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A Budget Mom’s Trip to the Grocery Store!

What is your grocery shopping style?

Do you walk every single aisle without a list and just grab whatever you want/need?  (FYI:  That was my shopping style for the first 26 years of my life.)  :)  Do you make a list and stick to it with Nazi-esque dedication?  Are you a cash-only family, a la Dave Ramsey?  Are you an extreme couponer?  Do you have a stockpile of toilet paper and toothpaste under your bed?

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store - Shares lots of good tips for saving money on groceries. :)

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While no one way is right for every family… I have definitely found the sweet spot that works for our family of 3 and helps us stick to our extremely low grocery budget.  (Dying for me to spill the number?  Ok, it’s $200 a month, including paper goods and most toiletries.  My husband packs his lunch for work, and we make occasional budget exceptions for holidays and birthdays.)

The low grocery budget is very important to us for a number of reasons.  We don’t want to be in debt, for one thing, so we are allocating as much money as possible to paying off loans.  For another thing, I enjoy the forced creativity of cooking on a budget!  And perhaps most importantly, we want to teach our children this very important life lesson: Just because you can have something doesn’t mean you should.  Whether it’s the newest and best I-phone 5, the biggest TV, the most top-of-the-line clothing, or a pantry/fridge full of dozens of food options right at your fingertips.  These aren’t bad things… but before purchasing any of them, I think it is worthwhile to ask yourself, “Could I get by just fine with less?”  If yes, then try it!  Oftentimes we become more creative, resourceful, and grateful versions of ourselves when we purposely practice restraint and sacrifice.

Anyway, I LOVE to talk to others about budgeting.  “How do you make it work in your family?  How do you budget?  How do you save money?”  These are the conversations that endlessly interest me, and I know they interest you too… because I get a lot of questions about it!

Today, I thought I’d take you along with me on a trip to the grocery store and share my “secrets.”  (Yes, we took pictures of me grocery shopping, and yes it was as awkward as it looks.  But I did it cuz’ I love ya!)  Some of these tips may seem totally obvious to you… but some may open doors to savings you never knew you were missing!  If I can save you a buck, I’ll be mighty pleased with myself. :)

So… ready to head to Kroger with me??

Not so fast!  My “Budget Mom’s Shopping Trip” starts with making my list, and that takes place the entire week before I shop.  As I think of things or run out of things, I add them to the list, prioritizing each item into 1 of 3 categories:  Must Have Every Week, Fill-In Items (things we need, but not every week), and Maybes (things I don’t need, but would like if I end up with extra moolah).  Also crucial to the list-making process, I put an estimated price in parentheses next to each item.  When the total starts to climb above $50… I know that anything else I add needs to kick something else off!

Another quick note about list-making:  It is best to keep a pantry that is semi-well-stocked with items you find yourself needing often.  For example, that means that even if you don’t plan on making chili in the coming week, you should buy more canned beans if you have run out.  This really helps your “needs” list not to pile up too high.  It’s the worst when you are trying to plan a week’s worth of meals and you have almost none of the ingredients on hand already.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Devote a portion of your weekly grocery budget to re-stocking common pantry staples.  (Here’s a handy list of the pantry staples I try to keep on hand at all times.)

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A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store

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Ready to head to the store now?  Well too bad!  We still have some prep to do the night before, with checking online for e-coupons.  Now, I am NOT an extreme couponer.  My general rule of thumb is to make my grocery list, then hunt for coupons only for the items on that list.  Some might disagree with me here, and that’s fine.  But my experience has generally shown that when I buy different items because I have a coupon, I end up spending more.  (Coupons often give you a tiny discount for buying multiple items or name-brands.  Sometimes, you just need ONE can of generic corn!  Saving .60 cents isn’t worth buying 6 cans of Del Monte!)  Just my humble opinion.  I am not a stock-piler.  Anyway, whatever your grocery retailer of choice, I’ll betcha they have a website you can join to download coupons to your store card.  Might as well devote 10 minutes to taking a peek.  It usually pays off!

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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Alright, enough prepping.  Let’s head to the store!  First stop: Walgreen’s.  I like to look at the weekly ad ahead of time each week and stop in there first.  Some weeks they have eggs on sale for $1!  Or toilet paper for $3!  I never buy all my groceries here, but since it is literally next door to the Kroger, I stop in first to pick up their best sale items (if I need them, of course.)  If you’re not utilizing your Walgreen’s or other similar drugstore, it’s time to start.  Make sure you get a store card so you can get the discounts and register rewards!

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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Ok then, on to Kroger!  My big tips for here (or any large grocery store) are:

-Bring your list, a pen, a calculator, and your coupons!

-Each time you place an item in your cart, add the price to a running total on your calculator.  If you go over your limit, less important items go back to the shelves.  The art of self-discipline is a wonderful, admirable thing!

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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-Weigh your produce and buy what’s on sale.

Don’t just guess at how much it’ll cost (certain fruits and veggies are ridiculously pricey!)  Weigh it so you know what you’re paying.  And if bananas and oranges are cheap that week, buy bananas and oranges.  What’s that?  You say your kids are picky and they only like organic raspberries?  Well you just tell them, “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!” and hand them an orange.

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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-Re-think how you do meat.

Use less and buy what’s cheap that week.  Take the extra time to de-bone your chicken or slow-cook a pot roast.  The value is SO much greater per dollar.

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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-Make “rules” about what you’ll pay for certain items.

On principle, I don’t pay more than $2 for a box of cereal.  I don’t pay for than $5 or $6 for my main meat item.  I don’t pay more than .50 cents per cup/serving of yogurt.  I try to spend $5 or less on the week’s fruit.  These numbers will look different for your household… but the point is, they keep your grand total in check.  On an item-by-item basis, .60 extra cents here and an extra dollar there seems like nothing!  But all those mini-splurges add up to one giant grocery bill.

*(On an unrelated note… a built-in bonus to reducing our grocery budget has been a reduction in how much we mindlessly snack!  I used to eat cereal every night, but now I don’t because we only buy one box for the whole week.)

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A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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-Get your butt to the frozen aisle fast!

Unless you’re making a salad with it… you DO NOT NEED fresh spinach.  It just amazes me how many people don’t realize you can get an entire bag of spinach for about a dollar in the frozen aisle, compared to about $3 in the produce aisle.  And that fresh spinach goes bad about a week later in your fridge.  I drink a green smoothie every morning using frozen spinach and it works amazingly well!  I also buy frozen broccoli and frozen cauliflower on the weekly, to use in everything!  Soups, casseroles, you name it.  Frozen veggies retain all the nutritional value of fresh vegetables, for a fraction of the cost.  They are the health-conscious and budgeting girl’s best friend.

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A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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-Watch that check-out monitor like a hawk.

If you were banking on an e-coupon for that pricey name brand yogurt, or the frozen pizzas are 2 for $5.00 and you only bought one… you want to be sure the price you expected to pay is the price you are paying.  So don’t be distracted while the cashier is ringing up your purchase.  Sometimes they accidentally swipe an item more than once.  Sometimes your coupons get forgotten.  Sometimes an item’s sale price doesn’t show up in the system.  Just keep an eye out and if something doesn’t look right, speak up!  I never once met a cashier who didn’t “get” that I was on a tight budget.  Most people can personally relate.

A Budget Mom's Trip to the Grocery Store!

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And my final tip:  Put your next shopping date on the calendar and make do until then!

If we run out of milk three days early, we do without it until the next shopping trip.  And since having no milk for 3 days is not fun… we drink it more wisely the following week.  Having a grocery budget is excellent training in self-control (not just for our children, but for us adults!!)  I’ve also noticed our family has become much more hesitant about throwing away leftovers… we save whatever we don’t eat for another snack or meal!  In general, I’ve noticed my gratitude level go WAYYY up for the food we do have on hand, however minimal it may be.  Some may think it is silly to live on such a meager food budget when we technically “could” buy more.  But I’m telling you, reducing your grocery budget builds character!  What a gift to give your children.

So those are my tips.  I realize this list is not comprehensive… It doesn’t cover coupon-stacking or what day of the week the most items are on sale.  Frankly, I don’t have much more time to devote to grocery prep than I’m already spending, and I’m sure I miss out on occasional savings because of it.  Life is hectic and we moms are all doing the best we can!  The point of this post isn’t to guilt-trip you if you don’t budget the way I do.  It’s simply to share what works for me in case any of it might work for you too!

If you’re coming to the conclusion that reducing your grocery spending would bless your family, then I truly hope these tips will help equip you to make it happen.

Feel free to shout out your own money-saving tips in the comments… I eat them up. :)  (No pun intended.)

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Note:  I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a follow-up post to this one about what meals we are able to eat on this budget.

You can find that post here!

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33 Responses so far.

  1. Donna says:

    Another wonderful post! Thank-you for sharing. You are a girl after my own heart! I live in Canada….the cost of groceries are astronomical!! So, I do the same with the cost of an item, except my prices are set a slight bit higher (ie. cereal has to be $3.49) You & I do many things the same, when it comes to grocery shopping. I’ll let you know if I think of anything else that may be of help. Keep up the great blogging! :)

    • Carissa says:

      Thank you , Donna! And yes, I’d definitely love to hear any of your own tips you may think of… Shout them out on my Facebook or Twitter anytime!

  2. Lori says:

    This is awesome!!! Thanks for posting. Could you please post a meal plan for a few weeks to give us some ideas of what $50 is buying? Soooo excited to see your ideas! This is just what I needed to hear this week :)!

    • Carissa says:

      I’d be happy to do that, Lori… most weeks I assemble a rough meal plan before shopping anyway, so posting some examples should be no problem. I’m glad this was encouraging to you. No doubt, there are definitely some weeks where I feel the stretch. It is NOT easy! But I remind myself that many people do it on a lot less and it immediately helps my attitude.
      All the best!

  3. Johnna Gentry says:

    I am loving your thoughts on grocery shopping and budgeting. We do the Dave Ramsey thing but $50 wouldn’t cut it with our family of six especially when two of the children eat more than the parents but I would love to know what your meal plan is for a week on that budget and then I could adjust my budget to accommodate a few more mouths. Thanks. Miss you girl!

    • Carissa says:

      Johnna, great to know! I can definitely publish a post soon with an example of what sorts of meals we can get from this budget. Miss you too!

  4. Savannah says:

    After living on two part time incomes while my hubby got his masters, I learned so many of these money saving tips and tricks! But I love how you estimate prices as you compile your list through the week. I calculate everything that goes in my basket, but there are times in the store that I’m not sure what to put back when I’ve exceeded my budget. Estimating the costs ahead time will help with that! And I’m going to try harder to check those pricey drugstore sale ads! Thanks for sharing!

    • Carissa says:

      Savannah, what also reeeally helps with the “What to put back?” question (besides the prices next to the items) is the categories. I usually ending up putting back my “maybes” if I go over budget. :)

  5. […] Recently, I wrote about how I grocery shop and keep our monthly spending to $200 per month.  (If you’d like to read that post, you can find it HERE!) […]

  6. Very interesting tips! It’s nice to see a post about how people actually “make it” on so little each month. I always assume people who eat on such a tight budget are eating rice a roni every night, but you seem like you eat pretty healthy! It is inspiring me to rethink my grocery budget to see if I can cut some things out here and there. Question though, and you may have already answered this, you buy just what you need from week to week, but aren’t you able to stock up on things, or is your pantry and fridge pretty bare? I cook a lot from scratch so I always like to have basics on hand (flour, pasta, diced tomatoes etc)– wondering if you had any tips/experience with that. Typically what I do is just shop the sales and buy alot- so if canned peaches are on sale, then I stock up on canned peaches until the next time they go on sale. Then i try to “shop” out of my pantry to fill in the gaps during the week.

    • Carissa says:

      Hi Brittany!

      While I do not buy in bulk much at all… I do keep a well-stocked pantry. I add things like flour, sugar, butter, canned beans, pasta, etc to my list as soon as I use them up. If I am already close to my dollar limit for that week, I wait to buy items that I don’t plan on cooking with that week (maybe canned diced tomatoes or taco seasoning, etc) but I try to get them the following week to make sure I have them on hand when I do need them.
      I also save EVERYthing, so I feel like my freezer is generally full of little odds and ends I can use creatively. This week I was out of butter, so I made a pie crust for quiche using reserved sausage fat (frozen in ice cube trays!)

  7. […] but I’ve been inspired by other guest posters and commenters on her site.  If you thought my $50-bucks-a-week grocery budget was low… wait til you see what some other ladies are able to do with even less!  Reading the […]

  8. Jose says:

    Speaking of Walgreens….I use Tide laundry detergent but I found this crazy sale at Walgreen’s for Ultra Purex laundry detergent and when it first surfaced it was a buy one get two free. Which is an amazing deal as a college student I try to save as much as possible. I think they have it now at my local Walgreens and online but I think they cut it down to buy one get one free. So I definitely made the switch 😀

  9. […] a tight grocery budget?  (I know I am!)  If so, then I highly suggest The Dollar Store for purchasing your gingerbread house decorations. […]

  10. […] month I released my first small e-book, which is based on some of the content from my most popular budget posts.  I really enjoyed the process!  Since the book is small I decided to list it for $2.99 and give […]

  11. Erinn says:

    You are seriously just the cutest! I happened across your blog and quickly added it to my feedly! I am always looking for ways to save money on food for my family and I love the tips I’ve already found on here, so thank you! I love how you relate budgeting to building character because I have learned that myself over the last two years.

    Also sending prayers your way at the loss of your father, I promise that God is aware of you and will comfort you.

    Thank you again for this fabulous resource!

    • Carissa says:

      Thank you for those kids words, Erin. I’m really glad these tips are practical for your family!!
      And yes, praise God for his nearness even during this hard season. I’m so thankful He’s promised never to leave me.
      -Carissa

  12. Tia says:

    Thanks for sharing! Do you eat much processed foods? We are trying to cut most out.

  13. This was such a fun read! And I’m in awe. Up until this year we did a $200 grocery budget (that amount also included toiletries, diapers, cleaning supplies etc.) BUT I do quite a bit of couponing and therefore stockpiling too. I don’t think I would be able to do it otherwise. (And just in case you are wondering, we now budget $220 due to the birth of another child and rising food costs.)

    Anyway, I love the way you do your shopping list into priority categories. So brilliant! And the thing of adding an approx. dollar amount is great too. And I had to laugh at your “Aint’ nobody got time for dat” comment. That’s exactly our approach around here. You’d be amazed at how many people think it’s terrible and that we are depriving our kiddos but honestly, we see it as a good thing and it’s helped our kids learn that they can’t have everything they want and it’s also taught them to enjoy the little things (like the fresh strawberries that I got for free the other week with a coupon.)

    I know you said that you don’t have time for using many coupons but I beg you to reconsider. You don’t have to go into it big time but honestly, if you could just spare another 15 to 20 min. a week checking coupon match-up for Kroger and Walgreens on a deal blog, you’d be amazed at how much more you could save. I know I’ve been amazed!

    Thanks for the inspiring read and kudos to you for being brave enough to do what others might call crazy! You’ll not regret it when you can say you are debt free! :)

  14. Kim says:

    I love this! The one that stood out to me…frozen spinach in the smoothies. OF COURSE!! How have I missed that one?? I buy fresh then throw out half of it all the time. Talk about waste! Thanks for the great tips!

  15. […] you’re a regular reader, then you know about our strict grocery budget.  And if you know about our strict grocery budget, then you also know that, while I think all […]

  16. […] about throwing a fantastic dinner party with a killer food spread… all while adhering to my oh-so-reasonable food budget.  I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to lowering our family’s monthly […]

  17. […] days, life looks a little different.  I fit my naps workouts in during Elsa’s nap… I go to the grocery store once every 8 days… and I try to keep my pantry very well-stocked so that on any given day I have a variety of […]

  18. […] a list of special ingredients I want to cook with, but unfortunately they would never fit into our normal grocery budget (which is quite tight and, at the same time, wonderfully rewarding.)  My birthday seemed like the […]

  19. […] weekly sales circular from your local grocery store and buy most items according to sales.  (See this post for a more in-depth version of my grocery shopping tips!)  Stretch one meat purchase into at least […]

  20. […] you’re a regular reader, then you know about our strict grocery budget.  And if you know about our strict grocery budget, then you also know that, while I think all […]

  21. […] She’s done some great posts, from talking about her struggles with an eating disorder, to how she feeds her family on $50 a week, and of course, so many great recipes! I picked out a few of my favorites to share with you – […]

  22. Random question – why are there 3 half-gallons of milk in your cart? Isn’t it always cheaper to buy the full gallon than the half size? Thanks for the helpful post!

  23. Asma Bukhari says:

    Loved your post……. I actually follows the same rules in my grocery budget.My grocery budget is $200 per month for the family of 2 (Me and hubby) which also includes all the toiletries & other stuffs. I know it not easy to stay on a budget but if we want our life to be debt free and have our own house someday so I guess we have to do some scarifice now and enjoy later.

    • Carissa says:

      I really admire your thinking on that, and your dedication! You’ll be so glad when all those debts are paid off. (Plus the shopping is kinda fun on a budget, don’t you think?)

  24. Nice post! Thanks for sharing those guidelines… A very useful tips and ideas specially for new moms out there! :)