When I go shopping, I have a strategy. Coupons, cards, and a shopping list are always present. Surprise visits and purchases to the grocery store happened twice or more a week before I started frugaling. Now, I’m aiming to make visits no more than once a week.
Over the past few months, my food costs have hovered around $400 per month. This was largely attributable to eating out expensively and frequently. Things are changing, and my wallet’s smiling because of it.
Stores attract you into staying longer and buying more. Their carefully crafted advertisements and shelves encourage lackadaisical shopping. Our busy lives beget rush purchases and frozen meals. The combination induces greater spending and wider waistlines.
There’s a solution to this. While it takes significant forethought, preparation is always cheaper to reactionary purchases and fixes. This is your plan to dominate the supermarket and pad your wallet:
Never Care About Brands
The shelves are a carefully crafted maze of prices and products. The key is to look low and to the side. Generally, you’ll find the more affordable and store brands there.
Interestingly, more and more store brands are being placed in-line with comparable products. This makes your decision and comparison much easier. Looking for Mini Wheats in the cereal aisle? At Target, you can expect to see their store brand (which tastes great!) right next to it.
This isn’t just about buying generic over brand name. This is about wholesale non-affiliation and de-identification. By losing brand recognition and identity, you’ll consistently make the financially frugal and sound purchase. Brand loyalty rewards the company and empties your wallet.
I’m ruthless when I enter a beauty/deodorant aisle. I’m not picky about smells, nor do I care what brand I wipe under my arms. Who should? I usually can find a stick for about $1 in a clearance section. By disavowing the brand recognition and desire, I save each and every day.
Savings: About $1 per item.
Bring A List, Check It Twice
I made this mistake one too many times. Here I was aimlessly wandering around the shelves, thinking about what I needed to get. The stores prey off this lack of (psychological) preparation. The concept of needs and wants morph into one and the same. Suddenly, you realize how much you’re missing.
The answer is simple, but requires solid preparation: make a list. Open your cupboards, refrigerator, underneath the sink, pantry; wherever you keep your food and household goods, peer in. Evaluate what you’re missing and what’s running low. You don’t want to run to the store and realize the next day that you’re running low on orange juice.
With a detailed list in hand, check it again. Feeling prepared and sure about everything you need will make you a confident shopper. Confidence is key for saving money and knowing what you need. There should be no excuses for extras or surprise purchases. Stick to the list like your budget depends on it; after all, it does.
Savings: About $10-15 per trip.
Plan Your Meals, Leftovers
“I’m tired and there’s nothing to eat.” After a long day of work and graduate school, this is a notorious budget killer. The solution sounds simple, but is very difficult in practice: plan your meals.
By strategizing what your week looks like for food, you prevent two spending slipups: One, you’re less likely to eat out. Two, it’s easier to follow your shopping list. Furthermore, this can be the single biggest cost-reduction tool possible.
One week. Seven days. At least three meals per day. That’s simple math: 21 meals. Honestly, I eat some pretty simple, regular, inexpensive breakfasts that I’d highly recommend. That takes out 7 meals right there. 14 meals need to be basically structured. It doesn’t mean that Tuesday I must eat salmon; rather, organizing your shopping list to be prepared to make any of these choices.
A great site for finding frugal, budget-conscious meals is Budget Bytes. The author, Beth, creates fabulous little recipes for simple cooks. Wherever you look for recipes, try to place them on certain days and consider expiration dates for foods.
Savings: Up to about $100-200 per month.
Pick Your Place, Time Wisely
The place you choose to shop at matters. Saving a few pennies, dimes, and quarters at one supermarket over another begins to add up. Like saving 3 cents per gallon on filling up your car, finding the most affordable store is important.
Loyalty programs are at nearly every store, as they aim to track spending and predict buying patterns from its customers. By giving away this data to companies, they can offer discounts to regular customers. When you find a place with consistently affordable products, stick with it.
Along with price points, evaluate the customer service staff. Are they attentive, present, and happy to help? Often, big-box retailers suffer in this domain, as there’s simply too much room to provide help to all the customers present. Local grocery stores tend to provide more hands-on help and know-how.
Lastly, wherever you shop, plan to show up early or late – never in between. One of the most popular times to shop is after traditional work hours: 5 or 6 PM. Secondarily, stores get slammed on Saturdays and Sundays. Make an effort to avoid these busy times, as the increased wait can cause frustration, poor service, and increased spending. By 8 or 9 PM most crowds have fizzled out.
Savings: Up to $0.25-.50 per item.