Shopping on a $20 Budget

Having trouble spending within your budget every week? Try some new tips for buying foods that taste great, and last.

I am notorious for being a compulsive shopper, but working 7 hours a week has quickly taught me that in order to stay afloat I have to cut costs. Currently, my weekly shopping budget is $20 and my weekly pocket-money $10 (or under for saving purposes!). Shopping on a small budget can be a really difficult adjustment, especially when you love to cook as much as I do.

However, there is one simple trick I have come to live by: as needed, buy only your staple foods (pastas, milk, cheese, some hearty veggies like spinach and broccoli) and then work into those foods some extras that match. For example, I eat a lot of pasta, a lot of mozzarella and parmiggiano cheese, and a lot of vegetables. Therefore, I buy the cheapest pastas on the shelf, cheese when it is on sale, and veggies that will last the longest in my fridge. Then, I buy some meats that go with a variety of dishes that I make. Usually I pick up a package of hot italian sausage (Giant brand to save $) and some chicken (whichever is both the cleanest and cheapest). I put the meats promptly in the freezer and they can last up to 2 or 3 weeks. If there is any money left over on that trip I buy things like shrimp (frozen and fully cooked already about $5), some garlic, lemon, soy sauce, and potatoes.

It’s important to buy foods that can be mixed and matched with each other for different dishes. For example, I often cook pasta with cheese, or broccoli, or spinach. Or, I can cook pasta with my frozen chicken, sausage, or both. Furthermore, I can mix either meat with any of the above cheese and vegetable options giving me a lot of variety with only a few ingredients.

Most often, I buy the specialty items once every 3-4 weeks, and the meats every 2 weeks. Therefore, I am buying things like veggies, milk and pasta every week. If you rotate spending like this than the $20 gets spread out a bit, leaving room for some extras and favorites like eggs, brownie mix, tortilla chips and salsa, wraps, and chocolate. To make this money go even farther, I put whatever money is left on the side so that I can go back and buy those favorite things.

TIP: Try putting a money jar in your desk, and after shopping throw your change in there rather than in your wallet. If you don’t carry the change with you, you won’t be tempted to spend it until you really need it.

What’s more, I budget my extra $10 into hanging out with my friends. If I know that I am going to the Parrot during the weekend, and also want to go to Pitchers or Mama’s on a Tuesday or Thursday, I usually break my ten into two fives. Then, when I go the bar I only take one 5 with me so that I don’t overspend. It may sound lame, but it is actually super effective. Plus, you’d be surprised how many people will split a pitcher with you, and what kind of specials and promotions you can for under $5 if you look. 

For example, splitting a dessert at the Parrot is $3.50 each. Also, a Long Island Iced Tea at Mama’s is $2.50. Not to mention, the Pub has$3 pitchers on Tuesdays, and the Parrot serves some full drinks for under $4. So, as you can see there are plenty of ways to buy under your budget.

Finally, if you keep a change jar to collect extra cash every week, then you’d be surprised how much you can accumulate. Sometimes when I know I want to spend a little extra I dig into the jar and don’t feel guilty afterward.

Good luck, and enjoy!


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