Three months and change ago, I set a goal to save money at the grocery store. I was tired of standing at the checkout counter, cringing at the bill. I knew that there had to be a way to whittle down grocery costs without sacrificing the taste or quality of our meals. Last week I recapped the results of my Thrifty Challenge – overall, success! – and promised to share some tips with you based on what I learned. Some of these tips are common sense things that most people already know, but my experience with the Thrifty Challenge reinforced that they are really TRUE.
1. Make a LIST and check it twice! The biggest thing that you can do for your grocery bills is to plan out your purchases for the week, and then stick to it. Each week I sit down and create a menu before I go to the grocery store. First, I look in my crisper drawer to see what perishable produce I still have on hand, and then I incorporate it into my planned meals for the week (trying to use up the older produce earlier in the week before it goes bad). I then make a grocery list based on what items I know I will need based on my menu, always making sure to add things like fruit and lunch items for hubby and myself. I go to the store with my list and a pen in hand, checking off each item as I go along and not deviating from the list.
2. Use coupons. This is an area where I still need improvement! There were a few weeks where I was really gung-ho, checking coupon blogs and websites, my grocery store’s website, and my favorite product pages for coupons and discount codes. I then printed them off, cut them out, and kept them clipped to my grocery list. The weeks that I did that bit of legwork (usually the morning of my grocery trip) I noticed some actual savings in my bill. Oh, I wasn’t about to be featured on “Extreme Couponing” anytime soon, but a few dollars shaved off my bill made me very happy. Of course, there’s an important caveat – don’t buy an item just because you have a coupon! If you wouldn’t normally buy chips or cookies, then a coupon isn’t an excuse – it’s just a waste of money and calories. I make a point of only using coupons for items that I would buy anyway. That way I’m not being lulled into actually spending more money when my goal is to save, and I’m not blowing my calorie budget on processed foods that I wouldn’t otherwise consume.
3. Don’t shop hungry. Another obvious one, but in my experience it’s really true. If you go to the grocery store hungry, you’ll be tempted to throw all kinds of snacks and processed food into your cart. Not only is the food you grab while shopping hungry generally less healthy than what you would put on your list, but it’s often more expensive too. If you need to, have a small snack before shopping so that you’re not tempted to deviate from your healthy and thrifty meal plan.
4. Don’t over-plan. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I find that making my menu and cooking schedule too rigid is actually bad for my budget. If I plan 7 meals in a week – which I used to do – I invariably end up jettisoning one or two of them. Maybe I get home late from work one evening and don’t have time to put together an elaborate dinner. Maybe I decide I’m just really, really in the mood for scrambled eggs. (That happens on a weekly basis.) Maybe I forget to pull something out of the freezer, or hubby wants veggie burgers on the grill. If I’ve planned and purchased the ingredients for seven dinners, and two or three don’t get made, the fresh stuff ends up going to waste. But if I plan 4 or 5 dinners, I will usually end up making all of the planned meals; nothing gets edged out by egg or burger nights and no ingredients are wasted.
How do you save money at the market?