Grocery shopping when you’re single is a challenge. Saving money on groceries when you’re single can be downright frustrating! Especially with today’s inflation fuelled grocery prices. And honestly, the typical North American grocery or warehouse store does not cater to people who are shopping for one – or even two. Want to save money on your groceries? You gotta buy the gigantic family pack of everything!
So, how can you save money on groceries when you’re single? Because nobody wants to take out a bank loan every time they head out to get a litre (or gallon) of milk!
I’m going to be honest, even after all this time, I still find food shopping for one or two challenging and… well… really frustrating.
But, I’m going to share a few tips that serve me well, so let’s get started!
Have a tip that’s not mentioned here? Share it in the comments so we can all learn from each others successes.
A Few General Shopping Tips For Saving Money On Groceries When You’re Single
Let’s start with a few general shopping tips that apply to anyone who goes grocery shopping – whether it’s for one or two people or 10 people.
- Don’t assume the larger size is the better price. Usually it is, but not always. Work out the cost of each per ml, oz, gram… whatever. Some stores kindly put this on the shelf tag but others don’t so whip out your phone calculator!
- The store brand is usually (but not always) cheaper. Sometimes it tastes as good or better than the name brand, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always worth trying it out.
- It’s not more economical to buy the larger size if you wind up having to throw it out because it doesn’t get eaten in time. You wouldn’t throw a $5 bill in the garbage but that’s essentially what you’re doing when you throw out food because it’s gone bad. If you can’t eat it before it goes off and you don’t have the capacity to store it in a way that will extend its life or share it with others, don’t buy it.
- Convenience foods usually (but not always) cost more so think carefully about what you’re putting in your cart. Is it cheaper to buy a bag of mixed/washed salad greens or buy a head of lettuce and wash and chop it yourself? Will you eat the whole bag of mixed greens before they go off while you might not be able to eat the whole head of lettuce? Then the mixed greens might be the better deal! Think it through.
Shop the Bulk Bins
Buying in bulk doesn’t mean buying huge amounts. I’m talking about shopping the bulk bins in your grocery store or at your local bulk foods store (like Bulk Barn in Canada). You can buy as much… or as little… as you need – at much cheaper prices than buying packaged food.
Shopping this way can result in big savings and it’s great for building a single person’s pantry. Food waste becomes minimal because you only buy what you need. There’s also far less packaging. And, if you shop at a store like Bulk Barn, they encourage you to bring in your own containers to fill up, cutting down on even more packaging.
Some of the things I like to buy at bulk stores or the bulk bin section of my grocery stores are:
- spices! Ground spices lose their fragrance and flavour quickly so just buy what you can use in a month or two
- nuts and seeds (pecans/walnuts, almonds, chia, pumpkin, sunflower etc)
- less frequently used grains and pastas or a grain or pasta you want to try for a specific recipe before you buy a big bag of it
- baking supplies – if you don’t bake often you can buy small quantities of flour, baking powder/soda, brown sugar etc for much less than a small package at the grocery store
- dried fruit
I keep my bulk items in glass jars that I recycle from the pasta sauce and dill pickle jars (for bigger items) and relish or jam jars (for smaller quantities)
Evaluate Your Living Space
This might seem like a weird one but, it’s worth mentioning near the top of the list because if you can find extra space, you can buy in larger quantities and you can take advantage of great sales because you have extra room to stock up on non-perishables! This can be a game changer when it comes to singles saving money on their groceries.
Buuuut… single people usually live in small spaces with little storage and small kitchens. So we have to get creative.
I remember reading an article about finding overlooked space in our homes. The author posed the question “what would you do if somebody offered you $200/month to rent out the space under your bed for storage?”. You’d rent the space, right? Light bulb moment!
Where Can You Find Extra Space?
- Where do you have extra space hiding in plain view? Closets? Awkward corners? In your entryway? Under the bed? On a bookcase?
- Do you have room for a small upright compact chest freezer? There are small models designed for apartments that range between 2.7-5 cubic feet that can fit in a spare corner, in a closet or under shelving. Depending on how the door opens, it could also double as a microwave stand or you could top it with a cheerful placemat and a decorative tray or a fruit bowl that’s easy to move when you need access. (if you’re renting, check your lease to make sure an additional freezer is permitted)
- Multi-purpose furniture. My ex had large trunk next to his apartment door that he would sit on to tie up his work boots or toss his scarf or hat on when he got home. It was the perfect size to store canned and jarred goods in and nobody had to know. You could do the same with an ottoman that could double as a coffee table and hidden storage. Or use decorative baskets on an Ikea Kallax type unit.
- Rubbermaid storage totes under the bed.
- Go up! We tend to default to looking at available floor space when looking for storage space. Look up! Can you install wall shelving or get some tall bookshelves?
Team Up With Other Singles
Another great way to save on groceries is to team up with a few single friends or small family households near you. This allows you to bulk buy those large Costco size packages. Split them up and save!
Make a list of the things you all like and would be interested in splitting – it could be meat, veggies, snacks, pasta – and check in with each other on a regular basis to see who needs what and take turns doing a Costco run.
Form a text message group or FB message group to keep in touch and let the group know if you spot a really good deal. This can also work if you have dietary restrictions – find a few others who are in the same boat!
Check out Grocery Apps for Hot Deals
There are quite a few apps out there that will help you find the best deal on items you need each week. Flipp is one that I use for things that are extraordinarily expensive right now – like butter.
But I also have apps loaded for the stores I like to shop at regularly and I check those every week to see what’s on sale and, more importantly, what’s on sale for a really good price (being on sale doesn’t always equal a good price).
Another app to check out is the Flash Food app where grocery stores or restaurants sell things like day old baked goods or meat that’s close to it’s sell by date or even restaurant food that didn’t sell that night. If you’re willing to do a little driving (sometimes at odd hours of the day) and check the app regularly, you can find some really good deals in small quantities that will help you save on groceries for one. Note: not all areas have great selection but it’s worth checking back regularly as more businesses seem to be joining every day)
Watch For Sales Cycles
When you watch the apps and flyers long enough, you start to pick up on patterns. I spent 20 years working retail and there is absolutely a “flyer cycle” where certain products will go on sale every 4, 6, 8 or 12 weeks. Once you get a handle on when the products you buy regularly go on sale, you can stock up. If your favourite peanut butter goes on sale every 8 weeks, buy enough for 8 weeks!
Some items will also go on sale once or twice a year for a really hot price – watch for those and stock up where you can – or split them with friends!
This and buying from bulk stores are the biggest strategies that helps me save money on groceries for one every week.
Surplus Stores Can Help You Save On Groceries
I’d heard of surplus (or salvage) stores in the US from watching budgeting and saving money videos on YouTube but had never come across one here in the Vancouver area until recently. These are stores that sell overstock or shelf stable groceries that are close to their best before dates at (usually) a heavily discounted price.
I’ve been to the one near me a few times now and each time I’ve managed to score a few really great deals (really great!). These stores can be very hit and miss and their inventory changes from week to week but if you have one close to you, it’s worth checking out.
Just be sure to buy things you know you like and will eat before they’re past their best before date.
Warning: Know your prices before you shop in these stores. Some of the prices are amazing and some are not any different than what you’d pay at the grocery store with longer expiry dates.
Meal Plan Around Seasons and Sales
Items that aren’t in season are almost always more expensive. You can always get a good deal on hot dogs and ice cream in the summer – but they’re always expensive in winter. Fresh raspberries in December? They’ll cost you! But citrus fruit is a bargain in winter.
Plan how you eat around the seasons and what’s on sale for a great price. For weeks this winter, a head of iceberg lettuce was over $6. So we didn’t have lettuce. I subbed cabbage instead. This week, lettuce was on sale for $1.99. So I’m eating salads again!
Shop the Source (Farmer’s Markets and Farm Gate Sales)
I live in the blueberry capitol of Canada so blueberries are always abundant in summer and inexpensive. So where’s the best place to buy blueberries? The farm gate.
When I was a kid, my parents would plan our visits to the Okanagan Valley to see family around cherry, peach and apple season. Each trip, we’d stock up right at an orchard stand. My mom did a lot of canning and freezing and we’d get enough fruit – at a bargain price – to last us all winter.
You might not have the resources or space to can and freeze but the strategy is the same – go to the source. Farm gate sales and farmer’s markets are usually much cheaper than the grocery store and you don’t have to buy huge quantities.
Local green grocers that only sell fresh produce can also be a lot cheaper than the grocery store. So look to see what’s near you and check them out!
Minimize Food Waste
North Americans waste a shocking amount of food. We’ve all had science experiments growing in the back of our fridges and it’s money down the drain. Do what you can to eat what you buy or grow. Sometimes that does mean:
- eating the same thing a few nights in a row
- taking those leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge for 3 days and putting them in the freezer for another time
- getting creative and tossing a bunch of things into a pot for soup or a stew or a “mix mush” as I call them in my house! (and these usually turn out to be delicious). Leftovers dropped in a bowl of ramen is a great way to clean the fridge
- and sometimes it means doing a better job of planning our meals out in advance.
I hope these tips and strategies will help you stretch your dollars, save money on groceries and minimize what you waste.
Here’s My Final Grocery Saving Tip For Singles:
It’s ok to splurge once in a while on something you love that you normally avoid because it’s just a bit too much. Sometimes that little splurge is what we need to keep us on track with our budgeting and meal planning and eating more leftovers the rest of the time. Think of it as a once a month investment in your grocery budget!