The Ultimate Grocery Shopping Guide: Take Control Of Your Diet, Save Money & Win
Hopefully this guide contains everything you need to know.
What you're about to read is three plus years of weekly trips to the grocery store, living an overall healthier lifestyle, discussing with clients, friends, family, & digging on various online resources.
I put it all together here in one beautiful blog post, to help you do grocery shopping on a budget, stay on track and ultimately save money.
I've come to the conclusion that grocery stores don't necessarily have our best interests at heart. They have sneaky ways of pricing their products which ultimately makes them more money.
This is how I break the silence and help you understand how much you're spending, how much you should spend and how much you can save. All this on your quest to hitting your macros, staying on track, making progress and ultimately force your way to living a healthier lifestyle without breaking your bank account.
*You can earn cashback on your groceries using Checkout 51. Download the app Checkout 51*
Food is important. Grocery shopping is even more important if you want to take control of your health and see the results you deserve to see from the work you put in at the gym.
What this guide will show you is that grocery shopping on a budget can be done, if you follow the steps I've outlined below.
Through a very simple process and check list, this guide will help you:
- Make strategic decisions on what food items to buy.
- Where to get specific items at the best prices.
- Figure out how to truly find out the value of the food you're currently buying.
- Avoid common mistakes most people do when grocery shopping.
If you don't have limitations in terms of your budget, great for you. That's amazing. The reality of situation is that a lot of you currently reading this guide are in college or university, are in debt, or don't have an unlimited cash flow to spend a reckless amount on groceries every single week.
Maybe you've just never have gone grocery shopping for yourself in your entire lifetime.
Or maybe you just wanna budget and limit your spending.
I got you.
Whole healthy foods are not cheap.
Ask the few vegetarians you know or the people who eat organic, they'll tell you - eating healthy is a pricey thing. I personally still cringe at the thought of having to spend 7$ on a bag of apples.
Not to say you shouldn't do it but here's the thing - you're already eating apples over a bag of sour patch candy. That's already a major step in the right direction.
If I had the answers on how to save money eating a plant based diet, I'd have them for you here but I don't.
One thing I know is that crops of organic food require more resources to be produced and yields significantly less food. This could potentially have long term negative impacts on the environment.
This is good to know, especially when being told that the only way to eat healthy is to go vegetarian or vegan.
The number one concept that will allow you to save money over time is price knowledge. Knowing when you're paying too much. It's also knowing when the price is so cheap that you must stack up and throw the extras in the freezer for later. Knowing how much kg per dollar you're buying.
It'll be up to you to compare prices, pay attention to the product weight, compare the quality and value you're getting out of everything you buy. Seasoned grocery shoppers know exactly where to buy which items & for what price, because they've been doing it for so long. This can only be acquired through experience. You'll have to get out there and buy some groceries.
Bookmark this page.
The dollar store is not a solution proposed in this guide. I believe it’s a huge misconception when we see something for a dollar and think we are getting the best deal.
In reality we likely aren’t. Canned foods are often filled with too much salt or are simply overly processed. It's also not something I recommend because I know I can save money buying at the grocery store. Worse case scenario, you buy cheap food at the dollar store and start tossing it out because it tastes like trash.
Now you've spend money for absolutely nothing and you still have to go to the grocery store to spend more money. Buying good, quality food from the grocery store and eating your leftovers will ensure your wallet stays fuller, longer.
THE PRELIMINARIES/ WARM UP
Some things to consider.
1. What's your budget?
The very first thing to be determined before you take control of your health is your spending budget. I've put together the grocery shopping budget chart. This chart determines weather or not you will have a hard time to accomplish your goals and if you should consider spending more on groceries. This is a weekly figure of the amount you plan on spending every week for your groceries.
*Note this budget is a single person budget*
$0-40: If this is your budget range, you either don't take your health seriously, are extremely broke, or simply live at home with parents who cook for you.
$40-60: This number will not get you much. However, this is a good place to start if you've never bought groceries before. Support from your significant other/roommate/parents will definitely have to come into play if you're looking to sustain any kind of healthy momentum.
$60-80: A few extra's with essentials. This is in my honest opinion the bare minimum number you will need to spend per week if you're looking to maintain a solid diet.
$80$-100: A weekly budget of 80 to 100$ is good, with strategic purchases you can survive for an entire week. Once you start accumulating food you won't have to buy every week (i.e jars of peanut butter) this is a good maintenance price range.
$100-150: If your budget permits over 100$ a week. You'll have no troubles buying groceries and eating all the foods you want to eat.
150$ or more: Your macros will be extremely accurate. You will never miss a meal. Your dedication, not your budget, will dictate your results. You also probably eat super organic or eat over 4000 calories per day.
The color representation doesn't mean that you're a good or bad person, it simply represents the level of difficulty you'll have in order to maintain a healthier lifestyle from week to week. The red is still a good place to start (better to buy a little groceries than no groceries at all) but eventually, you'll probably want to a higher budget while applying the principles found in this guide to save money.
This guide will help you make more strategic decisions if you're on the lower ends of this chart.
You will also benefit from this guide if you're on the higher ends of the chart.
Do not put limitations on yourself. That is only if you understand the value of your hard earned money and understand the equation of wealth.
Let me help you put things into perspective: If you eat out twice a day, 5 days a week, at 10$ per meal, this equals to 100$.
That's 400$ per month.
One hundred dollars per week is enough money to buy ingredients for 10 home cooked meals.
Do you realize how much you're already spending on food?
Figure out your starting budget and move on to the next step.
2. Think "Meal Prep"
What do you want to eat this week? Do you have an idea of the meals you want to consume? This is important because this is how your grocery shopping list takes shape. You don't want to go out buying spaghetti when your plan is to eat chicken and broccoli. There's millions of places on the internet where you can find simple, easy to make recipes. You want to eat a shrimp salad? Go out and buy shrimp.
Figure out what you like & want to eat.
Not only that, it's your job to continuously try new recipes you think you might like. When you find one, add it to your repertoire or some kind of recipe box. Learn how to fend for yourself. If you want to take control of your health, there's no other way to do it then to learn how to cook. In a short few months, you’ll have accumulated a number of delicious, inexpensive recipes that you can rotate into your weekly meal plan.
Obviously this will take time, but once you get the hang of it and get into a weekly groove, you'll only head out to the store to buy ingredients in order to cook your specific meals throughout the week or month.
I personally rotate about 10-12 meals myself. I am by no means a world class chef or have the most aesthetically pleasing food on Instagram.
Here's the thing: I found recipes that I like, are easy to make, and I know are good for my body and help me hit my macros effortlessly. I'm ok with eating similar meals over and over again because I know what they do for my body.
If you can't spend more than 48 hours without going to the restaurant, good luck.
You will also need to remain flexible in your meal planning. more on that below.
The 3rd step as part of the preliminaries is to analyze. Before you head out, it is of the utmost importance that you salvage your fridge and house for items you might already have. Too many times I found myself walking into the house with a new jar of peanut butter when I already had two extras waiting for me. That 4$ could've been used else where.
Check your fridge, your pantries, your freezer, the mini fridge in your room, your hidden locations (oh yes you might have to hide food from certain family members). No selfishness, simply a grind that some will not respect. Hide your food if you have to.
The analysis portion also includes salvaging grocery store flyers for deals on certain items (you'll notice I talk a lot about broccoli because it's one of my favorite). You find a few places offering lower prices on foods that you normally buy else where. You will also notice that certain foods like Greek yogurt, nuts and some fruits & vegetables are on sale every week, at one store or another.
What are the essentials? What do you need the most? You don't absolutely need asparagus, stock up on some broccoli. You can never eat too much broccoli.
1. Proteins - by far the most important component of your diet for building and retaining muscle.
Your proteins should always be of the highest priority on your list. If your diet doesn't include enough protein you simply won't see the results you're looking with exercise and going to the gym. Protein is important.
2. Vegetables - the 2nd most important component of your diet.
This isn't rocket science. If you want to live a healthier life, vegetables need to be an integral part of your diet. Green leafy vegetables are the ones packed with nutrients and provide the best nutritional benefits.
3. Snacks - the 3rd most important component of your diet. This includes fruits.
Things like nuts, yogurt or protein bars. Most of these fill out the remainder of your caloric needs after eating your main meals. If you're attempting to lose weight, low calorie snacks should be selected. Higher calorie snacks with a good amount of protein work in your favor if you're attempting to gain weight and build muscle.
4. Carbohydrates - The least important.
The Western diet is dominated by carbohydrates. They're extremely easy to find and also inexpensive for the most part. Modern agriculture is dominated by mass production of grains thus making them cheap. You can buy a big bag of white rice, it'll last you for three months. A 9$ box of one minute Quaker Oats from Costco can last you 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 weeks or more, depending on how often you eat oatmeal and use oats in your recipes.
The GI scale is the least of our worries if we can control the top 2- 3 elements on this list.
If you have a bigger budget and can afford to purchase "higher quality" grains like whole grain bread, go for it. They're better priced in bulk - to be covered a little bit later in this article.
Alright. Now that you've gone through the preliminaries, there are some key things you should avoid.
Shopping without a list nor plan - I'm not sure about you reading this guide but I personally have a garbage memory. I'll take a look at everything I need and I somehow always end up forgetting at least one item and be angry at myself when I get home because I have to go back to the store. Most of the time, I don't go back before several days go by.
Buying pre-made foods - pre-made lasagna, microwave macaroni, etc - cheap but too much preservatives and additives, you're here to save money but part of good nutrition is to limit processed foods.
Shopping at expensive places - Remember here the goal is to save money. You don't need to buy a 8$ bag of apples from the Whole Foods Market. This is relatively common sense.
Going to the store while hungry - this is when you start buying things your hunger tells you to buy, a recipe for disaster. Do your grocery shopping on a full stomach.
Not looking at the flyers - 99 cent broccoli will always be displayed in the flyer. This also helps with price knowledge.
Got that? Great. Now read through the next 8 steps to help you save $$$
1. Have an itineary in place & head out to multiple stores.
Client: "I only shop at Metro, I love that place."
Me: "Why do you love that place?
Client: "It's super close! It's like 3 minutes away from my house."
Are you serious? This is not how you win. You're placing yourself at the mercy of whatever store is in your vicinity is asking to be a victim to whatever price tag they throw at you. Drive the extra 10 minutes and go to a store where you can buy the same items at a discount. That extra 10$ could be used to stack up on some broccoli or fruits for later during the week or whatever else you need. For me, it comes in handy when I need to buy more cottage cheese.
Have an intenary in place. The best thing to do is to start with the furthest store first. For me this is Costco. As you start scratching items off your list, make your way to the stores closer to home and pick up the other items in your list, hopefully the ones on sale.
Some items are ALWAYS on sale, things like broccoli, Greek yogurt, almond milk, just to name a few. All you gotta do is look through the the flyers your receive at home. You're guaranteed to save.
You must also beware of 24 hour grocery stores. Again, this comes down to price knowledge. The more you shop around, the more you'll know if you're getting a deal or not. Many people won’t blink twice during a holiday to spend $7 on a 4L bag of milk at the local corner store because it might be the only store open during those times. Try do your groceries during regular store hours.
2. Buy in bulk.
This is probably the most important point in this article. Manufacturers mass produce enormous quantities of food. You have stores like Costco, Superstore, who buy merchandises in greater quantities to be able to sell at lower prices and increase their profit margins overtime.
Yes, get a Costco membership. The savings are well worth it.
There are certain things you should always buying in bulk simply because you save a solid amount of money. When you can buy in bulk, do it.
But wait. Not everything.
I'm not sending you to Costco to buy 600$ worth of food. That defeats the entire purpose of this article. More importantly, most people don't have the money for it, and neither do I.
Here's what you should consider buying in bulk:
Meat - chicken & turkey breasts, chicken drumsticks, fish, ground beef, ground turkey.
Grains - whole grain bread, oatmeal
Kirkland white tees. Yes I know, this completely off topic but trust me fellas, these are the best white tees you'll ever purchase. HIGH quality and you get 4 for $16. Thank me later.
I don't recommend going to a store like Bulk Barn to purchase nuts - almonds, cashews etc. Their price point is often higher than nuts you will find at a regular grocery store.
*Note* I have been approached with the idea of going to the butcher to purchase meat in bulk. After more than a few conversations, the unanimous conclusion seems to be that there can be large savings done when it comes to your meat purchases over a longer period of time. This is something I will try sometime in the future. If you're an Ottawa local and have experience with that, I'd love to hear about it.
3. Saving on items doesn't necessarily mean you should spend more.
Grocery stores employ savy tactics. They will mark one item down but the other ones around it will be marked at higher prices. Way higher than normal. Beware.
Here's a real life example: I head to No Frills because their broccoli is on sale for 99 cents. If you know me then you know that I bought a shitload of broccoli.
Here's my mistake. Because I saved money on the broccoli, I thought It would be ok to grab a bag of grapes. When I walked out the store and looked at my receipt, the bag of grapes cost me 6.29$.
Congratulations Daniel, you played yourself.
Which brings me to my next point.
4. Buy seasonal foods.
It's the season! We're in he middle of a scorching hot month of July and your 2kg watermelon is selling for $1,50. You LOVE watermelon and eat it all the time.
Fast forward to December and mini watermelons are being sold for 3$. Do you really need to eat watermelon? I would include a chart but the prices will greatly depend on your geographical location. In Canada, you're most likely going to pay higher prices for any kind of fruit trees during the winter and that's just life.
The same principle applies here, product and price knowledge is what will make you understand where and when to buy. A good alternative for the cold winter months is to purchase frozen fruits instead of fresh ones and stash them in your freezer.
Dig through your grocery store flyers & eat seasonal.
5. Expiring food will be on sale, hop on it.
Stores like Loblaws will place a few racks near the front of the store with items that are about to expire. They've might of had less demand for that specific item than they've previously had or received more than expected. These items didn't end up selling and now they want to get rid of it.
Here's your chance. Grab a couple extra loafs of bread for 3$, throw them in the freezer and you'll be glad you did this in a week from now instead of going back to buy a single bag for 4$.
Remember when I said you need to be flexible with your meal preparation? I don't see the issue of repeating the same meal for the sake of my wallet & you shouldn't either.
Expiring meat will also be on sale - same story. Grab it, throw it in the freezer and you'll have some chicken breasts waiting for you in a week from now. Just make sure to cook your meat a few hours after you unfreeze it.
6. You don't have to eat "fancy" all the time.
Fancy food and dieting can be the death of you. Substitute high priced items with alternatives when you're on a very tight budget.
Wild salmon vs Albacore or chunk light flaked tuna - an option for sea food lovers on a budget.
Extra lean ground beef vs lean ground beef - Medium ground beef? That's a no go zone.
Asparagus and other leafy greens vs broccoli - broccoli, more often than not, is on sale.
Stick to non organic fruits and veggies - In my humble opinion, I believe eating non organic fruits and veggies is better than consuming high fructose corn syrup. Stick to non organic until further research demonstrates otherwise.
No name brands - Great value, no name (literally, the package will say no name) and so on. Things like condiments, frozen vegetables, are good to buy from "no name" brands and help you effectively save money.
Remember this: You're already making the effort to eat a more healthy low processed nutrient dense diet. There's practically little to no difference between no name brands compared to the items manufactured by the big brands.
7. Cut down on supplements if necessary
Anybody who's spent an extensive time training has more than likely spent money on supplements. And anybody who's spend money on supplements will tell you. These tubs of protein are expensive.
Supplement costs can be astronomical. Some supplement stores & brands sell expensive "muscle building" or "weight loss stacks" that combine a multitude of supplements for you to purchase. Not going against their effectiveness but if you're on a budget, you most likely don't have 200 plus dollars to spend on supplements every 60 days.
This is why so many people from the bodybuilding industry crave a sponsor deal. You get to work with a supplement brand, receive free supplements and save thousands of dollars in supplement purchases.
This is my advice: Stick to the essentials. You don't need absolutely everything being marketed to you at the store or on the internet.
Protein powder - Whey protein isolate is the way to go. Post workout shakes are excellent to provide your muscles with the right nutrients to get protein synthesis going right away. You can also use your whey protein to make pancakes, muffins, donuts, waffles, PIZZA, the list goes on. All you gotta do is get creative.
Protein powder is definitely a must have. If your budget doesn't allow it, get your protein from whole foods. If you have the available funds, purchase a tub of whey protein.
Multivitamin - a multivitamin will help cover any deficiencies in vitamins and minerals you might not be getting from your diet and supports anything from cognitive functions to energy metabolism. Another must have if you ask me.
Creatine - If you've been lifting for a a minimum of over a year (past your newbie gains) with consistency, i definitely recommended supplementing with creatine monohydrate. The molecule creatine naturally found in your muscles is provided by the animal meats we eat every single day.
"I heard creatine is only water retention & you lose all your muscle once you stop taking it"
This water retention thing is nothing but a scarcity fad from the non educated. People providing their opinion on something they know practically nothing about.
The supplementation of creatine is well known to aid in lean tissue muscle growth and provide extra creatine molecules to help boost energy production provided by your ATP-PCr energy system.
Creatine monohydrate is the most researched supplement in the world with over 140 studies to back up it's safety and effectiveness. This is the last of the must have supplements for me.
You don't need to go through the loading phase - 5g of daily creatine supplementation is all you need.
Do your own due diligence and you will see that creatine provides nothing but amazing benefits for strength training.
BCAA's - BCAA's in my eyes serve two purposes and two purposes only:
1. If you have a very hard time replacing fruit juice or canned pop, this is for you.
2. If you practice intermittent fasting, this is also for you.
Other than these two reasons, you don't need a BCAA supplement.
Fish Oil - Not necessary if you eat fish 3x a week. If you lift heavy relatively most of the time and start to feel joint pain, you might want to take a few weeks away from training and start supplementing your diet with omega 3 fish oil. It is known to reduce joint inflammation along with supporting cell membrane formation. This is a better safe than sorry approach for me and decide to keep fish oil a steady part of my supplementation.
Pre-Workout - You don't need this bad boy. Coffee gives you the exact same thermogenic effect of a pre-workout supplement without the price tag. The added benefits of consuming a pre-workout supplement can be the added creatine, or B vitamins, to facilitate energy production and energy transfer within your GI tract.
8. Get point cards for EVERY grocery store.
Every store nowadays, including grocery stores, have a loyalty or rewards program where you can earn points simply for buying food at their store. Take advantage of it. Yes, it's a long process and money needs to be spent but you might have earned yourself a completely free grocery trip by the end of the year. Would you say no to free food you get to choose? I don't think so.
An even more important loyalty program to take part in are the ones at supplement stores. A GNC card will cost you 15$ for two years but you get to save roughly 25% on almost every single item in store.
BONUS: QUICK GROCERY SHOPPING LIST
Here's a list of items you can purchase today that can help steer you in the right direction. I provide this list to all of my clients and it seems to be really helpful (in most cases). If you have absolutely no clue on what to buy, you can use this list to get started.
Beans and legumes – kidney beans, black beans, zucchini, spaghetti squash.
Leafy green vegetables – kale, cucumbers, broccoli, romaine lettuce, baby spinach, sweet green peppers (and red peppers too).
Fat-free dairy – cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Omega-3 enriched eggs and liquid egg whites.
Lean meats – chicken breasts, lean or extra lean ground beef, ground turkey, wild pacific salmon.
Fruits – bananas, apples, strawberries, oranges, kiwis, pineapple, watermelon, frozen berries.
Unprocessed nuts and seeds – almonds, cashews, peanuts, chia seeds, flax seeds.
Peanut butter – regular peanut butter, natural, organic - that's really up to you.
Whole grain breads and cereals – one minute Quaker oats, Vector granola, Harvest valley 12 grain & quinoa bread.
You are now equipped to go buy groceries.
You are now equipped with all the tools and knowledge you need to force yourself into making strategic grocery purchases.
I'd also like to point out that eating 2 days of junk food will not kill you. Even 3 days, or a week. Nobody in the history of mankind has become skinny by eating one salad, and no one's ever became fat by eating one donut.
If you can have an overall goal of eating healthier and taking care of your body, all while saving money. Consistency over time is what will grant you victory.
You are not chasing perfection. Just go out and buy some groceries.
To Be Continued...