Previously I have written about how to save money on groceries. I admit that my approach to saving on groceries was a little simplified back then. My shopping habits also changed the longer I lived with my fiance.
In all honesty it does seem that our grocery spending has got a little out of control lately. While a big part of that was due to moving into our own condo where we have considerably more storage space, I do feel like we could be doing a better job in this area. So this post will hopefully get us refocused.
Reducing Food Waste
This is probably the strategy I’ve improved the most in over the years. In the past I would go into a grocery store with no plan at all and buy any food I like. Sometimes I’d even be shopping while hungry which would make the problem even worse. Somehow I would always find more snack food to buy that I just didn’t need.
Eventually I got into the mindset that wasting food was truly throwing away money. Yeah that’s pretty obvious but in the past I would just shrug it off as something unavoidable. I was just lying to myself though. Food doesn’t have to be wasted. Just ask my fiance. She cringes when I finish up what’s left on her plate…as if stuffing myself really makes any difference.
The key is to be more focused with your shopping. Know ahead of time what you will be buying and how you will use it all. If you just need a couple eggs, a cup of milk, a slice of cheese, etc, think of what you could use the rest for. Recently I threw away a mostly full carton of eggs. This could’ve been avoided via planning or minimized by getting a half carton instead. Even though it was only a few bucks, it did hurt a bit.
The other part of the battle is properly storing food. A couple months go I learned that onions and potatoes should be stored separately. Apparently the onions would make the potatoes go bad quicker. I also started storing bread in the fridge. Some people say it dries out the bread, but I don’t notice much differene and now I never throw out bread. Knowing things like this can really help.
I touched on this a little bit above. Meal planning and preventing food waste definitely go hand in hand. If you’re not planning your meals, you’re likely wasting food. This is actually something I was against when I wrote my previous post about spending less on groceries. I was insistent that planning would lead to buying things that were overpriced that week. To some degree that may be true, but you make up for that with reduced food waste and less trips to the grocery store.
The overlooked benefit of meal planning is that it can help you concentrate on less expensive meals. In the store you might walk by the steak or shellfish and get tempted to splurge. When you plan ahead and time and create a list, you get the chance to think about those meals. Seeing the week’s meals laid out you get a better idea if you can fit in that more expensive meal. Maybe it would convince you to plan some cheaper meals to balance it out.
If you have a flyer for your favorite grocery store, it would be a good idea to have it handy while doing your planning. Then your meals can revolve around which specific items are on special that week.
Watching for Sales
The big downside of meal planning that I mentioned can be combatted, at least with non-perishable items or ones that can be frozen. Simply take the time to browse the aisles for meals that you frequently cook. If a key ingredient is on sale that week, why not buy it even if you’re not on your meal list that week. You can always cook that meal the following week. If the sale is especially good and you have the storage space, it would probably make sense to buy even more.
For people with extra time on their hands, you could milk even more savings from products on sales by hitting up more than one store. In my case I feel that my time is better spent working on my blog. So I am willing to just shop at one store knowing that some items may be cheaper somewhere else that week. Not everyone is in that situation though. You know how valuable your free time is.
Grocery Store Selection
The store you choose to do your groceries at plays a big role in the bottom line too. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but here in Vancouver there is one store that is pretty much always the cheapest. It’s just a matter if you live close enough to that store and can put up with the crowds. When you’re shopping for groceries every week, the distance you have to drive should be factored in as the cost of the gas can outweigh savings. For us, the closer option is often $1 more for many items which makes the extra drive worthwhile.
At our old condo we also had the option to go to a small produce market that had awesome deals. They had all kinds of produce for $1 per bag. We would literally come out of there will a full shopping bag full of groceries for about $10. Unfortunately there isn’t a similar market close to us anymore. When we are in the neighborhood we try to stop by the old produce market.
If you’re not sure where to shop for the best deals, ask around to see where people who know shop. Or you can always shop around to find the store with the lowest pricing.
The great thing about the cheapest grocery store here is that their store brand is pretty solid. There are some things that I would rather buy a brand name, but then there are countless others where the difference is barely noticeable. Again this is something you should probably ask around about. I hate when I try the store brand only to find that it just doesn’t cut it. If it’s a single meal it’s not that big a deal, but it’s frustrating if it’s condiments or some other item you’d be using regularly.
When you do find the store brands that you do like, it can be significant savings each week. That way you’re not paying for fancy packaging and marketing. In some cases that product might even be manufactured by the big brands.
Avoiding Expensive Meals
All of the above tips won’t matter much if you choose to eat expensive meals. Just because you like lobster and tenderloin, it doesn’t mean that you need to eat that all the time. Think more practical. So many cheap meals can be quite tasty and nutritious.
I rarely eat any meals out of a can and usually don’t eat processed foods either. True those meals are incredibly cheap, but they aren’t as healthy and frankly I don’t like the taste as much. You do need to find a good balance between price and quality. Once in a while I will eat something like macaroni and cheese, but I like to take it up a notch by adding tuna and corn.
If you do like expensive meals, don’t totally deprive yourself. Still have that kind of food occasionally, but don’t convince yourself that you need it every single week. Try to make it more of a reward to have once a month or on special days.
This strategy tends to get a bad rap as it conjures up images of excessive hoarders. That is on the extreme level though. Ironically going to that level will often backfire when all of that food expires. Plus if you stock up to extreme levels it has got to start affecting your quality of life as you run out of convenient storage.
There can be a happy medium though. Instead of stocking up for the next decade, aim for several months at the most, unless you really do have a ton of storage space. Keep in mind when products will expire, especially since some products are much cheaper when the expiry date is getting closer.
The item that I tend to stock up on frequently is cereal. Because I eat that nearly every morning, it’s something that I know I will use up in a reasonable amount of time. I am getting close to getting carried away as my fiance was hassling me about noticing cereal in other cupboards. Really though I’ll use it all up before long. It was all bought for lower prices than normal. So if any of my favorite cereals aren’t at low prices, I just don’t buy cereal that week. That can be applied to any other food too.
I saved this one for last simply because it’s not as big in Canada. I don’t understand why it’s different in the US, but the coupon scene down there is huge. If they had coupons up here for free products I’d be all over it too. I doubt I’d ever get to the level of having a coupon scrapbook, but I would take advantage.
As much as I try to make an effort with coupons it just doesn’t seem to work out much. For a while there were decent coupons in my cereal, but it must’ve been too popular. The next time around you had to buy 2 boxes to get each coupon. Then you’d have to fill out a lengthy for and mail the forms in to get your coupons. Basically it became just a marketing gimmick and not something that they actually wanted people redeeming.
With the way coupons are here, it comes down to the value of your time. If they’re going to make me jump through too many hoops it’s just not worth it to me. Just like shopping around for deals, it’s something you should only be doing if you wouldn’t be making money with that time otherwise.
What about you? What strategies do you focus on to save money with grocery shopping?