From Broke College Kid to Broke New Yorker: How I Learned to Shop on a Budget

While I attended SUNY New Paltz, I developed a financially conscious mindset, especially while food shopping. Now living in NYC, I had to recently revert back to my old habits of tightening up my wallet. If you’re struggling with paying for meals (or even if you want to just save a couple bucks a month), here are some great tips to save some money.

Note: This post is not here to discriminate, nor draw conclusions on lifestyles. This information is provided to combat all lifestyles. Whether you’re in college on a budget, or come from a low income family, this post is here to help- not assume nor discriminate.

Also, keep in mind that I had to simultaneously develop healthy habits due to my eating disorder. While I cut out certain items from my grocery budget, I still practiced healthier eating habits. While of course I am not authorized to provide any professional dietary advice, I plead you to be mindful of the fact that I was maintaining a 30 lb. weight loss while simultaneously maintaining a tight grocery budget.

1. Do your Research

Find out which grocery stores have the best deals, the freshest produce, the most reputable image, and shop there. Take a look at the circular. Look at coupons.

2. Take your Time in the Supermarket

Try to avoid going at peak hours; go during a time when the store isn’t grossly overpopulated with people, and take your time searching the store. I tend to sweep the aisles, beyond browsing, scouring each section for the best deals. It’s very important to pay attention to the price per weight. For example, if one jar of peanut butter costs  $5 and has a total unit weight (the amount of peanut butter in the jar) of 15 oz., another jar of peanut butter costs $4 but has a total unit weight of only 10 oz., you may want to purchase the first jar of peanut butter because you’re getting 5 extra ounces for only $1. In short, that first jar of peanut butter will last longer, and you won’t have to purchase another jar of peanut butter for awhile. Will it always be this clear cut? No, but it’s important to be mindful of how much things cost in conjunction to their worth.

3. Know What to Buy on Sale

When applicable, sales can be an amazing tool to lower your grocery bill. However, some sales can be deceitful.

For example, the other night, I was juxtaposing canned tuna prices. One sale read, Tuna A: “4/ $5”, while the other read, Tuna B: “$.79 each”. With some basic math, I realized that the latter option was much more economical.

Tuna A: 4 ÷ $5  = $1.25 each can.

Tuna B: .79 × 4 = $3.16 total.

$5 – $3.16 = $1.84 savings, (I could buy two more cans of the Tuna B!)

Some sales, though, are definitely worth it. Last night, I scored on a sale on egg noodles: 2/ $3 (originally $3.59 each!)

Also, some of the “Buy one get one” sales can be more expensive than their intention. Just be careful.

In short, make sure to question and analyze each sale. If it makes sense, go for it!

5. Farmer’s Markets and Fruit Stands

Local > Organic

Indulging in my local fruit stands has hit so many different societal points of practice for me. They’re one of my favorite things about NYC. Chinatown especially is fun to explore exotic fruits like rambutan, or get some inexpensive and fresh seafood. Just be mindful of the types of farmer’s markets; one of my upcoming articles will be juxtaposing different types of farmer’s markets and fruit stands to see which areas and deals are actually worth it.

6. When in Doubt, Cut it Out

Snacking? Late night pizza slices? Cut that shit out, you don’t have the budget to indulge in such treats. When you weren’t on a budget, completely different story– treat yo-self. In this case, you have to be tough on yourself. 

Snacks used to account for a grotesque amount of my grocery bill. Chips can be anywhere from $4-6, and there’s no telling how long that one bag will last (for me it was maybe a night, if I was lucky). Add a $3-5 container of hummus to that, a $3.99 box of cookies, and a 2 for $6 sale on juice to that, and you’re looking at at least another $20 on your shopping trip.

7. Choose Store Brands Over Name Brands

Unless your bread is completely corroding, just settle for the $2 long loaf of store brand bread for the time being. You’ll get over it. 


Water is so beneficial. We’re made up of about 70%. It’s fantastic for our skin, energy levels, and overall health. Plus, if you drink more water, you’ll feel fuller throughout the day. Instead of buying bottled water, opt for tap or brita water. It’s a bitch to shell out the money initially, but it’ll save you money in the long run.

9. Stretch Out Meals with Pasta

Pasta is a great way to stretch a single meal out into a few days worth of meals. Be sure to look out for my upcoming article about specific recipes for budget pasta meals.

10. Implement Protein Wherever Applicable

Protein fills you up for longer, and provides you with more natural energy than some of the more sugary snacks.

11. Stock up on Staple Foods

Purchases like eggs, bread, peanut butter, pasta, chopped meat, onions, and milk (soy/regular/almond) will be the base for a lot of your meals. The trick is to purchase foundation ingredients to create meals from.


Whether you’re on a fixed income, or just trying to shave off a few bucks from your grocery bill, implementing these tools will create a surplus of cash in your budget.

Comment below on some awesome deals you’ve come across!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Janet Davis says:

    April, this is great info! I can’t imagine food shopping in the city! Ugh. Thanks for the tools, tricks and tips!


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