thinking about grocery shopping on a budget

How to Grocery Shop on A budget in 2020

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Is it possible for two adults to eat well for under $100 per week in a high-cost area like Southern California?  Can you save money meal planning? Yes and yes! Check out my tips on how to grocery shop on a budget in 2020. For the longest time, I was on a liberal budget because,… I really love food.  With the recent events around COVID, I thought I should prepare by scaling back and returning to a more frugal lifestyle.  

I’ve included a sample menu to give you an idea of how good you can eat.

How much is the average monthly grocery bill for two?

Every month USDA publishes the average cost of food and as of January 2020 the average weekly grocery spending for two adults in the USA is as follows:

Frugal budget          $90

Low-Cost budget    $115

Moderate budget    $142

Liberal budget         $178

As you can see from these statistics you should not feel like your not shopping right because you’re not able to feed your family on $50 a week!

In my home, we spend closer to $200 a week on groceries.  I wanted to see if I could cut my expense in half and make $100  worth of groceries last for an entire week, which puts me right in the middle of the frugal and low-cost budgets.    My husband rarely eats breakfast or lunch, he snacks during the day and has dinner.  I, however, eat three squares a day during the week and skip lunches on the weekends.

To keep track of how much and where I spend the food budget everything is purchased on my American Express card and paid in full at the end of the month.

Create a Realistic Grocery Budget

Track what you actually spend for a month.

Before you make a budget you need to know how much you currently spend on groceries.  Keep all your receipts and make a spreadsheet to list all the details so you have a good idea of what you spend the most money on and see where you can cut costs.

Create a weekly meal plan

With a meal plan, you can reduce buying unnecessary items thereby spending less.

How to Shop for Groceries on A Tight Budget

Shop using curbside pick-up

 If you are a compulsive grocery shopper, consider ordering your groceries online and pick up at the grocery store.  Many people are using the curbside option out of necessity and to protect themselves for COVID19.  After this, I think more people will stick with curbside pickup. 

Shop the whole store

Yes, even those inner aisles. Think about it, the inner aisles are where you find tuna, canned salmon, canned tomatoes, jarred spaghetti sauce, and peanut butter, all good and food, right. Also, not all frozen foods are bad, think frozen fruits and vegetables.

Use Rainchecks to help your grocery budget go further.

Most grocery stores will offer a rain check on sold out sale items.  These can be a big money saver so don’t be shy about asking.

Shop the prepared foods section

Another rule I disagree with is staying away from prepared foods. The trick is to just buy the main entrée, don’t waste your money paying $8.99 a pound for side dishes. Pick up some incredibly tasty chicken or beef at the hot food bar, then head over to the produce section for veggies and potatoes. I also use the prepared food bar for items like olives or roasted garlic.  Only buying what you will use reduces food waste.

Don’t buy pre-cut fruit

One exception is Pineapple, I find Pineapple messy to cut up and the skins and tops fill up my trash. I leave the Pineapple to the professionals.

Don’t buy bagged fruits

Remember that some bagged items can be split up in smaller quantities. An example is a pound bag of cherries, it’s not against the rules to just remove what you want from the bag. I always buy expensive fruits in small quantities to avoid spoilage.

Consider Frozen instead of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Frozen can be more cost-effective especially if your buying fruits and vegetables out of season.  Also, having a few frozen vegetables in the freezer is a good preparedness technique.  With a few frozen items, you can quickly whip up a tasty stew.

Easy Meal Planning Tips

One month I may feel like a spontaneous cook and decide what I want to cook for dinner at the last minute and sometimes I’m feeling extra organized and want to meal plan.  It’s just who I am in the kitchen.

If you want to give meal planning a try I have a couple of helpful tips for you:

Schedule time to prepare the week’s meal plan and grocery list. 

I find Friday afternoon is a good time for me to select the week’s recipes and prepare my grocery list.   On my home on Friday night’s I stop at the grocery store and pick everything up, no Saturday grocery trips for me, it’s just too crowded and takes more time.

Take an inventory of your fridge and pantry, so you always have the basics on hand. 

As an example, if you have some dried split peas in the pantry, maybe plan on cooking up a split pea and potato soup for lunches.  Have some leftover Roisterrie chicken?  Add the chicken to a simple Alfredo, and you have an inexpensive and hearty meal.  It’s also good practice to have at least weeks worth of meal ingredients on hand in the event of an emergency.

Consider leftovers.

In my house leftovers are well-loved.  Sometimes we have leftover pasta and just add a little chicken or salmon for the next evening dinner.  If it’s not enough for dinner for two, I’ll take the leftovers to work for lunch.

On Sundays, I love to cook up a big batch of Stew, Chili,  or a nice Roast and have it for dinner the next night and snacks the day after. Depending on what I cooking I plan for leftovers.

As I said, in the beginning, I live in a high-cost area and here is my meal plan for one week.  I could certainly cut the cost more, but not everyone likes to eat pasta or beans and rice every night.

$94 a Week Menu for Two

The meal budget below assumes you have the basics, butter, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, ketchup mayonnaise, etc.  I have a basic line item for $5.00 which is used to buy these types of condiments when I run out.

  • We live in a high-cost area, so it’s possible the prices in your area may be lower than mine.
  • For this experiment, I shopped only the big chain grocery stores
  • The budget below assumes you have most basics on hand and includes a $4.00 a week budget for when you run out of condiments and pantry staples.
  • I included snacks in the budget because well, I love snacking.
  • I did not use coupons, but I did use my rewards card so I could get a lower price.
  • Sometimes I bought pre-made ingredients from the grocery deli section.

One week’s meal plan $94.00 for two people

Weekday work breakfast ideas for one.

During the week I drink the coffee provided for free at work

  • 2 breakfast Burritos (1 egg, hash browns, salsa)
  • 2 Sausage Muffins (English muffin and jimmy dean sausage)
  • 1 Bacon Egg Croissant (Croissant from grocery bakery)

Weekend breakfast for two.

I eat a larger breakfast on the weekends because I will rarely eat again until dinner time.

  • Bacon & Fried Egg with Toast and butter and coffee
  • 2 scrambled eggs with Avocado slices and Toast with butter and coffee

5 Workday brown bag sandwiches for lunches.

  • Ham and Cheese on Whole Wheat & Chips
  • Turkey and Bacon Sandwich with Chips
  • Tuna Salad Sandwich on Wheat & Chips
  • Chicken Salad Sandwich & Slice fruit
  • Cheese, Tomato, and Avocado on Wheat & Chips

7 Yummy Dinners on Tight Budget

The dinners assume you will make just enough for two people with maybe a little leftover for the next day snack.

  • Spaghetti Puttanesca
  • Meatloaf burgers and Mashed Potatoes
  • Tuna tacos with Chips and salsa
  • Spaghetti with Marinara and Cajun Sausages
  • Pan-Fried Pork Chops and Mashed Potatoes
  • Chicken, Sausage and Bean Stew
  • Black Bean Burritos with avocado, Sour cream and Onions

Don’t forget Snack Foods when grocery shopping.

On the weekends or late-night snacks, cheese, crackers and fruit plate is quite satisfying.

  • Potato Chips
  • Peanut Butter
  • Crackers
  • Cheese
  • Assorted Fruit

 Beverages

I mostly just drink water and a little sparkling water with a dash of cranberry juice is a refreshing drink with a meal or just for sipping during the day.

  • Cranberry Juice
  • Pellegrino  Sparkling water

Do you have a few tip on how to grocery shop on a budget? Share your tips in the comments below!


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