Groceries:
How to Stay on Budget

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I know. Grocery shopping is the worst. It seems like the store is always busy and you end up stuck with the cart with the squeaky wheel that does not know how to stay in the lane. Then, even if you make it through the crowds while dodging obstacles with your deranged cart, you now must wait an exorbitant amount of time in line at the checkouts. I have never understood how a store with a billion registers, never has more than one or two open. (Yes, I am looking at you, Walmart.) Furthermore, this is just the first store. Ugh. I loathe the entire process.

What makes it worse is when I bust my budget while grocery shopping. Honestly, groceries and household expenses are our top budget-busters. Food is expensive and kids have to eat — I get it. But, staying on budget can be just as important as the food you buy. This process can be painstaking, but it doesn’t have to be! Check out these 4 practical tips to help you stick to your budget when you grocery shop. 

1. Meal plan

Grocery shopping is a science; it takes a little bit of preparation. First, you should think about what meals you want to make over the next week, two weeks, or for however often you want to plan. (I usually do a week’s worth and hit the stores on Sundays.) It doesn’t have to be anything fancy like planning it down to the day and hour you eat the meal — just simply list the meals along with the needed ingredients. For example, before I go to the store, I might jot down burgers, a casserole, soup, and enchiladas this week and the corresponding ingredients for all of those meals. Toss in a couple of extra needs like milk or toilet paper and there you have it, a well-planned and thought-out list.

Pro tip: Plan meals that leave leftovers for lunches or dinner the next night to stretch those dollars.

2. Check the ads

Every month, when I review my tracked expenses in my grocery category (I use EveryDollar to budget), I typically find that we go to Walmart for 95% of our food and household needs. Not because it’s the closest store to my house; in fact, there’s a Price Chopper and a Target just as near, but I think it is because Walmart has everything. Plus, I grew up in a very small town so Walmart was the place to be. (Sad, I know.) I need to break that habit and get better at checking the ads that appear in my mailbox each week because it really is a money saver!

Just this week I scored a deal on some great Hormel Pork Tenderloins, usually $9.99 and I got them for $2.99 on sale at Price Chopper! I saved $7 on that one item just by checking the ads! And, I bought three of them and now have instant, delicious meals. Double win. I am now a firm believer in checking the ads after that win. It just takes a little more effort going to different stores to get the best deals rather than finding everything at one place. 

Side note: If you have not been to Aldi’s, GO. That store saves you so much money, it’s ridiculous. Go see for yourself; you won’t be disappointed. (Don’t forget to bring a quarter for cart checkout and some reusable shopping bags!)

3. Make a list…and stick to it!

It seems like a no-brainer, but it must be said. If you are going to the store without a list and just picking up whatever you want all willy-nilly, you are going to leave with not only a busted budget but also with some food you didn’t even need in the first place. Hello, extra money out, extra calories in.

However, if you’ve made it to point 3 of this post, then you obviously started at point 1 and are already killing it with planned meals and you have a complete grocery list ready to go. Now, just do your best to stick to it in the store. Got some extra influences, like children or a husband adding extra items to your cart, left and right? Try a grocery pickup service. They are becoming more and more popular, so check your local stores to see if they offer it. I am most familiar with Walmart Grocery Pickup, where you just order your stuff online 8 hours ahead, pull up in your car and boom. Groceries done and budget in check. It’s that easy. 

4. Utilize coupon and rebate apps

Finally, save as many pennies as you can — before and after you shop! Consider downloading a coupon or rebate app to help save money along the way. Apps like Krazy Coupon Lady or SnipSnap offer a bunch of different coupons as an easy way to save money on items you buy every day. Caution: Just because you have a coupon does not mean you have to use it. If you don’t regularly buy it, then you don’t need to buy it with a coupon just because you can. If you never drink grape juice, then don’t buy two gallons of it just because your coupon said you can save a dollar. You get the idea.

Rebate apps like Dosh or Ibotta search local ads and give you money back if you’ve paid too much. The trick with these is that they feature special “deals” that week and if you buy that special item, then that’s when you get the money back. It is not a straight ad to ad comparison.

Start with these simple tips above to skyrocket your grocery game to the next level! The next time you go grocery shopping, be confident that you will save money, time and avoid budget-busters. Food just tastes better when you’ve stuck to your budget, am I right?

Want to share your own grocery store hack? Drop a comment below!

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