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10 Tips to Recession-Proof Your Grocery Shopping


Food prices are predicted to rise again next year, the economy is tanking, and businesses are looking at layoffs of some employees. With a recession looming, many families are struggling financially, tightening up their budgets and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. That doesn’t have to mean eating low-quality food.


Families can still eat well and buy organic and natural foods, even in a recession, but it takes some new skills. Some of these skills aren’t so obvious, so I put together my top ten tips to help your budget, with a focus on grocery shopping. Even if you only use some of them, I think you’ll see a significant change in your finances.

10 Tips to Recession-Proof Your Grocery Shopping:

  1. Make a food budget. What? You don’t have a food budget worked out yet? This is probably the very first thing you should do to start coping with a depressed economy. Look at the amount you currently spend on food every month (including eating out). It’s probably really bloated because you’ll pay at least twice as much to eat in a restaurant as you would if you prepared your food at home. Next, decide how much you can realistically spend for food every month. Compare it to the USDA Food Plans to see how your family budget compares – Are you thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, or a liberal spending family?
  2. Make a shopping plan. Create a list of staple foods that you eat regularly, and use that as the basis for a shopping list to be used each week when you’re at the grocery store. Get feedback from the family on your staple and shopping lists (you may like rice and beans every day, but others? Not so much.) Watch the newspaper and sales flyers for the items you buy, clipping coupons for those products and shopping for the best deals. Don’t clip coupons for “extras”, because you’ll ultimately spend less if you just skip those things instead of buying them “to save money” with a coupon.
  3. Stick to the plan. Only buy the items on your list. Eat the free samples, by all means, but don’t buy those products unless they fit with your plan. Sampling is a great retail practice, because it sells more product, so don’t get sucked in… Make sure that you aren’t hungry when you go to the store, as you’ll end up buying a bunch of snack foods or pre-made items, which will add to your food bill. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.
  4. Stay on the outside. Spend most of your time in the store on the outer edges, where most of the “real” food (not prepared) is sold. Center store is full of all the boxes and cans of ready-to-eat products, which cost more and has less nutrition.
  5. Bulk up. Buy your staple foods in bulk and keep them in your pantry or freezer so they’re always on hand. You’ll pay less per serving when you buy large amounts, and most dry goods will keep for a long time. Call around to see which retailers give you the best deal on bulk purchases. Most co-ops will order 25 or 50 pound bags of grains or beans at significant savings. Pasta usually comes in 10 pound boxes, and granola is available in 25 pound sizes. Even peanut butter (my favorite) comes in bulk, usually a 15 pound tub.
  6. Tis the season… Pay attention to what foods are in season and purchase those first. If you can go to the farmers market or local farm stand and buy fresh food in season, you’re well on your way to eating smarter.
  7. Count beans. Make a system for recording your food expenditures and keep your receipts. If you’re going over budget, you can easily see that and cut out those extra items. Buying a couple of impulse items on every shopping trip adds up quickly.
  8. Eat in. If you must go out to eat, make it a special treat, not a regular habit. By the time you add the cost of the meal, the tip, and the transportation cost, you’ve spent enough money to feed the family for days.
  9. Scratch is best. Find a couple of good cookbooks at your library and copy recipes for your favorite foods that you buy pre-made. Bread making is almost a lost skill, and is well worth the time invested to learn how. Homemade tortillas are even easier, and making soup is a great way to eat on the cheap.
  10. Sow seeds. Plan a garden using your family’s favorite foods as the starting point, and add some new and different veggies for variety. If you don’t have room outside, consider a container garden on the porch or windowsill, or grow sprouts on the kitchen counter. No green thumb? Buy a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and get a box of farm-fresh food every week of the growing season.

You don’t have to go broke in order to feed your family wholesome food. Start working your plan now, and before you know it, it’ll be a habit.

Image: AMagill at Flickr under Creative Commons


  1. Good tips. It’s easy to go to the store and get carried away. I find that when I have a list I do much, much better. Also thinking of nutrients, quality and freshness keeps me in check.

  2. Great tips. A few more ideas
    1. Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach! Eat before you go. If you are hungry, there is a good chance you will grab something extra which is not on your list.
    2. As you said, avoid processed foods. Also, skip the frozen section where you have “ready-to-eat” frozen foods. Not only are they expensive, they are not very nutritious; usually high in cholesterol and sodium.
    3. Don’t skimp on produce. Buy organic even if slightly more expensive. Cook more often.
    4. Watch the waste – encourage your family to not leave food on their plate.
    5. Use re-usable bags to bring your groceries back. Many stores are offering them now. You will bring only what you can fit in those bags. With plastic bags, you lose track of how much you are buying.

    Good luck!

  3. I find that my apartment’s patio space is too small to grow fruits and veg, but when cutting costs is involved its amazing how much i save by growing a few herbs. I planted chive seeds a couple years ago and there has been many a recipe where i have omitted onions and green onions in favor of a few chives. I no longer pay a couple bucks for a handful of rosemary or thyme. ive even dried a small harvest of mint on occasion and taken it as a hostess gift.

  4. “3. Don’t skimp on produce. Buy organic even if slightly more expensive.”

    Be careful with this one. Sometimes the ‘organic’ produce is carted in from China or Costa Rica. While local organic produce is the ideal, often local non-organic is a greener choice than organic food that has travelled thousands of miles (emitting carbon the whole trip).

    Of course if both the organic and non-organic options are from Costa Rica, then go for the organic. But a better tip, I think, is “search for local produce”. It’s usually a better quality and fresher (since it does not have to be prepped for long-haul travel), you’re supporting local growers (those CSA’s are indeed great but not available everywhere), and it’s sometimes also cheaper. Even when it’s a bit more costly, you’re still getting good value for the better quality!

    So find a Farmer’s Market or look for growers with roadside stands. Smaller, community-based markets sometimes have better local produce selection than large chains.

  5. Make a grocery price spreadsheet so you know which grocery store (or Amazon) or bulk store to go for what items and the regular vs. sale prices for each item.

  6. Good tips. It’s easy to go to the store and get carried away. I find that when I have a list I do much, much better. Also thinking of nutrients, quality and freshness keeps me in check.


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