Great Savings 11: Saving Money On Groceries


What's on your grocery shopping list?

Become a better grocery shopper. It’s not just about money it’s about your health.

Grocery shopping takes a huge bite out of most family budgets. As a significant portion of our grocery purchases are discretionary, the way we go about shopping becomes a key factor in controlling whether and how we spend or save money, and thus, how we build wealth. As we learned in Great Savings Tip #10, saving even a few pennies on the items we purchase most often results in saving thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Yet money isn’t the only issue at stake when it comes to shopping for the food we eat. Of equal importance is to buy the right kinds of food so we eat healthy meals and snacks and end up feeling and looking our best. To save money and time, and to embrace a healthier lifestyle, try these 10 super smart grocery shopping tips:


Eat healthy snacks.

If you’re in a hurry, grab a handful of almonds or some carrots before you go shopping.

(1) Eat Before You Go.


Running around on an empty stomach is a bad idea. When our stomachs are empty our brains interpret it as if we’re in starvation mode. That’s why anything and everything we see looks so good and we end up gorging on sweets and fatty foods. Now only does that cost in terms of impulse buying, but it adds unhealthy extra pounds. To avoid the temptation to buy extra food or junk food you don’t need, fill up your tummy with a healthy meal or snack before you go shopping. Now, while you’re at it, push your cart right past those free samples the store clerks hand out. You’ll save time, money, and your diet in the process.


(2) Plan Ahead.


Plan several meals before you hit the store so you know what to buy. Also, check your social calendar before shopping. If it’s Monday and you plan to entertain on Friday, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be hitting the store Thursday. When possible wait until Thursday to go shopping. Fewer trips means saving gas. Plus, if you buy fresh foods closer to the day of your dinner party, everything will taste better and you’ll experience less spoilage—that saves money, too.


Our great savings tip series contines(3) Make A Food Budget And Stick To It.


Making a budget may seem hard, but it’s well worth the time and effort in your quest to save money. Do you know the amount you spend on food every month? Don’t guess. Instead, work with real numbers. Here’s a 3 step process:


Step 1: Calculate your average weekly food expenses. The point is to get a reasonable weekly food budget. If you use financial software like Quicken this may be as easy as running a report. Otherwise, review your checkbook, bank or online statements. Look for any purchases made at the grocery store in the last three months and add them up. Once you get a total divide by 13 (for the number of weeks in 3 months). The number you end up with is your average weekly food cost and is a good starting point for a budget. Ask yourself if the amount is reasonable. If it sounds high or low, you may want to go back and check your figures.


Put some cash aside for groceries.

Get cash for your weekly grocery expenses and set aside 10% for bargains or special meals or holidays.

Step 2: Test your weekly budget and shop with all cash. Go to the bank and withdraw the weekly budgeted amount. For example, if your budget is $150 withdraw that amount of cash. Now, take 10% off the top for food savings. An easy trick to accomplish this is to drop the last digit in a number. In this case drop the zero and you get $15. That’s 10%. Now, subtract $15 from $150 and you end up with $135. This is the amount of money you’ll use to do your grocery shopping. Put the extra $15 aside in a safe, secure place. Here comes your test: Does $135 pay for all the groceries you buy during the week? If it does, you’ll slowly build a reserve from the amount you’re putting aside. You can use the reserve as a means to save, to cover emergencies, or to fund special food purchases throughout the year (i.e. bulk purchases that offer incredible value or the extra food you buy for the holidays).


Step 3: As you shop keep a running total in your head. This takes a bit of practice but is a great tool to keep from overspending. Forget pennies, and convert every price to the nearest dollar. If an item costs $1.84, call it $2 when you add it to your mental total and put it in your basket. If an item costs $3.47, call it $3. If you buy enough items, the total at the checkout stand will be surprisingly close to your estimate. If it feels like you round down more than round up, add an extra dollar or two to even things out. If you get to the checkout and you’ve gone over budget, pick an item and ask the clerk to take it off your bill. Knowing what the bill will be before it comes due is the surest way to stay on track.



(4) Clip Coupons, Buy Bulk, Look For Bargain Deals.


These days most grocery stores try to develop store loyalty by asking you to sign up for their “savings” card. This is good because you get a discount. What is often overlooked is the extra savings you get by clipping coupons, buying bulk or taking advantage of a store’s bargain deals. Look for coupons in mailers, newspapers and online. Start a file. A small pouch you keep in the car will always insure your coupons are handy when you need them. Also, take advantage of bulk buys or bargain deals by tapping into your budgeted food savings when appropriate (see Step 2 in the tip above for more information).


Get a smart phone application to handle your grocery shopping needs.

Are you taking advantage of your smart phone or iTouch? Find a good grocery shopping app.

(5) Download An App.


If you own a smartphone, check out the available apps for shopping or grocery shopping. Some help you build customized shopping lists, share lists with friends or a loved-one, scan barcodes, check for deals, track coupon savings or even replace your store loyalty saving’s card. To locate an app that’s right for you  type  the words “grocery shopping app” into your favorite search engine. Meanwhile, we’ve included a few that may be worth a look: GroceryiQ – Everything you need including a favorites list, online list sharing, bar code scanner and integrated coupons. Coupon Sherpa – Replaces coupons. Displays a scan-able image or code. Key Ring – Replaces store loyalty cards. Scans in the bar code image so you don’t need all those cards on your key ring. Compare Me – Tells you when to buy bulk and when not to. Calculates the best price. Shopper – Create and share shopping lists. Get local shopping deals. If you know of a good app, please be sure to share it with our readers in the comments below.



(6) Make A List And Check It Twice.


Grocery lists are important.

If using paper, get long pads with lines and write legibly.

Grocery lists are important. How many times have you come home from the store only to learn you forgot to buy a particular item? Post-it notes may seem convenient for list making, but if you end up writing illegibly or writing too small you will often miss an item. If you don’t have an app for your phone or prefer to use paper, it’s better to use a longer note pad (one with lines). Put one item on each line and take a pen or pencil to check off the items as you go. Better still, group similar items (e.g. all produce) together. This way you’re more apt to remember all the items on your list, and you’ll do less running back and forth in the store. A good list also saves gas as it reduces extra trips. Finally, an important reason to shop by a list is to avoid making extra impulse buys. The stores love it when you make impulse buys because you’ll spend more money. Avoid them whenever possible.


There are only two reasons to deviate from your list: (1) You forgot to put an item on it in the first place, or (2) you spot an item you use all the time that happens to be on sale. If it’s not on your list or doesn’t fall into these categories, don’t buy it. Over the long haul you’ll save thousands of dollars.


If you’d like to download an online ready-to-go shopping list, check out They have extensive pre-built grocery lists you can print for free, including many made just for healthy eating options.


Do you shop for groceries alone? Get a buddy instead.

It’s a lot more fun to go with a friend, plus you’ll gas.

(7) Find A Shopping Buddy.


To be sure you’re getting the best value, poll your friends and find out who is the savviest shopper around. Or if health is your biggest concern, find out who knows the most about buying organic food or how to select healthier foods. This might be especially useful if you suddenly find out you’re diabetic, need to watch your cholesterol or are concerned about pesticides or toxins in food. Once you figure out who can help set up a shopping date. If it takes an incentive offer to drive. Carpooling saves gas and the time spent together is a great way to enhance a friendship. A shopping buddy can give you an idea of which stores offer the best value, or clue you into the best shopping app for your smartphone. Buddies can also keep you posted on special deals they hear about. Some people seem built to shop and others hate it. If you fall into the second group, be sure to hook up with someone who loves shopping.


(8) Avoid Shopping For Food On Auto-pilot.


When we’re emotional, especially when stressed or depressed, it’s easy to be focused on all the thoughts and feelings swimming around in our brains. What happens in the process is we become less aware of the things going on all around us. As a result we can miss out on sales, not take advantage of bulk pricing, skip an item or two on our list, miss saying hi to familiar faces we run into, and so on. To make sure you save the most money and have the most enjoyable shopping experience try to stay present with your feelings. A few tricks that help: Take a big breath or two before you go into the store. Tell yourself you have time to enjoy the experience and to give those other thoughts and feelings a rest. Now, change up your usual store routine by going the opposite direction up and down the aisles. On your shopping list it can also help write down a reminder to breath deeply or smile as you shop. Try smiling at other shoppers as you pass them in the aisles. If you have a huge shopping trip planned, you can also arrange to get help from a family member or shopping buddy, or break up your shopping in two trips so it’s not overwhelming.


(9) Avoid Processed Or Manufactured Foods.


I'm ready to BBQ!

Learn to cook for yourself. The food will taste so much better and be better for you.

There’s no arguing that many of the food choices available in the grocery stores are convenient. Go to a deli and you can buy ready to eat fare. Or go to the freezer section and all you need to cook a meal is a microwave or oven. Unfortunately, prepared foods are frequently more expensive and typically less healthy than cooking from scratch. You know that’s true when you look at a food nutrition label and see it contains all that added sugar and fat. The best bet toward improving health is to learn to love cooking. That way you know what’s in your meals. Two tips to avoid all that processed junk: (1) Stick to the “outside” aisles as you go to do your shopping. Most grocery stores are arranged so that fresh produce, fresh meat, fresh fish and dairy are on these outer aisles. Spend most of your shopping time here and you’re bound to eat more healthy fare. (2) If you find fresh produce is often spoiling in your refrigerator you may discover it pays to buy certain frozen fruits and vegetables. Good examples are frozen peas, corn or spinach or frozen berries. For more on healthy eating see our “Real Help With Weight Loss Series”.


(10) Teach The Kids To Be Good Shoppers.


When children turn bratty or unruly in a store it can be a huge source for stress and embarrassment. To save a ton of grief stick to the above tips like glue. A firm set of rules turns out to be your best weapon for controlling the kid’s behavior. However, two rules that are absolutely essential are to: (1) feed the kids a healthy snack or meal before you go shopping and (2) never stray from the list. These two tactics do wonders when the kids see things they suddenly want. If tummies are full of healthy food the kids should be less wired and less tempted by the things they see. And if you stick to the list you can always say, “You know we only buy things on the list so we don’t overspend.” To make sure the kids feel included and their feelings or opinions are important skip the bribes or special treats, and treat grocery shopping as an important family chore—one you all pitch in to do together. Have them help you make the list before you go out shopping, show them how to select healthy foods and be sure to include them as you put the groceries away. These activities will promote a sense of self-worth for contributing their effort to family goals, teach them the importance of planning ahead, teach them about making good food choices, and teach excellent shopping habits for the day they start living on their own.


Action Item: Ready to go shopping? Start by calculating your average weekly food budget and then work up a grocery list. Next, find a friend or family member who wants to be your shopping buddy. Now, arrange for a time and go.


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