9 Real Moms on Their Best Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Your intention: To sit down and plan your meals like an actual grown-up so you can be budget-conscious when you head to the supermarket (and stay strong when it comes to impulse buying at the checkout line).
The problem: The constant pressure to shop for and whip up delicious, healthy meals that your family will actually eat.
But adding up the ever-increasing receipts got us curious. How do real parents get creative when it comes to grocery shopping on a budget and trimming the financial fat?
Before we dig in, some interesting background: The USDA publishes monthly guidelines that detail what the average family of four spends on groceries every week. The latest report—from spring 2019—outlines the following:
- If you’re being thrifty, the average spend is $131 to $150
- If you’re sticking to a low-cost budget, the average spend is $167 to $197
- If you’re sticking to a moderate-cost budget, the average spend is $206 to $246
- If you’re being liberal, the average spend is $255 to $299
With those costs in mind, we went straight to the source: real parents who are shopping week over week and doing their best to stick to their grocery list and budget. Here, their best advice for spending and saving.
1. Always Check the Weight and Volume of an Item
For example, you’re in the market for a wedge of Parmesan cheese. The 3-ounce option is $6, while the 4-ounce option is $7. If you divide the price by the weight, you’ll quickly see that it’s smarter to buy the larger size. (The 3-ounce wedge will cost you $2 an ounce, while the 4-ounce hunk is $1.75.) A minor difference? Sure, but if you apply that thinking to multiple items—especially ones that don’t go bad quickly—you’re in a strong position to save.
2. Maintain a Pantry Checklist
Your pantry is the key to pulling off a last-minute meal. (Have pasta? Simply add sauce, cheese and meat and serve.) But it’s hard to keep a mental tab of all the items in there. And especially with kids, that cavernous space can get disorganized fast. That can lead to duplicate spending, which wreaks havoc on your overall grocery bill. One dad we talked to swears by this tactic: He keeps a checklist posted on the pantry door that lists out all the staples inside. When he’s running low on something (say, flour), he notes it on the list, so that he can keep an eye out for the item and strategically re-stock when it’s on sale.
3. Get a Customer Loyalty Card
The checkout lines are lengthy and it’s easy to do what’s fastest. But by taking two minutes to stop by the customer service booth at your local grocery store and sign up for the in-store loyalty card, you can save every single time you go to the store. One mom we spoke to said her loyalty card saves her as much as $30 a trip.
4. Set Calendar Reminders for In-Store Markdowns
If you’re a regular at your neighborhood grocery store, it pays to know when the older product goes out and the new comes in. One mom explained that her local store tends to price down the meat on Wednesdays or Thursdays as it looks to rid the stock for the new weekend stuff. This means that beef tenderloin that was previously $19.99 a pound can now be bought for $12.99 a pound. The caveat: If you buy meat toward the end of its cycle, you need to cook it that night so it doesn’t actually go bad. Or, like this mom, you could stockpile it in your freezer so it lasts.
5. Buy Bulk Items Online
Physical stores have limited room for products like toilet paper and laundry detergent...and they jack up prices accordingly. That's why one mom we talked to always logs online for bulk items, whether she needs paper towels or LaCroix. For instance, you could easily spend $19.99 for six rolls of paper towels in the store or $19.99 for 12 at Boxed. (That's basically half off!)
6. Check the Sale Sections Before You Meal Plan
Another mom we interviewed says that her meal planning for the week is always pegged to the “sale” section for both online and IRL grocery stores. That way, if she spots that something like chicken can be bought at a major discount that week, she makes that the focal point of her dinner ideas. Ditto breakfast, lunch and snack options. (Hey, if strawberries are $2.99 a pint, we say bring on the shortcake.)
7. Meal Plan for 3 or 4 Days vs. the Entire Week
Instead of beating yourself up for having to make multiple trips to the grocery store per week, plan on it. One mom says that when she meal plans, she intentionally only looks ahead three or four days at a time. Why? It’s a lot more digestible (no pun intended). In other words, when it’s a Monday and you’re trying to shop for what you think you’ll want to eat on Friday, it can feel daunting. And changed plans might put you at risk for food that goes unused.
8. Comparison Shop Using the Circulars
Yes, those flyers that get left on your doorstep or stuck in your newspaper are truly good for more than just campfires. If you look at your weekly circulars, you can spot good deals at all the supermarkets in town, and even comparison shop from place to place for big-ticket items like steaks or deli meats.
9. Bring Snacks for Your Kids
Ever impulse purchased $8 of Babybel Cheese just so your child could eat it while she walked around the store? (Just us?) One mom in our circle swears by packing snacks for the grocery store. That way, when her kids point at unnecessary items on the shelves, she can easily say no but offer up another option.