One of the ways that I have been able to save a lot of money is not only by cooking for myself, but also by being a smart shopper. I go grocery shopping once a week with a meal plan in place before I leave my house. By grocery shopping once a week I am able to better track what I am spending on a weekly basis as well as the added benefit of not having to run to the store for groceries several times a week.
What Is on Sale?
The first place to start when looking to save money grocery shopping is the weekly ad. I don’t choose what to make for the week until I see what is on sale. If chicken is on sale, I’ll create a dish for the week that use chicken. I typically base my menu off the items that are most expensive – protein, produce and dairy. In addition to looking at the weekly ad for the store that I frequent, it is always worthwhile to see if another store has great deals also. By splitting up the trip into 2 different stops, you can save a significant amount of money by getting all the great sale items at each store.
If there is an item that I particularly like on sale that I use often, I’ll purchase several of these to have in my pantry for meals in upcoming weeks. This tip is particularly helpful for meat which doesn’t always go on sale and can be frozen for upcoming weeks. My spending will sometimes vary greatly from one week to the next depending on the stock up items that I am purchasing, but my trade off is always having an inventory of the sale price items at home.
Save Money by Eating Healthier
After watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, Andy and I decided that for our health, we should cut down the amount of meat and dairy that we were eating. The benefit that we did not think about as much until we cut it out, was how much our grocery bill would go down as well. With meat being the most expensive item that we purchase, cutting our consumption down even a little made a big difference to our bottom line grocery bill. In the instances that we do eat meat, I always keep my eyes peeled for meat that is reduced for quick sale. This is meat that is close to the sell by date and needs to get out of the store before it can not be sold anymore. There is nothing wrong with this meat and it is typically half the original price. Since my meal calendar is already set, I typically purchase the meat and throw it in the freezer to use for an upcoming week’s meal plan.
Grocery Shopping at Low-cost Markets
I am fortunate enough to have an Aldi right down the street from me. Aldi’s concept is simple – they only carry the most commonly purchased grocery items, everything is store brand, there are everyday low prices instead of sales and there are no frills. In addition to having the majority of the items that I need to purchase, there is only 1 brand for each item cutting the time it takes for me to decide what I need to purchase, especially for items like salsa that can have an overwhelming number of choices in a traditional grocery store.
In addition to having an Aldi right by my house, I also have Stanley’s just down the street. Many cities have a similar type of store which carries discounted produce. I believe that they receive the castaway produce that the traditional grocery stores do not accept for one reason or another. There is a reason that the produce is discounted at Stanley’s as many of the items are not near ripe or need to be eaten very quickly. As long as you know or learn how to appropriately select fruits and vegetables, this is a non-issue. Even in times where I was not able to eat the produce before it went bad, I am still way ahead in terms of price compared to a traditional grocery store.
In the summer, when farmer’s markets are prevalent around the country, those are another good option for low cost produce. Living in Chicago, the prices are severely inflated compared to a store like Stanley’s which I imagine must also source their produce from local farmers. There are benefits to farmer’s markets outside of the cost though as they support local farmers and the food may be fresher than you would be able to buy in a store.
Good Habits for Grocery Shopping
A habit that I have had my whole life which I have learned from my mom is watching the register as my items are rung up. Most of the time everything will ring up correctly, but every once in a while they do not. Since I’m watching the prices I can stop the cashier and get the price adjusted to the correct price right on the spot. If you aren’t able to watch the register, make sure you check the receipt when you get home. The store should be able to make adjustments to any incorrectly scanned items at your next purchase.
One of the easiest ways to decrease your grocery bill significantly is to not purchase convenience foods such as ready to go frozen meals or pre-made meals from the deli counter. With a little bit of planning and some effort, you can spend a fraction of the cost to make your own food vs. buying ready to go food. If you have ever read the label on processed food it is amazing just how many ingredients they can cram into something. When you cook at home you know exactly what is in your food. A side benefit is that you’ll also impress family and friends with your ability to cook food from scratch.
Something that Andy and I do not do as often as we should is to splurge and buy some really great ingredients for a special night in instead of going out to eat. Even a relatively inexpensive meal out can easily be $50 between 2 entrees, 2 drinks, tax and tip. For less than that, we can purchase the best ingredients at a high end grocery store like Whole Foods for all of the ingredients and have some money left over for a nice bottle of wine.
While it takes some planning, saving money on grocery shopping is not hard to do and is certainly fulfilling when you’re able to create amazing dinners for little cost. Once you get into it, it can become a challenge of sorts to see how much money you can save.