Grocery shopping on a budget can be difficult, and healthier foods can sometimes be more expensive. Having a game plan before walking through the doors and carefully navigating the store can prevent overspending, reduce food waste and help ensure you make nutritious food choices.
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Start With a Plan
The key to shopping smart is to have a plan before heading into the store. Make a list of all the ingredients for a week's worth of healthy meals, and organize the list by the store layout. If meal planning is a challenge, many phone apps and online resources are available to provide instructions and suggestions. Another challenging part of budget shopping is the temptation to purchase items that are not on your list. To resist this temptation, carry only the amount of cash needed to purchase the listed items.
Be a Wallflower
The fresh produce, bread, meats and dairy will likely be close to the outer walls of the store, so sticking to the perimeter is a good way to eliminate the temptation of buying other items. The layout of grocery stores is strategic, causing even the most conscientious shoppers to fall victim to unplanned purchases. The most commonly purchased items, such as produce and milk, are located on the outside and toward the back to force customers to navigate the rest of the store to find them. Don't fall for the store's strategy -- be prepared!
Try farmers markets to buy seasonal produce. Produce is generally cheaper during its natural growing season, especially if it is grown and sold locally, so plan to eat berries mostly in summer and apples in the fall, for example. If the desired fruits and vegetables are not in season, it is probably cheaper to buy them canned or frozen. Be sure to check the label for nutritional information and always choose options with lower added salt or sugar.
Scan the Labels
If there are products on the list that require venturing beyond the perimeter and into the regular aisles, temptation become even stronger. Avoid inspecting sale items on the ends of the aisles -- grocery chains do this deliberately to entice shoppers. Such items will add to the bill total without contributing nutritional value to your meals. Opt for uncooked whole grains over the precooked or seasoned options, as they are usually both healthier and cheaper. Read labels to help decide between brands, weighing nutritional value against unit price to determine if a product is worth paying for.
Stick to the Plan
The secret to keeping healthy on a small budget is that there is no one secret. Stick to the plan, resist the temptation of sale items and do not buy items that will spoil before they can be eaten. In its 2012 issue paper, "Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill," the National Resources Defense Counsel reported that Americans throw out 25 percent of their food and beverage purchases. Planning before shopping can help alleviate this waste, lower grocery bills and decrease reliance on less healthy canned, boxed and processed goods. Having a personalized plan and being committed to shopping healthy and consciously is essential for low-budget, diet-conscious grocery shopping.