Happy Friday! As we head into the weekend, let’s talk about something we all have to do and we can all probably be a little better at: smart grocery shopping. This is such a broad topic and there are so many avenues to explore, so don’t worry, we’ll continue exploring how to save money on your groceries! Today, we’re starting with the basics.
Last year, my boyfriend and I would eat so well for the week after pay day, and by the end of the month we were living on the college diet. I finally got so sick of our grocery shopping strategy (or lack thereof) and decided enough was enough. We started budgeting $25 a week for groceries, and that was that. End of story. It was tough in the beginning, though I gradually began figuring out tips and tricks to save a few precious dollars (with a budget that tight, every penny counted!). Once we moved in with my boyfriend’s two twenty-something-year-old brothers, I shopped for four people… who can eat a lot. I’m very proud to say we keep our grocery budget at $50 per week—and here I’m outlining how we make that happen by implementing these successful grocery shopping habits.
Where and when add up.
It’s not rocket science that sales = savings, therefore you should search the sales. Can you imagine if grocery shopping was actually that easy? While I certainly don’t have all the answers (um, please introduce me to someone who does), here are several tips and tricks to consider for sales and price awareness.
Download Flipp to check your local grocery stores for sales. Always check the sales before you make your grocery list—it’s the first place to start because those sales should dictate your week’s meal plans and, therefore, your grocery list. This app is so helpful to find all your local deals, and it’s free!
Confirm your local grocery stores are in a good price range. For instance, if you shop at Whole Foods but can get the same items at Sprouts for a few bucks cheaper, wouldn’t it be worth the switch? I get amazed (and pissed off) by the different prices and sales at each grocery store! It was painful when I realized the grocery store right by our old apartment cost more for almost everything than so many other ones in the area. By driving an additional five minutes down the road, we could have saved hundreds and hundreds of grocery dollars that year. Take advantage of those discount stores and make sure you aren’t paying more than you have to!
Always buy your produce and meat on sale. I repeat, always buy your produce and meat on sale. The only exceptions are purchasing these items at large bulk stores, like Costco or Sam’s Club, or passing them up for the more expensive but not completely shitty meats (this rule only applies to meats, because even discounted fatty chicken breasts are gross). Take advantage of peak season for your favorite produce—those fruits and veggies are growing faster than people can buy ‘em, which means awesome sales for you!
Be mindful of the pound price for frozen vs. fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen veggies long forgotten have helped our household out of a dinner jam too many times to count, but I’ve personally found that (unless you buy frozen at the bulk stores) it’s best to purchase your weekly veggies in the produce aisle when they’re on sale. Fruits for smoothies are a staple in my household, so I’m always keeping an eye out for fresh fruit sales because a pound of fresh fruit is cheaper than a pound of frozen fruit if it’s peak season! Remember, you can always freeze fresh fruit if you can’t finish it while it’s ripe.
Look at the cost per ounce if you’re debating between brands or sizes. My roommate pointed out this tiny print under the price right out of college, and it blew my mind. I’m not saying you have to buy the cheapest option, but be aware of the cost per ounce for all your staples. Will it benefit your month’s grocery budget if you buy the 30-egg carton now, as opposed to buying a dozen weekly?
Keep your coupons visible so they stay top of mind. I am no coupon queen. I’m not even a coupon princess. Maybe like the cousin of a coupon duchess—as in, I love coupons, but holy crap there is a whole science to it that is way beyond me (and other normal people, I imagine). However, that’s not to say I don’t appreciate a coupon of a staple food when it comes my way! Instead of sticking the awesome coupon in the random miscellaneous drawer we all have at home (ours is called the Drawer of Knowledge), just put it on your fridge. Find somewhere you know for a 100%-no-way-Jose-will-I-forget fact to stick that sucker, so next time you’re prepping to go to the grocery store, BAM! It’s right there and you’ll actually use it, instead of discovering it three months after the expiration date in the Drawer of Knowledge.
I know we get excited about a new meal plan or recipe we found on Pinterest (we’ve all done it), but stop and ask yourself this one question before you run off to the grocery store, waving cash in the air and skipping with glee at the thought of how you’ll make the delicious results into an Instagram post.
Do you already have any other ingredients that could also work well for this dish? I mean it, dig deep and find your inner flexible chef. Because is it really necessary for you to go buy one type of cheese when you already have another in the fridge? Would vegetables you already have be good instead for this meal? And why buy spices and seasoning you know you’ll never use again?
I know, I know, recipe ingredients are important, but seriously reconsider how important they are, and whether you can save some money by just using what you already have.
The many uses matter.
Wasted food makes me cringe—I flat out don’t let it happen, but it took some adjustments to my grocery habits to figure out the best way to use all the food I buy.
That means when you reach out for any item at the grocery store, keep it a rule of thumb to be able to think of at least two uses for it. Creating your grocery list from a variety of Pinterest or meal plan recipes is a sure fire way to rack up the grand total, so do your best to stick to the basics. Pick one or two recipes for the week (with ingredients that go with other meals if there’ll be extras!) and go with this formula for the rest of the dinners: Filler + Vegetables + Protein.
Beans, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice pasta, lentils
Dark or leafy greens, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, bell pepper, mushrooms, squash, onion, corn, carrots, olives, cauliflower, green peas, brussel sprouts, avocado, etc.
Chicken, ground turkey, salmon, shrimp, white fish, eggs
The above are among my household staples, which don’t include dairy or gluten. You get the idea though—I recommend creating your own formula chart that includes your household staples! Feel free to throw in something else from your pantry into the mix—like pasta sauce (hint: get fireroasted diced tomatoes and add it to the sauce for double the amount at half the cost).
Make awareness a habit.
Simply be aware of the various price options. Be aware of what you’re spending and why. I get it, it can be overwhelming to adjust your grocery habits and you can chalk it up to not having enough time or energy when you’re shopping, so you just grab what you know where you’re familiar buying from. Or those meal plans with all sorts of recipes make your life a little easier. I completely understand, and there’s no pressure to change your grocery-buying habits overnight.
But ask yourself how you can simplify your grocery list. Buy something because you trust you are getting it for a good price. Buy it with full confidence that all of it will be eaten. Once I tuned in and got into the habit of asking myself if I truly thought I was being efficient with my grocery spending, I was surprised how much more aware I was about everything—from sales, price comparisons, ingredient necessities, and so much more.
Without further ado, I wish you the best of luck with your grocery shopping! Please let me know if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to discuss this more! What do you think of your grocery spending habits? How do you want to improve them?