In these troubled financial times, it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways to lower your monthly grocery bill. The grocery store is one place where it is often easy to overspend and wreck your monthly budget; however, with careful planning and a few lifestyle changes, it is possible to save money and reduce your grocery store spending.
Here are 10 common sense and creative ways to save money at the grocery store.
Make a Monthly Budget and Create a Meal Plan
Creating a budget, controlling expenses and planning your monthly meals are important ways to save money at the grocery store. If you are used to a hectic lifestyle of eating on the go and not tracking expenses, this may require a major lifestyle change, but the effort involved in making a monthly budget and a meal plan will definitely pay off in lower grocery bills.
When making a weekly or monthly grocery budget, first become more conscious of how much money you are currently spending at the grocery store. Tracking your current food expenses can be a great way to discover where your grocery money is going each month. Then set a targeted dollar amount you’d like to spend for your weekly or monthly grocery store budget. Once you have an estimate in mind for your monthly food budget, you can create a meal plan that will help save money at the grocery store.
Figuring out a few simple meals to cook each week as part of a meal plan will be very helpful in lowering your grocery bills. Use your weekly (or monthly) meal plan as the basis for devising a grocery list that will make it easier to save money at the grocery store. If you don’t cook at all, select a few convenience foods and easy to make meals that fit into your food plan and overall budget. Mapping out what you’d like to eat is still a good idea for the non-cook, as it helps avoid aimless shopping and impulse purchases.
Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry
If you want to save money at the grocery store, don’t shop when you’re hungry. Hungry grocery store shoppers tend to overspend, and store aisles are full of soda, chips and other higher priced items that can really wreck a grocery budget. Stopping off after work to pick up a few groceries when you’re ravenously hungry is a recipe for disaster; it’s much easier to stick to your food budget and avoid unnecessary purchases when you’re not famished.
Buy Only What You Need
Once you have a monthly budget, a meal plan and have created a grocery list, it’s time to go to the grocery store. Try to pick a quiet time to shop when you won’t feel rushed or distracted by hordes of other shoppers at the store. One way to save money at the grocery store is to follow your grocery list. Don’t be tempted to stock up on unnecessary items just because the grocery store is offering fantastic markdowns and buying more seems like a great deal. Deviating too much from your grocery list may cause you to go over your budget and purchase items that may spoil or sit unused on your shelves.
Use What You Have on Hand
Another way to save money at the grocery store is to use what you currently have on hand. If there is food in your cabinets that is perfectly good but hasn’t been utilized, this is the time to use up what’s already in the house before spending more money at the grocery store. Challenge yourself to eat foods from your pantry and let nothing go to waste.
It also may be a good time to unplug that big freezer or second refrigerator. Stocking up on lots of frozen food or perishable items can often lead to overspending at the grocery store, and these extra items in the house can sometimes end up going to waste. Unless you are feeding a lot of people, it may be smarter to just work out of one refrigerator; use up all the food on hand, then buy only what you need to replenish perishable items.
Learn to Cook Simple Meals
Learning to cook wholesome, inexpensive meals from scratch is an important way to save money at the grocery store. It is definitely more cost effective to buy your own ingredients and make your own meals than it is to load up on take-out, prepared meals and packaged dinners.
Magazines like Woman’s Day, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping are a treasure trove of delicious, inexpensive recipes. A recent issue of Woman’s Day magazine featured “Delicious Dinners for Under $2”
with recipes for dishes like Oven Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables ($1.31 per serving) and White Bean and Sausage Cassoulet ($1.19 per serving). At some grocery stores, you’ll find recipes that are quick and easy to prepare and tips that will help you save money at there.
If you’ve never cooked before, a basic cookbook, like Cooking for Dummies by Bryan Miller and Marie Rama can help bring you up to speed in the kitchen. Look for recipes that don’t involve fancy ingredients or expensive cuts of meat. It can be helpful to plan multiple meals from the same ingredients; for example, tonight’s meatloaf dinner can become tomorrow’s meatloaf sandwich for a brown bagged lunch.
Stocking your pantry with a few basic items that can be used to create simple meals is an excellent way to save money at the grocery store. Things like eggs, rice, noodles, canned foods and frozen vegetables can be used to put together a last minute meal that stretches your dollar (when all else fails, and a trip to the grocery store is not in the cards, the many creative ways to prepare an omelet are only limited by your imagination!)
Cut Back on Convenience Foods
Limiting the amount of convenience foods you purchase can definitely save money at the grocery store. Prepackaged foods like frozen TV dinners are usually more expensive than home cooked meals prepared from scratch. These convenience foods are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients and can really wreck your budget.
Instead of purchasing individual bags of cookies for school lunches, buy a package of cookies and separate them into individual portions. Cut up your own vegetables instead of picking up a plate of pre cut crudites at the deli counter (these can be astronomically expensive). The extra labor involved in avoiding some of these convenience foods will surely pay off in a lower monthly grocery bill.
If you live alone or simply don’t have the time to cook a lot and need to have some convenience foods on hand, try to make smarter choices for packaged foods by comparing prices and nutrition information, and shopping for healthier convenience items. Remember to purchase these types of items in moderation, as cutting back on the amount of convenience food you buy will help you save money at the grocery store.
Avoid the Deli Counter
The deli counter can definitely wreak havoc with your budget, and cutting back on deli items is a great way to save money at the grocery store. Cold cuts sliced and packaged at the deli counter tend to spoil quickly,
and it can be tempting to overbuy on these types of items (sometimes it’s hard to estimate how many cold cuts to have on hand for sandwiches). If you really need a few deli items, buying prepackaged cold cuts that stay fresh longer in your refrigerator (like Sarah Lee Fresh Ideas) can be a cost effective way to eliminate the problem of spoiled deli meats.
It could be a smart idea to give up cold cuts completely, in favor of things like egg salad, tuna, or other food that keeps longer without spoiling. Other budget disasters at the deli include pasta salads, pizza, and convenience items like prepackaged dinners. Save money at the grocery store by steering clear of the deli counter whenever possible, buying fresh food, and preparing your own meals.
Going vegetarian can be an excellent way to save money at the grocery store while reducing your impact on the environment. Beans are an inexpensive choice that will add protein to your diet without the expense of costly meats. Slowly transition to vegetarianism by cutting back on the amount of meat products you currently consume and substituting vegetarian ingredients for meat (gradually replacing the meat in your chili with more beans is one painless way to go vegetarian).
If you are interested in going meatless, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw is great for beginning vegetarians. The book has information about balanced and nutritious vegetarian meals and tons of healthy vegetarian recipes. The Vegetarian Times Magazine is another great resource that will help you go vegetarian while you save money at the grocery store.
Buy Store Brands Whenever Possible
Purchasing store brands instead of higher priced name brands is one option to save money at the grocery store. It is possible to substitute store brands for all sorts of food items, including things like egg substitute, frozen vegetables and breakfast cereals. Individual tastes vary, and in some cases, you may find you like a name brand better than the grocery store brand. Try to work the higher priced brand into your food budget; however, you’ll save money at the grocery store by choosing the store brands over the more expensive name brand items.
Grow Your Own Food
In this tough economy, people all over the country are turning to growing their own food. According to a recent issue of Natural Home Magazine, some people are even turning their front yards into gardens, growing enough
food for their families and selling the rest of their crop or sharing it with their neighbors in community supported agriculture programs! (This microfarming movement is called SPIN or small plot intensive farming).
Starting your own garden can be a great resource for fresh produce, and a creative way to save money at the grocery store. If you don’t have a plot of land for front yard farming, consider container gardening. The library is a great resource for books about how to start a garden and grow your own food, or surf the internet for sites like naturalhomemagazine.com, which has information about organic gardening.
A Few More Tips to Save Money at the Grocery Store
By following the ten steps listed above, you’ll definitely save money at the grocery store. It may also be helpful to set definite days and times when you’ll visit the grocery store, and avoid any unnecessary trips to the supermarket. Only carry the cash you’ll need to buy the items on your grocery list, to avoid blowing your budget on impulse purchases.
Become a smart shopper by reading food labels and comparing prices on grocery store items. Study grocery store circulars and look for sales and good deals that are closest to home, to cut down on dollars spent at the gas pump. Clip coupons, hunt for bargains and invest time in becoming an educated, savvy grocery store shopper.
These tips may seem labor intensive, but the lifestyle changes you’ll make while shopping during a recession will pay off in more ways than lower monthly grocery bills. Not only will you save money at the grocery store, you’ll also experience better health from eating well, the satisfaction of reducing your carbon footprint, and the confidence that comes from self reliance and taking control of your budget.