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Woohoo! We had a huge response to the first part in our series for money saving tips when buying groceries! So many people reached out to tell us how helpful the tips in Part 1 were for saving money. We were really excited to get that feedback and want to help you save even more.
Lisa and I have a long list of tips to share with you! However, we tend to feel overwhelmed when we get too much information at one time, so we breaking up our tips into small easy-to-digest amounts. Here are 6 more tips to help you save money on your next trip to the grocery store.
1) Take the time to make a grocery list
It doesn’t matter how good your memory is, making a grocery list will help deter you from buying things you don’t need and help you remember what you DO need (ex: when you are distracted after running into your friend at the store). I have a policy that “if it isn’t on the list, I don’t buy it.”
By the way, that’s a great tip for when you have kids with you! I tell my boys that if that treat they want isn’t on the list then I’m not buying it (there are very occasional times when I let them get a treat not on our list). Then we go through the process of checking the list to see if it’s on there. They usually try to convince me to buy it anyway but I stick to my list line.
2) Pre-cut or pre-packaged food will cost you extra
Stores will charge as much as $1-$3 extra per pound for the convenience of buying food pre-washed, cut up, peeled or shucked (think corn), or pre-packaged (think pre-packaged items from the bulk bins).
Instead of paying the extra money to save yourself 5-10 minutes, buy the whole product and prepare it yourself. You’ll save tons over time.
3) Start your own herb garden
If you are buying fresh herbs at the grocery store, you are literally throwing your money out the window. Instead, invest in some seeds and a few pots (or better yet, use your yard space!) and grow your own herbs. It’s so much cheaper!
Here is an example: I spent $3 on a cilantro plant several years ago. In one month it bolted (went to seed) so I needed to buy another cilantro plant if I wanted to continue having fresh cilantro. What a waste of money! Instead of repeatedly buying these plants (or buying them at all), buy a seed packet (you can even get organic seeds for cheaper than the plant) and grow your own plants. That way if the plant dies or goes to seed, you can easily, quickly and cheaply just grow another plant from your seeds.
4) Buy cheese blocks….and grate your own cheese.
You really do pay for the convenience of buying pre-grated cheese (not to mention the added ingredients to keep the cheese from clumping and getting moldy). Instead, use a simple grater and grate your own cheese. It tastes way better, melts better, and saves money at the same time. The extra 2-3 minutes it takes to grate your own cheese is worth it when it comes to the taste and cost savings of “fresh” cheese!
5) Use up your pantry
I am embarrassed but have to admit that this is a big one for me!
Americans tend to throw away up to 40% of their food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of solid waste. This rotting food accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year.
To change this habit, start going through your refrigerator and pantry each week to look for items that were forgotten or are about to expire and use them up.
6) Shop the sales
I remember the first time I heard that there was a rotating sale schedule – it was earth shattering to me. I laugh at myself now, but I literally thought that things went on sale randomly or solely according to holiday schedules – like stuffing mixes and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.
As it turns out, most items have a rotation sales schedule. This means that every so often (6 weeks, 2 months, quarter, after holidays, the end of the season, etc) they go on sale. The goal is to stock up during the sales so that you don’t need to buy them at full price. Use a spreadsheet like this one to write down the dates or week of the sale and keep track of the cycle (you can see an example of this spreadsheet in use below).
While this spreadsheet is targeted toward grocery items, it can be adapted for almost any item that you buy. You can also upload this spreadsheet to Google sheets to have mobile access on your phone for easy updates. Note that if you are pushed for time, you don’t need to track prices during your shopping trip; you can use your receipts or even grocery sale flyers to do this.
The most important part of using a spreadsheet is to track the per unit pricing on each item—think price per pound, gallon, loaf, etc. (Most price labels at the grocery store show that but you can easily calculate it yourself by dividing the total price of the item by the unit—e.g., $2.50/16 ounces is 15.6 cents per ounce.) By doing this, you are able to compare apples to apples, so to speak, when items come in differing sizes. An example would be comparing the cost of the 16-ounce bottle on sale versus a competitor’s 32-ounce version.
When you begin doing this, we suggest that you start by tracking just a few items (perhaps 10 to 20 items) that you buy most often, to make it easier. You can always expand your tracking as you become more accustomed and adept with your tracking system.
Mobile apps are a great option, since you are likely to always have your phone with you, and many apps contain smart features like highlighting the lowest prices or price comparison between stores, saving you time.
Try incorporating one or more of these tips from Part 2 of our series. Small changes in shopping habits can make a huge impact on your budget. By creating a food list, preparing food and grating cheese yourself, using up your pantry items and shopping sales, you can save tons of money over the course of a month or a year. If you haven’t read Part 1 in our series, check it out!
Tell us in the comments…were any of these tips new information for you?