Keeping my grocery bill down is something I’ve been working on since I started buying and making my own food way back in 2011. I had a pretty good system in place the last couple of terms, but I’ve been feeling the need to tighten up my budget even more now that I’ve graduated and will be living off of my savings until I find a job. I’ve talked about grocery shopping on a budget before, but a lot of it comes down to grocery shopping etiquette.
I remember when I first moved off campus and had to worry about things like paying bills, going to the grocery and cooking for myself. I’ve got the bill paying and cooking parts down now, after years of trial and error, but grocery shopping correctly can still be an issue for me.
When I first wrote this post, it was geared towards student life, but most of the tips are still applicable beyond. Plus, over the last year, I’ve discovered a couple more ways to make grocery shopping cheaper and more effective and today I wanted to share them with you.
1. Not taking advantage of Reward Cards & Discount Days
Back when I was in school (so last month) I used to try to make it to the grocery on student discount days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, on student discount days, your student ID gets you a percentage (in my case 10%) off your purchase. It may not seem like a lot, but trust me- every little bit counts.
Now that I’m no longer a student, I have to make use of other types of discounts. Most grocery stores have rewards/points cards that allow you to use points for groceries when you gain a certain number of points. It’s not exactly a discount, but it does help and it’s usually free to sign up, so why not?
2. Not making use of coupons/sales
At most of the grocery stores I go to, you don’t actually need to cut out coupons to get the discounts. But, I still like to look at the coupon books that I get emailed to me so I can plan ahead. If I know canned beans are going to be on sale, I’ll stock up on it and be prepared to make chilli and black bean brownies that week. If you need to actually cut out coupons at your store this may require a little more effort, but couponing is worth it for certain items, in my opinion.
3. Not knowing when groceries restock
There are two reasons you want to know when groceries restock: 1. Some items go on sale the day before a restock. This is when you want to get non-produce items like canned foods, chips etc. I also love to snap up bananas and other fruits when they go on sale as they’re nearing the end of their shelf life. I cut them up and freeze them for smoothies or banana ‘ice cream’. 2. Produce is freshest on restock days. It’s already so hard to get fresh produce – unless you’re picking it yourself – so it’s best to snap it up when its just been stocked and is relatively fresh.
4. Grocery Shopping only once a week
When you only shop once a week, you’re more likely to get foods with a longer shelf life so it’ll last until your next haul. The problem with this is that you buy more processed foods and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Or, if you buy enough produce for a week, some of it will spoil.
I like to make at least a couple trips to the store every week so I’m always sure to have fruits and veggies on hand. I also don’t have to struggle with 10 bags per hand on the bus- which is always a plus.
5. Grocery Shopping at only one store
I go to Wal-Mart for things like foil, parchment paper and canned foods because Wal-Mart has the best deals on those things and I like to take advantage of them. But when it comes to my food, I’m a little more picky. Farmers’ Markets have great deals on fruits and veggies and butchers or delis do the same for meats. Shop around and see who gives you the best deals in terms of price, quality and quantity and make a decision. Don’t just shop at one store because it seems more convenient.
6. Not reading nutrition panels
Of course I had to drop in some nutrition advice in this list, but it’s so true. I see so many students rushing through the aisles and just throwing things willy nilly into their carts without considering what’s actually going into their bodies. I know I talked about taking advantage of sales and coupons earlier, but you don’t have to buy something just because it’s on sale. Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists and make informed choices. It may not directly reduce your grocery bill, but our health will definitely thank you.
7. Shopping with a completely full/empty stomach
Most of us know not to shop with an empty stomach because that way lies bags of ready to eat, processed meals. But, shopping with a overly full stomach isn’t a great idea either.
If you’re uncomfortably full, you end up not wanting to think about food at all. You’ll gravitate to the aisles with kitchen stuff, cleaning products and other non-food items and eventually leave with very little that’s edible. And of course, you’ll find yourself back at the store the next day so you can actually get food.
8. Not making a plan
Students love to head to the grocery store without a plan. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of silent rebellion against adulthood, or if we just don’t think about it, but it’s an issue. But, I’ve learned from my mistakes. These days I make a grocery list and tentative meal plan before heading to the grocery because it makes sense. I no longer have to worry about coming home and discovering I already have 10 sweet potatoes and I just bought 10 more, but I don’t have anything to eat it with.
Save yourself the hassle and put some thought into your grocery shopping ahead of time. It’s worth it, I promise.
9. Not buying in bulk
I’ve been extolling the virtues of buying in bulk on the blog for a long time, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of buying in bulk since I’ve already shared some of my process before. But, I will say that, although I do my bulk shopping at a completely different store to my regular grocery store, that isn’t always necessary. A lot of groceries will give you discounts if you buy things in bulk from them. So, be sure to ask so you can compare prices with your local bulk foods store.
10. Not having a budget
I’m still figuring this one out myself, but I’m pretty sure it should have been number one. Having a budget for groceries is probably the most important part of grocery shopping. Logically, trying to save on groceries makes no sense without knowing what ‘saving’ is. And that’s where a budget comes in. In the past, I’ve just set an arbitrary number of what I thought my grocery shopping budget should be and went with that. But, I think it makes a lot more sense to look at past grocery bills and try to figure out the necessities and where I can make cuts. I’ve started working on that this month and I know it’s going to be a long process, but it’ll definitely be worth it.
What about you?
Are you guilty of any of these grocery shopping mistakes? And more to add? Do you have a grocery shopping budget? Any tips for getting one in place?
Share in the comments below!
This post was added to the following linkups: FYI Friday
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