Tips And Tricks To Save Money On Groceries
Regardless of whether you’re feeding just yourself or a whole family, you probably find that groceries take a big bite out of your paycheck. Grocery stores are expensive. Have you ever gone in for a couple of items and left with an empty wallet? I have! Since we all have to eat, there’s really no way to completely avoid these stores. After all, buying groceries and making homemade meals is still the cheapest, smartest way to get you and your family fed. One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to stop wasting money at the grocery store. To help you stop throwing money away, I’ve put together some tricks that I use to avoid over-spending at the supermarket.
- Use your store’s circular to plan your meals. If you don’t get the weekly sales flyer delivered with your newspaper, you can find most store circulars online. Browse the weekly sales and then build your weekly meal plan based on what’s on sale.
- Take the time to make a grocery list. In addition to helping you to not forget needed items, having a list can make shopping more time and cost efficient. Learn the layout of the store, organize your list accordingly, and avoid the aisles that you don’t have to go down. The more aisles you walk down, the more likely you are to add things to your shopping basket that you didn’t intend to buy. Shoppers who visited most or all aisles in a store ended up with 68% of the items in their cart being unplanned purchases.
- Stay away from the inner aisles. Grocery stores are strategically designed with essential ingredients, such as dairy and produce, on opposite sides of the store. Try to skip the middle aisles of the store and shop the perimeter for the healthiest items and the best value.
- Stay away from the prepared foods. Don’t buy the pre-made foods, no matter how good they look. Buy the ingredients and make it for a fraction of the price at home.
- Convenience costs you extra Items like grated cheese, pre-cut fruit, and pre-washed salad are going to cost you money. With a less expensive block of cheese and a cheap box grater, you can save money by grating your own.
- Use coupons, loyalty cards, and rebate apps. Coupons can save you some serious cash. In addition to the weekly coupons found in newspaper inserts, printable coupons are a great source of savings. Sites such as Coupons.com, RedPlum.com, and SmartSource.com are great places to find printable coupons. Rebate apps have offers for the things you already buy. Plus, you don’t have to clip a single coupon to get savings. Three that you need to have in your arsenal are Ibotta, Checkout 51, and MobiSave. Sign up for their loyalty programs and get familiar with the promotions they run and what rewards they offer.
- Bring your own music. Studies show that stores play music with a slower beat to encourage you to move more slowly through the aisles. That slower pace can lead you to buy 29% more. Create your own mix of upbeat songs to listen to while shopping.
- Skip the spice mixes. Fancy spice mixes, marinades, and rubs can easily set you back several bucks. You can easily make your own spice mix, marinade, and rubs with seasonings you most likely already have on hand. The main ingredient in most of them is salt.
- Reconsider buying bottled water. Often it is nothing more than filtered tap water. Consider purchasing a water filter pitcher or a water filter that snaps right onto your faucet. It’s just as healthy as what’s in the bottle without the expense or plastic waste. The average cost of a 16 oz. bottle of water is about a dollar. With it recommended that you drink four of them per a day, it adds up to $120 dollars a month spent on something you can get from a faucet.
- Don’t be tempted by brand names. Store generic brands are often name-brand products with their own labels on it. Just check the ingredients to be sure you’re getting the same product.
- Look up and look down. The eye-level shelves are stocked the priciest items. When shopping, look at the higher and lower shelves for cheaper items.
- Remember to get and use rain checks. A rain check is a voucher for items that are out of stock. It allows you to purchase the product at the sale price at a later date. Rain checks often entitle you to the sale price for the 30-45 days. Also, save your unused coupons as many stores will accept coupons that were valid on the date a rain check was issued.
- Don’t go to the store hungry. If you buy your groceries when hungry, you’ll purchase more than you need. Also, research shows that to hungry shoppers high-calorie foods may be more tempting than usual. Shopping with the munchies can put a dent in your bank account and leave you with a pile of unwanted purchases.
- Take inventory. Know what’s in your fridge, pantry, and freezer before you shop. Take inventory once a month to get a sense of what items you will need and what you can skip buying at full price.
- Don’t waste food. According to the National Resources Defense Council, 40% of the food produced in the United States never gets eaten. Americans typically throw out about 25% of the groceries they buy. To prevent your food from turning into wasted money, sort through your fridge and pantry about once a week for items that are about to expire and place those in a designated space so that you remember to eat them before they go bad.
- Leave children at home. Just the thought of grocery shopping with children is enough to make some parents shudder. It isn’t easy to say no when children and sometimes spouses want to buy food items that you don’t need.
- Try to eat with the seasons. Eating seasonally helps you eat healthier, more nutritious food while saving money. Out-of-season produce has to travel far to reach your store, a cost which you end up paying for. Eat produce that’s in season and you will save you serious money. Plus, it will taste better.
- Consider bagged produce. Often you’ll pay the same amount for a few loose potatoes, onions, etc. as you will for a large bag of the same item.
- Start your own herb garden. They take up very little space and most of the time you can buy an entire plant for less than you can purchase a few sprigs at the supermarket.
- Stock up. When the price of an item is super low with coupons, don’t just purchase enough to last you a week or two. Buying enough household essentials to last you for several months means you won’t have to pay full price when you run out. Many items can be easily stored up to a year before using them.
- Shop only once a week. You can reduce impulse purchases and save gas by planning your shopping list so that you get a week’s worth of groceries in one trip. The less you shop, the more you save.
- Look for substitutes. Look at your last grocery receipt and find your most expensive purchases. Consider swapping these items for lower-cost alternatives next time. Some great substitutes are ground turkey for ground beef; bone-in chicken for boneless; Fontina for Gruyere cheese; apples, plums, or peaches for blackberries and raspberries; turmeric for saffron; and dried porcini mushrooms instead of morels. Switching out a few items each trip can add up.
- Make sure you’re getting a deal. Be wary of five for $5 sales or any promotion in which a store is offering several items for one price. Check the regular price of the item to make sure it is actually discounted and not just clever signage making you think it’s a steal. Also, compare items by the price per ounce or pound not just the sticker price to be sure you’re getting the best deal.
- Get the best price. Find out if you’re actually shopping the store with the lowest overall prices for your needs. Pick the 10 items you most commonly buy at the grocery store like milk, cereal, bananas, chicken, eggs, bread, etc and compare the cost of them at each of the stores in your area (supermarkets, big box stores, dollar store). Balancing Beauty & Bedlam has a spreadsheet that can help you do it.
- Buy what you’ll need until the next sale. Stores want to capitalize on the foods and items you’re thinking about at specific times of the year. So just like you’ll get the best deals produce when it’s in season, many food and household items are on sale during special times of the year. Stock up enough to last until the next sale. Holiday foods will be on sale in November and then again near Easter. Many items like boneless chicken, cereal, razors, and feminine products also run through cycles, typically on an eight to twelve-week rotation. If you know you’ll go through a box of cereal a week, buy 10 to 12 boxes when they’re a deal to see you through the weeks when the item will be at full price.
- Pass on the toiletries and milk. These items are usually cheaper at the pharmacy or a big-box store like Walmart and Target. Milk sold at drugstores and convenience stores typically costs 30 to 50¢ less per gallon.
- Use a smaller cart. Studies show that doubling the size of a cart makes people buy 40% more. Also, skip the handheld baskets. A study from the Journal of Marketing Research found that the strain of carrying the basket made us more likely to pick up “vice products” like candy and soda.
- Check yourself out. There is less merchandise for you to pick up last minute around self-checkout stands and the wait time is typically shorter. The result, impulse purchases dropped by 32% for women and about 17% for men when shoppers used the self-checkout line instead of a staffed checkout.
- Check seafood labels. Products labeled “previously frozen” in small type are often the same thing you can find in the frozen-food aisle for as much as 40% less. Buy frozen and do the thawing yourself. Your fish will be fresher and you won’t have to use it right away.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a great savings story? What other tricks or tips would you add to this list?
Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.