The first time I created a true budget, I was 23 and newly married. My husband and I had just moved to Chicago with no jobs and only wedding money to our name. With our financial future a little unsure, we decided we needed to get a grip on our spending.
We pulled up our recently jointed bank account and started categorizing each and every transaction we’d made over the past 30 days.
The results shocked us.
In our first month as a married couple, we had spent over $850 on food, with $465 of that on groceries ($116 a week!).
It was obvious that food was the first area of our expenses to start cutting costs. We needed to eat out less and come up with a grocery budget.
The next month, we slashed our grocery bill in half and started spending only $50 per week on groceries.
I stuck to this number by learning to check store ads, writing out meal plans and grocery lists, keeping track of which stores had the best prices, and by using cash back apps.
I also started cooking from scratch – ditching the store-bought pancake mixes, ready-made cookies, and frozen pizzas to keep costs low. Budgeting forced me to kick my kitchen skills up a notch!
Since challenging ourselves to our very first $50 grocery budget, we’ve switched to a mostly unprocessed diet. The habits I was forming then to cut costs continue to help us today in sticking to a real food budget. We’ve allowed ourselves a little more wiggle room (mostly thanks to stable jobs), but still find it totally doable to keep to a strict budget while eating a cleaner, more whole foods focused diet.
Where to Begin When Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Below you’ll find my basic grocery list. The items listed are the things I have on hand at all times in my kitchen. I don’t buy them all at once, but every week when I make my grocery list, I make sure I always have the below ingredients stocked or add what’s missing to my list if I’ve run out.
Start by building your pantry and fridge supplies with the items from my grocery list for a tight budget. The first month you may spend a bit more than what you’ve budgeted, but once you’ve stocked up on everything below, you’ll find you won’t need to purchase each item weekly.
For instance, the items listed under “Baking” are only purchased every few months, whereas the things under “Produce” are bought nearly every week (items like potatoes and onions typically last longer than that).
A Note on My Grocery List
FYI – The items and prices displayed below are based off the Trader Joe’s in New York City. I chose this store as it is available nationwide, although prices may vary by region.
My grocery budget is typically $10 a day for two adults or about $300 per month. If shopping for one adult, I budget around $6.50 a day or about $200 per month.
You may also notice that most of the items listed below contain a short ingredient list. I focus on eating as many whole, unprocessed foods as my budget allows which includes opting for whole grains (brown rice, oats, whole wheat pasta, bread, and flour).
If you aren’t as concerned with eating this way, you can likely shop on a lower budget. (Ex. white bread is typically 25-50% cheaper than whole wheat bread.)
The Ultimate Grocery List for a Tight Budget
|Baking Powder||$1.49||/||8.1 oz|
|Baking Soda||$0.99||/||12 oz|
|Brown Sugar||$3.49||/||24 oz|
|Chocolate Chips||$1.99||/||12 oz|
|Cocoa Powder||$2.49||/||9 oz|
|Flour||$2.99||/||5 lb||100% whole wheat|
|Pure Maple Syrup||$15.99||/||32 oz|
|Pure Vanilla Extract||$4.99||/||4 oz|
|White Sugar||$3.49||/||32 oz|
|Bread||$2.99||/||27 oz loaf||100% whole wheat|
|Corn Tortillas||$1.49||/||12 count||ingredients: corn, water, lime|
|Pitas||$1.39||/||4 count||100% whole wheat|
|Dijon Mustard||$1.79||/||12.3 oz|
|Ketchup||$1.99||/||24 oz||no HFCS|
|Peanut Butter||$2.29||/||16 oz||ingredients: peanuts, salt|
|Yellow Mustard||$1.69||/||9 oz|
Dairy & Refrigerated
|Greek Yogurt||$2.49||/||16 oz||plain|
Dry & Canned
|Black Beans||$0.79||/||15.5 oz can||ingredients: black beans, water, salt|
|Garbanzo Beans||$0.79||/||15.5 oz can||ingredients: garbanzo beans, water, salt|
|Oats||$3.99||/||32 oz||old fashioned or quick|
|Pasta||$1.49||/||16 oz||100% whole wheat|
|Pasta Sauce||$1.39||/||18 oz||no sugar added|
|Popcorn Kernels||$2.29||/||28 oz|
|Shredded Coconut||$1.99||/||8 oz||unsweetened, no sugar added|
|Tomato Paste||$0.89||/||6 oz|
|Tomato Sauce||$1.49||/||15 oz|
|Tuna||$1.49||/||4 oz||ingredients: tuna, water or olive oil, salt|
|Frozen Strawberries||$1.99||/||16 oz|
|Stir Fry Vegetable Mix||$2.69||/||16 oz|
Herbs & Spices
|Garlic Powder||$1.99||/||2.6 oz|
|Smoked Paprika||$1.99||/||1.6 oz|
Meat & Poultry
|Chicken Breast||$2.69||/||lb||boneless and skinless|
|Chicken Sausage||$3.99||/||12 oz||4-5 links|
Oil & Vinegar
|Apple Cider Vinegar||$2.49||/||16 oz|
|Balsamic Vinegar||$2.29||/||16.9 oz|
|Coconut Oil||$5.49||/||16 oz|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||$7.99||/||33.8 oz|
|White Vinegar||$2.29||/||17 oz|
|Baby Carrots||$1.99||/||24 oz|
|Bell Peppers||$0.89||/||each||green peppers are usually cheapest|
|Garlic||$1.29||/||3 oz||2 bulbs|
Print, Download, or Edit This List
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