I like grocery shopping. This may not be a universal feeling, you may or may not find it as enjoyable, but I like it. The planning, the comparisons, the deals, and the surprises are all things I enjoy about a shopping trip. It’s my version of retail therapy. I try to avoid clothing retail therapy, because that just ends up filling my closet and I don’t wear half of what I impulse buy. But with food I eat it, enjoy it, and can go buy more! Still, even I have days where I don’t want to bother or I’m too busy. On those days, I can use the following skills I’ve learned to make grocery shopping simple and still save money.
Plan Ahead Meal planning is not my strong suit, but I find it makes all the difference when shopping. Plan what you want to eat for the week and see which ingredients you need. Look what you already have on hand. Don’t let food go to waste because you forgot you had it. Do a quick inventory and see what you need. Having a list allows me to get it all in one trip and saves me from having to go back a few days later for something I forgot. I often get in a rut with the foods I eat and struggle to think of new meal ideas, though. Do you ever find yourself in a similar rut? I like to let sale items inspire my menu. Blueberries on sale? Time to make some blueberry muffins. Avocados? Looks like a good night for Mexican and some homemade guacamole. Having a well stocked freezer and pantry will help, that’s why I like to buy in bulk.
Buy in Bulk A great way to save money at the grocery store is to buy in bulk- but only if it will last. Does it have a long shelf life? Or my favorite question for food, can you freeze it? I can’t count how many times I’ve done an internet search to learn if I could freeze something. It allows you to take advantage of sales without leading to food waste. Many times, stores will offer larger quantities at a better unit price than small quantities. But I can’t eat 5 pounds of ground beef before it expires. That would mean I’d only use one or two pounds, the rest would spoil, and I’d have to throw it away. That’s arguably worse than throwing money away! So I use some now and freeze the rest for another day. This is also good if you don’t want to have the same ingredient 7 times in a row and wonder how many carrots you can eat before you turn orange.
Pair this with the principle of buying when it’s on sale. If it will last in your pantry or freezer, like rice or chicken, wait for a sale and buy in bulk. Then you’ll have it on hand when you need it and don’t have to pay full price.
Once you get into the habit of waiting for a sale, buying in bulk, and storing or freezing it, you can graduate to the next step. Prep food for the freezer for days you don’t have the time or energy to make a meal from scratch. You can just pull stuff out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a delicious dinner before you know it with very little effort.
Compare and Save Look over the ads of different stores in your area to see their standard pricing. Compare the prices of a few items you most frequently buy. Once you’re familiar with prices, you can judge if the price is a good deal, you should wait for a sale, or you should stock up. It’s probably not worth your time to drive from store to store to save a few cents on a few items. The exception, though, is if a store is having a great deal on an item you can stock up on. In that case go for it and make the trip to a second store. So keep an eye out when you look over the ads because you never know what kind of deal you might find.
Coupons I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I had a couponing phase. I got really into it, I mean I carried around a photobook filled with clipped coupons. It kinda irked my family if they ever went food shopping with me or saw how much toilet paper and toothpaste I’d bought. My coupon days aren’t over, but I rarely clip coupons anymore. Many supermarkets now offer digital coupons that you put on your rewards card for their store. You don’t have to buy the Sunday newspaper, you don’t need to clip coupons, you don’t need to remember to take them with you to the store (the hardest part- anyone else feel that way too?). Stores will just send you an email with the deals or you can go right to their website, you click what you need, and you use your reward card at checkout and the coupon is applied. You can even get free stuff this way. Companies launching new products will occasionally offer coupons for a free product so you’ll try their stuff. Things like chocolate and iced coffee for free (you might still have to pay tax though.) It’s a great way to try something new and treat yourself to something you might not normally buy for yourself.
Saving at the grocery store can be simple when you put these ideas into practice. Plan ahead, buy in bulk, compare and save, and use coupons. Buy things when they are on sale but don’t let food go to waste. A busy schedule, kids, school, work, there are tons of things that make grocery shopping a chore. But hopefully these ideas will help make it a bit better.