Every parent wants to know how to save money on groceries. Buying and providing food for our families has become one of the staples of our modern way of living. But it’s also become a very expensive part of our family budget.
Grocery stores have made it all too convenient by becoming one-stop shops and having everything you need down each and every aisle. They’re also very good at using eye-popping displays, random sales, and even easy-listening music to entice you to buy more.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet can run $146 to $289 a week. That works out to just over $15,000 per year. This is not cheap by any means!
To make matters worse, US News reports that the average American family ends up wasting as much as $2,275 worth of food each year for any number of reasons. That’s literally almost half of the money needed to fully fund an IRA – straight in the trash!
We can do a lot better when it comes to spending our hard earned dollars on food. As a parent myself, there are a lot of tricks that I’ve picked up over the years. Here are 23 great tips on how you can save more money on groceries during your next shopping trip.
1- Make a list of the food you really need.
There’s nothing worse than going to the grocery store and aimlessly walking up and down each aisle with no apparent goal in mind. When you do this, every item you see on the shelf “seems” like something you might need. You convince yourself that you’ll make everything from enchiladas to steaks and salad’s and chili.
But let’s be real – are you actually going to make all of these things? Is there even really enough time to cook at all? Did you even really want stir-fry?
Your grocery list much like your family budget needs to have a planned purpose. In order to do this, you’ll need to make a list of all the meals he plan to prepare for the upcoming week. This way, you can target only the specific items that you really need instead of buying just any product you see. That in turn will help lower your total grocery bill by more than you think.
2- Plan your meals by what’s on sale.
Speaking of making a list of your upcoming meals for the week, why not be smart about it and apply a little bit of strategy? By this, I mean to plan your meals out according to what’s on sale at the local grocery store.
For example, even though some steaks might sound really good, if chicken is on sale, why not pick a few meals that will go along with chicken instead? Or if the things that you really like to put in your salad are on sale, why not make a large bowl of salad for everyone to enjoy as one meal?
By doing this, it’s a win-win. Not only are you specifically buying the things that you need for the meals for the week, but you’re also buying mostly things that you know are on sale.
You can of course always check the local ads or go online to find out ahead of time what is on sale for the week at your usual grocery store.
3- Plan your meals by what is in your pantry already.
Getting the items you need while they’re on sale is not the only way you can save money. Often times we have an abundance of things sitting around in our pantry shelves that we haven’t used yet. If this describes you, then why not also plan your meals according to what is available inside your pantry.
For example, if you already have lasagna noodles and pasta sauce, now all you need is the meat, cheese, and any other goodies that you normally use to prepare a delicious pan of lasagna.
Likewise, if you already have taco shells in your pantry, that would be one less thing that you have to buy at the grocery store. So now all you need to do is purchase the meat, cheese, and lettuce.
4- Be health-conscious and buy less junk.
Though it can be tempting to load up on pizza rolls, cheese sticks, and any other guilty pleasures you might enjoy, this stuff will weigh down your wallet just as much as it will way down you’re gut eventually. Instead, opt for healthier snacks like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat options of the things you already enjoy.
5- Take inventory.
I think we’re all guilty of going to the grocery store, buying a few items that we thought we needed, and then coming home to find that we already had them on our shelves. This is particularly financially wasteful if the item you bought has a limited shelf-life or is perishable. That’s why it really helps to take a quick inventory of all the things you already have so that you know exactly what you need to buy when you go to the grocery store.
6- Use coupons from online or the manufacturers.
The couponing-craze has really taken off over the last decade or so. There of been a number of TV shows dedicated to people who have figured out how to work the system and get hundreds of dollars of items for free.
While that’s cool and all, let’s not forget: Using coupons even modestly can still save you a decent amount of money. And all it takes is grabbing a few of them from the local paper or printing them from online I had of your next trip to the grocery store.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to time your grocery shopping during the days where the store doubles the value of your coupons.
7- Join an in-store savings program.
If you’d rather not fuss with cutting coupons or looking for them, why not just save money automatically?
Lots of big-name grocery stores now have free savings clubs where you can join and save on some other select items. Since membership is usually free, why not?
8- Don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.
Going shopping for food when you have an eaten in a while is one of the worst ideas you could have. When you do this, everything that you walk past looks delicious. And therefore your truck yourself in the buying a lot more than you really need.
To prevent this try to go grocery shopping only after you’ve eaten a meal. If that’s not possible, try eating a small snack like a power bar. Even filling your belly with a big glass of water will help reduce the urge to buy more than you need.
9- Buying in bulk when you can.
In almost every situation, buying items in bulk such as toilet paper and paper towels will be cheaper. If you’ve got the space for it, then stock up!
10- Pay attention to the unit costs.
A lot of grocery stores have now started putting the unit cost next to the sale price on the shelf. This is helpful because it more accurately lets you compare similar products.
For example, when purchasing laundry soap, you can see which one costs less per ounce rather than just judging the products by their total overall price or packaging size. You might even find out that just because one product is on sale does not necessarily mean that it’s a better deal than a similar product that is not on sale.
11- Don’t be afraid of generic brands.
There are just some things that where you don’t need to buy the premium brand. Sometimes the generic house brand will work just as good but will save you 25% of the cost. Give it a shot!
12- Eat in season.
Buying groceries only when they are in season is particularly useful for certain types of produce. For example, a bowl of grapes might sound delicious! But if this is not the season for grapes, then you could be paying double the cost you’d normally pay. Instead, try to buy products and enjoy things in their natural season.
13- Shop only once per week.
Everyone at one time or another has forgotten something at the grocery store, and then went back mid week to pick it up. But then when you do this, you aren’t up buying 10 other things that you think you need. And now you’ve just spent an extra $100 that you didn’t plan on doing before.
To combat this, be sure to only go grocery shopping once per week. This limits you to sticking to your plan, only following your list, and buying less excess.
14- Know what’s a good deal and what’s not.
Just because something is on sale doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth buying. For example, you might see the pork-chops are on sale. But if you seen them advertised in the past at a lower price, the now might not be the best time to buy them. Put your previous grocery shopping experience to work!
15- Stock up!
Anytime you find any product that’s a good deal, and you have the space for it, go ahead and stock up on them.
At our house, we do this often with breakfast cereal. Some cereals could cost anywhere from $4 to $5 per box. But that occasionally they will go on sale for two for five dollars. When this happens, we buy a bunch of them so that we’re good for the next couple of weeks.
16- Shop at the big-box stores.
Even though smaller sized grocery stores have a charm, big-box stores usually offer you the best price. This is because they usually have better distribution and lower overhead per store than their smaller competitors. For you, this translates into a lower price per product.
17- Leave the family at home.
If you really want to stick to your list and buy only the things that you need, then go grocery shopping alone. Bringing your spouse or the children along will almost certainly lead to extra things finding their way into the grocery cart that were not planned and probably unnecessary.
18- Look high and look low.
Usually the most expensive items are strategically placed at eye-level. If you look up on the top shelf or the bottom shelf, you’re often find the items that is the better price per unit. Be sure to go exploring and find those deals.
19- Don’t buy pre-made meals or fruit bowls.
Pre-made dishes are often products of convenience, and grocery stores love to charge you way more for them. You can save yourself a bunch of money and put a little time investment into it if you just buy the ingredients you need and prepare yourself.
20- Wear headphones.
I already mentioned that that the easy listening music in grocery stores is a mind-trick! It’s designed to slow down your heart rate, make you feel relaxed, and ultimately buy more items. If you’d like to save some money, put in your headphones and put on some fast-paced, upbeat music. Psychologically this will encourage you to speed things up, finish getting the items on your list or quickly, and overall spend less money.
21- Be cautious of end-cap displays.
A lot of people think that end-cap displays in the grocery store are where the best deals are at. But make no mistake – the grocery store puts them there for one reason only – that’s the stuff they want you to buy! Usually this works in their favor; not yours.
Again, stick your list and only buy things you know to be a good bargain.
22- Remember to return your bottles.
If your state participates in a bottle recycling program where they refund your deposit, then be sure to bring in your empty bottles and get your money back. This can quickly add up to a few extra dollars that you can easily apply to your grocery trip.
23- Organize your food when you get home.
Even though a trip to the grocery store can be rather exhausting, resist the urge to just throw everything in your shelves and close the door. Take the time to organize your purchases so that you could more easily inventory them the next time you go grocery shopping.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr