on a budget: making the list

As both a young newlywed + dietetic intern [aka I’m not bringing home the bacon just yet… shout-out to the hubs!], my household is on a limited budget. More specifically, we’ve been using the budgeting website called “You Need a Budget” or “YNAB” per my sister’s recommendation. There was definitely a learning curve, but we have been loving it!

My biggest challenge as an avid cook + food-lover is sticking to my grocery budget. I’d happily forgo this month’s haircut for a little extra wiggle room to buy the newest mixed nut butter from Trader Joe’s. [spoiler alert: it’s amazing!]

As such, I’ve had to use some trial + error to figure out the method that works best for me to avoid unnecessary spending while also not feeling totally restricted in the kitchen.

Here’s my general routine for making a grocery list + tips:

  • Take inventory.

    • Shop your pantry first. Find that can of black beans and shredded cheese to start the basis of a Tex-Mex inspired dish for the week. Build off what you have first–I like to think of it as “free” because it frees up more space in my weekly budget for other items. Not to mention it prevents waste!
  • Check the weekly ads.

    • Use these as inspiration for your meals. Whoa, pork is on sale? Alright, we’re having that this week. Same goes for produce. Prices tend to drop when certain produce is in season so buying these saves money while also getting a higher quality of produce. Win-win.
  • Online coupons.

    • This is so simple. Extreme couponers make this look like it has to be a full-time job plus an entire room of your home dedicated to a stockpile to save money with coupons. Not true! A majority of grocery stores have online coupons that you can load directly onto your shopper’s card. No cutting necessary!
  • Plan the meals.

    • Taking the information from above, get creative with your combinations! I have black beans + pork is on sale…hmm. How about pork adobo courtesy of Pinch of Yum? Sold. Serve with brown rice + veg and you’ve got yourself a complete meal.
    • Determine a rough estimate for how many servings this will last you. Eat it for leftovers at lunch + dinner until you’re out. Then, it’s on to the next meal.
    • For snacks, I tend not to plan them. I focus on buying non-perishables [e.g. crackers, cereal, nuts, etc.] on sale or in bulk to have readily available. Then, I’ll buy extra fruit + veggies [on sale] to have for snacks that week as well.
    • I go the electronic route, but good old-fashioned pen + paper is perfectly acceptable! I use Evernote to make a weekly plan for my meals. Goes something like this:


  • List it out.

    • Next, break down your meals into the individual ingredients you actually need to buy. I love using Google Keep for this. I have a shared grocery list with my husband so we can both add to it as well as divide + conquer when we hit the grocery store.

  • Include wiggle room.

    • I’m not going to force myself to eat soup when I’m really craving eggs instead. Be flexible + honor those cravings. It’s likely that my husband will finish the soup or I’ll feel like it for the lunch the next day.
  • Treat yo self!

    • I like to give myself 1 “fun item/treat” that is something new + “unnecessary.” This would be where something like the fancy new nut butter comes into play. Do I need that nut butter? Probably not…I already have peanut + almond butter in the fridge. But I still want to try it, so I get it!
      • Disclaimer: I use the term “fun item” or “treat” not in terms of good or bad food, but from a financially conscious perspective of need vs. want.

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