Sense & Centsibility Blog

How to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Do you love to cook? Eat healthy? Wish you did? Or absolutely hate it? Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum we all have to eat, which means eventually you will be heading to the grocery store. I love to cook, it helps me unwind, but lately I have found that my grocery bills are getting higher even though I am buying the usual items, and cook most meals from scratch, which is supposed to be the cheapest way to feed your family. Then I heard about the droughts: according to one report, due to drought conditions in several parts of the country food prices are expected to rise; especially meat (estimated 5% rise), and eggs and dairy (estimated to rise 2-4%). With increases like that the only way I have found to keep my food costs down is to plan ahead – follow these tips and they may help you too!

Plan a menu and shop with a list

Because I cook meals from scratch most nights (except for left-over night), I plan out meals two weeks at a time, incorporating items like soups, stews, and roasted meats for more than one meal. This not only helps me know what ingredients need to go on my shopping list, it also helps me (mostly) avoid breaking down and picking up take-out or ordering pizza because I just don’t know what to make. And the list helps me avoid extra trips to the grocery store because I forgot a major ingredient or didn’t know I was out of a staple. It definitely takes some extra work.

Never shop hungry

This has got to be the number one rule to saving money on groceries. If I go shopping after work and haven’t had a snack I will grab everything that looks good! So, not only am I buying “off the list” I am increasing my costs at the store. Ever notice that all the free samples come out in the evening? If I am hungry I will be trying them and I am much more likely to buy. I avoid this by making sure I do not shop on an empty stomach.

Leave the kids at home

This may be tied with “never shop hungry.” Have you ever noticed that taking your kids shopping is completely distracting and surprise items end up in your cart? Or in your bags once you are at home unpacking them? I know it can be difficult to find someone to watch the kids while you shop, but trying leaving them at home once or twice and you will likely see a reduction in your grocery bills and you may even find you enjoy shopping a lot more!

Have a prep party

At my house, Sunday is prep day. We scrub, clean, chop, and dice all the items we will need for meals throughout the week – I insist my family helps me. I usually make a big pot of soup to last through the week and do as much prep work for bringing lunches as I can (bringing lunches is another great way to reduce your food costs). Oddly enough, this has become one of our favorite days of the week as we are all working together and it gives us time to connect and plan for the upcoming week.

Use Cash

How many times have you left the grocery store after swiping your card and didn’t even know how much you spent? Studies have shown that folks who use debit or credit cards spend anywhere from 18% - 25% more than folks who pay with cash. Before I go grocery shopping I stop at the ATM take out my budgeted amount and try to make sure I don’t go over. Sometimes I do and I make up for it with my debit card, but this cues me to the fact that I am overspending and I know I have to watch it more carefully the next time. I know there are folks out there who are much stricter than I am and will force them-selves to add things up as they go so that they don’t go over-budget. The important thing, especially if you are just starting out, is to become aware of how much you are spending and to figure out ways to spend less.

Coupons, buying bulk, and sales

Many people swear by the value of coupons. I only use coupons for items I am already planning to buy, or will plan my menus around what is on sale at the stores. This also allows me to stock up on things when costs are low. With some items I have brand loyalty and with others I find the generics are just as good and much cheaper. I always buy coffee, nuts, and cereals in bulk as I have found I can get more for my money and reduce plastic containers by reusing bags and glass jars.

If you think you have been overspending on your groceries, try out these strategies and let me know if they work for you. If you want help with other strategies to stop overspending, LSS Financial Counseling serves everyone – give us a call and make an appointment today or start online counseling. A counselor will contact you with a detailed plan on how to stop overspending and create a budget.

Author Shannon Doyle is a Certified Consumer Credit Counselor at LSS