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Thinking about saving money on food? Don’t know where to start? And simply hate the thought of couponing? I’ll show you how to save money on groceries in the most practical way without having to pull your hair out.
I used to always read personal finance blogs for fun when I was a teenager. That meant I had no money to budget and no debt to conquer. But my mom did. And I’d eagerly tell her the bulk of her spending was on food.
Then I grew older and realized that her habits were my habits. Now, with real money to manage, I struggled. Whether it was going out to eat with my boyfriend and friends, those quick snacks at Taco Bell, or simply groceries, it seemed like my money was only spent on food. That sounds crazy.
So when I started a budget, my first priorities were tracking food expenses and eliminating the fluff. I picked up these essential habits and tips to save money on groceries so that my money could be moved elsewhere (to my savings!).
1. CHECK OUT OTHER MARKETS IN YOUR AREA
Target or Vons aren’t always your best choices for saving money on groceries. Heck, Walmart isn’t even the best either. Granted, they may be your only options, but it’s worth to take a look if there’s any other markets out there. If they have online weekly ads, take a look at them and see what kind of prices you can expect. You might be surprised that there’s a Grocery Outlet or El Super nearby that beat the prices from the places you do shop at. They might be a bit farther away but it’s worth to look.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO WEEKLY ADS
Every grocery store has their own weekly ad except for maybe Trader Joe’s. You can find the current deals on everything they have and they include coupons for your convenience.
It’s not necessary to look at every weekly ad in your neighborhood. Just in the beginning. Until you recognize which markets offer the best deals for the items you buy, look at each one. Then when you’ve identified which markets are your holy grail, get planning for your next trip to the grocery store.
Keep in mind that you’re better off looking at these weekly ads before you enter the store so that you figure out what kind of dishes to make that suit whatever is on sale.
3. MEAL PLAN LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT
Planning out your meals on a weekly basis isn’t as intimidating as you might think. All you have to do is just start. If you don’t know how, I have written out a post for you to learn how to start meal planning today.
Meal planning is essentially the first real step to saving money on groceries. Because if you don’t have a clear plan of what you’re going to eat, you’ll go crazy in the grocery store isles trying to figure out what you want, buy whatever looks appetizing, potentially end up with stuff that gets tossed in the garbage, and be left with a hole in your wallet.
4. MAKE A GROCERY LIST AND STICK TO IT!
Based on your meal plan, create a grocery list. Then actually stick to it! Making a grocery list is easy. I don’t have to tell you how to make a bullet list of the things you need. But sticking to it, however, is a whole other ballgame.
Let me give you a tip, especially if you’re at Target: do not go to any isle that doesn’t have whatever is on your grocery list. Don’t even look at the dollar spot or the Starbucks right at the entrance. Grab your cart and make a beeline straight to the first thing on your list.
Can’t find the thing you’re looking for? Ask an associate.
Because the death of your budget, the thing that will quickly double the amount you’re going to spend is curiosity. Curiosity killed the cat, you know?
5. SIGN UP FOR THOSE REWARD PROGRAMS!
When a sales associate asks your to sign up for a rewards program that doesn’t cost you a damn thing, they’re only trying to help you. If they’re asking you for a credit card, they’re just trying to look good. (Former sales associate here.)
Get where I’m going with this? Sign up for the rewards program! You know how often you grocery shop? Every week. And even the tiniest discount can take you far.
And for all you Target lovers, they don’t just have a credit card but a debit card too. Don’t get yourself in debt to get that 5% off when you can have a debit card instead.
6. TRY OUT NEW DISHES
This sounds weird, right? How does trying out new dishes mean I get to save money on groceries? Well, if you’ve been following me this far, you’ll realize that each part is connected. Basing your meal planning on weekly sales mean that you might find yourself thinking you cannot make anything out of it. This is your chance to try out new recipes.
It’s not just for the sake of adventuring out your taste buds, but more so that you can take advantage of these weekly deals.
If that doesn’t seem like a good idea, you can always buy a little extra when something you like does go on sale. But be careful not to buy too much for the sake of your money and waste.
7. TRY TO AVOID DRINKS & SNACKS
If you’re not drinking water or eating healthy snacks like fruits, then your budget isn’t thanking you. Not only are soda, alcohol, chips, and cookies unhealthy, but they can double the money you spend on groceries.
Think of it this way, a 12-pack of canned soda can run about $5 each. But you’re not only getting soda, you might add another 12-pack of Gatorade for $6. That’s $11 not including bottle deposits and tax. Whereas if you decided to drink exclusively water the whole week and have a Brita at home, that’s money that can be spent on two meals for two people.
8. SAVING MONEY ON GROCERIES DOESN’T MEAN BUYING IN BULK
Saving money on groceries doesn’t mean “let’s hitch a ride to Costco and buy everything in bulk!” or “Target offers gift cards if you buy 4 of each!” Yes, you’ll save maybe a few dollars here and there, but are you using it all up?
Buying in bulk is a great idea, especially if you have a large family. But if you buy cheese in bulk only to find it moldy in no time, then it’s a waste for the environment and your money.
9. IT’S OKAY TO BUY EXTRA. JUST DON’T GO OVERBOARD.
I know I said not to buy in bulk, but it’s all about intentional spending. There will be days where you can’t get to the market, where you just need a quick meal to cook, or just serve up a microwaveable dinner. That’s okay. But don’t go out and purchase a week’s worth of meals because you’re stressing out for the worst.
Keep 1-2 days’ worth of meals extra at the minimum. You can always go back to the grocery store (that’s what drive up is for).
And then the following week when you’re meal planning, remember to account for the extra meals you bought so they do not go bad.
10. BUY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, NOT IF YOU RUN OUT OF IT
You run out of oatmeal. Your instincts kick in. You write down on your grocery list to get more. But that’s not always the best idea.
And that’s the reason why I have a large canister of quick oats from several months ago.
What I’m really saying here is that you should think before you rush out and replenish your pantry. It sounds easy, but then wait until the next time you clean out your pantry.
11. KNOW HOW MUCH YOU EAT & BUY ACCORDINGLY
People always talk about being wasteful as it relates to the environment. But it also translates into your budget as well. If you know for a fact that you always have leftovers and you toss them away, then you’re intentionally throwing money into the garbage as well. Instead of keeping up this pattern, look at how much you eat and buy accordingly.
For example, start weighing your pasta. In the past, I played magic and guessed how much was enough until I got tired of making way too much. If you need to know, 7 ounces is perfect for 3 servings. Or at least for the people who eat it in my household.
12. DON’T ALWAYS BUY CHEAP
Oftentimes, people refer this advice to clothes. But really, this applies to saving money on groceries too.
I’ve scoured and bought from all the grocery markets in my area. Some of them are cheaper, a lot cheaper, and some of them are double to triple the price. The difference between them are brand and quality.
When I first started cooking for myself and subsequently grocery shopping, I saw really cheap markets and stayed loyal. I’m specifically talking about meat and seafood here. That’s honestly where I see the easiest place to save money. Or so I thought. I found that when they advertise cheap prices, there’s a catch. (Well, duh.) But sometimes, it isn’t that big of a deal. Like do I really care about getting high quality red wine vinegar over possibly a lower quality generic brand? Depends on the person.
It dawned on me as I had the tastiest curry I’ve ever made. One day, I decided to not buy the really cheap meat. I bought pork belly even though it was 2x the price, but bought less of it than when I’d bought cheap. Results? The best curry my whole family’s ever had. There wasn’t an imbalance ratio of fat to meat. There was actually something to chew on the damn thing. I felt (and I was!) eating more despite not having bought much. Because here’s the thing, that cheap stuff oftentimes are too tough, too fatty, and have have too many tendons that you give up midway and toss.
When we buy cheap, it seems to dawn on us that we can buy more. But that doesn’t mean we always need more. And when we do buy cheap, there is always a catch. Sometimes it’s not always worth it. So take a look at what you’re buying cheap and ask yourself, does this really make sense? Because I know that with meat, buying quality is the way to go. And those vegetables and fruits on sale for super cheap, they’re either about to go bad or not even close to ripe. Dish on that.
Saving money on groceries doesn’t mean stressful and unattainable. Rather it’s just taking a quick moment to think about what you eat, what you like to eat, and what you want to eat. It’s as simple as that. By taking the time to realize your habits around food, you can see where it is you can save money on groceries.
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