What To Buy At The Grocery Store To Maximize Your Budget 

In times when the price of food seems out of control, it can be tough to buy all of the groceries you need. If you’re finding the price of groceries hard to handle, you need to go shopping with a strategy. Think ahead about what to buy at the grocery store to maximize your budget. Let’s get into some great ideas!

What to buy at the grocery store

Prepare and make a list of what to buy at the grocery store

Instead of getting to the checkout line and discovering you don’t have the money to cover what’s in your cart, use these planning tips for the supermarket. A bit of time and preparation can ensure you make the most of your funds. 

One way to prepare is to make a grocery list. The most list-averse person may still want to start the habit of making grocery lists. With inflation making overall food costs higher with each passing year, everyone could stand to save on their meals. 

In addition, there are other ways to prepare for grocery shopping, including using tools like apps and making a meal plan. Here’s how to get ready for a grocery shopping trip.

Create meal plans to help make your grocery list

You can use budget meal planning to build your grocery list and spend more intentionally. There are even free online meal planners to follow, or you can just brainstorm your household’s top meals each week. 

When I’m meal planning, I like to be efficient. So I check my pantry, fridge, and freezer first to see what I have to use up. Then I look at grocery store sale flyers to help me pick items that are on sale. 

Focus on staples good for multiple dishes

As you make your meal plan and grocery list, think about the staple items—ingredients you can use more than once.

For example, Shape magazine suggests staples like peanut butter, frozen produce, and canned beans to keep in the house all the time. 

Pasta, rice, oats, flour, and similar items can form the base of many dishes. What you deem a staple depends on your family’s diet, too, so think of the most common meals you eat. Then, make a grocery list that utilizes similar ingredients. 

Focusing on food staples can also save you time!

For example, if you’re using ground beef for your famous tacos one night, you might cook extra meat at the same time to use in a casserole the next night.

Use tools to simplify grocery shopping

Don’t be afraid to try a new app or tool that can simplify your grocery shopping on a budget. When you need to know what to buy at the grocery store, technology can help!

Check out supermarket websites

Your supermarket’s website is a free tool that can help you make the cheapest grocery list. Many grocery stores like Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart enable online shopping, which is useful in a ton of ways. 

Shopping online helps you to stick to your list since you’re not wasting time strolling around the store and seeing surprise items. It allows you to pick up groceries conveniently (or have them delivered). Plus, you can save your “favorites” online for quick and easy shopping. 

Use grocery shopping apps

When you need to know what to buy at the grocery store, grocery shopping apps can save a lot of hassle. Using an app like Ibotta or even Mealime could help you save money and time at the supermarket. 

Some apps help you locate the best coupons, or you might price-compare different stores. Some apps provide you with discounts to specific retailers.

Think about what you need the most and search for the best free grocery apps (and also the best coupon websites). 

Time your grocery shopping carefully

Remember how key timing can be in saving money.

In addition to knowing what to buy at the grocery store, you need to know when to go. 

This can be as simple as visiting the store on their sale days. You can also probably save money by not shopping when you’re hungry, which could lead to more costly impulse spending

How to find the best foods to buy at the grocery store

When it comes to grocery shopping for the best food on a budget—maybe even a bare bones budget—a few basic habits can save you tons of money and time. Here are some general guidelines to save money and still eat well. 

1. Start with generic or store brands

If I had a mantra for grocery shopping, it would be to try store brands or generics first. With so many generic options available on supermarket shelves, why not try these versions that can cost significantly less? 

According to CNET, store brands could save you about 40% on average versus name brands. Some won’t save you quite that much, but the bottom line is that you’re almost guaranteed to save money on store brands. 

Yes, some store brands don’t taste exactly the same as their name-brand counterparts, but chances are you can get fairly close. Give them a try, and you might be pleasantly surprised!

2. Shop at multiple stores to get the best deals on all food

If you have the time, try multiple stores so you can take advantage of each store’s best prices. This is when it’s handy to look at those paper mailers announcing weekly sales. You can buy your meats at one place while you stock up on nonperishable snacks at a different store. 

If store-hopping isn’t possible, you can just stick to the store where you normally find the best grocery prices. Discount retailers like Aldi can save you money on pretty much everything, meaning you don’t need to coupon-clip or drive to different supermarkets. 

3. Avoid prepared foods

Here’s another cardinal rule: you’ll almost always save money buying raw ingredients instead of ready-to-eat foods, and it’s sometimes a healthier option. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to get something from your grocer’s prepared foods section, but whenever possible, steer clear. 

You can probably chop your own vegetables and assemble your own one-pot meals rather than buying stuff already in various states of readiness. Even if you’re thinking, “I hate cooking!” that doesn’t mean you can’t save some cash by doing simple food prep yourself. 

Stock up monthly or bi-weekly on these groceries to maximize your budget

Think about how often you need to replenish certain grocery items. Here are a few that you can likely buy on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. Use this monthly meal planner for additional guidance.

Frozen foods

Frozen foods are good to stock up on, perhaps every two weeks or even once a month. Of course, you’ll need freezer space to store frozen vegetables, meat, and other items, but if you can, buy those less frequently to save money per unit.

Plus, you can make some of the cheapest meals with lots of these ingredients. 

Boxed pantry staples

Those items you buy in a bag or box that go in the pantry? If you’re able to, buy enough for at least two weeks at a time so you have them ready. Cereals, baking staples like flour, and uncooked beans or pasta will last a long time. 

Plus, you can save money by cooking easy meals at home instead of ordering takeout. 

Canned foods

Much like boxed foods, you can buy canned foods on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. Of course, this is tough to do if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but in the long run, it can save you money. 

Buy these foods weekly for your meal plan

In your plans for what to buy at the grocery store, these are the foods you’ll most likely need to pick up at least once a week. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Of course, fresh produce is something that you’ll want to buy more frequently.

Whether you go to your farmer’s market or the supermarket, be ready to buy what your family eats each week. 

Some fruits and vegetables are cheaper than others and still healthy, such as bananas, apples, and potatoes.

Dairy or dairy substitutes

For those who love cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products (that’s me!), you’ll need to pick these up fairly often. Include your favorite dairy items in your weekly shopping list to ensure things don’t go bad.  

Eggs and meat

Similar to dairy products, eggs and meat might land on your list of items to replenish weekly. This is especially true if you prefer to cook everything fresh. Eggs and meat, as well as other refrigerated items, can be a weekly purchase. 

But remember that meats can also be a great ingredient to pick up on sale and freeze extra portions for later use, especially if you’re trying to make frugal meals for families

Keep certain ingredients on your “as-needed” list

Besides your monthly and weekly grocery needs, there are bound to be a few surprise grocery items that pop up in between trips. Meal planning and making a list don’t have to mean you get rid of those last-minute trips altogether. 

Other items like olive oil or salad dressing might only run out occasionally, so try to set aside a little money when you budget by paycheck for miscellaneous groceries.

Snack foods and soft drinks might also fall into the category of things you buy only when and if you can spare the money. 

Basic list of what to buy at the grocery store

As a starting point to help ensure you won’t miss any essential ingredients, you can use this general list. Tweak it to suit your family’s favorites, and add whatever you need to this basic grocery list.

  • Dried beans/lentils
  • Pasta and rice
  • Bread, tortillas, baked goods
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Meat and seafood
  • Cereal or oatmeal
  • Soup
  • Canned beans 
  • Canned vegetables
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Tea or coffee
  • Oils like olive or canola
  • Condiments like ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Treats

Of course, your list will depend on your dietary needs and preferences, but this should give you a solid base of groceries.

Expert tip: Always plan your meals ahead

Even if supermarket prices have been a source of financial strain, you can use planning and shopping strategies to save money. Paying attention to what to buy at the grocery store will help you maximize your budget without sacrificing more than you can handle. 

I find that a lot of what it comes down to is planning ahead. By planning most meals and sticking to a frugal grocery list, I can stretch my grocery budget as far as possible.
Being savvy about when and where we shop, as well as buying store brands, will also help.

What groceries do people buy the most?

Staple items seem to be the groceries people buy the most. According to Instacart, the number-one grocery item purchased in the U.S. and Canada for eleven years with Instacart has been bananas.

Other top American grocery purchases, per How Stuff Works, are bread, packaged meats, peanut butter and jelly, eggs, and milk

What foods should be on your grocery list?

When it comes to deciding what foods should be on your grocery list, try to buy items that will help you fill your hunger, first and foremost. Here’s a quick basic list:

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Frozen foods
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Produce
  • Canned goods
  • Snacks

Pick from the items that suit your diet and start from there. 

How do I make a grocery list for one person?

If I need to make a grocery list for one person, I only need to consider my own diet and favorite meals, and I can end up with money leftover in my budget. Meal planning is important no matter what, though.

Decide whether you’ll buy only what you need for the week or stock up and keep items in the freezer or pantry until needed. If you don’t have a lot of space to store extra groceries, another possibility may be to go shopping with a buddy and split bulk items.

If you enjoyed reading this article about grocery shopping, read about these ideas next!

Understanding what to buy at the grocery store will help you make the most of your budget!

Hitting the grocery store aisles doesn’t have to be a routine you dread.

In fact, you can make a few basic plans for what to buy that will maximize your budget.

When things are tight due to a sudden job loss or inflation, great supermarket strategies can help you stretch your money further and also help you learn how to stop worrying about money. As a bonus, living below your means with grocery shopping can help you achieve financial success!

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