Whether you’re feeding yourself or an entire family, grocery shopping can get expensive. In fact, a recent study by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that food is the third largest household expense behind housing and transportation. That could take a big bite out of any budget.
Here are some tips to trim the fat off your food costs and save money on groceries:
Make a list
This tried-and-true method has been around for decades. Although it may seem like a simple idea, creating a truly effective grocery list takes some effort. The next time you start making a list, try some of the following concepts to increase your efficiency in the aisles:
- Keep a pen and pad in the kitchen to jot down what needs replacing
- Plan meals for the week and write down what ingredients you need per meal
- Double-check what you have in your fridge and pantry to avoid buying duplicates
- Use the list function on your smartphone or consider a grocery list app
Coupons offer value to any grocery shopper. In addition to clipping store coupons found in newspapers and weekly mailers, be sure to look for manufacturer coupons online as well. Websites like coupons.com offer printable coupons for dozens of stores and products.
If you do use coupons, remember to exercise caution and stick to your list. Don’t buy an item you don’t need just because there’s a coupon for it. It may be helpful to make your list first before you look for coupons. This way your list won’t be influenced by items you don’t necessarily need to buy.
Join loyalty programs
As stores compete for business, many of them offer loyalty programs to attract and retain customers. If you regularly shop at certain stores, it’s definitely worth your while to take advantage of these programs. After all, you should get rewarded for your loyalty.
Perks of loyalty programs can include exclusive offers, promotions and freebies1. If you want to inquire about a program at your local store, speak with the cashier the next time you are checking out.
Here are some questions that may be helpful to ask prior to signing up:
- What kind of loyalty program do you offer?
- What are the perks of the program?
- Do the points or rewards expire at any point?
- Can the rewards be combined with other store discounts or manufacturer coupons?
Learn the layout
You may have noticed that grocery store layouts follow a pattern. The aisles may appear to be categorized by product but there is more to story. Layouts are set up the way they are because retailers understand shopper habits and formulate their floor plans to encourage spending2. They want you to find what you need easily but not without noticing other products to entice you along the way.
For example, most stores purposely place items that go together on opposite ends of the aisle or store. The thinking here is - the more products you walk past, the more likely you will add them to your cart. You may also have noticed that items such as meat and dairy are located at the back of the store. This strategy tempts shoppers into grabbing extra items as they make their way to and from the meat and dairy sections.
Pay attention to how your store is structured the next time you go shopping. Learning the layout can help keep you on course and avoid impulse purchases.
Avoid pre-cut items
Pre-cut and pre-packaged items may seem like a big time-saver but you’ll pay for the convenience. For example, an uncut watermelon may cost $2.99 but a cut and cubed watermelon could cost $5.99. It may be more time-consuming to do the chopping yourself but you can save money by doing the labor at home.
Other examples of how much pre-cut foods can cost include:
- Potatoes - uncut $1.26/lb., cut $3.11/lb.
- Pineapple - uncut $2.75/lb., cut $4.28
- Onions - uncut $0.99/lb., cut $4.65
- Green beans - uncut $2.25/lb., cut $6.56
- Kale - uncut $2.80, cut $11.67
Eat what you buy
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four in the U.S. throws away nearly $1,500 worth of food every year3. Whether the food expires or it’s forgotten about, throwing food in the trash is like throwing money in the trash. There are methods to stop this waste and it all begins with paying attention to what you buy.
For starters, pay attention to the expiration date when you purchase the item. If you accidentally buy something that expires soon, you may end up having to throw it away. Another effective way to reduce food waste is to sort through your fridge and pantry once a week. This will allow you to identify what items are about to expire so you can plan meals before the food goes bad.
For more tips on planning, preparing and storing food to reduce waste, please review this article by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The last bite
If you have an appetite for cost-effective habits, saving money on your groceries could satisfy your needs. Hopefully these tips will help you make smarter shopping choices the next time you hit the aisles.