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5 Foods that Can Ruin Your Grocery Budget (and What You Can Do About It)

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Is your grocery budget out of control? Here's how to pinpoint which foods are ruining your budget, and ways to save money on each!


The first time we went grocery shopping after becoming newly minted Florida Residents, I was shocked. Milk…at $3.79 a gallon? You’ve got to be kidding, right?

I hail from the land that is literally overflowing with dairy farms and Holsteins {Upstate NY}, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to pick up a gallon for only $1.99 at our local Aldi. Looking back, I really took that price for granted. Now I know why the cows are so skinny down here!

It took a while for our grocery budget to adapt to these new, and more expensive prices, and when we finally thought we had it all figured out, milk steadily climbed to $4.05. 

Other than eradicate milk from our entire diet, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Thankfully, I can usually offset the high dairy costs with our much lower produce….particularly when it’s in season. But then I realized, there are multiple foods no matter where you live that can really put a strain on the grocery budget.

Here are a few ways you can save…

1. Dairy Products

Milk, of course, is my grocery nemesis, which is why I’m ecstatic when I can find it for less than $4.00. Sometimes, it’s available at CVS for $3.69 with $1 Extrabucks back, which essentially makes it only $2.69.

How to Save: Check out your local Aldi and Save-A-Lot for cheaper prices on milk, but make sure to check those expiration dates! Some are still selling same day products for the same price. Try to negotiate a lower deal, then freeze to use in baking.

We also go through quite a bit of Cheese in this house – from pizza, to calzones, to cheesy casseroles, and toppings on our soup – we love cheese, but we don’t love the price.

How to Save: Buy cheese blocks in bulk versus pre-shredded packages and then shred your own. I like to freeze mine in airtight freezer bags for later use.

2. Fruits and Veggies

I enjoy eating fruit, and I don’t mind certain kinds of vegetables, but I rarely spend time in the produce section because everything is always so expensive. We usually stick with the frozen kind, but nothing is truly better than fresh.

How to Save: Find out what is in season and when, then shop the sales. The price difference is pretty incredible when you do this.

3. Meat

Oh yes, meat. I could probably live without it, but my hubby sure can’t. And if I’m truly honest, I would really miss all that bacon. However, I can almost always pinpoint a higher grocery bill expense in relation to buying meat…even if it’s on sale.

How to Save: I think the biggest impact to saving on meat is to eat less of it. Go meatless at least 2-3 times a week, and you will notice such a difference! Fill in those meals with pasta, pancakes & waffles, veggie-based soup, etc. For more tips on how to save money on meat, you may want to reference my guest post at Living Well Spending Less.

4. Pantry Items

The food I store in my pantry probably takes up the most space – spices, baking items, cereal, canned food, etc. Although I would say each individual item on it’s own isn’t so expensive, things can really add up.

How to Save: Experiment with making your own items. Make homemade granola, granola bars, condensed soups, peanut butter, crackers, and more. If you can think of it, there’s definitely a recipe to help you make it…..and for a lot cheaper too.

5. Brand Names

I am not a complete brand name snob, but the fake creme filled chocolate cookies can never compare to the infamous Oreos. I’m also a stickler for Cottonelle toilet paper, and can not stand thin strips of cheaper brands that feel like tissue paper. But brand names do come with a price.

How to Save: Match coupons with sales to get the best deal on your favorite items. Diligently search for coupons {here is my list of the best sites}, then watch for store sales and use them to stock up. I also find quite a few items for less on Amazon.

I encourage you to take a look at your grocery budget right now, and see which one of these items are costing you the most. Then work hard to reduce each expense using the tips I’ve shared here. Even a simple Google search with How to Save Money On “….” will bring up hundreds of resources to help!

FYI: I highly recommend going through Slash Your Grocery Bill if you’re really serious about getting your grocery budget under control. This eBook gives you tips and strategies even seasoned bargain shoppers don’t know. Learn more HERE.

Are you ready to significantly cut down on your grocery bill? It’s time to get to work starting with the biggest grocery nemesis in your budget. I know you can do it!

Where do you spend most of your grocery budget?

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.


Just One More Thing:

Whether you need extra room in your budget, or just want to find more money put towards a future goal, 31 Days to Radically Reduce Your Expenses is your must-have resource to tackle both! Get a peek at the Table of Contents and download a sample chapter HERE.

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56 Comments

  1. I have found that sometimes the shredded cheese can be a less expensive purchase than blocks of cheese. Also, many of my recipes calling for cheese can have less put in them than the recipe calls for. My husband LOVES seriously sharp cheddar. It’s so strong that I can use A LOT less of it in a casserole than a mild cheddar.

    Our family has to eat gluten-free due to Celiac so I have found that some of those pantry staples – special flours, gluten-free snacks, and so on – can be purchased cheaper through Amazon Subscribe and Save than at any store. Aldi’s actually has a surprising amount of labeled gluten-free items as well – especially the corn masa flour which makes for great homemade, gluten-free tortillas. We’re only 1 year into our gluten-free eating so I am still learning a lot about how to eat well and inexpensively. I

    1. I’ve noticed, after not going there for several years, that Aldi caries a lot of healthier items. Than they used to. I even found grass fed hamburger there. That is something I’ve not seen anywhere else around here.

  2. Hi Kayln,

    Food prices really have changed over the last several years especially dairy products. My eyes practically pop out of my head when I see the cost of cheese and milk. LOL I personally had to make some serious decisions when my hubby lost his job after six years a couple of years back. So, I started to grow my own veggies and learned to can them. This was an undertaking, because I am a city girl and had no clue as to what I was doing, but today I am thrilled with the saving I get each year. I also like to buy and bulk, and grind my own nut butters and flours. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The prices really are crazy! I had a little garden up North for a few years, but was only slightly successful with it. I’m hoping once we get a house down here in FL, I can start experimenting again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Milk is my grocery nemesis too! I’m in Nova Scotia and last year our price for a gallon jumped to $8.09!!!! After several weeks (and probably a huge reduction in sales!) the grocery stores brought the price back down to $5.99 a gallon……..still a lot considering how many dairy farms we have here but much more respectable than over $8! We try to drink more water than we used to and I’ve started buying skim milk powder to mix up milk for cooking and baking. Now we only drink our “white gold” instead of using so much of it baking.

  4. Whole milk costs the same as fat free and 2% (at least in our area). So another way we save is by buying whole milk, splitting it into 2 jugs, and adding 1/3 or 1/2 gallon of water. It turns out pretty darn close to 2% and my husband had no idea I’d been doing this for months until he walked in on my adding water to the jug… Lol. Cut our dairy budget by a lot!

    1. But aren’t you also cutting the nutritive value in half? Fat is the bad thing you cut by doing this, but what about the Vitamin D and Calcium?

  5. Are Costco prices just as expensive as the grocery store in your area? If not, and your family drinks milk a lot, it might be worth getting the membership just for savings on milk. In my area, they’re the same as the least expensive grocery store but their cheeses and hamburger are less expensive.

    1. I will have to check. I’ve been trying to decide which big box store I should get a membership at – Sams, BJ’s or Costco. All 3 are in my area. My next plan is to ask for a one-day pass to try them all and see which one I like best!

      1. We LOVE costco and have been shopping there for years. Somebody (maybe Money Saving Mom?) had been advertising a Costco membership deal where you got a $20 gift card and a bunch of things for free when you bought it. I don’t know if it’s still available, but you might want to look into it. We have an executive membership (costs more up front), but we earn enough “cash back” to more than pay for the membership each year. So, until I actually have to pay for my membership again, I won’t give up my costco membership. (We make most small appliance, electronic, and furniture purchases there as well as food. Their return policy is AMAZING.)

          1. The special at Costco was through Groupon. Not sure if it’s still available or not, but that was a great deal!

    2. Costco (and Aldi) used to be way cheaper with the milk, Publix is charging $4.39 and Costco is $3.49 … can’t remember what Aldi’s was the last time … it’s cheaper, but still expensive, in my opinion … unfortunately I have milk snobs in the house and they will not drink Walgreens/ CVS milk … they say it taste “old” … I’m thinking that maybe the employees don’t handle it properly? I wouldn’t know myself since I don’t drink milk ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. I’ve been putting off a Costco trip – I don’t have a membership, but would love a chance to look at their prices! And that’s too funny about drugstore milk!

        1. Cartwheel is great! I have save $400 over the last 2 years:). Passionate penny pincher just did a costco/SAMs price comparison if you are interested. It is a little off for us on Thea west coast but very helpful.

      2. I was going to buy milk at CVS last week when I realized my grocery store had raised their prices and CVS was cheaper. But they were sold out!! The lady working told me they get their trucks on Fridays if I wanted to check back then. So if I had bought milk on Thursday – it would have been almost a week old! At my local Aldi milk is $3.69 but $2.40 at Wal-Mart one town away (the “draw-you-in” price).

      3. If you pour it into a brand name bottle they probably won’t even notice! I used to do that to my husband when I was trying to break him of whole milk. I finally got him to 2% and then bought 1% and poured it in the 2% bottle. He didn’t catch on until he started keeping track of the expiration date!

  6. I don’t even look at coupons unless I ask the company to send them to me, like the gluten-free brands I like. Instead we ad-match. I don’t go store to store wasting gas usually one store with my ads and match them up. Most will ad match even walmart. Also many have discount cards, I have 2 for the stores we frequent the most, one of them gives you discounts on items in the store but then also lets you save up cents for discounts on gas! We have gotten ours down to less than $2 a gal. The other one lets you get discounts for items as well as save points for their seasonal promotions such as discounted/free turkey or ham for Thanksgiving/Easter, or you can receive silverware, bake-ware, and storage-ware.

      1. If you have a Costco membership, you can also get Costco gas. In our area, it’s normally about 15- 18 cents a gallon cheaper than anywhere else. We fill up while we’re there, so no gas is wasted as a special trip just for gas.

        Winn Dixie does the FuelPerks program, but their prices are so much higher than Publix or Costco, that it’s not worth it for our family.

  7. Thanks for the links and recommendations for savings! I live in the south and I get milk at Target that is Rbgh free for usually $2.99 and the most I’ve paid there is $3.29. Trader Joe’s is surprisingly frugal on milk prices too. I’m with you on the brand name stuff like toilet paper and Oreo’s. Sometimes off brands just can’t match up. I’m a big Target fan because you can combine Target.com/coupons + Cartwheel % off + Manufacturer coupons + Target Debit Red Card 5% off. This week I even got a $20 off $50 household and got $20 in free Scott Toilet Paper & Landry Detergent.

  8. A couple tips on milk: Use powdered milk for everything but drinking–or even for drinking if you don’t mind a slight taste difference! ๐Ÿ™‚ Or buy whole milk (I don’t know if it’s true everywhere but in my area it’s cheaper than lower-fat milks) and dilute with water to stretch it a bit more.

  9. I live in Maine and the regular milk price is $4.69 a gallon for whole milk, name brand. It is still over $4 for the store brand. I have found that milk is cheapest, or offered at the “state minimum,” as gas stations. Some are up to $1 cheaper. Another tip is to buy spices/dried herbs at a natural food store where they sell it in bulk. WAY cheaper than buying it at the grocery store. You can also buy a pinch of it if that is all you need. I find bread to be a budget buster, but I prefer Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal. It’s the only bread my kids will eat all of!

  10. Great $$$ saving ideas! We use instant milk from Thrive Life (www.cerino.thrivelife.com) & it has cut down on the amount that we waste. Nothing makes me crazier than having something go bad because we didn’t remember to eat it! Not wasting alone saved us hundreds a month!

  11. My family won’t go for meatless meals so I buy the big logs of ground beef at sam’s club and split it up into one pound packages to freeze. Lately I’ve been browning it all at once then freezing it. It makes meal prep a little easier too. Also, the great value brand Oreos taste like the real thing. My family actually likes them more.

    1. To fool your family, try mixing in finely chopped mushrooms with your ground beef. The mushrooms take on the flavour and the textures blend well. You can gradually increase the mushroom proportion so that it’s half & half and that will save a lot on your meat budget. You might even wean your family off meat for a few meals a week, if you introduce them to alternatives, such as a Portobello mushroom cap used in place of a burger patty, smothered in grilled onions and all the hamburger fixings. So delicious, you never miss the beef.

  12. I have no problem with F’Oreo’s and I think that my Costco membership is well worth maintaining even without the executive perks. Before I joined, I checked out the prices for my eyeglass lenses (paid for bifocals lately?) and that alone will pay for the membership, plus I save money on gasoline. I also share the membership with my housemate and that saves us both money. I don’t have much to spend there but if I stick to the grocery basics and the Kirkland brands, I think that I do alright. My favorite purchase of the past year was a deal on Kirkland’s washable wool socks. It was a hard winter!

  13. I have to agree with the milk, meat and cheese!! It will eat your budget, if you don’t do some price comparison!! I usually grocery shop at our Walmart Supercenter, so every week, I take my trusty Aldi’s ad with me, and whatever fruit is on sale, is the fruit we eat that week:) Last week, I got 4lb of Naval oranges for $1.99, Bananas for .29 a lb, Strawberries were $1.29, Pineapples were $1.49. It’s definitely the way to go if you have an Aldis. Also, Sprouts, believe it or not, has great sales on their produce and meat, almost every week, this week chicken is .99 a lb!!:)

      1. I am a native-born (south) Floridian, and used to the prices of foods and gas. However, I notice which gas stations have the lowest prices and on what days. Sometimes, as one person posted, the price of gas is up to $1/gal less at some stations than others. Also, some supermarkets have great savings on certain foods, whereas others do not. I love the produce in Publix markets, but find it cheaper at Farmers Markets of local Fruit/Vegetable stands. There are frequent sales for “2 for 1”. In most large supermarkets. This includes many items….meats as well. I don’t do bulk buying, but family packages instead. I divide them in smaller packages, then freeze them. Though 24-hour Pharmacies tend to be more expensive (convenience), they have great sales on: milk, bread, paper towels, toilet tissue, etc. As my sister once said, “I will put a steak on layaway before I will eat dog food.” BTW, milk costs less than $1/gal in Saudi Arabia, and I won’t mention the cost of gas per liter. Happy “smart” shopping to all of you. I will quickly relearn how to, in a few more years.

  14. Great tips to keep in mind, although not totally practical for where I live.
    I live in Canada, so if milk ever went back down to your current price of 3.69 (or even 4.05) a gallon, I’d be thrilled! I buy the cheapest brand and it is 4.69 for skim! There are never any sales on milk, and it only gets more expensive the more milk fat it has in it!

  15. While all of the things listed here are expensive, I have found that I typically spend more money on things that I shouldn’t be eating anyway.
    I am currently just cooking for my boyfriend and myself. He is not a picky eater, but his mother spoiled him with her cooking. Not having meat in a meal would be ridiculous to him.
    When making casseroles or skillet mixes, I try to do just over a half a pound of hamburger and a little more noddles instead of the full pound of hamburger.
    Also things like cookies, chips, ice cream and other “fatty but delicious” foods are where I see a lot of my money going. I don’t mind spending money on the staples and vegetables, but if I could get my boyfriend to be okay with cutting out all the snack foods in the house I could probably cut our grocery bill in half!

    Anyone have suggestions for snack foods in the house?

    1. You’re so right….it’s super easy for grocery money to be spent on junk! My husband really seems to enjoy cheese and crackers, which is a decent snack, and I would also try and experiment with making your own granola bars or other homemade foods that could be alternatives — I’ve even found recipes for homemade pop tarts! Making it from scratch might not save time, but it does save a little bit of money and will be a little bit healthier too.

  16. I save a lot on making my own bread. I also make my own yogurt in the crockpot. We are currently on WIC and get more than enough milk than we can possibly drink. I found a recipe online where you make yogurt in your crockpot. We love yogurt and I usually buy the big tubs at Walmart but 1 tub is about $3. I can get a 1/2 gallon of milk and make 2 tubs of yogurt. The 1/2 gallon of milk (if I buy it) is about $2. The recipe I use is found here: http://moneysavingmom.com/2012/06/homemade-yogurt-in-the-crock-pot.html#_a5y_p=730394
    We make this and add a packet of gelatin when adding the yogurt cultures. It takes a little time but is worth it. You can adjust the amount of sugar you want in it and we usually add honey and fresh fruit. So good and saves us money.

    1. I have wanted to make my own yogurt for a while now, but just haven’t prioritized it. Glad to know you love it and thank you for sharing the recipe!

  17. Forever bags are my biggest grocery money saver by far! They keep my fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese fresh for weeks. Bananas last for 3 weeks on the counter in a bag. Tomatoes and cilantro last for weeks in the refrigerator. You can find them on Ebay.

  18. Find this on Pinterest! Great list. I agree with all of them. Even being in the great Dairy State of Wisconsin, dairy prices are crazy! Not as bad as some others, so I guess I will count myself blessed. We are avid Aldi’s shoppers and try to buy whatever produce they have on sale, and that is our main snack. I also try to only shop every 2-3 weeks, not every few days or once a week. Fewer trips to the store means less money spent!

    Our biggest expense is meat. My husband is a meat and potatoes guy. Luckily my brother got a deer while hunting this year and shared venison with us so we have a freezer full of ground venison that is a perfect substitute for ground beef. I also started only using 1/2 lb. of ground meat instead of a full pound when making casseroles, etc… and no one has noticed a thing ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also started making a lot of our stuff from scratch. In the summer we have a garden and I have learned to can. This summer I made several batches of jam that we are still enjoying through this cold winter. The initial investment of canning supplies can be a lot, but we have found a lot of good jars at garage sales for super cheap and after only a few years, have a nice collection of jars to hold our goodies ๐Ÿ™‚

    Another HUGE money saver for us is that I found a bread outlet that is fairly close and will stock up there once every few months and keep the bread in the chest freezer. I was just there today and for $15.00 I was able to get 4 packs of large bagels, 3 packs of whole wheat english muffins, 5 loaves of whole wheat bread, 1 pack of whole wheat hamburger buns, 2 loaves of texas toast. these are all name brand breads (Sara Lee). save us TONS of money.

  19. To save money with milk, I started serving hot cereal and other breakfast foods instead of cold cereal which consumes so much milk… when my teens are hungry in the evenings, instead of letting them have cold cereal, I try to make them something even if it is more work for me. It gives me time with them and they always appreciate it.

    Compare milk prices and use whatever is cheaper for cooking…ie. evaporated milk, dry milk, other kinds of milk – rice, almond,… not everything is cheaper than milk, including dry milk…

    I buy gallons milk if they are on sale for a really good price and freeze them right in the jug – it is important to let the milk thaw completely before using or sometimes it could taste funny.

  20. Great list! I didn’t know you could freeze dairy. Will have to try that. I try to add a few more homemade things into my regular food prep each year. I’m fortunate enough to live in farm country, so I get fresh, organic produce very affordable through a CSA. I buy meat and dairy at a few local farms, but it’s still expensive and always helpful to save a few dollars.

    I save money on Parmesan by mixing in some sunflower seeds. I grind them in my food processor until they are a crumbly Parmesan texture. This doesn’t work on everything (certainly not pizza or things requiring meltiness), but it’s great for pesto or as a topping on pasta dishes.

    The biggest change I’ve made to save money is changing my expectation that I can eat what I want when I want. If strawberries are out of season and expensive, I don’t buy them. If egg production on the farm slows down in winter and prices rise, I eat less eggs. It’s been a long winter filled with too many turnips and radishes, but I kept to my grocery budget!

    1. That biggest change you mentioned, Audrey, can be a game changer for everyone who takes action on it! It’s almost always more expensive to buy things out of season!!

  21. Fruits and veggies don’t need to be horribly expensive – you can get some good deals on Bountiful Baskets or other buying co-ops. We buy bulk in season and freeze to enjoy all winter long when produce is crazy expensive.

    Another great way to save is getting a membership to Kansas City BBQ society for $35ish. As a perk from them, you get one-day passes to Restaurant Depot – like Costco, but just focused on foods. Some restaurant supply stores – like Cash-n-Carry in the PacNW allow the general public to shop there and don’t charge membership fees. You can get some pretty awesome deals on staples and produce in large quantities.

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