Transitioning from living on campus and using my meal swipes for every meal to having to grocery shop and prep my food every week was an exciting new challenge. I was looking forward to pick what I wanted to eat and trying out new recipes. One thing I overlooked was how much money food can really cost if you’re not careful. I like nice things and I equally enjoy luxury foods. However, reality check, your grocery store trip does not have to cost you all your money. In fact, it’s pretty easy to save money on groceries.
I normally spend less than $20 per week on my groceries. Some weeks are more, but most are less. I don’t eat small amounts or not enjoy food–I just do what I can to save money, all the while making sure I’m always well-fed. Seriously, I enjoy cooking and making nice dishes, so don’t worry.
I live a vegan lifestyle and therefore follow a vegan diet. That means, I eat plants, and the majority of my diet is fruits, vegetables, and grains. These are great tips for anyone, but I do save money on groceries by not purchasing dairy or meats.
Without further ado…
Shop for produce in season.
If you’re buying lots of fruits and veggies, it can be really helpful to know what’s in season and what’s not. If produce is in season, that means it’s being grown in abundance and will cost less. Normally, a food will have the best flavor and be the freshest when it’s in season, too! For me, I buy bananas all year round ($0.44/pound and calorically dense!) and other staples of my diet. However, the extra stuff can vary with the seasons to save a little here in there. Here are some of my favorites and the seasons they’re best in!
SPRING: asparagus, corn, mango, peas, pineapple, spinach
SUMMER: bell peppers, blueberries, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, peaches, peas, tomatoes, watermelon
FALL: broccoli, brussels sprouts, pears, pineapple, sweet potatoes
WINTER: clementines, kale, grapefruit, pomegranate
Find a local grocery store.
Y’all, I was buying HEB produce for the longest time before I discovered that my small town has a local/reduced price grocery store. It’s amazing! I recommend doing research in your own town for grocery stores that offer reduced-price produce. These stores source the ugly produce from large grocery stores, produce that’s a little too ripe, or produce from local farms and gardens. The rates I get at my store are amazing, and it only took a little digging on the internet to find!
Switch to tofu.
Tofu costs a fraction of what meat does. A lot of times, we think of a meal as being a meat center surrounded by sides. However, chicken and ground beef costs around $3.30/pound while tofu only costs around $2/pound. These savings can really add up! Reframe your mind and think about meals differently… tofu is a great way to start.
If organic is important to you…
Bear in mind which foods are the most affected by pesticides. Have you heard of the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen? The clean fifteen are the products that are likely safe to buy non-organic; they’re the least likely to be affected by pesticides. However, the dirty dozen are riddled with pesticides. A good rule is that if you’re not going to eat the skin, you probably don’t need to worry about organic. Here’s a link to the full list for 2017: https://draxe.com/dirty-dozen/
Buy frozen when you can.
There’s kind of a stigma around frozen foods, but research shows that frozen foods don’t have any less nutritional value than fresh foods. I make smoothies a lot and I also steam veggies, so I buy lots of frozen foods! They’re cheaper this way and I can buy in bulk quantities that stay good for a long time. That leads me to my next tip…
Buy in bulk.
If you’re buying frozen, or beans and rice (or other shelf stable products like pasta), you can always buy in bulk! This is a larger investment up front; however, it saves you money in the long wrong and keeps you from having to buy these products so often. If you can swing it, the price per ounce/serving is significantly less when you buy in bulk!
Compare price per ounce.
Likewise, when buying different products, packaging and pricing can be tricky. Instead of comparing the price of the items, compare the price per ounce. This gives you a more accurate representation of what you’re paying for the product and gives you a level comparison when trying to decide between different products.
Meal plan (roughly).
It can definitely be overwhelming to walk into the grocery store not knowing what you need or what you have at home. Going into the store with a list and knowing that you’ll stick to it helps you stay on budget. Before I go to the store every week, I assess what I have at home so I know what I need to purchase. I also roughly plan out what I’m going to eat that week. Rice, beans, and veggies for lunch? Check. Taco salad for dinner twice? Sure! Am I in the mood for pasta? Okay!
Of course, the food I’m in the mood for changes everyday, but it helps to roughly plan out what I’m going to eat that week. If I know I’m going to be traveling or eating out, I know I should buy less food. Pay particular attention to food that goes bad, like produce and leftovers, so you don’t overbuy and waste!
Allow yourself a luxury food.
When I started working toward a grocery budget, I was so strict on myself and I got so bored with my food! I wanted to find a way to make budget sustainable and doable, not a terrible burden. So, I allow myself a “luxury food”. This is an expensive something that I wouldn’t be able to afford regularly. Sometimes, it’s my favorite Ben & Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream. Other times, it’s a big bag of popcorn. Normally, it’s packaged foods that don’t add a lot to my diet, but would cost a lot. Therefore, I get one a week to satisfy my junk food cravings.
Search for coupons and rebates.
Personally, I don’t bother with coupons because I mostly buy fresh produce that doesn’t have coupons. However, keeping your eyes open for deals and coupons can benefit you. Try an app like Ibotta, peruse your store’s ads, or keep an eye out for the coupons on the shelf. HOWEVER, it doesn’t save you money to buy extra groceries, expensive goods, or things you don’t need just because you have a coupon. Apply coupons to things you were going to buy any way to get the most bang for your buck!
If you implement even one of these tips, you’re on your way to saving money. We all have to grocery shop and no one wants to spend a fortune, so we might as well save where we can. Do you have any tips or tricks that help you save money at the grocery store?