We’ve all experienced this moment: You’re checking out at the grocery store, the cashier tells you your total and you think to yourself, “How the heck did I spend so much money?”
It’s easy for grocery store spending to get away from us. Stores are now jam-packed with irresistible foods in creatively-designed packaging and brightly-colored signs advertising impossible-to-pass-up deals. The average grocery shopper is up against a ton of pressure to get them to buy, buy, buy, when many Americans’ budgets are begging them to save, save, save.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to cut down on grocery spending. You just have to know what you’re doing. Here are our tips.
Go in With a Plan
A well-thought-out grocery list is your first line of defense against overspending. You don’t want to walk through those automatic doors without one.
Without a grocery list, you don’t know exactly what you need (and what you don’t). This can easily lead to impulse buys or throwing things in your cart on the off chance you’re running low on a particular item.
To be sure you’re only spending what is necessary on groceries, take some time before your trip to the store to figure out what you need. Ever gone to the store and stocked up on pasta, only to come home and find out you already have a small stockpile of it in the back of your pantry? Check your pantry and refrigerator beforehand so you know what you’ve already got.
Equally as important as having a plan is sticking to it. Retailers have come up with all sorts of psychological tricks to get you to spend more than you intended. Don’t fall for it and commit to only buying the items on your list. And remember: Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
Plan Your Menu
Take some time before you go shopping to detail each and every meal you plan on eating for that week. Write down what ingredients you’ll need and add them to your grocery list.
While at first this may seem like a daunting task, the money you save will make it worth your while. Plus, it doesn’t have to be super complicated. Just because you’re planning your meals doesn’t mean you have to suddenly become a fabulously creative chef. It’s OK if most of your planned lunches are a simple ham and cheese sandwich and dinner is a bowl of cereal. The important thing is that you aren’t buying more food than you’ll eat. (Although health-wise, it may be wise to diversify your diet a bit, but hey, one area of self-improvement at a time.)
Cut Food Waste
Saving money is also about making the most of the money you spend. If you aren’t using the stuff you buy, you’re wasting money, regardless of whether you got a good deal on it or not.
If you find yourself unable to go through the full package of any perishables you buy before hitting the product’s expiration date, make a note to start buying smaller package sizes or freeze what you know you won’t get through. If you’re pouring a lot of partially-full gallons of milk down the drain, start buying half-gallons. If you can never get through a whole loaf of bread before it starts growing green spots, buy a half-loaf or keep a week’s supply in the pantry and stick the rest in the freezer.
Buy in Bulk (Sometimes!)
A common piece of advice you’ll hear is to buy certain items in bulk to save money. But does it really save you all that much money? Which items should you buy in bulk?
When you see a bulk item at a low per-unit price, you might think that you can’t pass up on such a deal. But if you end up unable to use the whole thing before it expires, tossing it because it takes up too much space or just getting sick of it, you’re erasing any potential savings.
If you’re really committed to buying in bulk, you’ll also need to consider the cost of a warehouse store membership, such as Sam’s Club or Costco, to have access to a wide variety of bulk products. Figure out if the money you save would be enough to justify the cost of membership.
So, when does it make sense to buy in bulk? If you have a large household, buying most of your regularly-used items in bulk probably makes more sense, both in terms of how much money you spend and how often you need to restock these items.
If you have a smaller household, there are still times when it can make sense to buy a few things in bulk, but you probably shouldn’t be stuffing your kitchen full of jumbo jars of condiments and 10-pound bags of rice.
If you want to buy in bulk, non-food household staples are usually a safe bet: things like laundry detergent, dish soap, trash bags or toilet paper. Just be sure to keep an eye on the price and compare costs of different sizes to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal. And don’t buy anything in bulk that you aren’t absolutely going to use every last bit of. If you like switching shampoo brands every month or so, don’t buy a giant bottle of it, no matter how well-priced it is.
We all have our various brand loyalties, and sometimes the off-brand swaps just aren’t as good as their more well-known contemporaries. However, if you want to save some money, be open to trying the generic versions of some of your most-purchased items and see if you notice a difference.
If you decide you can’t bear to part with your favorite brand name cereal, that’s OK. But running this experiment for the grocery items you spend the most money on can end up saving you some cash if you find a few things you can easily swap out. Often, you may find that the generic versions are just as good as the brand name, or are even exactly the same. For example, if you’re buying an over-the-counter medication, compare the generic to the brand name. As long as both packages list the same active ingredient, they’ll both be equally as effective at curing your headache. Buy the generic and save yourself a few bucks.
You won’t always save money by grocery shopping online, especially when you factor in any convenience fees and shipping costs. However, online shopping can make it easy to find the best deals on certain items while avoiding impulse buys.
The internet makes comparison shopping ridiculously convenient. Whereas at a brick and mortar store, you’re less likely to abandon your cart to see if you can find a better deal on brussels sprouts elsewhere. Online, you can check out competing prices with just a few clicks, making it more likely that you’re able to get the best deals on most of the items in your cart.
Take a look at the various services and memberships available and compare the benefits and costs. Even if you don’t switch to grocery shopping online exclusively, those who get free shipping with online retailers such as Amazon might be able to find good deals on bulk items like paper towels and garbage bags that make the occasional online order well worth it.
Are you a thrifty grocery shopper? Share your best tips with us in the comments!