How to save money on food shopping

Before You Go Shopping

Are you wondering why your grocery expenses have been skyrocketing these past couple of months? If you want to curb on unnecessary spending on your groceries, you need to change the way you shop; you need to have a strategy.

If you want to save upwards of 50% on your groceries, and still manage to buy everything that your household needs, you need to plan ahead of time. Saving on groceries starts even before you step out of the front door. Here are some tips on how to plan your grocery trips:

Create a Menu for the Week

Being spontaneous can be beneficial sometimes, but when you want to save on your grocery bills you need to have a plan. The night before you go grocery shopping, grab a pencil and a piece of paper, sit down and write your menu for the entire week.

Making a menu for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next 7 days might seem tedious, but it will be worth it. If you know beforehand what you will be cooking then you will know what you need to buy at the supermarket later. Having a list of meals will ensure that you will buy all of the necessary ingredients for them; this eliminates all of your reasons for not cooking and just ordering a pizza for dinner.

Additionally, if you have a menu, you can buy everything you will need in just one trip, saving a lot of your time and gas money.

Create a Standard Grocery List

Okay, so you have a weekly menu, and now you have a list of all the ingredients that you need to buy, but you aren’t ready to go grocery shopping just yet. In all the excitement of making a weekly menu, you might have forgotten to list down your other household needs.
T
o prevent yourself from forgetting, you need to design a standard grocery list. On the top of your list, write down all of your recurring grocery items; these are the things that you always buy, such as breakfast cereal, coffee, milk, laundry detergent, and others. Once you have a list of all your regular grocery items, scan your list and print out multiple copies of it. This way, you can just concentrate on writing down the ingredients for your weekly menu.

Use Coupons

Although the amount of savings you can get per coupon might seem negligible, they do add up. However, you need to be careful when handling coupons because they can be a double-edged sword. Keep in mind that even though you have a nice coupon for a particular item, you should not give in to the temptation if you don’t even need said item. Don’t think that you should use up your coupons just because they are about to expire, remember that every cent that you don’t spend is money saved.

Know About the Store’s Policies

Although some stores will accept the coupons sent out by their competitors, not all of them have the same policies. Before you go shopping, browse through the store’s website and double-check their store policy regarding coupons. If you find that you cannot use most of your coupons in one store, take some time to find out where they will be honored; this will save you a lot of time and money, and also spare you from all the embarrassment of having to explain to the cashier about your mix-up.

Shop Once a Month

Probably the best way to save money on groceries is to shop as infrequently as possible, because the more often you go to the store, the more likely you are to impulse buy. You should schedule your grocery shopping to just once per month, and you should only shop at two stores maximum. Yes, limiting yourself this much will make it harder to make use of coupons and sales, but the main reason why you’re doing this is so you can avoid spending altogether.

Shop at Budget-friendly Stores

If you don’t have enough spare time to hunt for coupons and store sales, the next best thing would be to shop at places where the prices are generally lower than their competitors. For instance, you can just shop for your groceries at Walmart since their prices are, on average, 20% less than in other stores. You should also avoid stores that are notorious for having ridiculously high prices like Whole Foods and The Fresh Market (although they pride themselves for providing only organic foods).

Furthermore, shopping exclusively in budget-friendly stores makes it easier for you to keep track of sales and coupons.

Check the Dollar Store from Time to Time

Although most dollar stores have a very limited inventory, you can still find a lot of bargains in them. For instance, you can buy bottles of spices for a dollar each, and they usually sell for a couple of bucks at regular supermarkets, and that’s with coupons. However, you should be wary when shopping at the dollar store because a number of the items sold there might seem like good buys, but they are actually much more expensive if you compare them by unit price.

Memorize the Rock Bottom Prices of Items

When you plan to use coupons and sales to lower the prices of grocery items, your end goal is to buy them at the absolute rock-bottom prices. This means you should not be swayed by the reduced price of an item after using coupons, because they might be lowered even further. For instance, after utilizing the store coupon and shopping during a sale, you manage to lower the price of a tube of toothpaste to just 50 cents. However, if you also use a manufacturer’s coupon, you can actually get the toothpaste for free!

It might take a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out the actual rock-bottom prices of items, but they are surely worth your effort in the end.

Browsing Through the Aisles

Now that you have prepared yourself, the next phase to saving money on groceries is to control yourself while in the store, and have the discipline to stick to your plan of attack.

Buy Only the Things that You Need

You went through all that trouble making a shopping list, so it would be a real shame if you won’t follow it. If it is not in your list then you should not buy it, even if you think that you might need it. Have enough self-control to just stick to your list.

Impulse purchases increase your total bill by 20%-30%, and that’s on average, it might be higher than that depending on the items you buy. To avoid impulse buying, you should avoid browsing through the aisles; go straight for the items that are in your list, and get to the checkout lane as fast as you can. The less time you spend in the store, the less opportunities you give yourself to give in to your impulses.

If this is a particularly hard habit for you to break, you should try being more mindful about what you’re doing and cut back a little at a time. For instance, try to fight yourself at least one time per grocery trip, and then gradually increase the number during subsequent visits.

Know When to Buy Generic

Name brand items are usually more pricey than store brands, but are much better quality-wise, or are they? There are times when there are not that many differences between store brand and name brand items, sometimes the generic items are even better. For instance, some store brand items such as cooking oil, peanut butter, and soda taste the same as brand name ones, and they’re much cheaper too. However, do keep in mind that not all stores stock generic alternatives, so you should look for ones that do.

However, you need to keep in mind that it is not always worth it to buy store-brand items; there are certain things that you should get from name brands. These name-brand items are much better in terms of quality and value for money. Sure, you could get a store-brand item for much less, but then you find out that it is not up to snuff and it ends up in the trash; that’s not savings, that’s just wasteful. Here is a basic rundown of what you should get from generic brands, and what you should stick with name brands.

Store-brand

Food staples – Items like AP flour, sugar, butter, and cooking oil will always taste the same regardless of the brand (unless you are a real stickler for food). Spices and seasonings like soy sauce, salt and pepper, cinnamon, and others are also fine when you buy store-brand.

Canned Vegetables and Fruits – Mushrooms, tomatoes, and basically any produce that can be canned will taste the same regardless if they are name brand or generic. However, if your recipe calls for canned sun-dried tomatoes, you might have no other option than get the name brand as there are usually no store brands that carry that item.

Frozen Produce – Name brand frozen vegetables are usually twice the price of store brands, and they usually come in smaller packages. When prepared properly, you cannot really tell the difference between name brand and generic frozen veggies anyway, and you can also get bigger bags of the store brand, which means even more savings.

Name Brand

Meat and Poultry – There is no contest between the quality of store-brand and name brand meats. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but they are few and far in between. When you are shopping for meats, just stick to your favorite name brands and don’t even bother with the generic stuff. However, cold cuts, and processed meats from store brands are actually quite good, so you might want to give them a try.

Toilet Paper – Store brand toilet paper are often thin and rough, so not only will you be using more of the stuff, you also risk scratching and irritating your sensitive areas. This also goes the same for paper towels; you are not really saving money when you have to use twice as many paper towels compared to using name brands.

Check the Unit Prices of the Items

Don’t be fooled by the final price tags. When you compute the unit prices of the items (price per 100ml, per gram, or per ounce), you will find which items are actually a better bargain. So you need to have your calculator ready, and brush up on your basic mathematical skills for the next time you go to the grocery store.

Time Your Grocery Shopping

The best time to go shopping for groceries is around 10am. During this time, you are still quite full from breakfast, and you also avoid the afternoon crowds. If you can, you should also shop during the weekdays because those are the days when there aren’t that many people in the stores.
In addition, you should never shop on an empty stomach because you will impulsively be buying more food than you need, and you might even buy a couple of snacks that aren’t in your grocery list. Likewise, you should not go shopping when you are sleep-deprived or if you don’t feel well; this makes it harder for you to keep focus on your grocery list.

Don’t Buy an Item Just Because It’s “On Sale”

It does not matter if silicone baking tray liners are on sale at 50% off the regular price, if you don’t have any use for it any time soon then you should turn your head and walk away. Stores like to tap into the inner psyche of people; they know that people find it hard to ignore a bargain, even if they have no use for the item. Remember, if it’s not on your list then you should not buy it.

Once You Get Home

You might not be aware of it, but you wasted thousands of dollars per year on wasted food alone. Thinks about it, how many times have you thrown out that half-empty carton of milk because you let the contents go bad? How many eggs have you disposed of because they started to stink up your refrigerator? To help you save money, here are some tips for reducing your food waste.

Know What the Date Labels Mean

The reason why most of the food in your pantry go bad is because you misinterpreted, or completely do not understand what the date labels on the packaging. To give you an idea what those dates mean, here is a short guide:

Use by – The “Use by” date is kind of like a deadline; this means the contents are still good to eat until the date printed, but not after. When you buy food that have a Use By date, make sure that you consume it immediately, or at least a day or two before the printed date.

Best before – If the “use by” date is a deadline, the “best before” date is more like a guideline, meaning it is not as strict. This means that you can still eat the contents of the packaging after the “best before” date, but it will not be as good as when you eat it earlier.

After opening, use by – This is usually placed on food items that spoil really fast once the air-tight packaging is opened. This means you have to consume all of the contents within a certain amount of time, or else risk them going bad. However, if you cannot finish all of the contents within the specified time, you can still place the contents into an air-tight container and pop it into the freezer; this will give you another day or two extra.

Learn to Cook Using Leftovers

Although you could just reheat your leftover dinner from the night before (which is fine), you can breathe new life into the food by transforming it into something new. For instance, if there is still quite a bit of the pot roast you made the day before, you can turn it into a tasty shepherd’s pie. You just need to line a couple of ramekins with some puff pastry, fill it with some of the chopped up pot roast, and maybe add some chopped carrots and celery, top with more puff pastry, and then bake until the crust is golden brown.

Learn to reinvent your leftover food and you can say goodbye to food waste, and say hello to more exciting meals.

Don’t Cook too Much Food

If you want to avoid leftovers altogether then you should cook just the right amount of food for every meal. This might take a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of portioning your food, your family will eat well, but not leave any trace of leftovers whatsoever.

There are plenty of tips on how to cook just the right amount of food that you can find online, and it is best that you use them to your advantage. For instance, if you are planning to cook spaghetti for two persons, touch the thumb and index finger of your right hand, the amount of dry spaghetti noodles that can fit there will be enough.

Don’t Clutter Your Refrigerator

Out of sight, out of mind, this adage also applies to the food in your refrigerator. If you cannot see the food in your fridge, odds are you will forget about it, until it goes bad and start to stink. To prevent this from happening, invest in some quality plastic food containers; the ones made with clear plastic is best since you can actually see the contents. It is better if you get a complete set of food containers so they can be easily stacked and stowed away in your refrigerator.

In addition, you should place labels on the containers, so you can tell what the contents are without having to open them. Also, you should place the dates of when you refrigerated the food so you can plan ahead and eat the contents of the container before they go bad.

Make A List of the Food that You Throw Away

Keep a pad and pencil near your refrigerator so you can list down all of the foods that you throw away. Not only will this serve as a reminder that you are throwing too much food away. In addition, you will also inform yourself about what kinds of food you are buying too much of, so you make the necessary adjustments to your grocery list.

Know Which Foods You Can Freeze

What most people don’t know is that there are plenty of fresh foods that can be frozen to extend their shelf life quite considerably. Yes, it is true that not all foods can be frozen, but a surprising number of them are actually quite at home at minus zero degrees.

For instance, did you know that you can freeze citrus fruits? Yes, you can. Just toss them whole, unpeeled into the freezer and let them turn rock solid. If you need to use the fruits again, just take them out of the freezer and place them in your refrigerator and let them thaw overnight. On the other hand, if you are in a hurry, you can just pop the entire fruit in the microwave oven and set it on thaw. The citrus fruits will still be as juicy as the day that you bought it from the grocery.

Conclusion

By now, you are probably sick and tired of wasting money on groceries, but the good news is that you can actually curb your bad spending habits. With the tips and tricks mentioned above, you can save thousands of dollars every year, and still provide your family with enough food.

Now, is the last day that you waste money on groceries. You can say goodbye to the old you, the person who just throws whatever you fancy into your grocery cart without even thinking of the consequences.

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