Grocery Tips 101: 2 weeks of Groceries for $20!


I rarely have more than $20 at a time to spend on groceries. While living on a tighter budget due to being unemployed, I’ve been challenged to be more frugal than ever. This includes at the grocery store. Being a food lover, though, I enjoy the atmosphere of a grocery store, so it takes a lot of discipline not to buy everything in front of me!! How can I live off of $20 grocery trips every 2-2 1/2 weeks? Believe it or not, it’s not that complicated.

#1. I only bring $20 with me.

Credit cards and stacks of dollar bills get spent much faster when they’re in my pocket.

#2. I make a list and bring it with me.

By not bringing a list, I am more likely to pick up “hot” items that are purposely placed at the end of the aisles so that customers buy them. And I’m more prone to forget what I really needed to buy in the first place, thus evoking another trip and spending more money.

#3. I prioritize what I really need.

While yes, it’d be nice to have a box of crackers to go with tuna salad or sliced cheese, I don’t always have extra money to afford them. Instead, my reasoning is: “I have ingredients for bread or biscuits, I’ll just have to eat tuna with that.” or “I have a loaf of bread in the freezer…I don’t need crackers right now.” Likewise, if I have lots of “essential foods” on my list, I just have to make a choice. Do I think bread would be more beneficial to my meals (will it fill me up) this week or eggs? They’re about the same price, so it’s a coin toss.

#4. I keep a note of the sales of affordable items and avoid the rest.

At 50-70 cents a pound, bananas are about the best fruits of them all. While they don’t last too long, bananas freeze really well. I use frozen bananas for smoothies and banana bread. I’ve also noticed that occasionally my local grocery store (Kroger) will have sales on certain fruits and veggies. These are some that I’ve purchased for insane deals!

    • pineapples at $1.99 each (usually +$3 each)
      • Updated: Aldi sells them on sale for 99 cents!
    • apples for $0.79/lbs (usually +$0.99/lbs)
    • baby carrots for $0.89/sm.bag (usually +$1.50)
      • Updated: Aldi sells them for 50 cents on a normal day!
    • baby kale for $0.50/pkg (usually +$2!)

…it’s all about knowing the original price and sticking to what you know is the sale price so that you aren’t persuaded to buy it when it’s seemingly on “SALE.” It’s hard, yes, but a little practice and you’ll get it. :)

#5. I keep a calculator (my phone) with me as I shop.

Adding up as I go really helps me spend less money…that applies to anywhere! Writing down the price also helps me remember what I spent on an item at a previous visit. Then, as mentioned already, I can really determine if items are on sale or not! When it come to tax, I’ll usually round up the item to the nearest dollar or 50 cents. Sometimes this is too much but I’d rather estimate too much than too little so that I can make sure to afford my basket of groceries.

#6. I choose items that will last a long time.

As a simple rule of thumb, items with a longer shelf life are more affordable because you don’t have to compete with them “going bad” by eating them really quickly or accidentally wasting them. Here are some suggestions for foods that last a while, that are inexpensive and healthy:

  • Potatoes — store in a cool, dry and dark place and your bag should last 3 weeks. 
    • some people don’t like potatoes because they’re “starchy” but I have an affinity to them because they’re both filling and affordable. If you have a little extra money, buy red potatoes which possess slightly more nutrients (and flavor!) than Idahos. Regardless, these tubers make a smashing baked or smashed potatoes.
  • Tough leafy greens – kale, collard greens, cabbage; they’ll last about 3 weeks in the fridge
    • the great thing about these greens is that they’re also packed with nutrients that other greens lack!
  • Apples and oranges — last several weeks in the fridge
  • Canned beans and veggies — last years in the cabinet
  • Boxed rice and cereal — keep in a cool, dry place, wrapped well; lasts a year in the cabinet.
  • Dried beans, rice and lentils — last years in a cool, dry place (Google a video of how to cook them if you don’t know how)
  • Anything that can be frozen (fruits, veggies, meats etc.) — last a couple months in the freezer

#7. I rarely go out to eat with friends.

I’ll occasionally go out to get a milkshake, coffee or lunch; but usually we make food together! :) Or we just don’t hang out during meal times. This has saved me SO much money! I’m sure there’s other tips, but that’s all I’ve got for now :)

My typical $20 grocery list | How long it lasts:

Bananas: $1.60 (2 bunches) – 1-2 wks

Kale: $1.50 (1 bunch) – 2-3 wks

Apples: ~$2 (4 apples/99¢ per lbs) – 1-1/2 wks

Beans (Black, kidney or refried): $1.30 (2 cans/65¢ a can) – 1-2 wk

Plain Yogurt: $3.19 (1 big tub, ) – 2 wks

Bread: ~$2.00 (Nature’s Own whole wheat loaf) – 2 wks

Tuna: $2.07 (3 cans/69¢ each) – 2 wks

Eggs: $1.69 (1 dozen) – 2 wks

Whole wheat tortillas: ~$2.00 (1 pkg of 10) – 1 wk

= ~ $17

I usually stop here or at $15 to account for tax. If I’m over, I’ll put back something that didn’t cost much, like a can of tuna. Note: When I do happen to have extra money, I might buy something not on my essentials list: a box of cereal, a block of cheese, a bag of flour (since I love to bake)…or occasionally a bag of cookies or a fast food milkshake.

Typical meals I make with these groceries:

1. Egg Salad, hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs or deviled eggs + Toast

IMG_8384_ (2) (800x533)

2. Tuna Salad or tuna patties on toasted or untoasted bread

Tuna Patties1

3. Sliced bananas and apples with peanut butter yogurt + Toast

4. Bean or egg burritos or Bean Quesadilla

5. Steamed kale and beans

6. Kale and Tuna Salad + a tortilla or a piece of bread (or toast)

tuna salad1

7. Egg salad on top of kale greens + a tortilla or a piece of bread (or toast)

I realize that some of these recipes call for ingredients that I didn’t buy during this grocery trip. But buying condiments (mustard, mayo, jelly), peanut butter, salsa etc. one at a time, helps a lot.”

Also check out: Grocery Tips 101: The Prequel (what to do BEFORE going to the grocery store!)

Also version 2: 2 weeks of Groceries for $75!
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17 thoughts on “Grocery Tips 101: 2 weeks of Groceries for $20!

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Last year i was a junior in college and only had $20 to spend on groceries so this post helped me out. Now I am a senior in college and am going to still apply this list to my life :)

  2. You can buy overripe bananas @ .39 a lb at most stores, and discounted vegs too along w/ bread.I lived w/ $10.00 a week during a hardtime w/ 3 kids and learned alot of tips for survival.

  3. I like your post. I’ve just sustained my third job loss in less than 2-1/2 years and each loss has been more devastating than the last due to less financial recovery time between losses. I have interviews lined up and hopefully will be back in the saddle soon, but in the meantime I am looking to cut back even further than previously. I tend to go blank in grocery stores (ha) since grocery shopping is one of my least favorite things to do, so I like reading other people’s budget-oriented lists and getting new ideas or good reminders. Thanks.

    • Oh, gosh so sorry about your jobs! :( Hope you find one soon! Glad these tips help – it’s amazing how much people spend on groceries, but a few tips make a big difference!

  4. Aversion means strong dislike. I don’t think you’d have an aversion to something that is filling and affordable lol

  5. As a single 30 yr old woman who’s just getting back on her feet, bills obviously take priority. But this article was so helpful and gave me so many ideas for grocery shopping. Thank you!

  6. Ok, I checked Wal-Mart online and searched several pages pages for a pretty big variety of tuna and beans, and the prices aren’t anywhere near what you say you paid…Where do you shop?

    • Hey Marc. Keep in mind that this was five years ago in East Tennessee. I used to shop at Kroger in college and the one near my apartment was always having deals. The prices I listed in this post are based on sales prices versus original price. Another store that’s inexpensive (aside from Walmart) is Aldi, a German grocery that reduces costs by eliminating unnecessary conveniences (such as bagging your groceries and putting away stray carts in the parking lots). I live on the West Coast now and food prices are a little higher even without food tax. If this post had been written out here, I’d probably increase my pocket money to $35. Does this help?

  7. Thank you! I’m not a student but times like now, money is hard to get, along with nutrition. With price inflations on some items I spent 20.99. I could not buy yogurt because I’m lactose intolerant, but I bought an extra item to replace it. I’m going to stick with this list even after I get back on my feet.

  8. Thanks girl! As a recovering single 27 year old recovering alcoholic woman who is super part time as a server but refuses to go on welfare…this is awesome! I had a bad break up about a month ago and so without him I’m STRUGGLING. Work hard. Be smart with your money and LOVE yourself! Peace xoxo

  9. Over A decade ago, I had a $200 a week budget for groceries. Then I became ill with cancer and my life became totally different. I beat cancer but the after effects left me homeless and struggling. These days I house sit with free rent and utilities. My food budget is what I make doing odd jobs. After expenses my budget comes to $10 a week for groceries.

    I get whatever clearance meat I can. These last 2 weeks, chicken thighs have been on clearance at $1.06 for about 5 pounds.

    For pasta, it is cheaper in the Mexican food aisle at Walmart than the pasta aisle. It is not whole grain but at 28 cents for a 7 ounce package it bulks up my meals. I also found frozen or canned vegetables and fruits are better than fresh during the winter months.

    I made a master grocery list and I know where the prices of items are the lowest around here.
    I get a case of 60 eggs for $3.30 at Walmart. Milk is $1.49 a gallon at Aldi. Spice packets run between 39 cents to 49 cents at Sav A Lot. Frozen fruit is $1a bag at Dollar Tree. Certain frozen vegetables run about 80 cents a bag at both Walmart and Aldi.

    Bouillon cubes are 88 cents for a jar of 25 at Aldi. I can drop a bouillon cube in a sauce pan with 1 1/2 cups of water and add a scoop of frozen vegetables for quick vegetable soup.

    I can make a basic muffin batter and add frozen fruit to make low cost muffins. I can put some frozen fruit and water in the blender to make a smoothy. I can defrost the frozen fruit and eat it as a snack.

    I can boil some pasta and add cheap sauce that cost me only 85 cents at my local Aldi. It is a cheap meal at 28 cents for the pasta and 85 cents for sauce.

    A 4 pound bag of sugar is $4.97 at Walmart but it costs $1.15 at Aldi. Flour, baking powder and yeast are all cheaper at Aldi.

    Canned goods are cheaper at the hardware store known as Menard’s.
    It was 40 cents for canned beans. And 46 cents for many of their canned vegetables. They did have some 16 ounce whole wheat pasta for 80 cents last time I went.

    Bricks of cheese are 5 ounce and only $1 at Dollar Tree, While 8 ounce bricks of cheese are $2 at many other stores. Since Dollar Tree has a limited selection I get my cheddar there. Other varieties I buy at Aldi.

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