How To Save Money On Groceries Every Month On A Tight Budget

grocery shopping

Last month I shared tips for how to stop overspending once and for all and the response was interesting. For a portion of you, the part of the post you resonated most with was about overspending on food. Which in retrospect shouldn't have surprised me. After all, it's easy to cut out clothing purchases cold turkey, but it can be harder to find balance when it comes to grocery shopping on a budget every month and dining out all while still trying to eat healthy. 

In today's post, I'm going to break down my tried and true tips to save money while grocery shopping. We are going to cover everything from grocery shopping with and without coupons, how to grocery shop while on a tight budget every month, and even some tips that will not only save you money, but also time! This post is part of my saving money series sponsored by Lexington Law. Over the last couple of months, I've been breaking down insanely detailed ways to save money on every one of life's major milestones from your wedding, to your home purchase, to having a baby and so much more. Catch up on the entire money saving series here for both general ways to save money and specific tips for your financial goals or milestones. 

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How To Save Money On Groceries Every Month On A Tight Budget

Become intimate with your grocery stores and local markets

Grocery shopping on autopilot can often lead to a lot of money wasted unnecessarily. Personally, I grew up going to one grocery store my entire life, and it wasn't until my mid-twenties that I started to question whether or not it was the best financial match for myself. It's time to get intimate with your local markets and grocery stores to ensure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck every month while grocery shopping.

I'm going to share with you my proven process for hacking your grocery shopping experience that has personally saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars every year! I spent two years working 1-1 and in group settings with people in early recovery from addiction and have taken them through this very process as well. My clients were often living in halfway houses and at or below the poverty line and my services were free to them. Working with them, I heard every single hurdle you can imagine when it comes to grocery shopping on a tight budget every month – while still trying to be healthy. Okay, enough background on how I came up with this and why I know it works:

How to map out your grocery stores to save money: 

Open the maps app on your phone, type in grocery and zoom out and see all the pin drops. Make a note of all the places to shop for food ideally within 1-2 miles of you (if you're really rural, find an area you feel is a good distance from you that hopefully has at least 2-3 options within a mile of each other). If you prefer to go old school by hitting the pavement, consider turning the opposite direction than you normally do to get to your grocery store and keep your eyes peeled (while still watching the road!) for any places you may have missed before!

Track your expenses:

Next, make a list of all the items you typically buy in a given month. It helps to save your receipts over the course of a month and just keep a running list because otherwise, I've found we always forget something. 

Once you have your list, make a spreadsheet: one one axis, label Grocery A, Grocery B, Grocery C, etc. until all the places to shop for food within a mile or two of you are listed. On the other axis, list out all of your monthly grocery store purchases. 

Next, head to the grocery stores with your spreadsheet and make a note of the different prices. Now here's where it gets a little tricky… you'll want to pay attention to the price per count of the product. For example, if apples are $2.99 at Grocery A but you only get 1 apple, but they are $2.99 at Grocery B and you get a bag of 4 apples, it makes more sense to go to Grocery B for that item. Another example, if cereal is $1.99 for a 32 oz container at Grocery A, but $2.29 for a 48 oz container at Grocery B you'll want to pull out your calculator and divide the price by ounce to get the price per ounce and make a call. So in this example, Grocery store B wins with only .047 per ounce compared to .06 per ounce at Grocery A. 

Now before you totally roll your eyes and click the X off this page…

Again, I used to do this in a live group setting with people in early recovery, so I know just how crazy this sounds. But trust me, if I could get them on board and make it work on their extremely tight budgets, then you need to hear me out:

Yes, this is a tedious process. But it's a small amount of up front effort, for a large payout down the road. This careful studying of your grocery stores will lead me to some other money saving tips later on. But first, I want to say that yes, .01 cent an ounce is not a lot of money at all and you definitely won't get rich off of this method that way. But when I did this method at my own grocery stores, I found that I was saving .25 cents an ounce on spinach. We go through at least a pound of spinach a week in my house.

That's a saving of $4 a week, $16 a month, and $208 a year! Those cents add up faster than you think and when you put in the effort for your spreadsheet once, you will have a better understanding of where to purchase your household staples. It's no longer a guessing game, but a grocery store strategy that allows you to hit Grocery A and quickly know which items to skip and which to purchase. At the very end of this post, I'll explain what this looks like in my day-to-day life so it sounds less intimidating.

Quick note on your grocery shopping spreadsheet for healthy eating:

I also would have clients add columns for reading the ingredient label. This is totally up to you, but since you're spending some time getting intimate with the items in the store anyway, may as well read the label. If this causes you anxiety or you feel overwhelmed, don't do it.

What I basically had people do here was read the label based off of:

  • What were the first ingredients (if they are marketing whole grain cereal, are whole grains even the first ingredient?)
  • Where does sugar fall on the ingredient list (including syrups, aspartame, sucralose, ace-k, etc. here's a list from the FDA of chemical sweeteners to look out for)
  • How many ingredients are there (the longer the list the lower we rate it), and lastly…
  • How many ingredients leave you with a big question mark because you don't recognize them.

Some people liked to take photos of the labels to digest them more while at home later (just make sure you also know what the food product is when you snap the label). From there, give it your own subjective rating. Personally, I'm willing to spend a little more money on cleaner products but that's probably an entirely different post on food labels and how I evaluate those! There are apps that will loosely do this evaluation for you too, so consider looking into those! 

What this grocery shopping strategy is NOT telling you to do:

This strategy is not tell you to drive all over town to pick up one item at Grocery A, two items at Grocery B, and so on just because one or two things are cheaper somewhere else. Nope, if the price difference isn't large, and isn't on a handful or more of items, then just shop at everything in the same place. It does not make sense to burn up your gas money or waste your time over one or two items. Again, at the very end of this post, I give you my real life break down of how I use this method every month for grocery shopping.

Which leads me to another benefit of this entire process…

Shop the sales strategically

As you are saving your receipts over that month, visiting your grocery stores to price items out, you'll start to notice sales. Heck, you may even notice a trend happening in the sales. I certainly did. You see we have one major grocery chain in my region. It's where I shopped my entire life. Literally over 20 years shopping at just one retailer for groceries – minus a few farmers markets. At some point, I realized that all of my staple items at this grocery store were on a 4-6 week sale rotation cycle. Like clockwork, my cereal brand would go on sale every four weeks. My ice cream every six weeks. And before I knew it, I knew exactly how much to stock up on each item, to carry me through to the next sale cycle. 

So here's my tip: either keep a running note of the sales for your items with dates to learn the cycle, ask the store if they know the sale cycle (they probably will tell you they don't, I've tried), and lastly, just google the sales cycle. Seriously, I do this for almost every brick and mortar store today – whether it's groceries or not. Every single store has a predictable sales cycle and someone on the internet has probably written about it.

Shop sales skeptically

I'll never forget seeing a 10 for $10 sign, at a grocery store I rarely shopped at, picking up 2 items and being hit with a $3 price tag! Now that may sound like a “duh, it's 10 for $10, not 2 for $2″ moment to you, but at my typical grocery store, 10 for $10 means 1 for $1 so make sure you fully understand the sale and keep an eye on prices when checking out. With that said, I've also seen the opposite, where something normally costs .98 but it's 10 for $10… so you are actually paying more. Always read fully, check the original price, and don't be afraid to put something back if you feel deceived. 

Use  a credit card with cash back rewards at grocery stores

I love a good rewards card. Opt for a rewards credit card that gives you a nice percentage cash back at grocery stores. If you are nervous about applying for a new credit card (hello hard inquiry dropping your score!) read this post on What You Need To Know Before Applying For A New Credit Card. If you credit isn't where you want it to be and you feel there are inaccurate, unfair, or unsubstantiated negative items on your credit report, give Lexington Law a call today to receive your free credit repair consultation! They have an established credit repair process that’s helped hundreds of thousands of people repair their credit each year.

Use a cashback app

There are loads of apps out there, like Ibotta, that will allow you to scan your receipt and then offer cash back for just scanning your receipt or on specific items you purchased. 

Download the store app

A lot of grocery stores are allowing you to download their app for quick and easy access to their coupons or even more discounts than offered in the flyer at the front of the store. Good for your wallet, and good for the trees! 

Look online

More and more digital grocery stores are popping up in the online space to deliver brand name and generic groceries right to your day at a fraction of the cost by cutting out the middleman. I've liked Brandless and Thrive Market. Not only can looking into online grocer's save you money, but they can also save you time since they are delivered right to your door which leads me too…

Thrive Market

Subscribe & Save 

More and more online grocery shopping options give you the ability to subscribe and save to specific items. The more items you add in your subscribe and save queue, the bigger the savings. My personal favorite is Amazon, try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial here.

Check the merchant website

Say you love this particular type of cookie, visit the cookie manufacturer's website to see if they have any coupons you can print out or show at your grocery store. If they don't, try emailing them, usually they'll send you some!

Ask to stack coupons

Now that you have your merchant coupon, hopefully your grocery store has some coupons too, or maybe you even found a coupon for the product at a competitor, ask to stack them all for even more savings!

B.Y.O.B… bag that is!

More and more retailers are moving towards charging .10 a bag to use their plastic bags. Other retailers will give you a discount or enter you in a raffle for bringing your own bag. Either way, bringing your bag is not only great for the environment, but based off the current trajectory, will be great on your wallet if things keep moving this direction!

Use grocery store curbside pick-up

Not only will grocery store curbside pickup save you time but they make it easier for you to stick to your tight budget every month! Say buh-bye to impulse purchases.

Meal plan

I know, *eye roll* but there is a reason why everyone recommends it – it really does work if you are grocery shopping on a tight budget and trying to eat healthy! Try to come up with a weekly meal plan that allows you to use all your produce and any leftover ingredients over the following days so nothing spoils. For instance, if you plan to make chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato for dinner, cut up some leftover broccoli in your eggs in the morning. Or even better, check out your grocery store weekly flyer and meal plan around their sales!

Personally, meal planning overwhelmed me early on. So I'd recommend with just trying to master one week each month and slowly building up to a well oiled meal planning machine!

Don't assume the farmer's markets are cheaper

Now I love a good farmer's market, but I've also found their pricing to be a bit on the pricier side of things depending on where you are. I picked up a pico de gallo that was $8 once! I put it back and went one block over to a grocery store outpost for a local farm and bought the same product for half the price. 

Create an inventory tracking system

During our last move, I discovered we had 3 packages of gnocchi I never used and enough peanut butter to last through an apocalypse. Preferably, you'll keep a tracking system that's really easy, one where you can simply see everything. We started doing this by labeling the top of our cans that sit in a deep drawer so we can see what's happening at a glance.

However, there's always that moment we hazardly through the groceries in the cupboard before running off onto the next thing. In those situations it can help to either have a running list on your phone so you always know when you're running low, or just set aside 5 minutes each week to do a quick pantry sweep. Another way we do this is when we finish something, it immediately goes on the grocery list. 

Consider a second freezer

Our new house has a pretty small fridge/freezer situation. Fortunately, it came with a spare fridge in the garage. This allows us to buy in bulk when we go grocery shopping and keep back ups on hand. Because nothing will blow your food budget faster than running out of food and just ordering delivery instead of going to the store. A second freezer doesn't have to be wildly expensive – or new – ask around or check local listings for people getting rid of their old ones. A lot of time they work great and are just aesthetically outdated.

Skip the bottled water

This is a personal pet peeve, but it blows my mind when I go into our (mine and my husbands) parents homes and see packs of bottled water in the fridge. There is a plastic crisis going on mom and dad!!

I get it, sometimes we are in a pinch and need to just get a plastic water bottle, but it should never be a regular purchase in Americans homes in my opinion. Not only is it harmful to our planet and wildlife, it's harmful to your bank account! I read a stat once like “bottled water is 600 times more expensive than tap water.” And that's not to say your tap water is a great solution. I've done my research on our local water (just google yours) and discovered some questionable things still passing into our tap water. 

So instead opt for an at home water filter system. You can buy a pitcher that fits in your fridge, an on the counter or under the sink system if you really want to get even more impurities out, and for the ultimate you can even get a whole house water filtration system. Then you'll just need a reusable water bottle for your hydration on the go. If a home water filtration system isn't an option, I love this reusable water bottle that actually has a filter and creates alkaline water on the go!

Ask for a raincheck

If an item is out of stock ask for a raincheck slip. Sometimes they will give it to honor the sales price, other times they'll just give it to you as a freebie coupon for the inconvenience when they do get it back in stock. 

Return food that you don't like

I knowww a lot of people don’t want to be that person. My grandma once returned a single tomato because it had a bruise. No judgement on that grandma, it's just a different time and I know a lot of my peers (particularly my husband) would rather run naked through the streets than return a .17 tomato (just making up the price). If you are the type of return a .17 tomato, bless you! Good on you!! Celebrate that!! …because truthfully, I am the type too (no one is going to look after my bottom line better than me afterall!)

However, if you aren't returning your one off tomato, that doesn't mean you should suffer in silence either due to pride. Find a line that you are comfortable with. For instance, while my husband won't return a .17 tomato if I ask him too, he was more than happy to return a package of salmon that cost about $20 after we opened it and discovered brown spots on the underside.

Even if it's not a defective food product, you can still return if you just don't like something like the $4 box of cookies. If that gives you a bit of anxiety, ask the store if they will open a box and let you sample before you buy. Many are more than happy to let you test it out because they'd rather offer the sample to people coming in then you buy and return it. Your grocery bill is not the time to people please friends!

Skip the store credit card

Unless it has really great perks – like you save 10% on your purchases there every single time, most aren't worth it. A lot of times they come with hefty interest rates and are easier to forget about since you don't use the card all of the time. Too often I've heard horror stories of people destroying their credit because they opened too many store cards at once or their identity was stolen and they didn't notice because it's not a card they typically check. If you are the victim of identity theft and your credit score has suffered due to inaccurate or unsubstantiated negative items, give Lexington Law a call today to receive your free credit repair consultation! 

Join your grocery rewards program

Grocery stores know you have a lot of options to do your grocery shopping at. Many want to incentivize you to become their loyal customer, so let them reward you!

Check our discount gift card sites

This goes for both grocery shopping and just food in general. Loads of discount gift cards can be found online from reputable sources and can save you as much as 30% on your next grocery trip! This is a huge help when you're on a tight budget every month!

What my grocery shopping strategy looks like monthly:

To bring these tips for grocery shopping on a tight budget full circle, I want to share how this looks in my everyday life (especially the strategy I opened with). I hit my bulk warehouse once a month and try to store stuff in our outside freezer. This is helpful for frozen berries particularly since we do daily smoothies.

We are fortunate to have a grocery store one block from us we can walk to who I know the sales like the back of my hand. I legit just bought enough creamer to last me the rest of the year because they only do that particular creamer once every 3 months. This store is primarily for our name brand stuff (ice cream, yogurt cups, peanut butter which on sale here is cheaper than at the bulk warehouse).

We pick things up at this store that are pricey at our main grocery store (which doesn't offer sales). We also pop in here if we need bananas or something last minute, even though they are a little more expensive than our main grocery store, it's literally a block away so it makes sense from a money saving perspective of gas and time.

Lastly, our main grocery store is 2 miles away. Though it's a mile further than I personally like to go grocery shopping, the prices and offerings just can't be beat. This is where we buy our produce and frozen goodies. Produce continues to come in cheaper here. It's where we save .25 an ounce on spinach and they price per item, not by weight on heavier things like squash which is a lifesaver in the autumn and winter months. They offer cleaner frozen food options at comparable or better prices than the grocery store closest to us too. Again, I wouldn't drive here if we need bananas last minute, but for our weekly grocery shopping it's a huge saver. 

What hacks do you have to save money while grocery shopping?


Catch up on the Savings Series here:

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How To Save Money For Your First Home Purchase

41 Brilliant [+ Easy] Ways To Save Money On Travel

37 Ways To Save Money When You Have A Baby

How To Stop Overspending Money: 17 Tips To Stop Once & For All

How To Save Money This Halloween: 27 Tricks That’ll Feel Like A Treat

The Ultimate List Of 57 Ways To Save Money On Your Wedding

How To Save Money On Groceries Every Month On A Tight Budget

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List 23 Ways To Save Money On Groceries Every Month On A Tight Budget

  1. Become intimate with your grocery stores and local markets

  2. Track your expenses

  3. Shop the sales strategically

  4. Shop sales skeptically

  5. Look online

  6. Subscribe & Save 

  7. Skip the store credit card

  8. Use a cashback app

  9. Download the store app

  10. Check the merchant website

  11. Ask to stack coupons

  12. Use  a credit card with cash back rewards at grocery stores

  13. B.Y.O.B… bag that is!

  14. Use grocery store curbside pick-up

  15. Meal plan

  16. Don't assume the farmer's markets are cheaper

  17. Create an inventory tracking system

  18. Consider a second freezer

  19. Skip the bottled water

  20. Ask for a raincheck

  21. Return food that you don't like

  22. Join your grocery rewards program

  23. Check our discount gift card sites