The best ways to save money at the grocery store are probably some of the tried and true nuggets of wisdom you have already heard before, and maybe a few you haven’t.
I have a large family, seven of us to be exact, and that does not include our four rescue dogs. The average American family’s food budget is one of the largest expenditures we have, right behind shelter and my family is no exception to this statistic. My husband works hard at his job and is the current “bread winner” for our large brood, so I look at saving money on our second, highest expense as an important part of my job and my financial contribution to our family.
I will be upfront by telling you, that there are no coupons involved here. Some others will tell you that shopping with coupons, rebates and money saving apps for your Smartphone are the way to go. I, too, bought into these methods and at one time or another, had done all of these or used all these money saving methods in the past, but what I found, was that I was purchasing food that was overpriced and unhealthy for me and my family and I found myself buying items that I didn’t use on a regular basis, and/or I was just buying them because I had a coupon for them, thereby, using up my money, time, energy and precious storage space in my home.
I want to share with you some of my money saving strategies when it comes to grocery shopping.
1. Make it and take it…a list that is. At our house on our refrigerator is a magnetic, lined note pad that we use as a running list of items that we need or we are running low on. For instance, if someone in the family has just opened the last gallon of milk and grocery shopping day is still another two days away, then milk gets added to the list because at that time, we will be out.
2. Re-create your list to match the layout of the store. If you keep a running tally of grocery items needed and you know the general layout of the store(s) you will be shopping, take a few minutes to re write your list.
I do this important step the morning I will be doing my shopping. While having my morning coffee, I glance over my running list and see if I need to add or subtract from it. I then take a clean piece of paper and re write my list according to the store layout. I list all of my produce together, bulk items, staples, cleaning products, meat, dairy and then frozen goods. As I shop the items on my list, I cross them out, thereby eliminating any back tracking in the store for any item(s) I have overlooked and making my shopping trip as short as possible.
3. I can’t stress the other half of this tip enough…take your list. If you forget your list you are more apt to wander around the store, walking up and down every aisle trying hard to remember what you came to get and you will have a tendency to pick up items that weren’t even on your list. Grocery stores have this down to a science; studies have shown that for every 40 minutes you spend in their store, you are more likely to spend at least 50% more of your budget on items you never intended to buy.
And, unless you are a wiz when it comes to toggling the apps on your Smartphone,(I am certainly not) I highly recommend old fashioned paper and pencil for this task, this way as you accumulate the items on your list, you can cross them out one by one, ensuring you got what you came for and you won’t have to back track through the store for forgotten items.
4. If possible, shop only once a week, for the really adventurous, you could try once every two weeks or once a month if you are really confident in your strategy.
5. Never shop on an empty stomach. You have heard this one many, many times and it is true. Nowadays, with in store deli’s, sandwich and soup stations, bakeries, and rotisseries, merchants are doing all that they can to get you to spend more of your hard earned money in their shops by appealing to your sense of smell.
6. Take an inventory of what you already have. You will be surprised with how much you already have on hand. Go through your pantry, cabinets, fridge and freezer and make an inventory. Many times I have picked up an item such as sugar, only to come home, put it away and find 2 unopened bags already sitting on my shelf.
7. Keep your food storage spaces organized. I can’t stress this one enough. Periodically, straighten and organize your pantry space and freezer. Make sure you rotate and use the first in, first out method. This keeps your food inventory freshest for consumption.
8. Make a price book. This does not have to be a gigantic 3 ring binder that you tote around with you from store to store as you peruse every item on every shelf. This can be as small as a pocket journal. I also recommend that you start off by listing staple items or the things you find yourself buying often. Things like pasta, rice, bread, coffee, milk, eggs, cheese. Dedicate one page per item and jot down each store you visited and each store’s price. Do make sure you are comparing apples to apples here. For instance, make sure that if you are pricing a 1 pound bag of store brand rice at one store, that you are pricing the same 1 pound bag of store brand rice at another store.
9. Make sure you are using the price per ounce information. A lot of stores have now taken to putting the price of the item on a shelf sticker right in front of the item, sometimes the store has done the math for you and the sticker will show the price per ounce. But sometimes, that information is left up to you, the consumer to figure out. Most of us shop with our Smartphone, so why not use your calculator app to find out what the best price is? If you do not have a Smartphone, I suggest bringing a small, simple to use calculator. If you don’t know how to calculate the price per ounce, it is very easy. Simply enter the price of the item, divided by the size of the item.
Store A, is selling a bag of their 12 ounce, spaghetti for 85 cents.; .85 cents divided by 12 ounces= .07 per ounce.
Store B, is selling a bag of their 24 ounce, spaghetti for 99 cents.; .99 cents divided by 24 ounces= .04 per ounce
If this is an item you use on a regular basis, then it is a no brainer, which store brand spaghetti you should buy.
10. Shop loss leaders. If you look at your local store(s) weekly ad, you will generally find some amazing deals right on the front page and at a glance it appears as if the store is practically giving away these items. These are the store’s loss leaders. The store is banking on you coming in to scoop up these great buys, but they are also certain that once in the store you will be picking up a lot of overpriced items as well. Stores have spent a ton of money researching shopping habits of their consumers. They know that the longer you are in the store, the more money you will most likely spend, therefore, don’t expect to find these loss leading items on a huge display shelf the minute you walk through the door, you will be doing some “hunting” for these deals.
Also, stores have become great at marketing to our busy schedules and count on the fact that we love convenience. They know if they display the loss leader cans of tomato sauce, right next to some overpriced spaghetti and just so happen to have a rack of freshly baked Italian bread very close to the vicinity of this display, then 8 times out of 10, they will have sold you a complete meal, even though you only came in for a can of sauce.
11. Shop discounts. Have you ever really gotten a good look at your store’s discounted sections? Were you even aware that such a thing existed? There are some consumers that would never dream of buying discounted breads, meats, or produce, for them it is out of their comfort zone, however, you can cash in on their squeamishness. Some more prestigious, expensive chains don’t offer this as an option, but if you are reading this, you probably aren’t shopping at these chains anyhow.
Many stores offer discounted items, these are items that have been marked down due to any number of reasons; they might be nearing their “sell by date”; the store won’t be carrying that item any longer; the label design might be changing; the store ordered too much of the item; the store is updating the plan-o-gram of any particular item, etc.
If your store(s) offers these discounts, try to make friends with the department managers to find out when you can get the best selections. I have found that stores that offer discounted items tend to place these in the store’s perimeters. My local, big box store offers discounted deli items, baked goods, meat and produce all at 1/3 to 1/2 off the original price. Make sure you check for freshness on these items; never buy any meat or produce that is discolored or baked goods that are rock hard.
12. Carry cash only. If you were to ask any person of a certain age, they will probably regale you with financial, penny pinching stories of yesteryear and even though you might find yourselves rolling your eyes at these tales, this is something that the older generation got right. Believe it or not, there was a time when people did not have a variety of credit cards spilling out of their wallets and debit cards with access straight to savings and checking accounts did not exist. That generation paid with cold, hard cash and if they did not have enough, they simply did not buy it.
You can very easily do this as well. Make yourself a grocery budget; let’s say it is $100 for one week. Either withdraw or put aside the cash until grocery day. When you go grocery shopping, take the cash only, do not bring any of your debit or credit cards with you and once you have spent the $100, you are done, no more shopping.
This may take a little practice. Stick to your list and don’t stray from it, you will have to be mindful of what you are putting into your cart. Don’t be afraid to use your calculator to make sure you aren’t going over your budget as you put items into your cart. If you are worried that when you go to checkout you will be over your budget, make sure you have earmarked the items in your cart that you can live without and ask the cashier to take them off of your order. If this happens to you, don’t feel embarrassed, it has happened to all of us, at least once, or twice, or even more.
13. Shop one or more stores if necessary. There is not one store that has all the best prices and if you have a variety of stores within your area, I suggest you check out the weekly sales at each store for their weekly loss leader, sale items and discount items. I know that many grocers will match prices of their competitors, but sometimes that comes with restrictions on store brand merchandise or buy 1 get 1 type of items.
On a similar note, I don’t know if they still do it, but one of the larger discount box stores used to have a program in which you logged onto their site, put in the required codes and dates from your receipt, and within a certain amount of time, (something like a week) they would credit you if any of the items you bought went on sale at one of the other stores in your local area. I know for a fact that items I had bought items within the box store’s specified time frame and met these qualifications, I was never credited any amounts.
Shopping at more than one location also gives you the opportunity to speak face to face with any department or store managers you meet so you can get the “inside” information you might need for any upcoming sales, mark downs or discounts.
14. Bread outlets and overstock stores. Most larger cities have a bread store outlet within the city and outer limits, even if you have to travel a distance, it really maybe worth your while as most baked products can be frozen. You might be surprised to learn that outlet stores such as Family Dollar, 99 cent Only Stores, Dollar Tree and Big Lots, just to name a few, all carry bread and bread products. Items such as bread, rolls, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, Danish and cakes freeze really well (donuts…not so much). If you have room in your freezer, I highly suggest stocking up, at least long enough to tide you over until the next time you can make it to your local bread outlet or overstock store.
There you have it, my list of strategies to help save you money while food shopping without having to clip a single coupon. Try out these tips, maybe just a few at first, then incorporate more here and there. I think you will be pleasantly surprised on all the savings you will accumulate.
Let me know if you have a favorite strategy for saving money at the grocery store.