For most families, groceries are one of the largest and most consistent expenses. The good news is there are easy lifestyle changes you can make to help cut down on your grocery bill.
1. Plan Ahead
Grocery stores are not only designed to help you find everything you're looking for, but also to make sure you spend as much money as possible. Planning ahead will help you to overcome the urge to overspend. Making a weekly meal plan will help keep you on track. Start by creating an itemized list of everything you need for meals and use it as your shopping list. With a well-organized list you should be able to limit yourself to only one grocery store trip per week and avoid quick stops on the way home from work to grab one or two things here and there.
Even the best meal plans and organized shopping lists won't help if you don't stick to them. When shopping, make sure to stay away from the enticing new products on the ends of each aisle and avoid the impulse purchases in the checkout line. Shopping hungry will make it very difficult to avoid these items. If at all possible, it's also a good idea to leave the kids at home while you're grocery shopping. It's unlikely that they will be the one to talk you out of purchasing them a treat or toy to reward their good behavior.
Another tip to keep in mind is that items such as toiletries, cleaning supplies and electronics are almost always more expensive at a grocery store than they will be at a drugstore or big box, discount retailer. It's usually worth it to make a separate trip for these items.
2. Use Coupons & Start Your Stockpile
By now most people have heard of the "extreme couponing" wave that’s sweeping the nation. The fact is that there really are great deals to be had if you're willing to do a little extra legwork. At the very least you should make it a rule to only buy items that are on sale. Many grocery stores offer double or triple coupon days. Take advantage of these and be sure to use your stores reward programs for all purchases. If you match coupons with sale items you may be surprised at how much you can save. Many people also don't realize that manufacturer’s coupons can usually be used in conjunction with sales and store coupons.
Using a combination of these methods will lead to a ton of savings. When you find a good deal, you should think about stocking up on the item. Toiletries, canned goods and other non-perishable items are a great place to start. You can set up your stockpile in a pantry, basement or garage. Once you get it going you will be able to limit the number of items you need to purchase from the grocery store on a weekly basis. Simply head over to your stockpile and grab what you need!
3. Don't Waste
Food in the trash is money down the drain. Cook and serve reasonable sized portions. If you’re serving children, remind them that they can always go back for more if they're still hungry. Not only will everyone eat less, less food will be wasted.
Leftovers can be a busy person's best friend. Heated up meatloaf or pasta from last night sure beats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that's been sitting in the refrigerator all day. If you're a big fan of leftovers and don't mind eating the same meal multiple times a week, you can take this a step further. Cook a large portion on Sunday and freeze or refrigerate everything you don't eat for dinner. You may have just saved yourself a week’s worth of cold PBJ's.
Sometimes you may not feel like cooking at all. On nights like this you can mix things up by letting everyone in your family choose and make something simple on their own. This also helps to make sure that the groceries you have are being used and makes room in the pantry. Having a "breakfast for dinner" night (think pancakes, eggs, toast, etc.) is another great way to make a fun, inexpensive and quick meal for the family.
4. Eat Fresh and Local
When people are asked why they don't eat healthier, one of the most common responses is that it's too expensive. This simply isn't true. In today’s society, time is often perceived as being more valuable than money. If you're running late, it's much easier to run by a fast food restaurant or to throw something in a microwave than it is to make it yourself. The problem is that you are not only paying for this convenience by paying more for these products; you’re also paying with your health.
If at all possible, stay away from prepared foods. Some key items to avoid include:
- Canned beans - buy dried beans and soak them overnight
- Grated cheese - get a block of cheese and grate it using a cheese grater
- Bottled water - filtering your tap water saves you money and is better for the environment
- Prepackaged salads - buy fresh produce
With regard to produce, try shopping at your local farmers’ market or joining a monthly produce club. Produce in grocery stores is often shipped from all over the world. If produce is out of season or shipped from far away it is more expensive, less fresh and doesn't taste as good. By purchasing local produce you can save money, support your community and eat healthy all at the same time!
5. Buy Generic
Whenever possible, buy generic. Store brands often use the same manufacturers as the name brands but will cost you much less. Try buying the generic version of different items to see where you can reasonably cut corners and where you can't. Over the counter medications and pantry staples (including flour, sugar, salt and spices) are great examples of items that you can almost always buy generic without any noticeable difference in quality.
Items such as diapers and toilet paper are good examples where it may be worth it to buy quality name brands and look for coupons or sales to save some cash.
If you can start implementing some of these tips you will begin to see a significant difference in your grocery bill each month. With all of the savings you can put more resources towards the important things in life such as a vacation, a new home or saving for retirement!