Before I had kids, I was the type of person who would shop at three or four different stores for my groceries to get the best prices. Blueberries on sale at one store. Chicken breasts on sale at another store. Yet another store has the best price on cereal. But now I have two small children and work full time so I’m just considering myself lucky I get to go to the store at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love the time I spend with my family, but going to several different stores each week is out of the question. I still like to save money though, so I’ve come up with other strategies to use.
10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries
1. Meal plan. This is a biggie for me. If I meal plan, I can plan exactly what I need instead of just buying random things. If I haven’t meal planned, I’ll go through the store and think , “Oh that asparagus looks nice. Yeah, some bell peppers would be good to have.” But then they sit. And sit. And sit. Because I had no plan to use them and I got too busy to do so. And unfortunately, sometimes food ends up going bad because I just didn’t get around to using it. I hate wasting (food and money)! Another thing about meal planning is that you can plan around your ingredients. What does that mean? Well for example, If I need parsley for one recipe, it would make sense for me to cook something else that week that also uses parsley so I use the whole bunch instead of wasting half of it.
2. Make a list. Oh and, do your best to stick to it! If you know what you need going into the store, you will be more organized and less likely to impulse buy. This goes right along with meal planning. The more prepared you are, the more efficient you will be and the more money you will save.
3. Clip coupons. Now let me be clear. If you get the newspaper ads and have the time to clip paper coupons, great! You can save a lot of money! I don’t have that kind of time, but I do use electronic coupons on my phone. One of the local grocery stores will have two or three dollar coupons off diapers! I would never normally buy diapers at the grocery store, but that’s a significant discount. There are several websites and apps out there that have general coupons (for example coupons.com), but many individual stores also have coupons on their websites or they have apps specifically for savings. Use these, and know where you can double up. For example, Target has coupons on their website, they send baby coupons by text if you sign up, and they have their Cartwheel app. There, you can use a coupon and the Cartwheel app at the same time. And – and! You can use one of their coupons and a manufacturer coupon on the same item. Those savings really add up! Some stores will also double (and triple) coupons on certain days.
4. Buy in bulk. This is a pretty simple principle really. Usually, the more you buy of something, the cheaper it is. Obviously, making this work depends on how much your family would use and if you have the space to store it. If half of what you buy would go to waste, you’re not saving money. And if you don’t have any room to store 68 rolls of toilet paper, then that’s not going to work. So make it work for you.
Along the same lines is knowing how much you’re paying per item in a package or per ounce. Some stores have this listed right on the shelf price tags and this makes it so easy for you to pick the better value. For example, a 20 ounce bottle of ketchup that costs $2.00 is $.10 per ounce. A 32 ounce bottle of ketchup for $3.00 is $.09 per ounce. Not a huge difference in and of itself, but on multiple items and over time, it adds up. If the price per item is not listed on the price tag, just take out your smart phone, open the calculator, and enter the price including the decimal, hit divide, and then enter the ounces or number of items in the package. That gives you the price per item/ounce.
Now if you’re really feeling up on your math skills, keep reading. If not, go on to number 5 below. This has to do with using a coupon and figuring price per item. I’m going to use the example of diapers because that’s where I am in my life right now. Let’s say a package of 168 diapers costs $37.94, and a package of 35 costs $8.97. That’s 22.6 cents per diaper in the big pack and a whopping 33.2 cents per diaper in the small pack. Gasp! Obviously, you’re not going to buy the small pack in this situation. BUT, you have a $3.00 coupon. Which one should you buy? Well, if you take the $3.00 off each price and do our division as instructed above, that changes the price per diaper to 20.79 cents each in the big pack and, wait for it…17.06 cents per diaper in the smaller pack! Jackpot! You get more bang for your buck, or three bucks, on the small pack.
5. Stock up when there are sales. AKA “Sharon’s shopping logic.” Sharon is my mom and she taught me this very valuable principle, which has benefitted me so many times over the years. It has also come back to bite me countless times when I haven’t followed it. If you see something you use and it’s on sale, even if you don’t need it right then, get it anyway! You will regret it later if you don’t. You will eventually need it and then it won’t be on sale anymore and then you will be mad that you have to pay full price. And your pocketbook will be mad too. Same principle goes for clothes, incidentally. If you find a pair of jeans that actually fit and you love (we all know how hard this is), but you don’t “need” them right now, get them anyway. A month from now when you need jeans and are looking for them, you will not be able to find any. It’s just the way the universe works.
6. Buy what’s in season. Produce is so much better priced when it is in season. Don’t plan on making blueberry pie in the middle of winter unless you want to pay $5.oo for a half pint. Get them in the summer when they are a dollar or two per pint and freeze them! Many things can be frozen (berries, zucchini, corn, bell peppers, bacon, cheese, even milk!), and this will save you so much money. If you don’t know what can be frozen or how to go about it, just get on the ol’ internet machine and find out.
7. Plant a garden. Or make friends with someone who has one. People with gardens are usually looking for people on which to unload piles of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and other yummy home grown (usually organic) produce. I’m over here like “pick me, pick me!” (We have tried to grow a garden several years, but to no avail. We just don’t get enough sun.) So let’s say someone gives you a bushel of apples or a box full of sweet corn. What do you do with it all? You freeze it! Or you cook or bake with it and then freeze it! Or can it! Then you have essentially free, delicious, peak of the season food you can eat throughout the entire year.
8. Be choosy about organic. Organic is a huge thing right now, and I’m not knocking it. But let’s face it, not everything needs to be organic. All I’m saying is do your research and know which things really are better organic. Otherwise, you’re overpaying for essentially the same thing as nonorganic. If we’re strictly talking produce, a good place to start is the “Dirty Dozen,”a list of foods singled out every year by the Environmental Working Group as having high amounts of pesticides. This year, that list includes apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes. The other side of that coin is the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list, produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. This list consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
9. Buy generic (sometimes). So many generic items are the exact same thing as the name brand without the costly label. I’m not going to go into specifics because I don’t want to brand bash and have anyone come after me shaking their fist. I will qualify that there are sometimes you just want the name brand. For example, sometimes (not always) I buy name brand canned tomatoes. One brand, specifically. There is one brand I know I like for certain things, and sometimes I insist on getting them. Other times, I know it won’t matter and I buy the generic ones. If I’m going to eat sour cream as a condiment, there’s one brand I like. If I’m going to cook with it, generic will do. You’ll figure these things out on your own. But I think if you start buying generic and you hadn’t been before, you’ll save money and be just as satisfied with what you’ve bought.
10. Do some research. Now that I’ve told you I don’t have time to go from store to store, I’m going to tell you to do just that. If you have time. If you know the produce is priced really great at one store, and you like the prices on meat at another store, then by all means, go to as many places as you want! Check around, see what’s what, and get the best price!
What money saving tips do you have?