Have you ever spent a lot of money at the grocery store and felt as though you barely bought anything at all? It’s pretty easy to lose track of what you’re spending too, so that you end up a huge, unpleasant surprise as the tab rises and your shopping bag isn’t nearly as full as you think it should be, considering what you spent.
First, let's get one strategy out of the way that definitely doe not work for me – coupons. For me, grocery coupons are not worth the time and trouble. Besides, they are typically for processed foods that I do not buy. Another reason to avoid coupons is that they often pair items or require you to buy more than one of an item. If you buy a product you don’t want, simply to get the sale price on the one you do want/need, that’s no bargain. Similarly, buying multiples to get a sale price is often not sensible.
5 Tips for Saving Money on Groceries
- Plan Ahead
- Be Realistic
- Buy In-Season Produce
- Shop the Sales
- Buy in Bulk
Make a list of what you will cook before you go the store, or at least for which meals you need to buy food. When I am super-organized, I plan menus. But sometimes, I just calculate how many times we will eat at home during the week for dinner and what food to have on hand for breakfasts and lunches. If you eat the same breakfast or lunch, or alternate among only a few items, stocking the pantry/refrigerator for those meals is easy. On the other hand, dinners that feature variety may be more challenging.
We all have fantasies, but if you buy fantasy food for dishes you never actually make, it will cost you. My disclaimer here – do as I suggest, not as I too often do. There is no harm in an occasional impulse buy at the grocery store, but do recognize that food does not last forever and if you find more than a few items languishing in your pantry or refrigerator, you’re probably being unrealistic.
Buy In-Season Produce
You’ll save a lot of money in small increments if you buy fruits and vegetables in-season. When produce is out-of-season and yet is available in your grocery, it came from far away. Sure it may be nice to think about making an apple dessert in berry season, or vice versa, but you’ll pay dearly for the privilege.
Shop the Sales
Either check the sales before you leave home, or be flexible enough when you get to the store, to modify your shopping list to take advantage of sales. If you are planning to make weekday chicken, but chopped meat is on sale, maybe switch to meatballs and red sauce? And because boneless chicken breasts tend to be expensive, how about waiting until those go on sale for recipes like breaded chicken breasts?
Buy in Bulk
I've always wondered why more people do not get together and buy large amounts of food or supplies at a discount to split among the members of the "buying group." My mom used to do that with friends when she lived near Costco. Even if you do not have large amounts of storage space, you can save money by splitting up bulk packages.
You can also buy in bulk at ethnic or natural foods-oriented stores, Whole Foods and even some mainstream grocery chains. The price per ounce or pound is typically lower than for pre-packaged items and you can decide how much to buy. For example, my poppy seed recipe calls for 2 ounces of poppy seeds per cake, but I like to use a bit more. The least expensive poppy seeds I found recently at a chain grocery were about $5.50 for a 2.12 ounce bottle. I went to an ethnic grocery and bought 5 ounces of bulk poppy seeds (more than enough for 2 cakes) for just $2.32. If you are only going to use a small amount of an herb, or want to try out a new grain, it makes sense to buy just the quantity you need from a bulk bin.
Do you have other strategies for saving money on groceries? I’d love to hear them and try them too.