Food shopping on a budget

Paying for groceries can be downright painful! Our dollars just don’t buy as much as they used to. And buying healthy foods, like fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, seems much more expensive than buying not-so-healthy packaged and prepared foods. So what’s a shopper to do?

Here are some tips to help you shop for healthy foods without breaking your bank:

What can you do before heading out?

  • Make a budget. Know how much you can spend before you go to the store.
  • Plan your menu for the week. See what you already have at home, and make a list of what you need to buy.
  • Check store flyers to see what’s on sale. It’s OK to shop at several stores to get the best prices on the items you need.
  • Find out if the store you use has a discount card. It can help you save money on what you buy. Most discount cards are free, so get one for every store you go to.
  • Clip coupons for items you regularly buy.
  • If you have kids, leave them with a sitter. Kids can distract you from sticking to your shopping list.
  • Eat. Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach. If you’re hungry, you may buy more food than you really need. Or you may be tempted to buy something that looks really yummy but isn’t all that good for you.

What can you do at the store?

  • Shop at larger grocery stores, at farmers markets or at farm stands. They may have better prices for fresh foods than smaller grocery stores in your neighborhood.
  • Buy whole fruits and vegetables. The ones that come already washed and cut cost more. If you can’t get fresh, buy frozen or canned. Frozen or canned fruit should be packed in its own juice.
  • Compare prices between store brands and name brands. Store brands often cost less.
  • Pay attention to the unit price. This number usually appears on the store shelf right next to the item's price. It tells you how much you’re paying for each piece or unit, rather then the whole package. It can help you find the better bargain when you're looking at similar products sold in different sizes. For example, an 8-ounce bottle of orange juice may be more expensive per ounce than a 12-ounce jug.
  • If you find a good price on an item you buy often, buy extra. Be careful, though, not to blow your budget.
  • If you use coupons, be careful not to overbuy or try new items just because you have a coupon for them.

How can you make the most of what you buy?

  • Make more than you need and freeze the leftovers for future meals. Freeze vegetables and spices, like onions, peppers, parsley and garlic.
  • Make a meatless meal now and then. Meat (including beef, poultry, pork and fish) is most likely the most expensive item on your list. So have a few meals without it. For example, try rice and beans or vegetable lasagna.
  • Keep staple foods on hand. These are foods that you can use for almost any meal. Examples are beans, rice, pasta, frozen vegetables, pasta sauce and peanut butter.