I’d rather my money go towards something like backpacking Europe instead of at the grocery store … if that sounds like you, you need these money-saving grocery tips for travelers.
When people ask how I can afford to travel, I tell them I budget. And one way to make sure you have money for a plane ticket is to really look at your grocery budget. I realized I was grabbing items I didn't really need, could do way better with my finances if I ate certain foods and did meal prepping, and had a few other tricks to test out when I hit the grocery store. It sounds like it won't make that big of an impact, but every little bit helps ... and I'd rather cut corners at home and have more money for gelato in Italy.
Another way to make travel more affordable is knowing how to make a semester abroad work on a budget.
Make a plan to pick a few of these grocery store tips for some serious savings so you can use your money on the cheapest things to buy in Thailand or a bowl of Polish pierogis instead:
Make A List - And Stick To it
Make a list of what you want to eat this week, then peek into your fridge and cupboards to make sure you won’t be buying something you already have. While you’re at the store, stick to your list! Wandering the aisles means you’re much more likely to pick up things you don’t need.
Google Keep is an app that allows you to make check lists and is really helpful for the grocery store. Make the list while you're at home, then check things off as you put them in your cart. That way you're never wondering, "Do I have any peanut butter left?" During the week, I'll add items that I know I'm running out of so I kind of have a constant grocery list going on.
Download it for Google Play and for iTunes.
Buy Things In Bulk
Some stores have a bulk section that can save you serious cash, especially on things you use all the time. I cook with a lot of cumin (it’s in everything from Mexican to Middle Eastern food), but a single bottle of the stuff is $3 or $4 dollars for a couple of ounces. But if I buy in bulk, I can get an entire pound of cumin for $3.00 (which is an obscene amount) but even half of that will last for months and months.
You can also buy staples like flour, sugar, rice, nuts, beans, and other spices in bulk. If you have Winco near you, check out their bulk section to save tons. If you're into saving the planet while you shop, I suggest putting all of your bulk items and produce in reusable cloth bags. Here are some on Amazon, but you can get tons of different kids.
+ Do The Prep Yourself
What you buy is also going to be a huge money saving tactic. Those bags of pre-shredded lettuce, baby carrots, or containers of cut up pineapple are oh-so convenient but aren’t super budget friendly. Buy whole fruits and veggies and cut them up yourself and stash them in the fridge or freezer to save for smoothies when they go on sale. Shred your own cheese, roast your own nuts, make your own trail mix, and more. You'll end up saving a lot in the long run.
+ Switch Stores and Brands
Maybe the store you shop at isn’t the cheapest: compare store prices to see if you should shop at another grocery store. I signed up for the in-the-mail advertisements for a few grocery stores in my area and realized this one organic store consistently had lower prices on berries. A Mexican market down the street always has the best prices on items like mangos, papaya, cilantro, and sometimes avocados. I was able to really eat healthily on a budget by shopping at a few different stores.
You can also save by switching brands. This article talks about the foods you should buy generic if you want some guidance instead of making your own calls. Think about it: if you’re using frozen fruit for smoothies do you really taste the difference between the name brand blueberries and the store brand ones?
It may sound intimidating, but doing a little bit of meal planning can be a life saver. Pick a day to cut up all your veggies for snacks at school, and boil some eggs to toss into lunches. Or you can really go all out and cook a few meals ahead of time; some to eat now, and some to eat later. Double a recipe for soup, enchiladas, dumplings or lasagna and put some in the freezer.
Figuring out how to use the food you already do have will mean spending ways less on eating out or tossing out food in the first place. If you have stale bread, make french toast. Found some over ripe bananas? Make banana bread, or freeze the fruit for smoothies.
+ Shop Like A Vegetarian
Hear me out; you don’t have to totally switch how you eat, but it will save you some money if you cut out meat for a few meals. Try replacing chicken with roasted veggies in a grain bowl or switching over to soups like tomato basil or broccoli cheese.
You can also save by changing how you eat — instead of eating a whole chicken breast and veggies for a meal, make a big salad with lots of veggies and almonds and adding a little bit of chicken. Using meat as a side dish instead of a main dish will mean the meat you do buy can be used for more meals.
Only Shop Once A Week
I learned this tip from Fun Cheap or Free (who is a financial budgeting guru) and I'm a huge believer ever since I've incorporated it. We often feel like we're spending less if we go to the store multiple times a week because we're only spending $20-$30. But the thing is that every time you're at the store, you're picking up items that you don't have to have like yummy Flaming Cheetos while those bell peppers in your fridge are probably going bad.
Instead, choose one day a week that is your grocery shopping day. I personally like Saturday morning, early before everyone is out shopping. That's all you get so hopefully you were on board when we suggested meal planning above because that is extremely important here so that you don't run out. BUT ... if you do run out of cereal, you're just out until next Saturday. Don't run to the store - look through your cabinets and have oatmeal instead. Learn how to easily make bread and plan on having toast or french toast instead.
You can make it 7 days; It'll take some creativity but will save you so much money.
Save even more for your trip
I was able to afford a few semesters abroad once I figured out how to save .. and when I hard about ILP. International Language Programs sends college-aged volunteers abroad, with help affording the program with discounts and tons of fundraising tips.
Get more info about ILP here, and chat with an ILP rep about how you can get yourself ready for a semester around the world: