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How to Make a Cheap Grocery List

Updated on October 23, 2010
Whether you’re saving up for a car, house, or college education - or just looking to pay off debts, it helps to be able to shave dollars off your grocery bill.  Below I’ll outline guidelines to creating a super cheap grocery list every time to head to the store.  Whether you’re shopping for one or twelve, you’ll find these tips easy to follow and very lucrative in the long run- at least when it comes to saving money.

Starting from basic grains - flours, rices, dry pasta, etc... san save a lot of cash in the long run.
Starting from basic grains - flours, rices, dry pasta, etc... san save a lot of cash in the long run.

Go for the Grains

Opting to buy dry grains can save you a great amount of money.  Often, people buy already prepared rice, noodles, polenta, and other starches simply because they think it’s too much of a hassle to prepare them from scratch, but after a few runs, one can find that cooking grains is incredibly easy.

Quick tips:
  • Polenta doesn’t have to be difficult to cook - prepare it in the microwave and you’ll not have to worry about burning!
  • When boiling pasta, be sure to salt the water and make sure your pot is adequately full of water.  Do not rinse pasta after draining- that’ll wash away the starch on the noodles that helps sauces adhere.
  • If you cook rice in the bottom of a steamer, you can steam vegetables, prepare your rice, and enrich your rice with healthy vitamins and extra flavor all in one go!

I know, I know... meat is DELICIOUS! But you don't need to have it ALL the time, right?
I know, I know... meat is DELICIOUS! But you don't need to have it ALL the time, right?

Veer Toward Vegetarianism

I’ll be the first one to say that meat is delicious, but giving it up, or at least cutting back, can make a huge difference in your grocery bill.  Let’s face it- meat is expensive!
If cutting back on meat seems impossible to you, just trust me that it’s not.  As a once near-carnivore who even salivated when poking at her pet cat’s succulent legs (yes, they were very tender and juicy feeling), I can tell you that it is possible to make the switch.
Aside from saving money by going vegetarian, you can help the environment by cutting back on meat - not to mention aid your health.  It’s certainly something to consdier!

Quick tips:
  • To transition away from eating so much meat, consider enjoying Meatless Mondays - or one other day a week on which you do not eat meat.
  • Make sure that you are still consuming enough protein in meals in which you’re not eating meat.  Good sources of protein include tofu, legumes (especially when paired with rice or corn), nuts, seeds, milk, and cheese.

Starting with the basic ingredients instead of buying the finished thing is less expensive - and more fun!!
Starting with the basic ingredients instead of buying the finished thing is less expensive - and more fun!!

Make your own desserts

It’s amazing how inexpensive cookies can be when you make them yourself.  By no means do you have to be an expert in the baking department.  There are many desserts out there to make, and some of them don’t require baking at all.  The key here is to simply buy ingredients instead of a finished product - you’ll save a lot in the process.

Quick tips:
  • Want to avoid the oven but still have a ripping good time?  Slice bananas down the center and dust the open centers with sugar.  Torch the sugared tops with a creme brulee torch until the sugar coating boils, then let cool.  What results is a delicious banana glazed with a crunchy, sweet, caramelized top!
  • Check out some of my dessert recipes - the pumpkin cookies, molasses spice cookies, and vegan chocolate cake recipes are especially easy to handle.

Avoid the classic processed foods here ^_^;;

Avoid processed foods

The difference in cost between a boxed rice with some spices and regular ol’ rice is significant, so why not simply buy regular rice and add the spices yourself?  The same principle goes with all other boxed meals with added powders, spice packs, and the like, as well as frozen meals.
So long as you manage to follow a simple recipe, you’ll find that foods made from scratch are much better than their prepared counterparts.  
What’s more, it’s healthier to avoid processed foods- often because they are packed with sodium and other ingredients that are less than optimal.  It’s nice to have more control over the food one makes, and making things from scratch helps with that.

Quick tips
  • A dollop of curry paste can add amazing flavor to rice - Thai Curry Paste variations are my favorite.
  • Cook rice, bulgur, polenta, and other grains in vegetable or chicken broth- it adds a wonderfully warm flavor
  • Topping grains of all sorts with a bit of Parmesan cheese can always brighten the flavor :D

Avoid alcohol and drinks

Not that I’m much in a position to suggest this, as I never really drank alcohol in the first place, but reducing or eliminating alcohol intake can make a HUGE difference in your monthly food budget.  That stuff is expensive!
I’d save alcohol for social events only, and if all events are social events for you... well... perhaps you might considering opting for less expensive drinks- even water- every now and then.  
If alcohol is the primary means by which you relax, consider establishing other relaxing rituals- from exercising to taking walks to playing video games or knitting.  There are tons of alternatives that are both healthier and less expensive than consuming alcoholic beverages.  Just a thought.  
If you want to cut costs on drinks even more, avoid buying juices and other drinks altogether.  They’re often packed with sweeteners- be they artificial or otherwise- and don’t offer much nutritional value, plus they’re also way pricier than the healthiest alternative - water - which is EXTREMELY inexpensive!

When you only buy what you can carry, you can't carry that much!
When you only buy what you can carry, you can't carry that much!

Bonus Tip: Bike to your store!

I’ve never owned a car... I just don’t want the hassle of maintaining, parking, and paying for one (I prefer private chauffeurs- hahaa)

The added benefit? Reduced medical bills.

One of the major benefits of following the above guidelines is that you’ll end up eating healthier as well as cheaper. When you indulge in a healthy diet and buy basic ingredients instead of processed foods, you save money in the long term by offering yourself the benefit of preventative health care. Since so many of today’s major diseases are associated with unhealthy diets, one of the best ways to treat them is to not get them at all by eating well :D


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    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Michelle Dee 

      5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      The tips listed here are great advice and it does really help to save A LOT of money if you plan ahead and make meals from scratch. I especially like using chicken broth to cook any kind of pasta because it always adds a nice flavor, hence less salt and butter is needed. Parmesan cheese sprinkled sparingly can do wonders too. Great hub, voted up.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks savingkathy!

      And it sounds like we've got a very similar approach, dmolross! I bike my weekly groceries home each week. I look like a sherpa, but that's just fine!

    • dmolross profile image

      Dawn Molinar 

      7 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      I agree about cutting down on meat. We don't own a car either. We have friends who complain about the cost of gas. I tell them that my trusty bus pass costs $55 every month!

      We walk to get our groceries with our trusty granny shopping cart or we have a 3 wheel adult bike with a basket on the back. I love your tips.

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great tips!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much!

      You're right- avoiding drinks can be good in terms of finance AND health! I've yet to try the fruit slice thing though- I've been meaning to start doing that with lemon for ages - now I will give it try XD

    • Road Trip Amy profile image

      Road Trip Amy 

      8 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Awesome hub! Especially love the little cooking tips and the pictures. The suggestion about avoiding juices and other flavored drinks is a great one -- drinking more water and less soda/juice is not only a money saver, but a huge calorie saver as well. And you can add all a slice or two of almost any kind of fresh fruit to your water to add a little flavor.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Hehee, thanks!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      Great advice!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      That's a great tip, INFJay!!!

    • INFJay profile image

      Jay Manriquez 

      8 years ago from Santa Rosa, California

      Excellent article and very practical! Another tip for cutting down on the meat intake is to use a quarter portion of your normal usage. Then prepare it into rice or pasta dishes so the meat is more for flavoring. Your palette will never know the difference.


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