*This post was created by request on behalf of a UNI 101 class about financial literacy.* Missing class when you have a good reason to miss is… Read more “The Math You Need So You’ll Never Skip Class Again”
When it comes to getting good deals on food at the store, I consider myself an expert. I wouldn’t say I’m the expert on this topic, but I get a rush from a good deal–and seeing that “$$ saved” at the end of my grocery trip is one of my favorite things. What we buy at the store is something almost all of us have control over, within reason, so as long as we stick to our budgets. This post will list some tips and tricks to sticking within your budget for groceries…and how you can still buy healthy and quality ingredients in the process.
Before You Shop:
- Take a look in your pantry and see what you already have on hand. Plan your meals around these ingredients because the ones in your pantry need to be eaten before they expire and/or get thrown out. Plus, it’s a great way to reduce your expenses if you decide to tackle a no-spend week.
- Meal planning is essential; write out your list based on the ingredients you need to complete that perfect dish. Allow some wiggle room for a few wants and treats, but also plan your meals around the items on sale.
- Download those digital coupons to your rewards card: If your grocery store chain has an online app where you can create grocery lists and add coupons to your rewards card, you have to take advantage of these deals. If that card is attached to an old landline number you haven’t had access to in 10+ years, definitely consider either opening a new account or figuring out how to modify contact information in your existing one. In addition to your “store-related” discounts for using your card, you can also add additional coupons to your card that can only be found when you’ve added them via the app…which is why you need to update that information. Not doing this is missing out on a lot of savings.
- Download Ibotta, a free app that gives you cash back for buying groceries, and add coupons to your store of choice from there: You don’t have to link any credit or debit cards to this, but you can link your store’s rewards card and they’ll deposit money to your account based on the coupons you’ve selected and items you’ve purchased. They have coupons for “any item”-level stuff and for brand-specific stuff, and I’ve managed to get back around $100 this year back. The key is to only load the coupons you need and to not buy additional stuff for the cash back. When you sign up and have received $10 back in rewards, you get a $20 bonus. And full disclosure, I get $3 for anyone who uses my referral link.
- Never go to the store hungry. You now how when you’re hungry and everything sounds good–even the stuff that you wouldn’t normally eat when you’ve had some food recently? That can lead to more spending on foods you normally wouldn’t buy. In fact, shopping on an empty stomach can cause individuals to spend 64% to 70% more than those who aren’t hungry shoppers, whether for food or household items in general. So if you’re about to go shopping, you better at least have a snack beforehand.
While You Shop:
- Use a calculator during your trip. Okay, not everyone has access to a smart phone, but if you do, you also have access to a calculator in the palm of your hand (or pocket or purse or where ever). Add up your groceries while you’re shopping–that way, once you’re at the register ringing in your items, there won’t be any surprises…and once you’ve hit your grocery budget, you’ll have to stop shopping or reassess whether you need the items. Even if you aren’t using the cash only system, this method helps reinforce that you to stick to your budget because once you’ve put it in your cart…that’s it.
- Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Yes, those potato chips might be a “good deal” or that frozen food might be a good value for your money–but when you’re shopping ask yourself these questions. 1) Will this enhance my planned meals? and 2) Can I eat this before it expires and I have to throw it out. If the answer is no to both, then don’t buy it. Saving $5 to spend $3 is still spending $3.
- Look at the unit price on the items you need. Okay, if you’ve only paid attention to the full price of your items, you’ve been shopping wrong. If you take a closer look at the price label on items at the store, there’s a good chance there’s a smaller number to the left or right of your item that has additional numbers on it. Those numbers are your unit price. Usually when you compare two different sizes of the same thing, the bigger item costs more overall, right? Well, the unit price is usually less on the bigger item. If you have space for buying larger sizes, can consume all of the food before it gets thrown out, and money in the budget of course–always buy the item with the lowest unit price.
- Contact your local grocery to ask when they put out the sale items. I’m a frequent flyer of the Kroger club when I don’t go to Aldi. Kroger has those “Woohoo!” stickers where items are usually half off that are close to their sell by dates. This is a great way to still “have your cake and eat it too” in the budget department. Go ahead and give them a call and ask when they’re most likely to write out the Woohoo/manager special stickers where they put a deep discount on everything. It’s 100% worth the phone call, I promise. Additionally, look for the discounted produce section, which you’ll usually find slightly overripe ingredients for another deep discount–but as long as you use them up quickly, it’s an amazing way to get your produce for 1/3 the cost. I’m also a big fan of farmer’s markets, so if you have the resources to go there for produce instead, do that and shop local.
- Store or generic brands are just as good as the “name brands.” A lot of people already living on a small grocery budget likely already do this, so this might not count as a real tip if you’re already #teamstorebrand. Those who buy store brands save as much as 30% on their grocery bill and when generic brands are placed in the name-brand packaging, we can’t even tell the difference between the two products. If you don’t already buy the store brands, try it once so you’ll know whether you like it. More often, you’ll realize that store or generic brands have a similar quality (or are actually better tasting) than the “brand name” stuff. My only exception to this rule is that I will always buy brand name coffee creamer…I tried several variations and…no.
If you’ve made it this far, even if you’ve just read the bold font text, I hope that you’re able to take some of this with you into your budget plan. The most important tip I can offer to reduce expenses while still getting quality foods is to be a mindful spender. Buy only what you need, a few wants or treats, and be sure you can eat everything you buy without having to throw it out. Eliminating or reducing food waste is a guaranteed way to save money on the grocery budget. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to use that grocery store loyalty card.
My first week I managed to save $147, even with a hiccup or two. The second week I saved $53. Here’s a play by play of the first week and a rundown and what I learned over these two weeks.
I find that when I really need a nice budget reset that engaging in a “no-spend week” really helps me reevaluate my financial goals.