Your food budget is one of the easiest ways to start spending less and saving more. However, the grocery store can also be a money pit if you don’t plan ahead and understand how to get more for your dollar. The USDA estimates the average cost of food at home for a family of four to range between $568 to $1293 per month depending on the ages of your children and whether you follow a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, or liberal plan.
Cooking meals at home is a great way to keep your finances in check, but if you don’t have a game plan, you can quickly spend more than you intended. Grocery stores often use some tricky tactics to get you to spend more, usually on things that you don’t need and are high margins for grocery stores. Starting to shop smarter at the grocery store key to keeping to your budget!
Plan Your Trip
When you make a plan before you go grocery shopping, you’re more likely to stick to your list and not come home with a boatload of stuff you don’t need.
- Use the grocery store ads. Every Wednesday the new ads for grocery stores come out. You can find them online and they usually come in the mail too. Additionally, you can use the app Flipp which you can install on your phone and has the ads for over 800 retailers in the US and Canada.
- Plan your weekly meals based on what is on sale. When you glance through the add you can easily find meat, vegetables, cheese, and other ingredients on sale to make the meals you love. If you and your family can learn to be flexible, you can buy the majority of your items on sale.
- Use coupons. I’m not talking about extreme couponing here, but you can often find coupons for the products you already try. A lot of stores enable you to load coupons and store deals to your loyalty card either through their website or their app you can download – Safeway, Fry’s, and Sprouts are all on my phone.
- Stock up on pantry and freezer stuff when it’s on sale. I keep a running list of things I can add to my pantry (canned vegetables, tuna, pasta, oatmeal) or my freezer (frozen vegetables, bread), so when they are on sale, I can stock up.
- Inventory what you already have. Before you make a list or head out shopping, take a look at what you have in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. We waste so much food, and it’s often because we buy stuff we already have, then it goes bad and we have to throw it away. Save money by using what you have before buying more.
These are just a few ways to get started planning your grocery store trip. It can take several times to start to get into a routine, but you will find it easier and easier. Pretty soon you will notice the best prices on the things you buy and can scour through the ads in about 5-10 minutes to make you shopping list. I like to make a game of it and see how much money I can save each week.
Smarter Grocery Shopping!
So how can you become more thoughtful in your grocery shopping? Have a plan! But there are also a few things to keep in mind, so you don’t easily fall off track. Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned:
- Don’t shop the center aisles. The center isles mostly contain processed foods that, if you want to stay healthy, you shouldn’t be buying anyway. Spend most of your time on the stores perimeter where you’ll find produce, meat, and dairy products.
- Stay away from convenience foods. Deli items and salad bars are always priced at a premium. Instead of buying packages of individual snack sized items – grab a big bag and some ziplock bags and make snack bags yourself. Pre-cut foods can be quick and easy, but if you plan ahead, you can save some money and cut up fruits, veggies, meat, and cheeses yourself.
- Don’t buy non-grocery items at the grocery store. Cooking tools and gadgets are generally not a good deal at the grocery store. If you need something specific that you don’t have, look at borrowing it from a friend or family member. Personal care items like make-up, toothpaste and hair care are usually at a much higher price; buy from Walmart, Target or Amazon instead.
- Check the size and look at the price per ounce. The grocery stores often put the price per ounce on the shelf price tag which helps make it easier to compare different size product. Take a few extra minutes to compare the per ounce price before you buy to make sure you are getting a good deal.
- Don’t buy stuff at the check-out. Magazines, candy, and gum all sit at the checkout to entice you to purchase them while you are waiting. Just say no! If you are used to grabbing something at the checkout, you need to start changing your mindset.
Grocery Wants Versus Needs
Having a plan and knowing the additional tips above can start to put you in the mindset of being more conscious of your grocery budget spending. Additionally, understanding your needs versus wants can have a big impact. The “luxury” items that you want every week should be occasion splurges. I find that when I only buy myself treats occasionally, they feel more like luxuries – I enjoy them so much more when I feel like they are a special treat. I get especially excited when I find one of those items on sale – the wine I love, my favorite ice cream, or the best organic salsa. You can be frugal and still enjoy the good life.
Smarter grocery store shopping involves creating a plan, not getting side-tracked, and understanding your needs versus wants. When you become more conscious of what you are buying and how much you are spending every time you shop, you will start to develop a routine that makes grocery shopping easy, fun, and a great way to save some money!