How To Grocery Shop*

*With an obscenely small amount of money

My first semester of college, I had a partial meal plan, ate mostly pasta, and still was spending $30+ a week on groceries.

I have perfected my grocery budget to a maximum of $25 per week, and an average of $20 (less depending on which type of meat I buy and if I need to stock up on extras).

“How???” you ask. “HOW???”

So here, ladies and gentlemen, is your guide for how to grocery shop for one person on a small budget each week.

Rule #1: Learn to like Walmart.

There. I said it. Learn to like Walmart. I have shopped at Marsh and Kroger. And NOTHING will eat your budget faster than shopping at the wrong places. If you have an Aldi’s near you, heaven has smiled down upon you. Aldi’s is cheaper than Walmart even but has limited selection. So if you know you only need a very few things and that you can find them at Aldi’s, do that. Otherwise Walmart is a good bet.

Rule #2: Do NOT buy brand names.

It’s like buying a $35 plain t-shirt from Anthropologie versus a $10 plain t-shirt from Target. Why. Why. Why. The corn flakes with dehydrated fruit tastes the same whether it’s Special K or Great Value. I would know. I’ve tried both. If there is a particular brand that you’ve been buying for the last five years and know beyond a reasonable doubt that it is perfection, than no, don’t switch. But unless you have separation anxiety just buy off-brand.

Rule #3: Spend some quality time in the meat section.

Don’t grab the first package of chicken breasts you see. Double-check the weight on the packaging against the price per pound. You can save at least a few cents by getting the 1.25 pound chicken instead of the 1.56 pound chicken. Doesn’t seem like much but it adds up in the end.That is not to say you should buy the greasy looking ground beef at $2.50/pound because that’s gross. But if it’s the difference between $4.35/pound and $3.80/pound, than take the cheaper one. I promise it tastes the same. If you’re worried about quality, than look for a higher percentage of lean meat compared to fat. I promise such things still exist even in Off-Brand World.

Rule #4: Older is better

At Wally World (as my friend affectionately calls Walmart), they have a beautiful creation called the Day Old Rack. This is where you can find super awesome day-old (but still PERFECTLY usable) items like french bread, donuts, bagels, etc. Use it. It’s all usually at the LEAST half-off if not more. Trust me, a microwave or oven works wonders on softening up slightly hardened bread. Totally worth the saved pennies. Also, at Jimmy Johns, you can buy a loaf of their homemade bread (again, a day-old loaf) for only 50 cents. FIFTY CENTS. Bargain. Use it.

Rule #5: Choose your snacks

I know it’s difficult to anticipate what you’re going to crave during the week but if you go to the grocery store without some idea of what you’ll want during the newest “Bachelor” episode, than you will end up buying the entire snack aisle. That’s not good. In a perfect world you could forego the snacks altogether but most of us aren’t that strong so be an adult and make some decisions. Would you rather have pie with friends this week? Chips for late night munching? A cookie to go with lunch every day? Same ideology with soda. If you can’t survive without diet coke, budget for it. But then don’t go buying diet coke, sprite, and mountain dew because all of a sudden you’re standing in the soda aisle and everything looks good

. Make a choice, write it down, and stick to it. Do not stray from your path.

Rule #6: Make a meal plan

That’s right. I said it. Go make a table on Microsoft Word and plan out what you will be eating for dinner every day of the week for a month. Bear with me because this is the rule that needs the most explaining.

Just plan dinner because let’s be honest, as a college student, new working professional or whoever you are, you’re not going to have much time to do anything for lunch besides make a sandwich or pack leftovers so there’s no use stressing about it (Make sure to put lunch items on your grocery list though. They just don’t need to go on the plan). Categorize the kinds of food you can make: Soups, Chicken Meals, Pasta, Beef Meals etc….whatever will help YOU the most. Then decide what you want to eat each week. Big Hint: Only choose one kind of meat to eat each week. Shopping gets expensive when you start buying chicken, and beef, AND lunchmeat every week. You don’t need that.

Chicken pasta salad (make Sunday)

Tortellini soup (recipe online) w/parmesan knots Breaded chicken Breakfast for dinner: waffles Basketball game Cheese/apples/popcorn Makehomemade


Above is a sample week for me (Monday to Sunday). You will notice that it requires only one type of meat. I don’t get tired of eating chicken for a week because I space it out with very different meals. Know you’re schedule. Mondays are my busy days and so I make Monday dinners on Sunday. If you know that you will be at a meeting until 6:30pm, don’t plan on making a huge elaborate dinner that takes two hours when you get home. Make it another day.

Alternate the meat you use each week (My schedule goes: Pork loin, ground turkey, pork chops, chicken). Try not to make pasta the star of your meal more than once a week. It’s cheap but you get bored of it very quickly. I have two pasta dishes this week but one is made mostly of chicken and vegetables and the other is in a soup so it doesn’t feel like I’m eating a ton of pasta.

If you know that you have the budget to eat out once a week/bimonthly/etc., than put that into your plan as well. That way you don’t buy an extra item for dinner that you won’t end up using.

Also think ahead. If you know that you’re going to use a bag of flour every month, than on the first week of the new month, you might have to skip the snack aisle so that you can buy flour instead. Life is tough, I know.

Bonus Round: If you’re truly brave, you can even look through the grocery ads every week and find coupons and the best deals ahead of time. I am not that brave nor do I choose to spend my free time doing so. However, if that is your idea of fun, than go for it.

That is the end of the rules.  I truly hope it helps some of you single college students out there (or anyone) who have been floundering when it comes to grocery shopping and food.  Learn from my mistakes.

Shop wisely.

May the prices be ever in your favor.


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