Healthy How-Tos Live

How To Handle Rising Food Prices and Shop on a Budget

February 12, 2016

With rising food prices, it’s getting harder to grocery shop without breaking the bank. Here are a list of tips on how to grocery shop on a budget so your stomach and wallet will thank you.

With rising food prices, it's getting harder to grocery shop without breaking the bank. Here are a list of tips on how to grocery shop on a budget so your stomach and wallet will thank you.Due to the challenging weather caused by El Nino and the not-so-great Canadian dollar, food prices in Canada have been fluctuating like crazy. My grocery bill for the week is usually around $80-90 CDN for two, but over the last few months I’ve been noticing that our bill has been as high as $150! For a young couple who is trying to budget (aka save for our travel fund), seeing the prices skyrocket at the grocery store makes us rather eat out then deal with the burden of food shopping and cooking.

While I’m not one to cook every single one of our meals, eating-in gives us a certain level of control over the types of food we consume and ensuring we stick to a relatively clean and healthy diet. And even with rising food costs, eating out actually doesn’t end up being any cheaper.

What I fear is that as food prices continue to rise, people will turn to cheaper and less healthy alternatives. I’ve found us falling into that trap so in 2016 I set out to get our grocery bill down. Besides indulging in the occasional cauliflower, I’ve actually been able to decrease our grocery bill substantially and am hoping that the tips and tricks I’ve implemented can be helpful to some of you. Here are my recommendations for how to grocery shop on a budget and still keep up with a nutritious diet:

1. Meal Plan + Create a List

I always go back-and-forth on meal planning (mainly because I can get lazy) but there’s no denying how effective it is for food shopping. On Sundays I usually sit down with C and we chat about what we want to eat that week. I also have a look at my content calendar to get a sense of what I’ll be testing or shooting in the kitchen that week. From there, I create a list of groceries I’ll need for these recipes and other staples we keep in the kitchen.

I am not a meal-prepper, but I do like having a sense of what we’ll be eating so I can pick up the right stuff!

I use my Wunderlist app to create the list so that I can easily access it on my phone, in the store and check it off once I have it. Without a list it’s game over at the grocery store and without a meal plan, you’ve got no chance at making your list.

2. Be flexible

So you’re at the store and you notice that broccoli is $5 cheaper than cauliflower. Don’t be afraid to change it up! Knowing your ingredients is good, but sales happen and it’s okay to swap one ingredient for the other. Unless it’s the star of the show, be flexible with your shopping and deviate from the list to give your wallet a break.

3. Shop local

This is easier said than done in certain places, but a good rule of thumb is that if it’s local, it’s likely cheaper. With less travel and exchange rate issues, your butternut squash is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than those $8 raspberries. It also helps support your local farmers, and who doesn’t feel good about that?

4. Substitute with Frozen

But sometimes you’re craving those $8 raspberries…frozen to the rescue! I actually have nothing against frozen fruits and veggies. As always, quality comes first but there’s some fantastic quality organic frozen fruits and veggies on the market that are frozen at their most optimal times to seal in nutrients. In the winter I almost exclusively get my berries frozen since there’s no way in hell I’m paying such an exorbitant amount for fresh berries that have been shipped from halfway across the world.

This doesn’t give you permission to eat exclusively frozen foods, but when fresh is not an option, go frozen.

5. Know the Clean 15 +Dirty Dozen 

The clean 15 and dirty dozen are a list of vegetables indicating which ones to buy organic and which ones are okay to eat conventional. Organic veggies are more expensive so knowing which ones to actually splurge on is worthwhile. Download this picture to your phone so next time you’re at the grocery store you can turn to it when choosing whether or not to buy organic. As a rule of thumb- if it has a thick skin (think avocados, bananas etc..) it’s usually pretty impenetrable so conventional is fine, but if the inner part is exposed, go organic!

With rising food prices, it's getting harder to grocery shop without breaking the bank. Here are a list of tips on how to grocery shop on a budget so your stomach and wallet will thank you.

6. Eat Less Meat

Meat, and especially good quality meat is hella expensive. And guess what? You don’t need as much of it as you think. About 6 months ago C and I set out to decrease our meat consumption and we feel pretty good about our choice. We’ve saved a ton of money, done our part for the environment and I’ve learned a ton about plant-based cooking. This year is the International Year of Pulses, and for good reason. Pulses (i.e. legumes) are an amazing source of plant-based protein and nutrition. They’re also infinitely cheaper than meat and especially when you buy dried beans and cook them yourself. I challenge you to start eating at least one meatless meal a week and take it from there. P.S. Here are some of my faves:

Butternut Squash Mac + Cheese
Thai Quinoa Casserole
Quinoa Tortilla Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash with Pesto + Spicy Chickpeas

7. Shop in Bulk

Certain ingredients like nuts and grains are often substantially cheaper in bulk than having to buy 6 boxes of quinoa. Not only do you produce less waste, but with fewer packaging materials your bulk food will almost always be cheaper. I usually do a big trip to the bulk store one-a-month and fill up my pre-labelled jars. I’ll keep nuts in the fridge and dried fruit and grains in the cupboard. When my stock gets low I know it’s time for another visit.

8. Spot the Deals

I am OBSESSED with rewards programs. To me, it makes absolutely no sense to not sign-up for them (man am I my mother’s daughter…). Most larger grocery stores offer some kind of rewards program and certain stores have demographic-specific days for students or seniors (unfortunately none for those of us in limbo between the two!), so start making use of them!

Loblaws, the grocery store closest to me as an amazing rewards program called “PC Plus“, which gives you points based on the food you buy most often. There’s incentive for you to buy more, but also rewards you for food you’d buy anyway. Last year I earned over $270 in free groceries. Have I convinced you yet?

9. Store Hop

This tip isn’t for everyone, but if you’re really committed to decreasing your grocery bill, it’s time to do your research. I’m a price inspector and make note of prices at various stores. I know where to buy the chepeast hummus, where produce is best and where to get my bulk quinoa. It’s not the fastest shopping method but if you’ve got some time, keep a list of where foods are cheapest and store hop to save on your bill.

10. Use The Freezer

Food waste aka the bane of my existence is a huge money sucker. I live with a growing boy who eats a lot but if I’m making a meal that makes a ton of quantities and I don’t think we’ll eat it all, into the freezer it will go! I individually store each meal so that all that is required is popping it out the night before to defrost. It prevents you from having to throw out food (and then go and spend $$$ on more) and also ensures there’s healthy, homemade food around the house. You can also plan for this by buying ingredients to make large and easily freezable meals. Perfect for SOUPER SUNDAY…just sayin’.

 

So there you have it, 10 Useful Tips to help you grocery shop on a budget. I’m always trying to decrease my bill (mostly so I can spend more money on unnecessary ingredients like artisnal mustard and pickled lemongrass or travel the world to eat some more) so I will keep you posted as I discover more tips and tricks. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve done to keep your grocery bill down!

So tell me, how do you grocery shop on a budget?

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  • Reply
    Hilary
    February 12, 2016 at 5:43 am

    I am huge on reward programs too! And always make lists before I go!

  • Reply
    Maureen
    February 12, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I am a fan of using the freezer and store hopping. But instead of me having to go store to store, I split it with my husband and we each hit a different store on the way home before the weekend starts.
    Maureen recently posted…Fitbit Alta Giveaway – Heart Month

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      February 12, 2016 at 9:14 am

      you’ve got it figured out! Now to convince the boy to hit the grocery store haha…easier said than done 😉

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    February 12, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Great tips, Davida! I practice all of these already! But thanks for the reminder about shopping frozen- I am always looking for a veggie if we are low on groceries and HATE when I don’t have a bag of something green in the freezer so this was a great reminder for me to stock up on some more frozen veggies. I hate having to stop at the store for just one or two things…I’m also a HUGE hater of food waste so I guess my only “add” to this list would be to eat ALL the leftovers. I make it a point to repurpose leftovers in any way shape or form so I reduce food waste and avoid going to the store for fresh food when I have perfectly edible options on hand

    Oh and I’m also trying to eat less meat, but it’s tough when you don’t eat a lot of non-animal protein sources but I am striving to experiment more in this area by bulking up my veg intake even more and finding more creative sources of protein!

  • Reply
    Ashley @ Fit Mitten Kitchen
    February 12, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Okay, you nailed it on this post. Though every time I’m in Canada at the grocery stores I think “How the heck do you people afford this!?” I mean, some of the comparisons are cray.
    I’ve just recently been looking more into the dirty dozen… while my husband doesn’t like splurging on organic items, I tell him about this list and make him listen. He pushes the cart, I pick the groceries 😉 (minus the random half gallons of ice cream that somehow find their way in at the end…)
    Ashley @ Fit Mitten Kitchen recently posted…Chocolate Coconut Sunflower Seed Butter

  • Reply
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious
    February 12, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Food is really expensive and it’s a bummer that so many of the unhealthy foods are those that are subsidized making it more attractive for people to buy them. At least it’s that way in the U.S.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…Healthy Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies {GF, Low Cal}

  • Reply
    Bita
    February 12, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Great tips – thanks Davida! Good to be thoughtful of prices – it’s easy to grab the $10 bag of grapes when they are not in season but smarter to look for the deal of the day 🙂 ✨

  • Reply
    Stella @ Stellicious Life
    February 12, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Great, and incredibly informative and useful post, thanks Davida!

    I’d have a few questions:

    1) I’ve wanted to start meal planning for some time now (as I like its planning and budgetary aspects) but what makes me doubt and question the method is that I’m supposed to create a list first of what meals I’d like to cook and eat during the week, then go to the shop to buy them. But I do it the other way: I usually buy groceries quite spontaneously, depending on what groceries I find at the store/market and I’ll look up recipes and make meals out of them. Any tips or advice how to transition or get used to/accept the idea of meal planning?

    2) Is there any difference between the two categories (pulses vs. legumes)? Why the two names? Sorry, pulses is just new to me, and I’m confused.

    3) LOL I’m exactly like you: I always sign up for these reward programs in any shop I go to, because why not take advantage of the deals?

    4) I love freezers. A well stocked freezer and pantry give me that warm and fuzzy feeling you know 🙂 Sadly in our current apartment the freezer is tiny. It is still so fully packed you have to be careful when opening it, but there’s mostly just ingredients there (frozen peas, berries, herbs, etc) as there’s no place for meal boxes. I really hope that once we move there will be a giant (ok, I’ll be happy with merely a big) freezer that I can pack full of prepared meals for emergency cravings 😉
    Stella @ Stellicious Life recently posted…Oriental Lentil Casserole

  • Reply
    Cassie
    February 12, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Eating locally, shopping in bulk, choosing more produce and eating less meat are saviors! I also like the dirty dozen and clean 15 list too!
    Cassie recently posted…New YouTube Video: L.A. Fit Expo 2016 Recap

  • Reply
    Mila
    February 12, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    All excellent tips! Menu planning is a huge money saver, so I’d recommend to transition to it gradually and not to be to rigid about it. I find that everyone has their own system. Try different approaches and see what is more doable for you.

    I’d like to add never grocery shop on an empty stomach, it is almost impossible to resist temptations when you are hungry.

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      February 15, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Agreed Mila! Nothing worse than the impulse buys you grab because you’re shopping while hungry! Thanks for the added tips 🙂

  • Reply
    Victoria
    February 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Love these ideas, I’m all about eating healthy on a budget! Happy weekending!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Great post Davida. Food in Sydney is so expensive!! I follow most of these tips especially store/market hopping. It takes more time but its so much cheaper to go to a few different places to get the best prices, especially when you’re on a budget 🙂
    Lauren recently posted…Whole 30 Week 4 – 2 Days To Go

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      February 15, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      The only place I could imagine it being more expensive than in Canada is in Australia…man I’d really have to learned to eat on a way smaller budget if I lived in Aus. Stuff is so expensive!!

  • Reply
    Holly
    February 14, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I have been meal planning, shopping my freezer and pantry first ( gotta use up that spinach from the garden and berries from the market!), I also love the flipp app, it show’s me the flyers for my local stores and I can select my fave things and save them to my clippings. It also let’s me create a shopping list and searches for sales and coupon match ups for those items. It has saved me a lot of time and money so far! We also buy bulk and do some stock up shopping at Costco when we are in a city!

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      February 15, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      What a genius app! I need to check it out!

      • Reply
        Pam
        May 28, 2017 at 8:01 pm

        The shopping app I use is reebee. You enter your postal code and it gives you all the local flyers, even ones the paper may not have! I will browse through certain flyers individually but then I will do a keyword search for items if I can’t find them or I want to make sure I have the cheapest ones. I add what I want to my list even if it’s not in the flyers and off I go shopping. Some stores will price match from the app which cuts down on the store hopping (if it’s the same brand/size).

  • Reply
    Em @ Love A Latte
    February 15, 2016 at 8:48 am

    We recently started going more shopping at Trader Joe’s rather than Wegmans (the grocery store by me) and that does save us some money, but in general we spend a ton on food. I want to eat mostly organic and quality stuff and man it is expensive. I do agree that buying frozen fruit helps especially because my son eats blueberries like crazy. Great tips! I need to do a better job at meal planning and not shopping hungry.
    Em @ Love A Latte recently posted…Sage: 18 Months Old Update (A Letter)

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      February 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Was shopping with the bf yesterday and he noted how much less we bought because he went right after eating! I not-so-secretly fed him before…;)

  • Reply
    Hazel Owens
    April 14, 2016 at 10:41 am

    I like your tip to make a meal plan and create a list. I know that I personally tend to overspend at the grocery store because I buy things I don’t need. Planning your meals, making a list, and sticking to that list can prevent you from buying unnecessary items that will end up going to waste. Thanks for the article!

  • Reply
    Davina
    August 1, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    A ) PC Points are the best! I saved enough last year to pay for all my Christmas baking. Worked out so great.
    B) I use the app Flipp to check out whats on sale throughout the city. Find the sales and portable proof for price matching
    🙂

  • Reply
    Loves the Earth
    September 7, 2016 at 8:59 am

    These are all oh-so-effective! I plan my meals for the week too. But you know what makes me more practical? My organic products! It’s not true that living and going organic is more expensive. Organic makes us healthier so it lessens our trips to the doctors so it means less spending on medicine and doctor’s fee too!
    Loves the Earth recently posted…Eco-Riding with Green Cars

  • Reply
    Rationcart
    June 21, 2017 at 2:33 am

    Hey,
    You did a great job, I like this article. Before going anywhere I make list of places which gives health food on cheap price and also in my nearest location.

  • Reply
    Eve
    June 23, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Wow….this is really amazing. I just love the post. The tips you have shared are really awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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