The best ways to save on your groceries require a little more effort but man are they worth it. Update your spending habits and don't forget to: make a list, use coupons, utilize rewards programs, pay attention to expiration dates (but don't trust 'em), use the 2-day rule for perishables, stock up on standbys, don't buy brands or organics and plan your spending!
Sometimes, life is great and you have a ton of shows to watch on Netflix and you have amazing leftovers and all is RIGHT IN THE WORLD. Then, other times, you end up re-watching Friends alone on your couch and the only contents in your fridge are ketchup, an expired yogurt and something in a jar then has definitely created it's own little, terrifying ecosystem. Call me a romantic, but a lot of my mood depends on the amount and deliciousness of the food available to me. I don't have a Facebook anymore (if I see my aunt post more pictures of her grand kids one more time I'm going to LOSE IT) but if I did, my relationship status would be "In a Relationship With Delicious, Delicious Food". Don't worry, it's an open relationship, me and pizza and tacos and bagels and all my other food lovers have an understanding.
Are you, like me, deeply and wildly in love with food? Or are you sitting at your computer thinking to yourself that this girl is clearly unhinged? It's fine. I am. But that's beside the point! I am a lover of food but I am also a lover of deals. Sure, you can go to Whole Foods and ball out on organic oranges; been there, done that, no regrets. But you can eat just as wonderfully with a much smaller budget.
What can you use this extra money on? A necklace with your name on it! 3 packs of gum! Buying your own Netflix account so you don't have to keep using your ex-boyfriend's! Buy a pen! Buy many pens! I don't know, there's lots of glorious options when it comes to how you can spend this extra money and I support pretty much all of them. Except for buying music, because that's downright un-American.
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So, on to the tips for saving dolla dolla bills on your groceries:
Source: Bless the Weather
A lot of what eats up my grocery budget (well, if I had one) is trying out new things. Oh, that yogurt looks good! Look, it's an apple mixed with a plum mixed with a banana, better give that a whirl! Mmm, it's organic mac and cheese so it's probably healthy, 4 boxes of that please! These are unnecessary expenditures. It's a good idea to find a couple of good staples that you can eat a couple of times a week. For me, that's quinoa, sweet potatoes and havarti cheese, and salad. I switch up my other meals but these are a few things I can eat throughout the week and, minus the salad, they last pretty long. So I stock up on uncooked quinoa (this last forever and you can add in different veggies, cheeses or toppings when you have 'em), sweet potatoes and haravati cheese (microwave your potato for 3 mins on each side, depending on the size, and you can have a mean baked potato). For the salad, I stock up on the toppings (feta cheese, dried pine nuts, dried blueberries and walnuts) and then I pick up salad whenever I need it!
Source: Huffington Post
It can be very tempting to buy brand-name items. Please ignore this temptation. In most cases, brands are no better, no different and no more amazing then their cheaper store version. The only thing brands are better at is making you feel something. You remember that one cheerios commercial with the mom and the kid sharing a bowl of cereal and you tear up a little and then BOOM you're spending $3.45 on a small box of cheerios when you could be getting the same exact thing for $2.23 (except their box is a little less snazzy and their name is Yum-o's). Don't fall for it. This is just one of that ways that marketing clouds your judgement.
Remember that you are paying for that name, the branding and that happy little feeling you get when you buy Philadelphia Cream Cheese instead of the slightly less appealing (though in every other way identical) store cream cheese. While the difference of a dollar or two doesn't seem like a lot, when you add this up over multiple items, on multiple trips, all throughout the year that $1 could add up to a significant chunk of change. So go generic! You can still cry at the commercial, it's a free country after all.
The same logic applies to organic fruits and veggies. Unless you have money to burn (in which case, wow you need a new hobby) organic fruits, veggies, and meats are just not worth the cost. Check out this list of the differing price of organic foods. If you're looking to cut costs, skipping the organic foods will definitely add up to a smaller bill and over time, this difference can be quite impressive. Check out this chart for further information:
Source: Consumer Reports
It's pretty common knowledge at this point that expiration dates are not all they are cracked up to be. With some items, yeah, it's vital (have you ever smelled expired milk?) but with others, the expiration date may be pretty arbitrary, listed as too soon, or just pulled out of thin air. An important way to save on your grocery bill is to be very mindful when you are buying perishables. To accomplish this I limit the amount of items that will expire soon, I check the expiration date of everything I buy, and I use the 2-day rule.
The 2-day rule boils down to this: don't buy more perishables then you will realistically eat within 2 days of getting home. So, you can buy 1 yogurt if you'll have it tomorrow, but buying 4 yogurts and hoping you'll eat them all before they expire? That's a recipe for disaster. I cannot tell you how much good food I have had to mournfully throw away because I didn't eat it in time, it expired, and when I smelled it there was the distinct sense of sadness and decay.
Another tip: when you're buying an item, check a couple of the items and always choose the furthest expiration date. Spend just a couple more seconds and you can buy yourself a couple extra days, just by double checking more then 1 bottle/can/etc.
I think we all know that shopping at Whole Foods, while a fun and exhilarating one-time experience, is going to cost you a whole. lot. more. In fact, Business Insider did a price comparison between Whole Foods and Kroger and found that a whole foods basket weighed in at a whopping $60 more then the Kroger equivalent! Grocery stores around you are regional, so they will vary from place to place, but check out what options you have around you and do a price comparison. Look on their website when available and compare a certain item (like ketchup, honey or apples) or you can do a full shop at your top 2 competitors and compare the overall price. You can even just google the store and there will be plenty of info on which places offer the most competitive prices. Often, you will find that bigger stores have the cheapest prices but some items are cheaper at mom and pop fruit stands, smaller stores or elsewhere.
My favorite place to shop is Grocery Outlet (I mean, the full name is Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, so that really says it all). They offer discounted prices on food that is surplus, expiring soon or that other grocery stores do not want or need for some reason. Of course, another great place is Trader Joe's, offering healthy, delicious foods at some of the cheapest prices nationwide.
Saving on groceries is all about incremental changes. A few cents seems like nothing at first but over time, those cents add up to dollars, and over the course of a year those dollars add up to hundreds more in your pocket.
Two things you should definitely be taking advantage of are: rewards programs and coupons, coupons, coupons! Rewards programs vary depending on which grocery store you shop at, but it's often as easy as entering your email, signing up with your phone number or filling out a sheet with your basic info. You can check with your cashier, the store manager or you can go ahead and search you grocery store's website and see what kinds of savings and discounts they offer! Go ahead and sign up for their emails while you're at it and you can get savings and specials right to your inbox.
When you are looking to save, coupons should always be a big part of your plan. Couponing is time consuming but again, the savings you get add up over time. Check your local store's weekly ad for any specials or coupons and then, if you have certain items that you know you want there's also manufacturer coupons that you can apply on top of store savings. You can also check out certain money-saving grocery apps like these:
I'm sure you've heard this advice before but man, is it true: MAKE A DANG LIST ALREADY. Yes, this requires forethought and a tiny bit of effort but it truly pays off. Make yourself a grocery list before you head out and you will save time (because you finally know where you are going), and money (having a list decreases the amount of impulse buys you'll do) and it will give you peace of mind. You can also use the list app "Wunderlist" to easily input and check off what items you need right as you think of them. I add to my list throughout the week, double check it before heading out and confirm I don't have any of the things listed and then check off each item as I get it in the grocery store.
You can also write out a list on designated notepad with sections for 1. staples 2. perishables and 3. maybes. It really depends on how OCD you want to be with it. Plus, leave room for one or two impulse buys to satisfy that craving. Making each of these things a habit will pay off in the long run. If you put in a little more effort and forethought into your grocery shopping you will be rewarded with: more money, more time, delicious food that doesn't break the bank!