Does it seem as if you’re spending a small fortune on groceries? You may be – keeping a well-stocked kitchen is a major expense for many of us. However, unlike some areas of your budget where you have minimal control over the cost (your car payment, for example), you can often trim the amount you spend at the supermarket with a few simple changes.
Know what you use
Before going to the supermarket, first look deep into your refrigerator and cupboards. Is there anything that you buy on a regular basis that collects dust or goes bad before you eat it? Almost everyone has a few opened packages of broken pasta, several boxes of cereal well past their use-by date, or a plastic bag or two of rubbery vegetables. Yet we go to the store and buy more, only to add to the collection of uneaten items. Break this habit by being realistic rather than hopeful about what you will consume. While it would be nice to suddenly crave asparagus, if you haven’t yet, you probably never will.
Use discount stores to your advantage
“Big box” superstores can do wonders for your food budget. But while you can often buy items in bulk at a deep discount, this isn’t always the case. Make sure you check the price per pound or ounce and compare it to what smaller stores are charging for the same items. It is also important to have a shopping game plan before you go – everything can seem like too good of a deal to pass up when it’s giant-sized. You can easily spend twice what you intend if you’re not careful. Buying large amounts of perishables can be a costly mistake too. Bigger does not always mean better – overbuy and you not only waste food, but money. Concentrate on products that will never go bad (just take up room), like 12-packs of paper towels, or buy perishables that you know you’ll eat before they turn an odd color or you tire of the taste.
Sometimes it pays to leave the kids at home (if you can, and as long as you don’t have to hire a sitter). Shop alone and you won’t be swayed by your little one’s pleading for things you wouldn’t normally pick up, such as toys and sugary goodies. These items are always stocked at perfect eyelevel for children. Also, finding good deals can take a while. If you have a crying infant or wiggly toddler in tow, scouting for bargains usually takes a back seat to getting in and out fast.
Buy “make your own” food
Convenience does indeed have its price. Sure you can buy virtually any meal pre-made these days, including frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and precooked rice, but you’ll pay a premium for them. Before purchasing these heat-and-eat items, think about the amount of time and effort it would take to prepare them yourself, and compare the difference in cost. Many of these instant dishes are at least as easy and fast to whip up on your own – and for a lot less money.
Say yes to plastic
No, not another credit card, but a supermarket’s discount card. With it you'll get immediate savings on everyday food and household items – just look for advertised deals and swipe the card at checkout. It’s a great way to score those terrific two-for-one specials. If you regularly visit a particular store, the five minutes it takes to complete a one-page application makes sense.
Go easy in the trendy stores
Boutique grocery stores are all the rage right now. If they are not yet in your community, they soon will be. These beautiful markets often feature magazine-perfect displays of peaches, Parisian-style flower stands, and a prepared food counter brimming with delectables that you couldn’t possibly create without the assistance of a team of trained chefs. Some even have mood lighting and pay-by-the-minute massages. The problem, though, is that these stores can be so pleasurable to shop in that you may not notice you’re forking over a fortune on things that you could get for far cheaper somewhere else. If you choose to frequent these gourmet markets, go for the few specialty items that you can only get there – and stick to the more traditional supermarkets for the basics.
Why not have groceries delivered right to your doorstep? Many supermarkets offer online shopping and delivery service. It can be a timesaver and the cheaper way to shop: you’ll save on gas for the car, and receive instant coupons and website-only specials. Even better, it’s a perfect way to minimize impulse purchases – you won’t be lured to the bakery by the scent of fresh-from-the-oven cookies. Some stores will even waive the delivery fee for large orders.
Virtually everyone can reduce the amount of money they spend on food. To do so, however, you have to shop mindfully. Write a detailed list before you go and make a commitment to only buy what you really need and will use. Take a moment or two (that is usually all it takes) to find the best prices on those items, and clip coupons for them whenever possible. Do so and you’ll be surprised at how much you can save – and still eat well.