Grocery Shopping on a Budget: It’s Not As Hard As You Think

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By Stephanie Dickison

Shopping for groceries can easily cost you as much as the rent if you’re not careful.

Budget-conscious grocery shopping is easy as long as you follow a couple of simple steps.

1. Eat before shopping

One of the easiest and best tips to saving money while grocery shopping is to eat first. If you shop while hungry, you will be grabbing anything that tempts you but if you are full, you will be more likely to just get what you need. There’s something about being stuffed that makes you not to even look at food. Not only will you save a lot of money, but you will be in and out of the store much faster.

2. Make a list before shopping and stick to it

One of the best ways to save money is to make a list and stick to it. Going grocery shopping without one can cause you to just grab whatever looks good, but by making a list, you get what’s needed and if you stick to it, you won’t get stuck with expensive “impulse buys” that you don’t really need anyway.

3. Go to more than one big super store

Picking up everything at one large grocery store can often cost triple what you’d pay if you went to a couple of different places.

Produce at most grocery stores is expensive and often not very good. You can buy a package of mushrooms, a stalk of celery and onions (great staples to keep on hand) at a fruit and vegetable store for the price of 6 mushrooms at the grocery store – the savings are that big! Most neighbourhoods have a couple to choose from and the deals are well worth the extra trip.

Discount stores like No Frills, Price Chopper and Food Basics are exceptions to the big grocery store guideline. They carry many of the same products but at discounted prices. You can save $50-$100 per major trip.

Do you know about Foodshare?

They buy “top quality fresh fruit and vegetables directly from farmers and volunteers pack it into green reusable boxes at their Field to Table warehouse.

Volunteer co-ordinators collect money for the boxes in advance of delivery, then make sure that everyone gets their box after it arrives. They deliver to daycares, apartment buildings, churches – anywhere there are 8-10 people who want to buy a box.”

There are over 150 Good Food Box stops across the city. To find out the location nearest you, you can email them with the nearest major intersection to you – – or you can call them at 416. 363.6441 ext 221.

4. Go Generic

Another hint – buy store brand products versus name brand. You will save a lot of money this way, and often you are getting the same product under the store’s name, especially when it comes to household cleaners, toilet paper, and other dry goods.

5. Make it, don’t buy it.

It is usually cheaper to make something than buying the ready-made, pre-packaged product like frozen lasagna or tuna casserole, so only buy prepared foods when they are on sale and will save you both time and money.

6. Shopping for ethnic ingredients is cheaper in their neighbourhoods

Shopping in Chinatown (College to Queen along Spadina) is incredibly inexpensive. Fresh green vegetables are the fraction of the cost of grocery stores and the variety is plentiful. Supreme green teas are often just $1 or 2 compared to the $4-10 price of grocery stores.

This also goes for little India (Coxwell & Gerrard) and areas like Bloor West Village (Runnymede to Jane along Bloor).

Also check out Kensington Market for great spices (House of Spice, Ethiopian Spice/Sudan Corner), inexpensive cheeses and foods from around the world (fresh tomatillos, yucca, etc).

7. Specials and Coupons – Every little bit helps

Use coupons and scour flyers for weekly specials to help decrease the cost of groceries. You can find these in local and national newspapers as well as in home and food magazines and websites.

8. Get your vitamins!

When shopping, make sure that you are getting vitamin rich foods and not just cheap meals loaded with fat and sugar.

Martha McCarney, Registered Dietitian, says that the “challenge for those shopping on a budget is usually getting enough high quality protein (rich in heme iron, better absorbed and comes from animals) and fruit/vegetables, which are rich in potassium, antioxidants and fiber.” She suggests the following:

  • Buy from the sale bin and just cut off the bruised bits.
  • For good quality protein you could include a list of non-heme iron-rich alternatives such as legumes (beans and lentils), canned tuna and iron fortified cereals. Also, to help body absorb the non-heme iron, eat foods high in vitamin C like tomato sauce, oranges, potatoes, broccoli, tomato juice.
  • Often dried food that requires reconstituting is cheaper (milk powder, juices, soups, oatmeal). Milk powder is a cheap way to increase protein content of soups, mashed potatoes, puddings, and other soft easy-to-blend foods.
  • A generic multivitamin is a relatively inexpensive way to make sure you’re getting everything you need. Buy one appropriate for your age (it will say on the package).

As you can see, you can spend as little as $400-$600 a month for you and your family and still eat a nutritious and tasty meal. It can also be a lot of fun!

Happy Shopping!

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