Here you are in the checkout line of your local grocery store. Do you watch in horror as the numbers on the display register go up and up…and up? How many times have you cringed when the cashier announced your total? Yup. Me, too.
How did this happen? You just went in for a couple of items and now you’re wondering how to adjust your monthly budget to adjust for this comestible catastrophe. Well, this episode may be water under the bridge but let’s look ahead and talk about saving money on food the next time you go shopping.
With some planning and critical thinking, there are ways to slash your grocery bill!
Have A Game Plan
First, I’ll say this: All that money you (over)spent? Not entirely your fault. Grocery stores pay people to come up with ways to entice you to spend as much as they can entice you to spend. The store set-up, end cap displays, lighting, colors, shopping carts, the yummy smells? All part of their diabolical plan to make you spend more. There are 2 important things you can do to overcome this psychological warfare before you even leave your house!
Make a meal plan: This isn’t as hard as it seems. What are you having for dinner tonight? Why not double it and have the rest for lunch tomorrow? Two meals down. Maybe grab some oatmeal, raisins and yogurt for overnight oats or granola parfaits to take to work for breakfast this week? Now you’re down 7 meals. That’s ⅓ of your entire meal plan and it just took a minute. See how easy that was?
Make a shopping list: Now, use that meal plan to make your shopping list. I’m going to assume you’ll be shopping in the same store that you always do, so, with that in mind, set up your shopping list in the order that you’ll be walking the store. Does the entrance lead you to the produce section first? List all your produce items first, then (for example) all your meat items followed by the dairy items.
Once you hit the aisles of the store, group items together that will probably be in the same section (all the spices together, all the baking items together, etc.) This will prevent you from backtracking and being further tempted by all those sneaky displays!
Into The Fray
Stick to your list: Do it like it’s your job. No unauthorized purchases, no maybe-I-can-use-its, no gosh-that-looks-goods. Keep your eyes forward and only stop for the things on your list.
… Unless you don’t stick to your list: OK, so there’s that Manager’s Special on chicken. That really good special. Riddle me this: Do you eat chicken? A lot? Can you break that package down into smaller portions for storage? Do you have room in your freezer? Can afford to spend the extra money this week? If you can answer “yes” to every single question, then go ahead and pick up a package.
Stay In Your Own Lane: No unplanned off-ramps. No side trips down aisles “just to check it out”. Stick to the store perimeter and only enter the aisles that have items you planned to buy.
Stick To The Basics
Learn to read the shelf tags: These tags help you to discern the true value of an item compared to another by breaking down the cost per unit (such as ounce, pound or individual item). Once you know how to do this, the following advice is easy to check out.
Do your own prep work: Food in it’s most unprocessed form is always less expensive than pre-cut or prepared items. A few examples of this are:
- Whole carrots compared to baby carrots or matchstick
- Whole roast compared to steaks or stew meat*
- A block of cheese compared to pre-sliced or shredded cheese
Doing your own prep work does take more time, but I find that it’s easier to just do it all when I get home from the store. Some like to set aside some time on their day off to all the prep work for the week while others prefer to just prep for the meal that they’re cooking. You can play around with different methods until you find one that works for you!
*I’m not going to discuss edible yield in regard to meats here as I find the bone-in/boneless argument is usually more of a personal choice than a cost point.
Size doesn’t matter: Bigger is not always less expensive. Use the shelf tag to determine which size is truly the best value.
Buy generic: Many store or lesser known brands are less expensive than the Big Guys. Make sure to read the ingredient and nutrition labels to make sure it’s as high quality as the name brand.
Put down the frozen french fries: For real. Just do it. Put back those individual packets of flavored oatmeal while you’re at it. These two items, on average, cost twice as much per unit than their unprocessed counterparts (fresh potatoes and old-fashioned rolled oats). That’s true of most convenience foods. The truth is that it doesn’t take much more time to make these items fresh.
Ban Junk Food
The average American spends almost 25% of their grocery budget on processed, convenience, pre-made and snack foods. Don’t believe me? Dig out your last grocery receipt and add it up. I’m positive it’s more than you think it is.
Ask you how much of that food was eaten mindlessly? It’s easy to prepare (if it needs any preparation at all) so it’s easy to just grab some to chow down on while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. Seriously, when was the last time you wondered why there were only crumbs in the bottom of the chip bag? And did you really eat all the microwavable pizza nuggets?
Now ask yourself if you’re really going to spend that much money on things you didn’t even enjoy eating? Surely if you had enjoyed them, you would have remembered actually eating them. Think of how much you’re going to enjoy keeping all that money right in your bank account from now on!
OK, yes, you’re gonna want cookies. These no bake cookies come together in less than 15 minutes for about $3.50, which is less than ½ the price of buying the same amount of the same cookies pre-made.
Go Forth And Conquer
Be bold. Be unafraid. Get out there and go shopping. You’ve got this.
All my best,