Food and shelter are two of the most common essentials for human existence. So, it should come as no surprise that food purchases are often the most significant household expense – right behind rent or mortgage.
And that cost can quickly balloon on any trip to the market. In this article, we will discuss five strategies to help you stick to your budget when you run to the grocery store.
- Plan Ahead – Meal planning sounds like a lot of work. But the time and money it can save you will end up making your life far more manageable. Most people have a general idea of how their weekly schedule plays out. You can use that knowledge to pick appropriate recipes and meal plans.
For instance, in our house, we have at least four days per week where dinner has to be ready at 5:30 pm. For those four days, we plan interchangeable crockpot meals. We can count on some leftovers for lunches but always have sandwich or wrap items as a backup. For breakfast, we plan to bake muffins or waffles for the week and keep a supply of quick oats and fruit on hand for variety.
Once you have the week planned out, you can make a list of required ingredients then go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to compare what you already have on hand to what you will need to purchase. You will want to be sure you check levels for any staple food or condiments, as well. This process will create your official grocery list.
- Stick to the List – Stores are designed to draw you in and encourage impulse buys. Perishable items such as milk and eggs are not at the back for your convenience. They are placed there as staple items that guarantee shoppers will have to walk past a maximum number of enticing displays and sales to get to them. Did you ever wonder why that cereal box with Elsa on the front is sitting at eye-level for children?
There are two essential things to remember when it comes to following your list.
The first is to follow step #1 fully, so you know it includes everything you need for the week. If you have thoroughly reviewed what you have in-house right before setting out, you are more likely to see what you already have available and avoid additional purchases. The second is to eat before you shop. Being hungry makes all that food far more tempting.
- Only Make One Trip – If it didn’t make it on the list and you have already been to the store, question whether you need it. Multiple trips to the grocery store, especially those without a list, is an easy way to find yourself going over budget.
- Buy Generic – Most of the store brands are name brands repackaged. While this can negatively impact the quality of items that have more of a tendency to go stale, that is not the case for most products. There is a wide variety of store-branded goods such as canned beans or vegetables, sauces, noodles, milk, eggs, butter, and more. These items are typically less expensive than their name-brand alternatives. Even saving a couple of cents per item can save a great deal on your total bill and add up significantly over the months and years.
- Use Coupons, Loyalty, and Apps – Grocery stores have jumped on the “loyalty” bandwagon pretty hard. And, as frustrating as it may seem, being a member of your most frequented locations can pay off pretty big in the long run.
Loyalty members typically receive better deals on products throughout the store, as well as exclusive sales. In some cases, ongoing purchases can garner points that turn into money back at the register.
Coupons, while a hassle to remember in their print form, have gone mostly digital. There are some highly-rated coupon applications such as Coupons.com and SnipSnap that curate available product coupons by item and store. You can search according to your grocery list and save the coupons you need right on your mobile device.
Speaking of apps, your grocery store probably has one. My local Kroger has “app-only” sales, as well as their standard weekly coupons and deals all within their app. I can compare what is on my list to what is in the application and “save the coupons” to my loyalty card. When I type in my phone number or scan my card at the register, the coupons and sales are automatically applied to my purchases.
And for those individuals who have more than the average difficulty sticking to a list, many grocery stores let you use their app to order your items and then pick them up – rather than having to be tempted at the store.
Food is usually the second largest expense for any household. And stores are pretty savvy about finding ways to maximize your dollar spend. Fortunately, following these five steps can help you curb your expenditures at the check-out, and stick to your budget.