Trying to pare down your expenses? One of the biggest “make-it-or-break-it” categories within your budget is “Groceries.” Unlike cable TV, you can’t cut this bill from your budget. Beyond a certain point, you can’t even significantly reduce the quantity of food that you purchase. You’ll always need to eat.
Furthermore, there’s no good alternative to buying groceries. Unless you own a lot of land (with it’s corresponding property taxes), you’re unlikely to have enough space to grow most of your own produce. And even if you could, you still need grains, oils and other staples.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make: developing strong grocery-buying habits is a crucial habit. In fact, smart food shopping is one of the most important lifetime habits that any frugal person can develop, because your grocery bill is never going away. And if you manage to cut $20 per week from your grocery bill, you’ll save $10,400 over the span of a decade. Little tweaks make a big difference.
With that said, here are 10 tips to help you save at the grocery store.
- Write a shopping list before you reach the store — and don’t stray from the items on that list. Avoid impulse buys. If you’re at the store and you spot something that you want to buy, write it down, and return for it on your next trip. There’s a good chance you might not want it anymore by that time.
- Make “substitutions” in your recipes. Swap out an expensive ingredient for a cheaper ingredient. Instead of topping brownies with walnuts, can you top it with shredded coconut or strawberries? Instead of using three types of cheese in your lasagna, can you buy just one bulk block of cheese? These types of substitutions can go a long way towards lowering the cost of your recipes.
- Plan your recipes around sales. Check the store circular to see what’s on sale, and base your meals for the week around those sale items. If chicken is on sale this week, for example, you could decide to feast on chicken tacos on Monday, lightly-fried-chicken with veggies on Tuesday, and a chicken stir-fry on Wednesday. Plan to postpone cooking beef stroganoff or pulled pork sandwiches until a future week, when those items go on sale.
- Limit the time you spend at the store. The longer you linger, the more likely you are to make an impulse buy. And the single most important rule in frugal shopping — whether you’re buying clothes, food, furnishings or anything else — is to avoid impulsive purchases.
- Leave your kids at home if possible, so they won’t try to make any impulse buys. Sometimes you’d rather give in to a tantrum, and let your children buy their desired candy or toy, rather than calm your child down when he’s throwing a fit in the aisle. That’s natural and normal — but if you can avoid the situation entirely by leaving your child at home with a family member, you’ll be in even better shape. Y
- Walk around the perimeter of the store, where the freshest foods are kept. The center aisles tend to be where packaged and canned goods are stored. These foods have the biggest markup and also aren’t as good for you. The outer ring of the store, by contrast, holds the “cold” items such as fruits, veggies, milk, yogurt, fresh deli meats, and breads.
- Buy dried versions of canned goods, such as dried beans, chickpeas and lentils. Soak them overnight at home and then cook them en masse. Buying one pound of dried black beans or chickpeas is far cheaper than buying an equivalent supply in canned form. You can always freeze the food if you need to store it for later use.
- Purchase fruits and vegetables that are a few days away from ripening, rather than buying produce that’s already at the peak of ripeness. This lowers your risk of allowing food to go to waste.
- Plan meals that you can cook in bulk, and then re-heat and eat throughout the week. For example, chicken or ground beef, beans, avocados, salsa and cheese can be recombined into hard tacos, burritos, Mexican pizzas, enchiladas, or eaten in a bowl with rice or quinoa. Ground beef that you can pre-cook on Sunday can be later made into a bolognese sauce for spaghetti or used in tacos.
- Avoid packaged foods including chips, cookies and even fruit juices, which tend to not only be high in sugars and salts, but also are more expensive. People say that groceries are a “necessity,” but that’s not entirely true. Healthy foods are a “necessity.” Chips, cookies and soda are a “discretionary” purchase. If your budget is tight, stick to the necessities only. Your waistline and your wallet will both thank you.
Kennedi writes money-saving tips for women.
AUTHOR Derek Sall
Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.