Smart Grocery Shopping: How to Stretch Your Food Budget
Are your weekly trips to the grocery store busting your budget? Do you wander the aisles aimlessly, hoping for dinner inspiration?
Smart grocery shopping starts with three things: budgeting, menu planning and scoping out in-store savings. Before your next supermarket trip, consider the tips below to help stretch your budget and put nutritious meals on your table.
How Much Should You Spend?
Many of us don’t know how much of our budget we should allocate to food each month. The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported in 2015 that the average single man or woman between the ages of 19 to 50 years old spent around $65 on food per week.
Your bill, of course, may depend on your personal budget and needs. The USDA provides a great deal of resources to help you create a “grocery game plan” including a sample two-week menu plan to start.
Another helpful tool, the “What You Should Spend” calculator, is offered through the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach program as part of their Spend Smart, Eat Smart initiative. The tool helps calculate what you should be spending on groceries.
Menu planning may be the key to smart grocery shopping. We’ve all heard the rule that you shouldn’t shop hungry. Menu planning takes that rule a step further: Don’t shop without a plan. By taking an hour or so weekly to list each meal for every day of the week, you can plan to eat healthier and compare ingredient prices to help save money.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides practical guidelines for planning your weekly meals. With a five-day meal planning worksheet, tips on how to use grocery ads to help cut costs, and guidelines to help ensure every meal contains something from each of the food groups, the website may be a great resource if you’re serious about eating healthier on a budget.
However, even the most seasoned cook can run out of ideas for meals. If you’re looking for inspiration, one resource is an online tool from the USDA that allows you to search for recipes by main ingredient, type of meal, nutritional category and more. Each recipe includes preparation time and nutritional information.
This tool can be particularly helpful to those adhering to a strict budget — each recipe has a calculated cost per serving. For example, Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice) costs about $1.05 per serving, while Stir Fry Vegetables and Beef comes in at about $1.29 per serving. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends checking your pantry for what you have on hand and planning meals that can use those products. Then, fill in your shopping list with ingredients to help finish those meals. If you follow these tips, you may be able to put together a dinner for you and your friends for less than $10.
Once you’ve determined your budget and planned your meals, the following tips can help you shop smarter while you’re in the supermarket.
According to Consumer Reports, store brand food products cost an average of 25 percent lower than brand-name foods — often without sacrificing quality or flavor.
Learn how to compare unit prices. Many store labels show the cost per unit, which can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Store brands typically offer savings in the form of a lower unit price. For example, a name-brand, 18-ounce box of cereal may cost $3.99, which is $0.21 per ounce. Compare that to a store-brand, 24-ounce box of cereal that may cost $4.29 and is $0.18 per ounce. At face value,the name-brand seems cheaper. However, when you look at the unit price, you’ll realize it’s actually $0.03 more per ounce.
When you shop smart, every cent can add up. With a bit of time and research, you can plan meals that work for your budget — and help make your supermarket trips a little less daunting. So put on your chef’s hat, select some tasty recipes and before you know it, it will be time to say, “Bon appétit!”
Originally published March 25, 2014.