These Mistakes Are Killing Your Grocery Budget

grocery budget mistakes

grocery budget mistakes

Ask anyone where they want to save money in their budget, and the answer is usually groceries. Your family’s grocery bill is probably one of your biggest monthly expenses, other than mortgage or rent.

But even if you think you’re doing a great job planning and saving, I guarantee that you are spending too much money and making mistakes that are killing your grocery budget!

The truth is that even I’m guilty of making some of these grocery budget mistakes. I admit it. I own it! But, I also recognize it and have taken steps to be smarter when I shop to save money on groceries.

If you are just learning about budgeting, you will want to check out our page — How to Budget. There you will learn everything you want to know about budgets and budgeting.


Skim through my list and see which grocery budget mistakes you’re making — and then challenge yourself to make a change, even with just one grocery shopping tip. Your wallet will thank you!


I’m not talking about your shopping list (though that’s important too and comes up in just a minute). This crucial plan is your meal plan.

Your meal plan outlines what your family will eat for each meal, each day of the week. Meal planning not only saves you time each day by knowing what to cook for dinner, but it also makes grocery shopping much simpler and more efficient. When you’re armed with a weekly meal plan, you know which meat, produce, staples, and snacks to add to your shopping list, saving you additional trips to the store.

Read more: Creating a Menu Plan That Works


To piggyback off of your meal plan, you also need a shopping list. Shopping without a list is like taking a road trip without a map. You need to know what you need and where to get it. Put in on paper or use an app on your phone — it doesn’t matter how you do it, just make a list!

Sticking to your grocery list ensures you get everything you need so you don’t have to make extra trips to the store. All of those small additional trips waste time and fuel, and you often end up spending more on an impulse purchase even though you’d planned to dash in and grab “just one thing.”


Grocery coupons are great. And your weekly ad will work even harder for you when you apply a coupon to a food item that also happens to be on sale. Learning how to use coupons the right way is the key to significant savings at the grocery store. Clipping coupons helped me work my way out of more than $35,000 in debt!


Food waste is a biggie. According to the USDA, Americans throw away 30% to 40% of our food supply!

Make sure you grocery shop for only the food you can consume in a week. Sure, you may find a good deal on a flat of fresh strawberries, but if you don’t eat them all, they will spoil. That is money going right into your trash can.

Never buy more than you can eat right away or have space for in your freezer — even when the sale price is awfully tempting.


You read that right. Your phone. There are some great apps you can use to save money. These include the popular Ibotta app and Checkout51, which is another rebate app. The best thing about these apps is that you don’t have to remember to bring coupons to the store with you – because you always have your phone!


When you buy fresh fruit and vegetables that aren’t in-season, you will pay more. There’s no getting around it. Plan your meals around in-season produce, or opt for frozen vegetables when the fresh option, like a salad, costs more.


Your local grocery store almost certainly has a loyalty program. Sign up and get the rewards card — you can often get special offers and discounts, which puts money back in your pocket.

If you hate the idea of carrying the little plastic keyfob around, then you may want to try KeyRing. This app stores all of your rewards card details and is scanned at checkout.

And, if you’d rather skip the app too, just give the cashier the number associated with the card (I recommend choosing your phone number so you always remember it) and he or she can manually enter it and find you in the store’s system.


Have you ever actually noticed a difference between name-brand canned goods and the store brand — besides the price? Store-label products can often save you big money. And to take your off-brand savings to an even bigger scale, consider grocery shopping at a warehouse club, dollar store, or discount store like Aldi. Their no-frills shopping experience translates into more savings for you.


Using coupons doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it doesn’t need to take a lot of your time. If you are new to the world of coupons, you will want to learn how to use them. Then, check out sites such as, SmartSource and RetailMeNot Everyday to find coupons you can print right at home.


Take time to clean out your fridge and look though the pantry before you create your shopping list and head to the store. This is actually a double bonus for you because not only do you get the fridge cleaned up, but you also ensure that you don’t forget to pick up those must-have items. It also prevents you from buying food you don’t need. There’s nothing more annoying than finding a brand new jar of peanut butter in the back of the pantry when you’re unloading another one from your shopping bag.


This is one of the grocery budget mistakes I was making! I’m busy and so are you. And I know pre-packaged snacks and foods can save you time … but they can also be budget-busters. Although you may need them for the soccer game snack, you should pass on them for your own family.

We started repacking larger boxes of snack foods into bite-sized portions for our family’s snack basket. I spend less money this way, and less packaging is better for the environment, too. It also helps with portion control for my kids.


I’m raising my hand here as I’m guilty of this mistake myself. Buy only the items on your grocery list, and don’t fall for descriptive packaging or fancy store displays.

Read More: Free Shopping List Download


When you make your meal plan, you might look at the weekly ad circular and include meals with items that on are sale. But are you really taking advantage of them?

If you see that chicken breasts are on sale this week, don’t just buy one package for dinner on Thursday. Instead (as long as you have room), grab two or three and toss the extras into your freezer. Now, when you want chicken breast next week — and it’s not on sale — you’ll still have saved money.

When it comes to sale items, always buy the items you know you will need over the next few weeks, rather than waiting until you need them — when you’ll usually have to pay full price. This is especially helpful for staples like meat, canned tomatoes, dried beans, and even household staples like toilet paper or detergent.


Did you know that the balance on gift cards can decrease over time — even if you don’t use them? I didn’t, and I sat on some cash cards for a few years only to discover that the cards’ annual fees had pretty much eaten up the entire balance. Grrrrrrrr! If you have a cash-value gift card sitting around, why not apply it to your grocery spending? Letting gift cards sit around is like leaving cash on the table … so if you’re trying to tighten your grocery budget, using a gift card is an easy way to save on a grocery trip or two — and make sure you get the most out of the card’s balance.


With a few adjustments to your grocery routine, you’ll eliminate some of the most common mistakes that kill your food budget. Did anything on our list jump out at you? Which of these common money-suckers are you going to conquer next?

how you are sabotaging your grocery budget

how you are sabotaging your grocery budget


Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget

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It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget.  Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change.  In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip.  Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store.  Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!

1. Check mail for coupons and ads

Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away!  Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up.  Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.

2. Make a grocery list.

I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money).  Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.

3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.

If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt.  Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.

4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.

The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling.  That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan.  Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.

5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area.  When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.

6. Buy frozen veggies.

While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies.  One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer.  Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.

7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.

There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves).  On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.

That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that.  I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices.  Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.

8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery. 

Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery.  Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you.  If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.

9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.

While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher.  I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer.  My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!

10. Buy Bulk Bin items.

You know those bulk bins at the grocery store?  That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money!  Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs.  What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.

Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes.  Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes.  I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month.  Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store.  But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!

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