Buying Cheap Groceries on a Budget
Groceries take up a large chunk of your monthly budget. You have to eat. You have to feed your family.
But inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages are sending grocery prices through the roof. So what can you do to keep your food budget down?
The good news is that there are probably cheap grocery store options near you where you can find budget-friendly prices on the food you buy weekly. Here is a list of the cheapest grocery stores:
- Buying Cheap Groceries on a Budget
- Best Places to Grocery Shop on a Budget
- How To Grocery Shop on a Tight Budget
- 1. Plan Your Meals Around Sale Items
- 2. Make a Grocery List Before You Go Shopping and Stick To It
- 3. Don’t Be Afraid to Venture Out
- 4. Keep Track of Prices in Your Area
- 5. Only Buy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Season
- 6. Don’t Waste Food
- 7. Join Store Loyalty Programs
- 8. Avoid Prepared Foods
- 9. Shop Online for Nonperishables
- 10. Use Coupons
- 11. Make It Yourself
- FAQ Regarding the Best Places to Grocery Shop on a Budget
Best Places to Grocery Shop on a Budget
The best places to grocery shop on a budget are Aldi, Market Basket, WinCo, Food4Less, Costco, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Lidl, H-E-B, and Sam’s Club. For nonperishable items you can buy online, compare prices at Amazon to your local discount grocer.
Aldi is a no-frills market where you rent a shopping cart for a quarter, bring your own bags, and bag your own groceries. According to the Aldi website, over 90% of the items on their shelves are brands exclusive to Aldi. Their extreme cost-cutting measures allow them to offer some of the lowest prices on food you can find.
The best deals include bread, yogurt, fresh produce, cereal, and canned goods. You can also find bargains on organic products, vegan items, and gluten-free foods.
Pro tip: Aldi runs meat specials on Wednesdays. If meat takes up a high percentage of your grocery budget, saving money on meat will significantly cut your grocery spending. The best deals sell out fast, so hit Aldi early on a Wednesday.
Market Basket is a discount grocery chain with 90 stores throughout New England. The chain was named the “top grocery retailer for inflationary times” according to a recent survey conducted by customer data firm dunnhumby.
All stores carry the same products, the company has no debt and does its own distribution. Turnover is low thanks to profit sharing. This operating efficiency allows Market Basket to offer low everyday prices to their customers.
You’ll find quality fruits and vegetables at good prices, and their store brands are an outstanding value.
Winco is another no-frills chain with 138 employee-owned stores throughout the west and parts of the south. The company operates warehouse-style stores with hundreds of items in the bulk food section.
They purchase many of their products directly from farms and manufacturers to cut out the middleman. They don’t spend much on advertising or mail weekly flyers to customers, keeping costs down.
Winco’s bulk section sells pantry staples and other items by the pound, including coffee, pasta, beans, sweeteners, and grains. You can save by buying in bulk. You can also save and cut food waste by buying small amounts or only what you need from the bulk bins.
Food 4 Less
Food 4 Less is part of the Kroger family of supermarkets and another warehouse-style grocery store where customers bag their own purchases. The chain lives up to the promise of its name with discount prices and weekly specials. Many of the same perks that Kroger offers are available at Food 4 less, such as:
- Kroger brand products
- A free rewards membership program with exclusive discounts
- Digital coupons
- Fuel points
- Delivery through Instacart
Food 4 Less has over 100 locations in California, Illinois, and Indiana.
Like their competitor Aldi, Lidl is a German company selling mostly private-label products. They carry some familiar products from national brands, but the availability of big-brand items is limited and inconsistent.
Lidl stores have high-quality produce, a fresh bakery right by the front door, international groceries, and a wide selection of wine at low prices. Products are sold out of shipping boxes, so there’s a definite minimalist feel. Bring your own bags, or you’ll have to pay for them.
Costco is a members-only warehouse club where you can save money on groceries by buying in bulk. Costco also offers high-quality store-brand products at low prices under the Kirkland label. Costco has an exclusive arrangement with Visa, so you can’t use your Mastercard, American Express, or Discover credit cards there.
Our local Costco usually has the best prices for staples like milk, eggs, cereal, and some canned goods like tuna. Between bulk prices on items you buy regularly and extras like below-average prices on gas, household items, travel, and electronics, a Costco membership might be well worth the annual fee to you.
If you’re buying perishable foods or other bulk items, be sure you can use it all before it goes bad and you have enough storage space.
Sam’s Club is Walmart’s answer to Costco. Membership is required to shop there, and most things are sold in bulk off pallets.
Unlike Walmart, Sam’s Club does not sell a little bit of everything. It’s mostly food plus household items you’d see at any supermarket, like toilet paper, cleaning products, and laundry supplies.
Unlike Costco, Sam’s Club takes all credit cards and Walmart gift cards for payment. Membership fees are also slightly lower at Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club has a Scan and Go app you can use to scan everything in your cart and get out of there faster.
Trader Joe’s is another grocery chain with dedicated fans who rave about the quality of the products they sell. TJ’s stocks mostly private-label products in stores that are smaller than most of their competitors.
They don’t have a staffed bakery, meat counter, or deli. There is no self-checkout, delivery, or curbside pickup available. Trader Joe’s doesn’t run sales or offer coupons because they sell their stuff at the lowest price possible.
Trader Joe’s is known for its unique selection of products at low prices, their quirky decor, and dirt-cheap wine.
It might surprise you that groceries account for over half of Walmart’s annual sales. That makes Walmart the largest food retailer in the United States.
Check Walmart prices first if you have to have name-brand products. Walmart’s Great Value house brand might have the lowest price you can find on canned goods, frozen foods, baking supplies, and household goods such as paper products and trash bags.
Skip the produce section, though. Consumer Reports ranked Walmart toward the bottom for produce quality in its evaluation of supermarket chains.
If you go grocery shopping at Walmart, it’s easy to wander around the rest of the store and overspend. Don’t blow up your budget with impulse buys and non-food items you found in other areas of the store.
While H-E-B doesn’t stand for “Here, Everything’s Better” (H.E.B. are the initials of the founder’s son), many Texans agree with the sentiment.
The company is privately owned, so it’s not accountable to Wall Street. They stock local food, Texas-themed products, and high-quality store-brand items, all at bargain prices.
They don’t play games, like putting the sale items at the back of the store and the most expensive products at eye level. Bright yellow coupons hanging throughout the store highlight the best deals and free items.
Unfortunately, this wildly popular chain’s only stores outside of Texas are in northern Mexico.
In general, food at Amazon is affordable, but you may find better deals locally. However, there are bargains to be had along with the convenience of shopping at Amazon, especially if you have a Prime membership. Here are some ways to save:
- Save up to 15% with Subscribe and Save. If you subscribe to an item, you can get scheduled deliveries of products you use regularly. With the discount, prices are on par with or lower than Walmart on some household items. You can change or cancel your subscription at any time.
- Browse Amazon’s coupons page. Many people don’t know this, but Amazon has a coupons page with savings typically ranging from 10 to 20 percent off tons of products, including groceries and household items. There’s even a page for subscribe and save coupons to lower prices even more
- Review the add-on items. If you’re spending more than $25 at Amazon, you can purchase add-on items cheaply. These items are usually smaller and lower-priced, so Amazon won’t ship them unless you’re spending at least $25. Some add-on items are marked down significantly.
- Use your Amazon Prime Visa card. You’ll get 5% back on your Amazon purchases if you have an Amazon Prime credit card. You can stack that with Subscribe and Save discounts and coupons to maximize your savings. Pay the card off every month to avoid interest.
How To Grocery Shop on a Tight Budget
Besides frequenting the cheapest grocery stores, there is more you can do to lower your grocery bills. Here are 11 tips to help you grocery shop on a tight budget:
1. Plan Your Meals Around Sale Items
Check grocery store websites for the week’s promotions. If you make your weekly meal plan for around what’s on sale and what you already have in your kitchen, you save automatically by not paying the regular price for anything.
2. Make a Grocery List Before You Go Shopping and Stick To It
You’ve probably gone into a store intending to buy 1 or 2 things and come out with multiple bags of stuff. It’s easy to do with enticing displays, free samples, and other tricks retailers use to separate you from your cash.
You don’t have room for impulse buys if you’re on a tight budget. Make a shopping list. Don’t buy anything that isn’t on it.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Venture Out
If you go to the same supermarket every week, you’re probably not getting the best prices. Discount grocers and ethnic markets might have the best prices on groceries near you.
4. Keep Track of Prices in Your Area
How will you recognize a good deal if you don’t know how much things cost?
Start a spreadsheet or notebook and monitor prices on your staples through sales flyers and local grocery store websites. Before you know it, you’ll be able to spot a bargain immediately.
5. Only Buy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Season
Produce is typically much cheaper in season, especially locally grown. If you don’t know what is in season and when the USDA provides guidance here. You can print out the list and stick it to your refrigerator.
6. Don’t Waste Food
Buying in bulk or stockpiling when a great deal comes along is no bargain if it goes in the garbage. If you’re unsure you can use everything before it spoils or expires, err on the side of it running out rather than throwing it out. Store your food properly and repurpose leftovers into lunches or new dishes.
7. Join Store Loyalty Programs
Store loyalty programs offer members-only deals, discounts, and coupons based on your buying habits. Some stores require a loyalty card to get the best prices.
8. Avoid Prepared Foods
Having someone put together a meal for you is convenient when you’re in a rush or don’t feel like cooking. Convenience comes at a high cost.
Ready-made foods or entire meals are almost never a bargain. You can usually make the same meal for much less.
9. Shop Online for Nonperishables
If you don’t have options for buying in bulk or a warehouse club near you, check online for nonperishable items. If you can get free shipping, you might be able to lower your food costs by buying in bulk online.
10. Use Coupons
Store coupons and manufacturer coupons offer extra savings. You can find printable coupons online, get them from newspapers and store flyers, or get coupons in the mail. Don’t buy anything you wouldn’t normally buy just because you have a coupon.
11. Make It Yourself
Making some foods from scratch can be much cheaper and healthier than store-bought versions. You can significantly lower your grocery spending by making your own bread and bread products, baking mix instead of buying Bisquick, sauces, soups, and more.
FAQ Regarding the Best Places to Grocery Shop on a Budget
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the best places to grocery shop on a budget.
What Is the Cheapest Grocery Store?
The cheapest grocery store in the U.S. is Aldi. With its no-frills approach, exclusive private-label products, and smaller stores, Aldi’s commitment to cutting costs results in lower prices for customers.
Is Walmart the Cheapest Place To Buy Groceries?
Walmart is the cheapest place to buy groceries if you don’t have an Aldi or other discount grocery store near you. Walmart is the largest food retailer in the U.S., with locations in rural areas, smaller towns, and places where chain supermarkets don’t operate.
What Is the Cheapest Grocery Store for Meat?
Aldi is the cheapest grocery store in the U.S. for meat. You can find the cheapest prices on meat on Wednesdays when most Aldi locations run specials on meats. Get there early, as the best deals run out quickly.
Who’s Cheaper Aldi or Walmart?
Aldi is cheaper for groceries than Walmart overall. Aldi is almost always cheaper than Walmart for meat, produce, eggs, and most food items. Walmart sometimes beats Aldi on nonperishable dry or canned goods like rice, beans, and canned soup due to Walmart’s massive buying power.
What Is the Cheapest Day to Grocery Shop?
The cheapest day to grocery shop is the day your local store starts its weekly sale. Many, but not all, supermarkets start their sales on Wednesday. Shop at the start of a store’s sales week to avoid missing out on deals and having to get a rain check.
Image Credits: Unsplash
Sara Graham is a frugal living and household budgeting expert. Her writing has appeared on MSN Money, The Good Men Project, Fairygodboss, and several other online publications. She is the co-founder of KindaFrugal.com, a personal finance and frugal living blog.