Photo of a woman checking price tags as she grocery shops.

Feeling the squeeze of inflation at the grocery store? Check out these budget-friendly tips from Sydney McAvoy and Stephanie Snell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) at Wardenburg Health Center.

1. Make a plan (and stick to it)

Having a plan in place before you head to the store can help you stay organized, save money and make better choices. It’s also a great way to cut back on food waste because you’ll only buy the items you need.

To get started, think through the meals you’d like to eat this week. Be sure to include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options. If you’re new to meal planning it can be helpful to keep your weekly menu fairly simple until you get more comfortable with the process. For instance, you may want to cook a few dinner options and plan to use the leftovers for your lunch.

After you’ve planned out your meals for the week, start to identify which ingredients you already have on hand and which ones you’ll need to purchase. Make a commitment to stick to your list: avoid buying items just because they're on sale, and don't go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. This will help ensure that you stick to your meal plan and your budget.

If you’re worried about items that may or may not be available, consider alternatives. For instance, if you are planning to make mashed potatoes, you may want to consider getting a boxed variety if the produce variety is sold out.

Bonus tip: Order online

Many grocers offer online ordering and pickup. This can be a great option if you’re short on time or have trouble sticking to your pre-planned list. These types of services make it easier to only shop for what you need and pick them up at your convenience.

2. Check for coupons or discounts

Most major stores have apps where you can find weekly deals and coupons that can save you money. Some stores, like King Soopers and Target, will even personalize coupons based on what you’ve purchased most frequently in the past. Once you’ve made your list, check your store’s app (or website) to see if there are any coupons available. If you see foods on sale, you can try to adjust your meal plan based on items that are on sale that week.

Bonus tip: Browse the ‘final sale’ shelves

Some grocery stores, like King Soopers and Safeway, have special shelves designated for ‘final sale’ items. These shelves often include pantry staples like pasta, canned meats, grains, breads and over-the-counter medications. If you’re unsure if your store offers these types of deals or can’t find them in your store, be sure to ask an associate for help.

3. Swap items to save

There are a number of simple swaps you can make to help you save on a variety of items. Here are a few examples to consider…

  • Buy ‘whole’ foods: Some foods are cheaper in less processed forms. For example, blocks of cheese tend to be cheaper than bags of pre-shredded cheese.
  • Buy generic: Most stores carry generic brands for a variety of products. Oftentimes, these generic brands are cheaper than the name brand. For example, name brand whole wheat bread at Kroger costs $4.79, while the generic Kroger brand only costs $2.99. The best news is that they both have similar nutrient composition and ingredients.
  • Buy produce that’s in season: Local, in-season produce tends to be cheaper. You can find a full list of produce by season on the USDA website.
  • Buy frozen: When your favorite fresh produce isn’t in season or isn’t available, opt for frozen varieties. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper and have good nutritional value, since they are picked and packaged at their peak quality.
  • Buy canned options: If you can’t find affordable fresh or frozen produce, consider buying canned options, like canned corn, pineapple or beans. You can also find canned meat options if fresh chicken or fish isn’t in your budget.
  • Buy in bulk: Most major grocers carry common pantry goods at a lower price in their bulk foods section, including rice, beans, nuts, oatmeal and more.
  • Opt for plant-based proteins: Plant-based proteins, like beans and tofu, can be more cost-effective than animal meats. They also tend to have a longer shelf life.

4. Pay attention to price per unitPhoto comparing the price per unit of ketchup. The left hand label is 6.49 cents per ounce and the right hand label is 5.97 cents per ounce.

Sometimes, the lowest price isn’t always the best price. Instead of relying on the total price of an item alone, look for the price per unit to compare prices across different sizes. For instance, consider buying Cheerios where a 9 oz box of Cheerios may cost $2.99 and a 20 oz box costs $4.99. While the 9 oz box is cheaper overall, it actually costs more per ounce. In this example the smaller box costs you about 35 cents per ounce while the larger box only costs about 25 cents per ounce. Most stores make this math easy by providing per unit pricing on the bottom of their price stickers.


5. Connect with resources

CU Boulder students, staff and faculty can access a variety of resources related to food insecurity and nutrition. 

Resources for students

Buff Pantry

The Buff Pantry supports undergraduate and graduate students who are facing food insecurity. Clients are welcome to visit the Buff Pantry once per week to receive approximately 20 pounds of food per visit. Food options include fresh produce, pantry staples, refrigerated and frozen foods as well as personal care items.

Free nutrition consultations

Students can schedule a free appointment with the Nutrition Resource Clinic in the Fitness and Wellness Suite located at the Main Student Recreation Center. Appointments cover a variety of topics depending on your personal needs.

Nutrition counseling

Medical Services has two Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) on staff to help students address a variety of health and nutrition concerns, including healthy eating, cooking support, disordered eating, weight concerns and more. Check online to review pricing and insurance coverage.

Body Image Awareness Month

The Rec Center is hosting a number of Nutrition Talks as part of Body Image Awareness Month throughout February. Sessions include information ways to navigate conflicting nutrition advice, meal planning and the top 10 things you can do to improve your health and performance through nutrition. 

Resources for staff and faculty

Mobile Food Pantries

Mobile Food Pantries take place throughout the semester and are free for  CU Boulder students, faculty and staff, as well as community members of Boulder and Broomfield Counties. Food is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Health insurance benefits

All CU employee health insurance plans allow you to meet with specialists, including Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). Please review your specific plan benefits for information about co-pays and co-insurance.

Community Food Share

Community Food Share is a local food bank that provides aid to people throughout Boulder and Broomfield counties who are facing food insecurity. They offer a free on-site food pantry, emergency food assistance, senior food programs and mobile food pantries. Check out their website for a map of service locations.

Government-funded programs

SNAP and WIC are two different public health and nutrition programs funded by the federal government. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also commonly known as food stamps) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assist low-income families and their children in purchasing healthy foods through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card or a WIC check.

Follow @CUHealthyBuffs on social for more tips, events and activites.