Hi, I’m an entitled and broke 20-something and today I’m here to share with you some tips and tricks to grocery shopping on a budget that I’ve picked up over the past year and a half. You see, I graduated college a year and a half ago and, without meal plans or home cooked meals from my parents, I ventured out into the Grown-Up Grocery Shopping realm… and failed over and over again. There’s only so many times you can subsist on Cheese-Its and Hot Pockets or clean rotting food from your fridge before you learn how to do this shit right.
For the record, you won’t find Farmers’ Markets on this list. Before you yell at me, Farmers’ Markets are cheap, help the environment and the local economy, and are just generally awesome, so if that’s something you want to do, go for it. But, in my opinion, weekend mornings are for sleeping/hangovers/brunch. I could blame it on my “stressful work environment” and my need to relax on the weekend for the mental health of myself and others (just kidding, Employer), but honestly I’m just lazy and I don’t want to go, so I’m not. I’m also not going to tell you to go buy a Sunday newspaper and clip coupons, though I do talk about coupons (see number 3 for details).
1. Sign up for Loyalty Programs / Email Newsletters
Just do it. I even admitted to being lazy and I have one for every single store I shop at. Go to the customer service counter, ask to sign up, fill out the card and Boom! You just saved some money! As for emails, go to their websites to sign up. I don’t get emails from all the stores, just the ones that I frequent the most. They will send you updates about sale prices and even special coupons.
2. Go Through the Weekly Ads
You can do this online! I usually pick the two grocery stores that are on my way home from work and look through their online weekly ads. Most of them have a feature where you can click on the picture of the item you need and it will add it to a shopping list, sale price and all, so you can see how it’s all adding up. Some of them even let you manually add items to said shopping list. Sometimes I go so far as to compare the two grocery stores prices on days when I’m feeling spunky, but most of the time I just pick the one that has the best/most deals on the stuff I need that week.
3. Treat Yo Self To Some Coupons
I promised I wouldn’t say clip coupons, so I’m not. What I am going to tell you is that you can get coupons, the same ones you can get from the newspaper, for free online. This is free money, just handed over to you via interwebs! Websites like Smartsource.com and Coupons.com have all of them available to print. They even have them sorted by category, so if you don’t need diapers or pet food, you can completely avoid those categories. Choose the coupons that you want or need, hit print and you’re done! These sites also update every couple of days, so you can check back before payday to see if they have that one item you need (I’m looking at you, tampons). Some stores’ websites have options to save coupons to that Loyalty Program card we talked about earlier so you don’t have to print them. Just scan the card and you just saved some monies!
4. Buy the Basics
Just follow the food pyramid! (Is that a thing anymore? I don’t even know.) You’re gonna need some bread, some veggies, some fruit, some meat, some dairy and something sweet to snack on. My list usually consists of:
-Whatever veggies I feel like eating (I kind of just roam around for this stuff)
-Whatever fruit I feel like eating (still roaming)
-Ground Beef/Turkey, depending on if I’m dieting or not
-Sandwich meat, usually Turkey
Some of it you’ll stock pile and some of it will last a while, so you won’t need it every time you go grocery shopping. But some of it will spoil if you don’t eat it between trips, leading us to…
5. Figure Out How To Keep It
I don’t think I can tell you how much money I’ve wasted wasting food, partly because I’m embarrassed and partly because I actually don’t know. But it’s a lot! I have this list on my fridge in the kitchen because I was constantly buying meat and letting it spoil in my refrigerator instead of freezing it. Pro-tip: freeze all meats. You can pull it out of the freezer to thaw before you leave for work and cook it once you get home, or you can thaw it in the microwave. You can freeze bread too, so take advantage of sales on bread and stick a loaf in the freezer until you’re ready for it.
Pretty much all simple veggies and fruits (the ones that don’t have a hard-ish skin) will start spoiling after 2-3 days. Buy frozen or canned veggies unless you know FOR SURE that you will eat them or cook them. I can’t keep celery or cucumbers to save my life, but I’ll pop baby carrots like popcorn and usually buy them two bags at a time. Same rule for fruits. I can’t finish a prepackaged bag of apples before they start rotting, so I pick three or four of the individual apples. I’m pretty sure you can freeze fruits and veggies too, but I’ve never tried mostly because I don’t really feel like gnawing on a frozen carrot stick.
Figure out smart ways to use containers and freezer bags. My favorite trick is with salad. Lettuce goes bad SO FAST, so I stick a paper towel in the bottom of a Tupperware container, fill it with salad mix, put another paper towel on top of the salad and put on the lid. The paper towels soak up the access water so the lettuce doesn’t wither so quickly but without drying out the lettuce, and I have a prepackaged meal for lunch!
6. Buy Real Food
Stick to the outside aisles of the store. That’s where all the actual meats, vegetables, fruit and bread usually are. I usually only venture into the middle aisle to get my canned foods and cooking ingredients. This is more of a “be healthy” tip, but a lot of what you’re going to find in the inside aisles are overpriced boxes of worthless foods that do almost nothing for your body.
7. Learn a Few Simple Recipes
And keep those ingredients in the house/apartment/tent under the bridge. Buy your favorite spices – they are cheap and they last a long time. My favorite is pretty much garlic anything. You can sprinkle some on top of a baked chicken breast, or add it into your vegetables for some added flavor. Grab a box of pasta and some sauce and have it on standby for a “fancy” dinner. You can make meals the night before and freeze it for lunch tomorrow.
8. Know Yourself
If you see a great coupon, but know you’re never going to actually eat that food, don’t use it. If you know you suck at eating veggies before they start rotting (like me), follow my suggestions and grab the steamer bags in the frozen section. I know that I love a hot lunch most of the time, so I have to think of foods I can heat up for future Kathryn’s lunch in order to keep myself from wasting money and the food I already bought by going out to eat. Know that you’re not going to finish a gallon of milk? Buy a quart, or buy organic because it lasts about two weeks longer and is only about 75 cents more. By learning your habits, you will save yourself a lot of money and make the foods you buy happy in your tummy and not rotting away in the bottom of your fridge.