Grocery Shopping on a Budget

There is a steadfast rule when it comes to grocery shopping. Never go when you are hungry. I remembered this rule as my stomach growled on the way into the grocery store parking lot. When you are hungry, it is so easy to succumb to the smells and sights of really good food that are whispering to you, “Buy me, you know you want me. Don’t worry that I am 5,000 calories per bite and cost twice as much as I should. I will love you more than anything else in this world.” My problem is that I was going grocery shopping because I had no food in the house. My son had made that abundantly clear to his teacher earlier today when the teacher asked him why he was spacing out in class.

“I didn’t really have a good lunch today,” he told him.

“Well, you might want to think about packing a bigger lunch for school,” the teacher told him.

“I couldn’t,” my son said matter-of-factly. “We have no food in the house.”

The teacher laughed and said, “Then you should get yourself over to a shelter and get some food.” He turned to me. “Isn’t it funny how kids can be so dramatic?”

I smiled weakly, still recovering from the teacher’s joke. I had just paid out a couple of unexpected bills that left my checking account in a precarious position, and any check I wrote today was going against a paycheck I hadn’t received yet. And the food situation in our house was at the bare ends since I had stretched it for as long as I could, which is why I was going to the store on an empty stomach.

You could say the economy is affecting this household.

I was talking with a woman the other day at a friend’s birthday party. She was confiding that she had just had her car worked on, and the work was so expensive that she asked the mechanic if she could break the payment into installments, complete with a post-dated check. The mechanic graciously complied. But when the woman came home and told her husband, he was mortified. How could she let an outsider know that they were having money troubles?

Thing is, everyone is having money troubles these days. Prices are not getting any lower, people are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts, times are tight. I told her this, that money issues are nothing anyone should be ashamed of in this day and age. Talk to anyone, and you’ll find someone with a similar story to share.

Luckily, having never known the luxury of being rich or well off as an adult, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for saving a buck. And grocery shopping, the biggest necessity in any household, is where I try to save the most. I rarely buy things for full price, and will even buy the generic. Generic coffee filters, for example, filters coffee just as well as Melita. Western Family yogurt tastes just as good as Yoplait. Same with cereals for the kids, or household cleaning products. Sure, there are some brands I love too much to go generic. I do love my Clover milk. But for most things, generic brands are a great way to cut the bill in half.

The other trick in grocery shopping is to never go shopping when you aren’t armed with a list. I don’t care if you create the list outside in your car before you go in. Just make sure that you have your plan of attack ready before you even cross the threshold. Grocery stores love impulse shoppers. They thrive on them. That is why all the snacks and knick-knacks are at the front of the store and lining every aisle. YOU DO NOT NEED THOSE ITEMS. The best way to create a list is to sit down with your cookbook and plan out your meals for the week. Create your shopping list as you go. Pay attention to the ads in the paper so that you informed about what’s on sale.  Clip coupons.  Be sure to add the items, like toothpaste and toilet paper, which you are running low on. And once inside the store, do your best not to defer from that list. Little secret, you will not only save yourself money, you will save yourself calories as well. If you need a little help in deciding what it is your household needs, there are sites, such as, that allow you to go through it item by item, and then print it out for your convenience.

Buying in bulk? Sometimes that’s a good idea, especially if it’s something that you use a lot of.  But check the price.  It may seem like you are saving money by buying the bigger package.  But the smaller packages sometimes do cost less.  We found that out today when we went to buy a 10-pack of crackers, and discovered that two 5-pack of crackers cost $2 less.

I made it out of the store alive, my receipt showing a number that was hardly scary. And the kids promptly made a mess of the kitchen as they got into all the goodies I had just bought. Times are tight in this single mother home, but we’re fortunate that with a few amendments, we can continue to put food on our table.


While we’re on the subject of grocery stores, don’t forget about the event tomorrow night at the Rialto – the documentary for “Ready, Set, Bag!” This event benefits the Redwood Empire Food Bank, an organization that has excelled in feeding the county’s poor, all with the help of volunteers and from the public’s donations. If you want to learn more about this event, read the blog I posted yesterday.


2 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping on a Budget

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  1. Your blog brings back many memories of my youth.
    Meal planning I learned as a teen is still something I rely on so much it has become almost second nature. Like buying a $10 ham and getting enough out of of to feed four at least 8-10 meals. It can be fun too. Of course it’s still fun to splurge occasionally too. Great advice.

  2. As a poor college student type, I have been learning bit by bit which items have quality compromised by low prices and which products have to meet certain standards. Canned green beans apparently don’t, as I discovered when multiple cans of value-brand veggies had a percentage of stems almost equal to the amount of beans (I exaggerate…but not by much, to be honest). Canned tomatoes, on the other hand, seem difficult to mess up, and butter is apparently butter no matter the brand. I think it’s mostly a matter of trial and error…I have areas where I won’t compromise on principle (I try to always by meat that’s at least semi-organic) but others where I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of a plain-package product, and more pleasantly surprised when my checkout total still left money over for such trivialities as enough gas money for the commutes to school and work.

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