Food expenses are essential. After all, you have to eat. But, food expenses are also variable — they can be modified to fit with your budget so that you can scrape up the savings and put them to better use. Follow this helpful guide on how you can go grocery shopping with savings in mind.
Start with a Food Budget
The first way to rein in your grocery spending is to create a monthly food budget to follow from this point on. A monthly budget is a simple guideline that will stop you from overspending on food, wasting products and putting yourself in credit trouble.
It’s not written in stone. If you’ve found it too restrictive, you can give yourself some more room. If you’ve found you can save more, set a stricter goal. You’ll find that you have to make small adjustments to suit your needs, especially in the first few months.
You can click here to see how to budget money by using the print-out spreadsheet and following the instructions. If you’d like to have the budget on your phone, you can download money managing apps like You Need A Budget (YNAB) or Goodbudget.
Before Going to the Store:
Don’t just run to the store — this is how you pick up odds and ends that you don’t need and end up wasting money. You should be strategic with your shopping trips. Here are some great ways to prepare.
The first thing you should do is keep a notebook just for grocery shopping. Write down the prices of the products that you like to buy. Do this by going over your receipts whenever you come back home from a shopping trip. It will help you determine whether the advertised “sales” and “discounts” on your everyday essentials are actually bargains. Don’t trust the flashy signs. Believe the math.
Double-Check the Kitchen
You don’t want to start unloading all of the purchases from your grocery bag and see duplicates already in your kitchen. Now, you have three bottles of ketchup sitting in different corners of your fridge, and too much produce to get through in a week.
That’s why you have to double-check your refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cupboards before you start coming up with your shopping list. Investigate closely. Check to see whether items in the freezer are freezer-burnt and beyond saving. Look to see if items in the fridge are past their expiry date or going bad. Check for the tell-tale signs that your food is spoiled and needs to be tossed into the compost.
Review Specials and Coupons
Look over grocery store flyers to see what items are currently on sale or have special deals. Compare and contrast what stores have the most convenient bargains for your needs that week. You can use the app Flipp to find deals on groceries in your area — just put in the name of the item and see what nearby store offers the best price.
Cut out coupons and save discount codes. These can reduce prices and add up to some substantial savings. But, make sure that you don’t fall for these common shopping mistakes:
- Don’t use these for anything that you don’t want or need. Reduced prices aren’t savings if you’re not using the groceries at all.
- Check to see if the reduced price is more expensive than a generic brand option. If that’s the case, pick the generic brand instead.
Write It All down
Add your essentials, replacements and special deals to your shopping list. Look over everything you put down and take off anything that seems unnecessary.
A grocery list is a good tool to stay on track. It will keep you focused on the items that you need and stop you from pushing past the boundaries of your budget. You should always bring it to the store with you, along with your coupons, discount codes and price notebook.
Skip the Credit Cards
Credit is necessary for certain bill payments and purchases, but not for groceries. If anything, one of the ways that you can use your credit wisely is to leave it at home whenever you head to the grocery store to fill your fridge and restock your cupboards. You can’t be tempted to use it when it’s not in your pocket.
First of all, using plastic (credit cards, debit cards) makes it much easier to overspend. You don’t have to think too much about the total costs, as long the purchase goes through. With cash, the shopping experience is different. If the total costs go over the number of bills you have, you have to sacrifice some products sitting in your cart. Cash encourages you to be more mindful of your spending.
Secondly, putting it on your credit can increase your unsecured debt-load. Credit builds interest. It carries penalties when it goes unpaid. If you’re already having trouble reducing credit card debt and managing the monthly bill payments, you should limit the number of payments that go onto the card. Simple purchases like milk, eggs and bread can be left off of it.
At the Grocery Store:
Go Shopping at the Right Time
Timing is everything. If you can help it, don’t go to the grocery store when you’re in a rush. You don’t want to make your spending decisions based on stress. Give yourself a comfortable window to go through the store, find the items on your list and check out.
Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry, either. When your stomach is rumbling, you’re susceptible to the hungry shopping phenomenon — you’ll spend much more on items that you don’t really need. These items aren’t necessarily edible, either. The sensation pushes you to overspend in general. So, you may come home with too many bags of chips, or maybe you’ll find yourself with a box full of bargain bin DVDs.
You want to show up to the store with your stomach full and your mind clear of other worries.
Avoid Processed Foods
People buy processed and ready-made foods because they are affordable. But studies have shown that processed foods aren’t cheaper than most healthy items available in the grocery store. For instance, you can get a ten-pound bag of uncooked potatoes for about the same price as a small bag of frozen French fries. The only thing you’re saving yourself is cooking time.
Also, processed foods are unhealthy to eat on a regular basis because they are often high in sugar, high in trans fats and low in essential vitamins and nutrients. Try to squeeze in some time to cook simple meals made from wholesome ingredients. It can help your budget and your physical health in the long-run.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk is a great way to save yourself time and money. Instead of picking up the item every week or two, you can replenish your supply in a month — or maybe longer.
If you’re unsure of the financial savings, take out your calculator and compare the costs. The bulk version’s cost will be higher initially, but it will offer more of the actual product. The basic version will be cheaper at first, but it will add up as you try to match the volume of the bulk store’s version.
You should only purchase certain items from the bulk store. Avoid foods that are quick to expire, like fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Choose products that won’t go bad in a few weeks like spices, nuts, dried fruit, seeds and baking ingredients (flour, sugar, salt). It’s also a wise idea to pick up everyday essentials like toilet paper, paper towel and soaps.
Leave the Kids at Home
Try to go grocery shopping without the kids. While they mean well, kids tend to beg for products that aren’t essential to your grocery list — like boxes of cookies, bags of candy and expensive sugar cereals. They can also get bored and agitated by the errand, forcing you to rush through the shopping to get it over with. It will be difficult to find deals and calm brewing tantrums at the same time. If you have the opportunity to go to the store alone, you should take it.
Resist the Impulse Buy
Grocery stores are designed to entice you to make that last-second purchase. That’s why the cash register is surrounded by chocolate bars and celebrity magazines. They’re trying to get you to throw them into your cart while you’re waiting for the cashier to deal with the customers ahead of you. Resist the impulse purchase so that you can stick to your budget and get in the habit of only picking items off of your list.
Remind yourself that you can satisfy these cravings without spending money. You have snacks and sweets at home — or in your grocery cart already. You can read celebrity gossip and sensational news online.
Get a Rain Cheque
So, you checked the store flyers for sales and circled the latest deals, but when you get the store, the items aren’t there anymore. It’s unlucky that your plan fell through. However, you can go up to the cashier or the manager to ask for a rain cheque to guarantee that you don’t completely miss out on the deal. When the special item is back in stock, you can pick it up from the store and reap the savings.
When You Get Home:
Put Everything Away
You can lose money after you’ve finished shopping. By letting food go to waste, you’re essentially throwing your hard-earned cash out the window. Try your best to make your food items last so that you can eat them, enjoy them and get your money’s worth.
The first thing that you should do when you get home is put the groceries away. Don’t leave them on the counter and then run another errand or take a break on the couch. Frozen products can melt. Fruit can bruise. Bread can squish. More importantly, leaving items like milk and raw meat out in warmer temperatures allows bacteria and mold to grow. Put them in the fridge right away to ensure that they’re healthy, safe and delicious.
Freeze Any Extras
Another way to prevent unnecessary food waste is to store items in the freezer. It’s convenient for any products that you want to save for longer than a week. Here are some of the things that you can store in the freezer:
- Raw meat
- Ready meals (casserole, lasagna)
- Sweets (cookies, chocolates)
- Baked goods (pie dough, cookie dough)
- Coffee (grounds or beans)
Before sticking the items in the freezer, put them in an air-tight plastic re-sealable bag. Exposing your food to air causes freezer burn and effectively ruins the long-term storage solution. If you’re going to use the items in a few days or the next week, then a sealed Tupperware container will be fine.
Don’t use glass containers for liquids in the freezer. The liquids will expand and eventually break the glass, causing a real mess, ruining other foods in the freezer and potentially hurting you when you open up the door.
Update Your Notebook Again
Take out your notebook where you write down product prices. Use the receipt from your recent shopping trip to go through the prices to see if anything has changed. Keeping the notebook up-to-date will help you track prices and plan your shopping budget.
Come to David Sklar:
You can always visit the certified counsellors at David Sklar & Associates to see how you can improve your personal finances. Whether you need assistance with managing your debt-load or revising your credit habits, our counsellors can help you get out of the stressful situation and take steps towards a better financial future.
Sometimes you won’t have control over your expenses. Things like your mortgage, insurance payments and phone bills are going to stay the same, even if it would be convenient for them to shrink. But, your grocery bills are different. You can trim down the costs, cut down on waste and build up your savings by following the right tips and tricks. It’s a necessity that you can control.