How To Grocery Shop on a Budget

Everyone has to eat, and buying groceries is a fact of life. Although stocking a kitchen with food for meals and snacks is a part of most monthly budgets, these expenditures don’t have to break the bank. Instead of spending a sizable chunk of your take-home pay at the grocery store or spending hours couponing, you can incorporate effective ways to save money that won’t require significant time or effort. With a little planning, it’s possible to plan meals and create grocery shopping lists that are both economical and delicious.

Plan Menus and Make Lists

Grocery shopping without a list invites impulse purchases, which can be expensive. Plan out your menus for the week and make a list of items you need to make the meals. Strive to purchase only items on your grocery list to save money. Don’t forget to evaluate your pantry before you go to see what ingredients you already have!

Pay With Cash to Avoid Overspending

Paying for groceries with a credit card makes it easier to spend a few extra dollars here and there, even if you are keeping your budget in mind. While it may not seem like a lot, an extra $2 to $3 per week adds up to around $130 in extra spending in a year’s time! When you bring a set amount of cash to the grocery store, overspending is simply not an option. You’ll have to stick to your budget!

Check Unit Pricing

Often, it’s more economical in the long run to buy items in bulk instead of in single units. Grocery stores will often display pricing per unit to enable customers to see the advantage of buying in bulk, so pay attention to unit pricing information and buy in bulk when possible. But if you don’t have room to store bulk items, make sure not to buy food that will go to waste.

Compare Prices at Several Stores

Grocery stores will have unique pricing structures based on brands, location, and volume of stock. Peruse the grocery stores in your area to learn which have the best prices for the items you buy, and then make your purchases at these stores. Keep in mind that sometimes, shopping at multiple stores will save you more than just going to one.

Don’t Shop When Tired or Hungry

Heading to the grocery store after a long day at work is a typical scenario. Pushing around a cart when you’re tired and/or hungry can result in a higher than necessary grocery tab, though. Shopping for groceries in these circumstances often leads people to buy more than they need. Whenever possible, shop when you’re rested and well-fed.

Use Rewards Apps

There are many rewards apps that give customers perks for shopping. These apps may provide cash back over time, or they may offer customers special sale prices or coupons. The cash-back process may track sales by scanning a bar code on a card, or customers may have to submit photocopies of receipts. Why not get cash back or coupons for the groceries you’re already buying?

Shop Clearance Items

Stores usually have a clearance aisle or section where foods are marked down because they have been discontinued or are close to their expiration date. These clearance items may have prices that are significantly discounted, which can save shoppers money. Just be sure that you’ll be able to use the products before they expire or else the deal is not as good as it seems.

Shop Weekly Ads

Grocery stores generally put out weekly ads that will offer specific items marked down from regular prices. Weekly ads also tend to have items that are called “loss leaders,” which are items that are priced below market cost, designed to pull customers into the store. Shopping for loss leaders can be an effective way to save money. Learn the days that grocery stores in your area publish weekly ads, and peruse the adverts each week to find discounted items and loss leaders.

Additional Tips for More Savings

Just being budget conscious isn’t always full proof. Grocery stores and food brands understand how the average person likes to shop. Besides manufacturer placement and easy prepackaged foods, grocery aisles are full of psychological traps and seemingly good deals.  Although this can make for a pleasant customer experience, the effects on a shopper’s wallet can be less than frugal. If your goal is to spend less on groceries, consider the following traps and tips on your next trip:

1 – Prepare with a meal plan

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Before you go shopping, check out your grocery store’s deals and coupons for the week. Plan your meals around these items and buy in bulk if it fits your budget. Also, keep in mind what you already have when making a list. This will help you stay organized and purchase only what you need for the week.

2 – Avoid eye-level buys

When in a grocery aisle, where do your eyes generally gravitate? If you said straight ahead, you’re like most shoppers. Manufactures realize this and pay for shelving placement. This shelving real estate causes the price to increase and as a result shoppers are spending more. Next time, make a conscience effort to avoid eye level foods all together.

3 – Use a calculator

If you’re really trying to hunker down and save, set a maximum budget and bring a calculator to the store. Get only what you really need and stay on track. Most phones have built in calculators that can help. Just make sure to remember to include your state’s sales tax!

4 – The eternal battle: Generic vs. Brand

Name brands are generally more expensive because they have paid for your awareness through advertising. Most of the time generic brands are exactly the same, just different packaging. Try opting in for generic when possible.

5 – Buy what’s in season

Buying in-season produce pays off with big savings. Buy in bulk and freeze what you need so you can enjoy them during the off-season. Enjoy this produce cycle guide.

6 – Avoid Endcaps

Just like eye level products, manufactures want grocery stores to feature their items at the end and front of aisles, making it a visibly featured product. Stray away from the impulse and temptation by sticking to what is on your list.

7 – Save on meat

Buying bigger pieces of meat can actually save you money. For example: steak that is pre-cut for stews or stir-fry’s can be marked up 300% in some cases. Instead, buy the big piece of meat and ask the butcher to cut it up for free. Also, avoid buying meat that has skin and bones. Meat is priced by weight – so the less it weighs the cheaper it is.

8 – Stock up on favorites when they’re on sale

If items that you regularly purchase are on sale for a great price, stock up! This is a great practice especially for dry storage foods.

9 – Avoid impulse purchases

I know those Reese’s at checkout look tasty, but you didn’t come to the grocery store for candy. It’s okay to treat yourself every now and then, but if you have a budgeting goal, stick to it and avoid those impulse register purchases.

10 – Avoid prepackaged foods

Don’t pay for someone else’s pre-made portion sizes. When buying fruit, buy the entire watermelon instead of the pre sliced package. Instead of getting already bagged deli meat, order it straight from the counter. Same goes for vegetables in the freezer section. You can usually save money by purchasing the vegetables in bulk and freezing them until you are ready to cook them.