Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Last night, I did something I’ve never done before in my life: I shopped for groceries on a budget. The horror! The fear! The embarrassment of being that crazy lady who stops in the aisle every 2 minutes so she can write down prices!

As part of our resolution to get financially fit, my husband and I decided we needed to cut back on our weekly grocery bills. For a family of three, it just seemed unnecessary to spend $250+ a week on food and household staples. (Especially when those “staples” included gourmet prepackaged meals, fancy items not on sale and cool new products we thought might be fun to try.) So we determined that $150 was a reasonable amount to spend each week. That’s it. $150.

I headed to the store with a plan for success. I had a detailed list and my coupons clipped. A budget-minded coworker suggested that I write down each item’s price as I went, and add up the total before heading to the register. That way, if I went over my budget, I could (GASP!) put things back. This was a foreign concept to me. I don’t believe in all my years of shopping for my own groceries have I ever put something back. I just never considered it.

Well, I followed her advice. Each thing that went into my basket, I wrote down the price. If I saw an item that wasn’t on my list, but I knew we needed, I added it to the list and recorded the price, too. Sure, it took me longer to shop. And yes, I did look like a crazy lady. (I tried to be considerate and not block other shoppers, but still …)

I found myself scrutinizing each purchase in a way I never had before. Kind of like when Hubs and I started our weight-loss efforts a year ago, and we’d read nutrition labels and menus with a magnifying glass. “Do I need this item? Really? This week? No. OK, don’t get it.” And I’d move on to the next aisle.

In the meat department, I chose the thinner steaks instead of the thick ones I know Jay prefers. Sorry, hon, but they’re half the price! I picked the store brand of bleach over my Clorox Ultimate Care and saved $5. I passed up many tempting cereal options and only purchased the two brands on my list.

Just before I reached the registers, I whipped out my phone to calculate the damage. I was genuinely concerned about the possibility of having to put things back (again, GASP!) But turns out, I managed to come out ahead, totaling only $136 once coupons and discounts were factored in. Didn’t have to put a single thing back. And I got everything we needed (except the damn taco spice packets, which I woefully forgot). I rock!!!

I can’t say this new way of grocery shopping was easy. But it also wasn’t terrible. I can do this. And if I keep doing this, week after week, we will literally save more than $5,000 this year. That is worth a little more planning, looking like a crazy lady and taking longer at the store. Don’t you think?

13 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping on a Budget

  1. That’s awesome! You know, you can make your own taco seasoning and save a TON of money:

    1 tbsp. chili powder
    2 tsp. onion powder
    1 tsp. each ground cumin, garlic powder, paprika, powdered oregano and sugar

    You can adjust them to taste, and though you have an initial outlay of, oh, $10 bucks, since those taco seasoning packs are a buck or or two a piece, you more than pay for it in just a couple of taco meals. You probably have some of those spices in your pantry already.

    Plus it’s got less salt and is a ton better for you. 🙂

  2. Shopping on a budget, never. I have to do this, but I hate it. I actually leave the shopping up to hubby right now and give him the amount he has to spend. I prefer not to shop if I have to shop on a budget. Sad isn’t it.

  3. Congrats! Hopefully the little “scan as you go” tools will be available in your area soon. You will look less like a crazy lady then.

  4. As a working single mom on a tight budget, I can’t imagine ever NOT grocery shopping on a budget! Even when I was married and didn’t worry about money, I was still super conscious of what was on sale/special and sticking to a budget.

    Now I aim to spend $75/week for the three of us…me and my two sons. I buy protein (chicken, ground turkey, steaks) in bulk to save money. I only buy store brands. I plan weekly meals around what’s on special at the grocery store. I don’t pay anyone to do what I can do on my own (i.e. buying pre-sliced cheese or veggies). Yeah it takes more time but it saves tons of money.

  5. Oh man, I can relate. Sometimes I catch myself standing in an aisle scrutinizing between $2.50 or $2.30 on a box of crackers. Then I stand there longer and think, “Do we really need these crackers?” Then I stand there even longer and wonder, “What the hell am I doing?!?!”

    Saving at the grocery store really takes some work–and time!

    Thanks, Monkey’s Momma! We did see that on Similac awhile ago. But it’s always nice to be reminded. 🙂

  6. Free Printable Coupons says:

    Start saving on shopping with online printable coupons.

  7. It’s funny – I’ve been able to do about 2 week’s worth of grocery shopping for about $100 to $150 a pop. My personal budget for groceries is $200 a month, and my husband spends about the same when it’s his turn to go every other week or so (we keep separate checking accounts just because I’m anal and don’t want to have to keep track of my own spending plus his on my daily ledger). So we spend about $400 a month on food, not counting, of course, the trips he makes some weekends to Findlay Market when he’s in the mood to cook us a gourmet meal, which still ends up being less than what we’d spend in a fancy restaurant and often tastes better. (He’s spoiled me – I no longer think it’s such a big deal to go to Jeff Ruby’s or JeanRo – hubby makes it better!)

    I guess I’ve always been able to keep the food spending down because I always buy store brands and go for cheaper options when it comes to meat, etc. I sort of have an inner radar for when I’m getting close to $100-$150 and then I’ll forgo some of what I consider luxuries, like ice cream or chips or big fat pork chops from the butcher stand.

    I’m curious how much we could save if I really went Medieval on our butts with an actual food budget and coupons. Hmmm…

  8. meauxjeaux says:

    a friend of mine recently did a price comparison on groceries – no name brands involved. The results: biggs was the most expensive at $150, kroger came in at $120 and aldi/walmart were the best value at $75 for the same groceries. amazing, isn’t it?

    other friends of mine swear you can get the good amish chicken at findlay market for less than what you’d pay at the grocery. and i know their veggies are more reasonably priced.

    i just made my own taco seasoning for the first time last week. i loved it, but the rickster thought it was too spicy. i’ll have to try julie’s version with the sugar.

  9. Definitely check out Findlay Market for much better quality meat and same or lower prices than the grocery store. And the spices and vegetables are *much* cheaper. I once walked away with 8 oz of freshly-ground spices for $2.00! And its so much more fun!

  10. Offering It Up says:

    Here’s a tip… jot down a list of your families favorite meals, and how much they cost. Find the 2-3 cheapest ones (grilled cheese w/ soup, spaghetti, a fav caserole) and make sure 1-2 of them is on the list every week. That way if you go over on pricey steaks, it evens out. This is what I do on a crazy week when I don’t have time to make a detailed list, or if the kids get cranky in the store. I go to my standard cheap meals and I can get in and out quickly.

    Everyday with Racheal Ray magazine has a $10 dinner (to serve 4) section. She even has tips on how to turn her dinners into leftover lunches.

    One more thing that works for us… if you buy a pricey item, like feta cheese or asparagus, make sure you can use it for more than one meal. Half the cheese goes in pasta, the other tops a salad, etc.

    We aim to spend $100 a week for a family of four, and it’s tough!

  11. Shannanb aka Mommy Bits says:

    Yeah Susan. Great work. I did the same thing this past weekend. I made a list and (almost) stuck too it. I managed to spend less than $100 and got all the things we needed for the week. We’re trying a Vegan-esque menu this week – which def. helped the budget.

  12. TheWindScreams13 says:

    I used to do this, I LOVED doing this. but now I have a husband who thinks we’ve entered a race as soon as we’ve entered the store, I can’t even stop to consider if I even want (insert random thing here) or whether or not it would even be worth buying. Wow, maybe that’s where we are bleeding money…..

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