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Community Manager
Community Manager

How to Budget Groceries: 6 Easy Tips

Grocery shopping habits changed a bit during the pandemic. Many are spending less time in the store and shopping less frequently. Grocers have started using some sly tricks to get you to spend more.

 

To avoid falling for those tricks, it’s wise to have a grocery budget and to stick to it. Here are some simple tips to follow to set your budget:

 

  1. Track your current spending – First, you’ll need to figure out what you are spending on food to decide what you should be spending on food.
  2. Avoid eating out, unless you’ve budgeted for it – Frequently eating out is a quick way to ruin your grocery budget. Set a limit and adhere to it.
  3. Plan your meals – Ensuring you have a purpose for each item you buy will help you avoid food waste. Not every meal has to be a fine dining experience, don’t be afraid of keeping things simple.
  4. Keep a fridge grocery list – Keeping a magnetized notepad on your fridge enables you to write down items you need as you run out. Stick to your list when you are in the store.
  5. Don’t go to the store hungry – According to this survey, shoppers spend 64% more when they go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
  6. Use coupons, but with caution – If an item isn’t on your list, don’t buy it simply because you have a coupon.

 

Savvy budgeting requires being adept at understanding monthly cash flow, problem-solving, impulse control and planning. Share other budgeting tips that have worked for you now!

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Contributor

I shop mainly regular grocery stores - not expensive Whole Foods, etc. I go about 3 x per week to check what’s been marked down for quick sale which occurs on off-peak days (Mon - Wed) - Real deals can be found on fruit, veg, and meat. I mainly buy what’s on sale and frequently the store brand. 

Social Butterfly

@topsail60  Thank you for the grocery mark down days.  That's a terrific tip!

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Regular Contributor

I have learned that store brands are just as good as the name brand in most cases and are a lot cheaper.  Very rarely have I found a store brand that doesn't taste as good as the more expensive one.  Also if you watch the ads and plan your week's meals from them it will save you money.

Social Butterfly

@SusanB687277  I agree.  The ingredients are often the same, whether it's food, beauty products, cleaners, etc.

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Social Butterfly

@AARPRachelA  Excellent tips!  Thank you.  

Community Manager
Community Manager

Happy to help @Rhymesometimes!

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Trusted Contributor

i don't really have a budget when i go shopping. what i do is if i see something i like i grab it & go on. every so often i would grab an item & spend 3 or so minutes trying to decide weather i want it or not then in other areas i just have to have the will power to say no! i have to lay off. it's rare i lose the "battle".

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With today's uncontrollable inflation and package sizes shrinking dramatically I have had to resort to one meal every other day. My four footed assistant gets fed better than I do. Wish my state had real food banks. 

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Newbie

Your situation cannot exist. Some food banks are set up to provide for agencies who make meals, But call your state or city agency on aging. They can tell you where meals are provided - senior centers, for example. You need to stay healthy to keep taking care of your four footed friend.  Did you know some pet shelters provide pet food, even prescription ones?

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Yes my situation can and does exist. The county has a food day once a month but you cannot go every month…it is for emergencies. They seem to “remember” possible places for food but have no list. Any other help I do not qualify for (…not old enough, not poor enough, not a veteran, not sick enough…) There is no aging agency in my city or county. The closest agency would be an hour drive. I have gone to the assistance department that used to be nearby but I just do not qualify…too much in disability and not nearly old enough for any type of assistance. The city has a senior center but it does not provide food or other assistance. Seems to be only for exercise and day trips…and I don’t qualify.
Currently all of this is a mute point. I am to have my right foot rebuilt and since it is my driving foot/leg I will not be able to drive to get a meal. I am currently trying to figure out how I will survive on one leg for two months, then a month of light touching. Surgeon was unclear on what happens after that. Thank you for the possible shelter tip. I did not know some pet shelters provide pet food. The Humane Society did have a free vaccination day quite close to me in July. Sadly, I did not hear about it until it was over. They had 400% increase in attendees due to COVID. Maybe I will find out when it will be next year and hope it is in the same location.

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Regular Contributor

Have you looked into what’s available? I live in NJ & we have numerous local & state food banks, as well as community food banks via supermarkets, Lions clubs,  churches temples mosques , etc.

it’s incredible that you are only eating one meal every 2 days.

 

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This area just does not have any food banks like some other states. It has been a great source of frustration for me. It does not help that I have MCAS which means I only have a few “safe” foods. The few places that say they have a food bank just load you up with what they have. Mainly processed foods. You have no say in what you are given. Since the pandemic started nonprofit attention has focused on families and veterans. The few I have heard about are too far to get to. Plus these days gasoline prices are very high. I try not to drive. I keep the heat at 60 degrees to 62 degrees. Just too many medical bills. So many items are considered “luxury” items. Medicare and SSDI do a good job of making sure you pay as much as possible by limiting access to mobility equipment, even medications. I have never heard of any food banks associated with a grocery store. On top of this the price of everything is so very expensive for half of what money used to buy and many shelves are mostly empty. This is a strange time to live in. I feel bad for the younger generations. I am at the end of my journey, they are just beginning theirs. 

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Community Manager
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Hi @bgornie, I'm sorry you are going through this right now. Perhaps there's a mutual aid network that could help you in your area? A lot of grassroots mutual aid orgs popped up at the start of the pandemic, and with the enduring need, they have continued to provide necessities for neighbors. I would try googling your city/county + mutual aid and see if there are any orgs doing grocery runs. You can also try the AARP Community Connections find service tool.

Contributor

I'd like to know what state you live in, because I NEVER want to be there.  My state of NM gave all of us SNAP beneficiaries the full food amount for the entire year.  In my county (Torrance) alone there are at least 5 free food pickup places too.  New Mexico hasn't let anyone go hungry this year.

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They showed those food lines on the news. This state never had one that I know of. The requirements for snap are that you have no assets (no house, no IRA, no pensions…) and have income less than $700. There are some additional benefits for those who have children I believe. This state seems to help households with children mostly. We have a governor that wants to do more but the two other legislative branches are held by Republicans and they voted and passed a bill stripping the governor of her previous powers. Militias are strong here. People think about “me” or “mine” more than how they can help a neighbor. I cannot even imagine everyone in this state getting snap for any length of time. There may be some very local small churches with limited food banks but I would have no idea where or what church that would be. The couple that I knew of where I used to have a house were Lutheran churches. I do not believe they still exist. Often when there are food drives people donate food they do not want. What I don’t understand is why any food bank, church or county, do not provide essentials like flour, sugar, yeast, Bisquick, butter, oil, noodles, etc. Items used to make food that can be stretched out. There is a group that goes to restaurants and grocery stores to get the days leftovers but with the pandemic there were no restaurants and now if you go into a grocery store food is rationed and many foods are just not available. Long empty shelves. Prices have easily doubled for less than you used to get. So maybe some food banks had to close due to little donations and nothing from restaurants or grocery stores. Some stores will not donate. They do not even let employees have leftovers. It is just crushed and thrown out. 

Right now there is a story on a “middle class” family trying to afford groceries. They have several boys and are hoping they don’t have to resort to beans and rice. I cannot eat beans… They can get no assistance. 

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Regular Contributor

Always get the store brands.  They are just as good and much cheaper than name brands.  I know what you mean about your four footed assistant.  We have a dog and 3 cats and their food is about as costly as ours!

Contributor

Yes, I only get store brands or use coupons. Too often these days the shelves are empty and certain items are rationed so you may be forced to go without or forced into a brand name. Sometimes I can only use certain brands due to additives or dyes that make me severely ill if I eat them. Assistant food is extremely hard to find. My assistant will only eat one brand and flavor. Pet food doubled before COVID news stories and even stores warned of the prices going up. I would never have guessed that what was once 37 cents would now be an entire buck. Dry food prices take your breath away. I still do not know what the reason for the huge increases pre pandemic.

My assistant is now exerting pressure for dinner. 

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With care, bulk buying of flour on sale can save time and money. Remember to break down larger amounts into small storage quantities when you get home. For example, I buy 20 or 50 lb at a time and rebag into 5 lb units and store them in a large airtight, opaque container in the pantry. 

Conversationalist

I buy only organic food and I buy at Amazon fresh and Whole Foods, which deliver right at my door, so there’s no need running anywhere, save gas and time. When, I start my list, I add what I plan to eat in a few weeks. I have found that if you wait a week, items go on sale and then others might run out but I always look at the bright side- try a new recipe with what you can buy.

  Vegetables are always fresh and have found out prices are way lower than other stores.

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Honored Social Butterfly

First of all, there is a lot of scandal surrounding whether an item marked organic actually is organic.

 

Beyond that, there is little evidence that organic food is that much better for you anyway.

 

Additionally, as far as the market here in NC is concerned, Whole Foods is, by far, the most expensive food store of them all.

 

I make use of Costco. I save, on paper towels alone, enough to pay the membership fee. There are many items, even if only a family of two, that are a bargain if bought at a warehouse club. Some bulk items make no sense for two but there is a plethora of items that do.

Contributor

Hi @cn8777. Check your Whole Foods "organic" package. I saw a report on the news yesterday regarding this. Most of the "organic" foods are processed in China. No way to check if they are actually organic. By the way, I also buy from Amazon Fresh.

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Periodic Contributor

A good part of Whole Foods produce is not organic. There is a simple way to tell. All produce has a little sticker on it with a 5 (sometimes 6) digit number. If the number begins with 9, it is organic. Read about it here:

 

https://organicslant.com/identify-conventional-organic-and-gmo-produce-from-plu-label/

Regular Contributor

Thank you, that’s helpful.

 

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Social Butterfly

Buy your beer by the keg instead of the six pack.

Regular Contributor

I sit down a few days before and review all the store ads to see what is on sale. I make a list and stick with it and don’t buy anything unless I actually need it & will use it. I usually go to several stores (most staples at Aldi, produce at Sprouts, bread & frozen fish at Trader Joe’s, etc). I use both store & manufacturers coupons but again, only if I need the product. I also read ingredient labels…some little known pet foods may be healthier & yet much cheaper than big name brands…same with cereals, etc.  I often choose frozen organic fruit instead of fresh produce…it may cost a bit more sometimes, but I find there’s less waste from spoilage & the vitamin content is better since it’s frozen when fresh. I don’t get fast food & it’s very rare that I eat out. I cook enough for several meals and freeze what I don’t eat.

Contributor

Use only coupons for foods you eat. Trade coupons with friends and family only if they are what you will use. Look at sales from all your favorite stores and use the coupons for the products you use. I love CVS Extra Care Card: I bought $30 worth of Aveeno Body Bath and got $10 care bucks back, plus I used $6 in coupons off so I saved $16. Also, buy one get one or buy one get 50% on supplements. Altogether my trip to CVS I saved $40 using extra bucks, CarePass, and cuopons. I only bought what I would used and was on sale.

Honored Social Butterfly


@ConnieH640855 wrote:

I love CVS Extra Care Card:


Extra Bucks earned from CVS for buying certain products and prescriptions have saved me hundreds.

 

I can't remember the last time I paid ANY MONEY for either Dawn dish washing detergent or Colgate toothpaste. Since CVS stacks coupons, I use their coupons, coupled with the manufacture's coupons, coupled with extra bucks and am usually left with a receipt of $0.00.

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Community Manager
Community Manager

Excellent tips, thanks @jw5013387!

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