I was a single mom and learned how to grocery shop on a budget. I meal-plan on the fly based on sales and still afford occasional treats.

Ashley Archambault was a single mom for seven years and it taught her how to budget.

I was a single mom for seven years and learned to shop on a budget.I’ve since remarried, but I still use the skills I learned during that time when I grocery shop.I make sure to buy healthy food for my family without overspending.

As a single mom, I had to learn how to make my income work for my son and me. When it came to buying groceries, I was determined to prepare healthy meals for us without having to go broke in the process.

I have since remarried, but on a recent trip to the grocery store with my son, as he watched the self-checkout process closely, he asked, “Mom, how did you buy so much food for so little money?” That’s when I noticed that I still retain a knack for shopping smart, both in terms of health and our budget.

While I now have a partner to split the costs of living with, our grocery bill has the potential to soar as food prices seem to rise weekly. After the mortgage, the cost of our monthly groceries is our next highest bill, so I’ve continued to use the skills I developed as a single mom when it comes to shopping for our food. Here’s how I avoid sacrificing the health of our diet while maintaining our budget.

I shop for our groceries at multiple stores

When I first started comparing prices across different stores, I kept a notebook where I would jot down the prices of certain items I bought regularly, such as milk or peanut butter. Since then, I have memorized these prices and can tell you how much the same item costs at three different stores.

While shopping around at multiple stores might seem inconvenient and can take time, depending on whether you need to get all your shopping done the same day, it also saves me a lot of money. If I know I can get something for much less at another store we’re going to soon anyway, I’ll wait.

I’ve embraced meal planning on the spot

When shopping, I take advantage of sales and plan our meals for the week based on what’s priced lowest. With meat, in particular, I buy what’s on sale and then plan our dinners around that main dish. I do the same with vegetables. While certain produce items, like fresh carrots, are always affordable, other things, like asparagus, are not.

I typically rely on produce that’s always within our grocery budget, but when something we can’t normally afford is on sale, I jump on the opportunity. This helps me switch up our dinners so that our meals don’t feel monotonous, and we’re also benefiting from eating a variety of foods.

With bulk items, I don’t make assumptions

I have found that buying in bulk isn’t always the best deal. If I have the choice between buying a six-pack or a 12-pack of the same item, I figure out the price-per-unit in each pack. Most of the time, I actually find that I wouldn’t save enough money per item to make choosing the larger pack a better choice.

In fact, once I got in the habit of doing this, I found that the bulk packages may even cost more. Also, buying in bulk can make the bill soar beyond what we should be spending that week, so if it isn’t a really good deal, I opt for the practical pack in terms of both budget and our storage at home.

Because I know I’m saving money, I also feel OK buying occasional treats

When I’m saving money overall, I can afford a few treats or higher-priced items. My son and I really love salmon, but it’s rarely on sale. It’s too pricey to buy every week, but I try to get it at least once a month.

Since it isn’t something we get to have regularly, my son and I appreciate it and enjoy it even more. There are also seasonal items that we love, like cherries or spaghetti squash, but since they’re on the expensive end, I try to only buy them when they’re in season and at a lower price.

I know which foods I can rely on

I’ve grown to learn which foods are always affordable, nutritious, and enjoyable for my family. For example, bananas are always inexpensive, and they’re good in so many ways, whether on the go as a snack with some peanut butter or thrown into a smoothie. There was a time in our life when my budget was particularly tight, and we ate a lot of baby carrots, frozen peas, canned black beans, and apples. For meat, bone-in chicken drums and thighs are the least expensive kind and can be elevated when roasted in the oven with some seasoning.

Most importantly, I still focus on buying what I know my family will enjoy eating. If something is cheap but we don’t love it, then to me, that’s just a waste of money. From being forced to work within a tight budget for so long without wanting to sacrifice our health and pleasure around food, I still analyze which items we love that are most affordable and know when it’s appropriate to spend a little more.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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