This article originally appeared on MyRecipes.
By Hannah Burkhalter
Everybody’s gotta eat.
Which is why it’s super frustrating when you accidently kill your paycheck with what you thought was a casual grocery run… you know, just to pick up those few things to get you through the rest of the week. Maybe it was that extra bottle of wine you threw in. Or maybe it was that fancy “superfood” granola you decided to spring for. Either way, you’re in the hole.
Rest assured, there is a better way to shop, it just might require a little bit of intentional change in your mindest and routine. Here are 9 practical tips for cutting costs, without sacrificing quality.
Know that you’ll have to break your routine (and then make a new one).
You might not think you have a grocery routine, but shopping for food most likely isn’t a new responsibility for you (and if it legitimately is, you’re in luck… you can start on the right foot from the get-go). There are certain items that are your go-to foods, especially when you don’t have a solid plan. Think about your routine and what it is about your routine that might make your grocery bill run higher than you want it to be. Reviewing your recent grocery receipts can be an extremely helpful exercise for this. Take a look at what your “big ticket” items are, check and see if you are actually using most of what appears on those receipts, are there any patterns that present themselves across multiple receipts?
Know that the store is set up to encourage you to purchase more.
Product placement is huge in retail, particularly for grocery stores. Specific items are placed at eye level or in displays to catch your attention. Sometimes stores even play strategic, slow tempo shopping music. The same goes for specific food brands. They spend a lot of money to encourage you to spend money via packaging and use labels to draw in the customer. Do I think grocery stores and food companies are evil? No. But I know that they are trying to do their job (which is to get items into your shopping cart) well and you should be aware of that when you go in. Before you go grabbing, ask yourself if you would actually think to pick that item up if it was not prominently displayed in front of your eyeballs.
Always take inventory.
What do you already have? Rice? Awesome. Make a stir fry or use it as base for gumbo or curry. The worst thing that you can do when operating on a set budget is buy more of something that you already have, or spend money on foods you never get around to eating. Utilize your pantry and work with the ingredients that are already there. Let them inspire what you cook for the week instead of adding to the stockpile.
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Before you shop, make a plan.
I know, I know. For some of us, that’s not a particularly easy task. But it’s completely necessary if your goal is to save. If you go in with a plan, you’ll know what you’re looking for and you can stick to that list (yes, you can). This way, you’re going in with a “How can I can I get the best deals on these items?” mindset, as opposed to a “How do I fill this cart with enough stuff to feed me for a week.” You see what I mean? I’m a firm believer in the Sunday strategy; carve out just a little time to figure out what the week ahead looks like and plan smart, concise trips to the store accordingly. If you are plan-less, you’ll most likely spend more time wandering the aisle and that means more opportunity to buy extra, unnecessary stuff.
Get used to them. Use them. Plan around leftovers and pack them in your lunches. You can repurpose ingredients to keep from eating the exact same thing over and over again (here are some great examples of that). And if you just aren’t into eating next-day leftovers, plan to take advantage of your freezer as soon as the meal is over. Don’t put a half-eaten pan of casserole into the fridge only to be tossed 4 days later; package it up and freeze it for an easy dinner down the road, make this a part of your plan. One of the best ways to preserve leftovers for the long haul is to hotel wrap them. Just pull them out when you need a quick meal.
Get the app.
Because why not? You don’t have to literally clip coupons to get exclusive deals anymore, use the device that’s already in your bag constantly. Target has a popular app called Cartwheel and Walmart has the Walmart Savings Catcherapp. If your favorite store doesn’t have its own app, there are grocery shopping apps that will keep track of all kinds of deals, like iBotta, Checkout 51, Favado, and more. Find the one that makes the most practical sense for you and get saving.
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Buy the store brand items.
Grocery chains like Publix, Kroger, etc. offer their own brand of food items, typically at a noteably lower cost than big brands. Target sells Market Fresh brand and Whole Foods sells 365 brand. These items, for the most part, are identical to the “compare to” product that they mimic. If you aren’t sold, double check the nutrition facts and ingredients before purchasing to ensure that your getting (essentially) the same product.
Read labels and price tags.
Read labels carefully and pay attention to pricing. In terms of saving, the main thing that you need to look at is the price per unit. Which brand has the best deal? For example, I buy Greek yogurt every week. And when determining which brand and packaging I am going to purchase, I always calculate how much each costs per cup of yogurt–whether it’s packaged individually or in a tub. In many stores, the price per unit is already calculated and listed on the shelf tag.
Keep these quick other tips in mind:
Obviously, don’t go to the store hungry. Your senses will be heightened, everything will look delicious, and you’ll end up grabbing extras that aren’t on your list.
Precut fruit and vegetables cost considerably more. That’s just the way it goes. If you want to save, pay for fruit by the pound and slice it yourself, rather than paying more for a small container of fruit salad.
The same goes for all bakery and deli convenience foods. The price increase is for convience and you will always save by assembling the salad or sandwich yourself.
Ask your butcher. Meat is one of the more intimidating foods to buy for a lot of folks. There are many different cuts at different prices and sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a larger cut and use it multiple ways. But if it’s a cut you’re unfamiliar with and unsure how to use, simply ask your butcher, that’s why they’re there. And if nothing else, step to the side and whip out your phone and do some quick Google research.
Practice Meatless Monday. The alliterated practice is beneficial in that it will reduce your saturated fat intake (the kind associate with heart disease), and the plant-based meat substitutes, like beans and eggs, provide protein at a much lower price point.
Make soup each week. Soups are a smart way to stretch cash. Most soup recipes make at least 6 servings and you can find one that uses beans, frozen veggies, and one meat.
Skip the bottled water. It may be more convienent, but you can fill your own reusable water bottles from the tap at a much lower cost. If it’s an issue of flavor, invest in a filter, it will save you money in the long run.
Buy dried beans and grains. You can get more beans and grains, like rice, for less money when they are dry. Instant grains, and even canned beans, are more expensive than the dried option.
Don’t feel the need to fill your cart. You can purchase more than enough food without reaching the brim.
Take advantage of free samples. Free stuff tastes even better (and can be a huge help if you did end up going to the grocery store hungry).