Have you ever walked away from a grocery trip feeling like you left behind more than you're taking home? It's easy to believe that grocery shopping can save you money but you likely won't get into the habit of it, until you see results.

I'll confess, New York is expensive. But groceries don't have to be! I have 3 quick tips to explain how I pulled off groceries for 1 with $20. No coupons included. And yes - this guide is at cost. There was no dividing of the sales price by how much of an item I used for sake of savings.

Buy What You Need

Buying food in bulk only works when you 1. have space, and 2. eat in bulk. When you're living in an apartment with roommates and little-to-no storage, that just isn't going to cut it. Notice that I bought just enough potatoes to get me through the week. Sure, they are cheaper in a 5-pound bag, but they're not cheaper if you throw half of them away.

"...it's better to get anything that comes in a package, at bigger chain store."

$14.07 Grocery Shopping Receipt

Buy Fresh Foods

The cheapest items on my list, (save canned corn), were the fresh groceries. These are significantly cheaper at my local market than they are at Trader Joes. Buying local or at a farmer’s market can save you some serious cash, but you'll need to know the average price in your area to know that you're not getting played.

The margarine and jam are actually much pricier per unit at the local mart. Although I did buy them here to witness that it's possible to stay on budget when you're buying in a pinch, it's better to get anything that comes in a package, at bigger chain store.

Coordinate Meals with What's On Sale

I don't always meal plan before I get to the store. Because I have a running list of five quick meals I can cook on a school night, I always scan those isles to see if the ingredients are on sale. In this case, the pasta was on sale. I picked up one pack for 0.99 cents because it was on sale, knowing that I can make three portions out of it. I also got fresh peppers and tomatoes to add to it.

I decided what meals I would make by choosing a base for my meal (for this week they were pasta, potatoes, and rice) and then buying the supplemental ingredients I needed.

A little bit of housekeeping:

  • Meat and rice are not pictured.
    • This is because I already had them at home. However, you'll notice that my tab came out to $14.07. This allows for $2.99/lb. ground turkey at Trader Joes or 1 package of Market Pantry/Oscar Meyer bacon as a meat product for the week.
    • I also left room for the $2.29 bag of rice I used that week which I had previously purchased from Target.
    • In NYC I was not charged sales tax on any of my food purchases.

There you have it folks. 12 portions of food for one person, all for less than $20. This is the last of five posts I've done this fall about eating well on a tight budget. If there's a college student or recent graduate in your life who is still figuring out how to shop for themselves, do them a favor and share this on their wall.

Do you run into trouble trying to save when grocery shopping? Have you considered buying from a local market to save money? Let me know in the comments below!