It has long been proven that cooking at home is far more affordable (and health conscious) than eating out every night, whether you’re feeding just yourself or a family of six. Many people still see this as a myth because it requires a trip to the grocery store, which is believed to be an expensive feat. Although the bulk warehouse prices of Costco and beyond have convinced us that it’s best to pay more in order to save more, that’s simply not the case. And, honestly, who needs a 12-pack of Life cereal anyway?
The truth is that grocery shopping can be affordable if done efficiently and strategically. Planning and moderation are key, and with these five tips and an effective meal-planning regimen, you’re well on your way to cutting your food spending by 50%.
#1) Make small trips. We see this way too often: people getting caught up in their busy schedules and making one enormous grocery run on the weekend as opposed to a couple of smaller ones during the week. The main issue with this is that you begin to overestimate what you need. This not only leads to excessive spending, but unnecessary wasting. Before the week is even over, you’ve thrown away a good portion of the produce you purchased (and your money along with it). Make two to three small grocery trips during the week instead. This way you only buy what you need, and it makes the task much quicker and more tolerable. You don’t overbuy for fear that you’ll forget something and won’t be coming back to the store for another week. With smaller trips, you know you’ll be back in two days, so even if you forgot something, you can grab it then.
#2) Make a list! You don’t even have to carry the dreaded pad and paper with you. Make a list on your phone and go from there. There are even special apps where you can check items off as you put them in your cart. Planning ahead is crucial because it prevents you from buying too much. Rather than snaking up and down every aisle making sure you don’t forget anything (and therefore being distracted by items you don’t need), you have a set list and go directly to the sections you need to.
#3) Couponing isn’t dead yet. Maybe you think it is because you haven’t seen anybody clip coupons since the Jurassic era. However, the fact of the matter is that electronic couponing is abundant and easily accessible. There are tons of great coupon apps, each of which cater to different kinds of shoppers. In alignment with the second item on this list, our personal favorite is the Grocery iQ app. This app allows you to build your shopping list by either scanning the barcode of a product or using their predictive search option. Based on the items on your list (or any recurring purchases that are appropriately added to your Favorites tab), the app will populate various coupons. You can then print or email these coupons to yourself and present them at the store electronically. They’re known for offering discounts on name brands, such as Purdue, Keebler, Campbell’s, General Mills, and Crest.
#4) Cash in on cash back. Once you’ve exhausted all your coupons, the best way to pay for your remaining groceries is with a cash back credit card. Normally, credit cards can mean unnecessary purchases and excessive spending. However, if you’ve followed the above steps and been a careful planner, there’s no reason you can’t use it to your advantage. Some credit cards offer up to 3% back on supermarket purchases. The Blue Cash Everyday card from American Express is one of these, among countless others. Just do your research and make sure the interest rates don’t outweigh the benefits. Otherwise, if you use your cashback card wisely and regularly, you just may end up buying yourself a free grocery trip in the near future.
#5) Don’t write off generic brands. Being a budget-conscious shopper not only involves knowing the best deals and strategies, but knowing the best products. You’ll find that generic brands often cost up to $3 less than the name brands, yet contain identical ingredients. While the success of name brands says a lot about their successful marketing and advertising tactics, generic brands are just as good and cost significantly less. While the knock-off Oreos may cost only a dollar less than the regular ones, these savings add up and the rest of your household will be none the wiser about the switch. Diligence and preparation make you a more educated shopper, which in turn allows you to have a little extra pocket money at the end of each month.
Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Checkworks, an online check ordering service for individuals and businesses.