How to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Save money on produce by purchasing it in season, and read the fine print when you see grocery store deals.

Save money on produce by purchasing it in season, and read the fine print when you see grocery store deals.

You could become an extreme couponer and purchase 72 bottles of yellow mustard that you don’t need, or you could save money while grocery shopping anytime by planning ahead.

The latter involves careful study of the grocery stores you frequent and possible store-hopping, but in the end, you can outsmart ever-growing food prices by following the tips below.

Plan around sales. Scour your local grocery stores’ sale papers on their websites, paying attention to their dates, and plan meals around what’s on sale. For instance, if you were planning on making a baked chicken dish, utilize on-sale chicken thighs instead of more expensive chicken breasts, and look up recipes for budget-friendly flank steak instead of ribeye. While you’re on those grocery store sites, look for printable coupons.

Purchase produce in season. Asparagus is always more expensive in the fall and at its cheapest in the spring, and blueberries are cheapest in the late spring and early summer. Get to know what’s at its peak when by reading up on seasonal produce, and freeze what you can or go without

Make a list. Arrange your list of meal ingredients in order of where items are in the grocery store so you’re not wandering around, making impulse purchases. Try to stay on the perimeter of the store, where the less processed foods are.

Read the fine print. When most stores advertise “buy one, get one free” deals, it typically means the item is really 50 percent off. In other words, if you just need one, only purchase one, which means the store brand isn’t necessarily the cheapest version of something. Also, compare toilet paper and paper towel savings by noting the total square feet of the product in the fine print on the front of the package, toward the bottom. More square feet equals a better deal.

More on eating well in your apartment:
Single Serving: Tips on Cooking Smart for One
How to Plan Great Meals with Your Roommate
How to Dine Like a Professional Foodie without Spending a Fortune

Shop at multiple stores. Visiting three grocery stores may seem like a hassle but is worth it if you save money in the long run. Shop at your local farmers market or an Asian grocery store for produce, fish and meat and visit a bulk goods store for pantry staples like canned tomatoes, rice and dry beans. Over time, you may learn the store’s sale patterns, which means if you need a certain item often, you can wait until it’s on sale and stock up. Shop for home staples like detergent, cleaning supplies and baby needs at discount department stores, dollar stores or through Amazon.com’s Subscribe and Save subscription program for the household items you buy all the time.

Buy foods in their whole, uncut form. Skip convenient, yet marked-up pre-cut, pre-cooked meats, cheeses and produce, purchase foods whole and cut or prep them yourself at home. Don’t purchase processed foods and meals, such as frozen lasagna, pizza and lunch entrees, as they’re typically priced higher than when you make the exact same meal yourself, and they’re loaded with salt, fillers and sometimes sugar. Even quick-cooking rice and oats are more expensive than their whole, less processed counterparts.

Prep foods on the weekends and portion them yourself. For example, make an entire bag of dry beans in the slow cooker on the weekend and individually bag can-sized (14-ounce) portions. Steam brown rice once a week and store it in the refrigerator to use throughout the week. Peel, seed and chop fresh tomatoes, simmer them for five minutes on the stove and freeze them in 14-ounce portions for homemade canned, diced tomatoes.

Photo credit:iStockphoto/matthewleesdixon

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