Grocery Shopping on a Tight Budget? 7 Rules to Stay Under Budget

Finding cheap food to buy when you’re broke is tricky because the cheapest meal you can make isn’t always healthy. Luckily, there are ways to go grocery shopping on a tight budget and still eat healthily.

How Much Should I Spend on Groceries a Week for One Person?

There is no set rule for how much you should spend on groceries. The average cost to feed one person for a week is a huge spread and can range everywhere from $40 to $100 a week.

If you’re looking to create a healthy grocery shopping list on a budget, be prepared for the first few weeks to be more expensive than others. When you’re first investing in healthy staples like beans and brown rice, the price tag can be a bit higher. However, once you have those staple ingredients, you won’t have to purchase them again for months, which will save you money over time.

Ultimately, your budget is going to be based on what you like to eat. If you absolutely have to have a steak at least once a week, your average budget is going to be higher than a person who likes, or is at least willing to eat, cheaper meals.

To better understand how much you should spend on groceries a week for one person, follow the tips below for one month and track exactly how much you spend on each trip. This can give you a better idea of what to plan for when you make a cheap grocery list for a month.

Tips to Make Your Grocery List Under Budget

Grocery shopping can be a leak in your budget, where you’re spending money you didn’t plan as part of your budget. Here are seven tips to keep your grocery run under budget.

1. Avoid Aisles

If you’ve ever watched Supermarket Sweep, you know some aisles are naturally more expensive than others. But if you’re looking to stay under budget and eat healthy, you need to consider both the price and the nutritional value of what you’re buying. If something is unhealthy or too expensive, avoid it. That means you should avoid going down the following aisles:

  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Snacks
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Sugary juices
  • Frozen premade meals
  • Bakery and deli

You might have heard that you should avoid shopping in the middle aisles for the best shopping results, but there’s one main problem with that. While it’s true that some of the most processed and expensive items can be found in the middle aisles, some of the most nutrient-rich foods like rice and beans are also found in the middle, while expensive foods like cheeses and specialty cuts of meat can be found on the outside.

2. Shop at the Right Time

Never go to the store when you’re hungry. Most hungry people tend to buy more than what they need or what their budget can handle. Even if you’re not picking up expensive snack foods, overestimating how much fresh vegetables or meat you’re going to eat can quickly add up to a higher final bill.

3. Check the Price Tag

Just because something costs less doesn’t mean it’s actually cheaper. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.

For example, a name brand five-pound bag of jasmine rice can sell for about $5, and a 20-pound bag of generic rice will sell for a bit under $9. It’s true that five dollars is cheaper than nine dollars, but it’s actually a better investment to buy the 20-pound bag because when you compare the size, it’s cheaper.

Price tags in the store will actually help you do this math for you. On most price tags, you’ll see the price as well a breakdown of how much you’re paying per pound, ounce, gram, or serving. The $5 bag of rice turns out to be $1 a pound, where the $9 bag of rice shows up as 45 cents a pound.

For items that you know you’re going to need more of, investing in bulk is cheaper in the long run than constantly buying smaller packages.

4. Shop Where the Best Deals Are

Your local neighborhood grocery store that’s only five minutes away might not be the best place to shop at. It can be worth your time and money to look around and find a store that may be a bit farther away but offers significantly better deals or lower prices.

When comparison shopping between stores, be careful about large box membership stores. While those stores offer amazing deals when you compare them against your local grocer, you put yourself at high risk for food waste. Sure, it might be cheaper to buy oranges at a bulk food store, but can you really eat 10 pounds of them before they go rotten? It doesn’t help your budget to invest in food and then have to throw it away because you couldn’t eat it all before it got moldy.

5. Buy Generic

One of the easiest ways to save a bit of money on your grocery budget is to make sure you’re buying generic. Some people think generic brands are low-quality rip-offs of major brands, but they’ve come a long way and have drastically improved versus the name brands. Generic brands are cheaper competitive options that taste similar, if not the same, as their name brand counterparts.

Generally, generic items are going to be less expensive than name-brand items, but there are a few exceptions to that rule. As soon as coupons or store-run sales start to come into the picture, it’s possible for big brands to be cheaper than generics. So, while it is typically a cheaper choice to go generic, don’t forget to check the price tag and do the math to see which one is actually the better deal.

6. Buy Nutritious, Filling Food

One of the weirdest parts of buying groceries is how cheap unhealthy food is. If you want to only eat ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can fund an entire month of food for under $20. You’ll have food to eat, but after the first few meals it will leave you empty and feeling horrible. Instead of buying cheap, processed meals that are nutritionally worthless, invest in filling foods.

Inexpensive, but nutritious, food will keep you feeling healthy, while also keeping your stomach full. Look to buy:

  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Flour

One big caveat to this rule: buy only what you’ll eat. While it can be a good investment to buy a giant bag of pinto beans, if you’re never going to eat them, it’s a waste. Do not buy ingredients you don’t know how to use or don’t want to eat. If you are only going to watch them take up cabinet space and never use them, it’s a waste of money.

7. Stick to Your List

Before you go to the store, plan out what you’re going to need to eat for the next few meals. Most people find that a week of meal planning in one grocery trip is what works best for them. If you have limited storage in your kitchen or are feeding a lot of people each meal, you might want to have more frequent visits to the store.

Once you know what you want to eat, write down your list of what you need to make those meals. When you’re at the grocery store, buy only what is on your list. Avoid any impulse purchases, even those that look like a good deal. It doesn’t matter that the pork chops are 50% off; if you weren’t planning on eating pork chops, don’t buy them.

If you have trouble sticking to your list as you wander up and down the aisles, try online shopping. More and more stores are offering online shopping where you set up your order online and then pick it up at the store. This will ensure you only get what you order, and stop you from wasting money on extra items you don’t need. There’s usually a small fee for the service of an employee picking and bagging your groceries for you, but it’s likely smaller than the amount you would spend on impulse purchases.

Shop Smart and Save

Use these seven tips to save money the next time you go grocery shopping on a tight budget. They might seem simple, but they add up in the long run and can help you stick to your budget and save more money.