Food Shopping On a Budget

hand holding grocery cartToday’s post comes from a good friend blogger, Mr. Canadian Budget Binder. This is his guest post on food shopping tips.

Whether you have a family of 5 to feed or you are on one or two people, food shopping on a budget is one of the most important categories in the budget. Why do you say? Well besides putting a roof over our heads one of the next biggest expenses is food. Sometimes without realizing it we are surpassing what we pay in rent or a mortgage to fill our plates each month. I’ve talked to many people who are just starting out with a budget and were over the moon when they starting tracking their expenses. One critical step that I consider paramount is knowing where the money is going every month.

If you follow Canadian Budget Binder you know I’m a big budget nerd because I like to know exactly how healthy our finances are on a regular basis. In fact I post our actual monthly budget numbers and Net worth updates every month. This is to motivate us and to show others that we play by our own rules and how it’s working out for us. There is no magic potion; all you need is time, effort and a lick of desire to succeed. We hope that by sharing our numbers that others will see that anyone can save money by using a budget. Some people like to check in every 6 months or even once per year but that’s not good enough for our finances. Near the end of 2010 we really kicked our grocery budget into high gear using, you guessed it, coupons. I’m not here to argue whether you think they are good or not but all I will say is I’ll keep the thousands we saved in our own pocket, full-stop.

How Do We Save Money Shopping?

Meal Planning

One aspect of food shopping that we started to focus on in 2012 was meal planning. Meal planning is a very important aspect of many families’ weekly routines for many reasons. Not only does it save money but it also saves time and eliminates waste. Have you ever went into the refrigerator only to toss out rotten food that was no longer edible? Every time you toss something into the waste bin that is like taking money out of your wallet and say bye. Although meal planning has been baby steps for us I designed a template we print out from our free money saving tools and post it on our refrigerator once we fill it out.

We sit together once a week and talk about meals we would like to create from scratch, foods we want to try and base it around sales coupled with what is on our freezer inventory and pantry list. We have created so many new recipes over the past year and share them with our fans any chance we get. We are able to see what we are going to cook each day of the week so we know what to prepare the night before or in the morning.  I also have a grocery shop/meal plan that we could print so we can plan the groceries that we need to buy and we can bring the printout along with us.

Convenience Foods

This isn’t going to take up much space here because convenience costs money, end of story. If you can buy a 10lb bag of potatoes for $2.99 why would you buy a 400 gram bag of sliced potatoes for $2.99 that are ready to go in the oven? Unless for reasons beyond your control you can’t prep food then take 10-15 minutes out of your day to peel potatoes, season them with spices, and toss a bit of extra virgin olive oil and put them in the oven. Not only will it cost you less your family will love them much better than production line fries in a bag. Another pet peeve is all those simple spice mixes like sloppy joe, taco seasoning etc.. You can make them yourself for a fraction of the cost. I went as far as to prove this by creating my own Sloppy Joe Recipe and it was  a hit and one of the most popular recipes on the blog.


We don’t plan our meals around just any foods we try to stick to the flyer sales if at all possible but like to splurge once in a while. Knowing your prices are crucial with this money saving step because you can be blowing money even if you think you are saving money. One example I gave in the past is  a bottle of coke is reg price $1.00 at Shopalot and on sale at Poshalot (I made up store names) for $2.00 reg $2.50. If you don’t know that the regular prices is only $1.00 for Coke at Shopalot and you think you are getting a bargain at Poshalot saving $0.50 sadly you are mistaken. You are in fact spending double what it would cost you at Shopalot. So, knowing your prices is key but it does take time.  If you have local stores that allow price matching you can save time and gas by bringing the flyers with you and price matching products. This is something that we do often.


We don’t use as many coupons as we used to but we certainly still use them. We order them online, find them in the grocery stores, trade them, and find them in our weekly flyers. There are so many places to find coupons now that it’s easy to save a few dollars here and there. It doesn’t take that much time once you get the hang of it, in fact we spend less than an hour a week sorting this out. We also like to check out online Facebook groups or our favorite websites for the latest deals and coupons that are hot. One of the hotest ideas to hit the scenes is IPHONE apps for saving money while grocery shopping. In Canada we currently have Checkout51 and Fresh points both of which offer the consumer money back for products if purchased while they grocery shop. Both have different premises behind them but they both save money in the grocery budget. So, couponing is in our eyes a smart way to go as long as you are not buying more than you need of a product you may never use, or are not sure whether you can use it before the expiration date.

Grocery Game Challenge

One thing that has helped us understand our pricing knowledge has been posting our weekly grocery shop in our Grocery Game Challenge. It’s open to everyone around the world and we have people who post their shops from the USA, Canada and even Guatemala. The premise of the challenge is you are up against yourself and your budget. I have a template that we all follow and once a week we check in with our grocery receipts and budget to fill in the information of our grocery expenses for the week including tracking coupon use. We motivate each other to stick to the budget and we track expenses all year in the grocery game. Some of our players have slashed their budget by $100 a month because they realized:

1- They were buying more than they needed

2- They started to cook homemade meals and limited convenience foods

3- They were mindful of their grocery shops and used a list

For some this may seem easy enough but even for us budgeters it was a struggle even with using coupons. You can spend more than anticipated and if you don’t have the cash to back the expenses you need to get money from somewhere. If you don’t know how much you are spending on a monthly basis you may end up eating your savings. The Grocery Game Challenge has grown since inception and I hope to see more people get on board and join the grocery game challenge movement to save money in their budget.

How Much Should I Budget For Groceries?

This is one of those questions where the only answer is “what you can afford”. There is no magic number that anyone will find if they try to Google, grocery budget for x amount of people. Think about eating habits, dietary needs but most of all how much money you have left after paying all of  your fixed expenses.

 What are Fixed and Variable Expenses?

This is fairly simple and I get asked this question often. Fixed expenses are just that, they are expenses that are not moving, they are put in place and you pay the same amount time after time. Examples might be, rent, utilities (hydro, water, heater rental, and oil), child care, insurance etc. Variable expenses on the other hand are expenses that you have more control over because you call the shots. Variable expenses might include your food budget, entertainment, clothing,  cable, internet, cell phones, home phones, and transportation.

Once you know your net earnings (what you take home each month), know your debts and expenses, build your categories and  your budget will start to fall into place. I’ve designed a 10 step budgeting series  and a Canadian Budget Binder spreadsheet to track our expenses which we still use. The 10 steps outline everything we did that has helped us in part get to where we are today.

My last tip although I could go on is to not shop hungry which so many of us do. Stay out of the middle aisles if you don’t need to be in them, stick to your list and always look up and down because shopkeepers put the most expensive items at eye level. Saving money food shopping for the grocery budget is as easy as planning your grocery shops around your meals.

Guest Post By: Mr.CBB is the voice behind Canadian Budget Binder who says that “It’s not about how much money you make it’s how you save it”.  Mr.CBB shares budgeting tips, frugal lifestyle, relationships, recipes, parenting, personal finance and so much more for his over 4500 fans all around the world. After all “money is money, debt is debt” no matter where you live. Come join him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Photo Courtesy of Teerapun/

83 thoughts on “Food Shopping On a Budget

  1. March 25, 2013 at 11:27 pm

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  2. JMK
    March 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    When we first started tracking our spending we were stunned at the amount we’d been spending on food. We didn’t do any research to see what was recommended based on our family size and location, it just sounded like way too much so we immediately knocked $25 a week off and made that our target. That proved completely doable so we knocked another $10 off and stuck with that for 6 months without a problem. Then we knocked another $10 off per week. We kept this up until this year when we felt we really couldn’t reduce our budgetted weekly amount any more without compromising our attempts to eat a healthy diet (and have a teenaged son in the house…) I’m sure we spend more than many and less than lots of others. It’s very difficult to compare when there are so many variables, but we’ve found that first assessing what we’d been doing gave us a starting point, and from there we just kept trimming until we felt we’d reached our family’s minimum. Each year we learned more about meal planning, shopping the sales, bulk buying, using a few coupons (where sensible) and so on. As we got smarter the bill kept dropping. This is the first year since 2006 that we haven’t trimmed a little more off the budget, so for now this is our new normal. I suspect going forward the battle will be to be even more clever so that increases in prices don’t cause us to raise the budget in future.

  3. March 6, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for this great guest post. Lots of helpful tips and sensible advice. It was incredibly timely to my husband and I. We don’t *think* of ourselves as extravagant food shoppers. But last month, we spent more on groceries than we did on rent. We definitely can’t let that happen again.

  4. March 5, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I would not trust a guy for managing a family budget.

  5. March 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    i wish there were coupons in Norway! For some silly reason, it`s not allowed (!!)

    • March 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks for reading my post Renee and I’m happy you found some valuable points. Cheers!

  6. Christine Weadick
    March 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Excellent read!!! I use all these ideas to try to reduce my grocery bills…… Some weeks are good, others not so good. But I’m trying. I worked out a budget figure by simply tracking the groceries for a month to see what I was spending…. then I started trying to see how much I could trim that figure. The support I get from Mr CBB and company is awesome!!!!!! I’m slowly building up a bit of a stockpile to help the grocery cost in the long term as well…

    • March 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Christine, you are always a smile! Thanks for the kind words and I know that you continue to break those hurdles but we also know things don’t happen over night. The small changes little by little all add up and I know you are seeing the results. It’s amazing when tracking grocery spending how it really opens our eyes, it did for us! Cheers mate.

  7. March 1, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    For me the big hurdle was learning how to cook more. Regular meal-times are just not something that we’ve ever really done, so I need to batch cook so it can be heated up a little at a time when we need it.

    • March 1, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      The meal planning really is what has helped us especially since we wanted to create more meals from scratch. Batch cooking is great, many people do this and it helps when there are time pressures and for those lazy nights.

  8. Wendy L
    March 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Mr. CBB sent me:) this is a great post. Mr. CBB has opened my eyes to budgeting, saving, etc.. I now do both, plus I meal plan, and use coupons when I can.

    • March 1, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks Wendy! You know you’ve been a fan for a long time and I know that your participation at CBB has grown and that you are learning more and more not just from me but from everyone at CBB where fans are helping fans sharing their experiences. I’m happy you are now meal planning and of course it’s great to have so many involved with the nightly “What’s for Dinner” as it’s inspired both Mrs.CBB and I to meal plan and create further frugal meals. Cheers Wendy

  9. Mary F. Campbell
    March 1, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Hi! Mr CBB sent me over. I am one of his regulars and I have 2 comments to add to his suggestions. I found that in 2012 I struggled to take advantage of sales when items were on deep discount so I have now split my grocery budget into 2 categories: weekly shops and a stockpile allotment. Sure I have less week to week, but when big case lot sales or Dollar Daze are on, I have some funds set aside to capitalize on the food savings. For health reasons, I have had to become Gluten Free and that has added to some of our grocery costs. I am combating the increase by shopping in the USA once a month for items that are much cheaper there. It helps me make my budget stretch a little further. 🙂

    • March 1, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      Hi there Mary!! You’re not only a regular at CBB you are a wealth of information for all of us and we appreciate your knowledge every single day. Like yourself we have started with the stockpile budget of $20 a month and so far so good. Mind you we’ve used it both months but that’s because of the great deals on Milk and Cheese. I know 2012 was an eye opener for us and 2013 will be even bigger. 🙂

  10. March 1, 2013 at 9:39 am

    These are great tips! Meal planning is a huge one for us. It helps to take inventory of what we have so that we aren’t buying unnecessary ingredients!

    • March 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Hey Holly!
      Meal planning is something that we have been getting better at doing. We realized that we had more food than we could handle in the house and now we do a pantry and freezer inventory.

  11. March 1, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I always make a list when I go food shopping, but over the last few years I’ve kind of gotten a lot looser with my grocery money for some reason. I want to use coupons and find discounts more often, but often I’m in such a rush to get it done that I skip that step. I need to change that!

    • March 1, 2013 at 10:07 am

      You said it right, you are in such a rush. Most people are in a rush when they grocery shop and that is one reason why they spend more than anticipated. For example when we go into the shops after 3pm it’s like a zoo and we can hardly move around. It’s a stressful environment when carts are banging into each other. We have spent more money during these times as we just don’t have the patience. Now we go later at night or earlier in the day if we can.

  12. March 1, 2013 at 5:29 am

    You guys always do so awesome with your food budget!

    • March 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Oh, we’re working on it Michelle, I messed up last week when I went into the shop on a no-shop week… ah well, we’re all human right. Live and learn.

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