 2 hours. Great lens.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on January 31, 2010:

Excellent suggestions! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens

Sibelius on January 30, 2010:

Super lens! I'm sharing this one with my wife!

Samantha Lynn from Missouri on January 30, 2010:

Great tips!

Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on January 30, 2010:

Oh, P.S. I'm lensrolling this to mine about 100 ways to save and spend less.

Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on January 30, 2010:

Definitely lots of good advice here. And you're so right about those dollar stores. Many of the food items they sell for a dollar are less in the regular grocery store, so that can be deceiving. Certainly, cooking from scratch versus buying things like frozen dinners can save quite a lot.

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on January 30, 2010:

Very useful tips and a great lens!

Leanne Chesser on January 30, 2010:

Great tips on how to stretch your grocery budget! Planning ahead and not buying more than you'll use are really important, I think.

ElizabethJeanAl on January 30, 2010:

My husband and I have trimmed our budget and then some. Our grocery bill is a lot lower than it used to be. We have a ways to go, but we're getting there.5* and lensrolled to Living Within Your Means.Lizzy

ulla_hennig on January 30, 2010:

A very interesting lens with a lot of information! It is interesting for me to hear about Aldi - which is one of the biggest discount stores in Germany.

tsmart on January 29, 2010:

Hello, I really love this lens! It has some great tips. One thing I learned last week while standing in line at Walmart, basket full of groceries, is that they will honor the area's store deals. A woman in front of me was buying her groceries, and she had gone through all of the local grocery store adds, and pointed out the items that were less than walmart. The checker gave her the price shown on the add. I didn't know Walmart did that! Honestly I was surpirsed! Another thing, while shopping, and comparing the price per oz. on food items, I noticed it isn't always cheaper to buy in bulk anymore. They are really tricky on this now days. And last, about the generic being as good, you are very right about having to try the brand. For instance, Great Value sloppy joe mix doesn't taste as good as hungry man, but it also doesn't have high fructose corn syrup in it, (an ingredient on the naughty list in our house), so I buy it and chop up some onion and "tamed" jalepenos to spice it up a bit. No complaints from the family! Good luck everyone with your shopping!

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