Grocery shopping is a tough area for me to wrap my head around when I think of it from a financial perspective. I've always liked to be able to save as much money as possible, and I'm a huge fan of efficiency.
So grocery shopping becomes a war for me because the majority of inexpensive foods that “get the job done” are terrible for me to eat. I'm a fan of supporting local farms and farmers, but their food costs a bit more than it does from WalMart or Costco.
I, of course, have to take into consideration healthy eating for my long term health and the health of my family, but because I'm so used to looking at things from a minimal or frugal perspective that a simple trip to get some vegetables results in a massive internal struggle.
“How much more does the organic version cost? And where is the organic version from? Crap, the non-organic version is from Canada, but the organic version is from California. The organic version costs 25% more, but because it is from the southern US it appears already past its shelf life, whereas the local version grown using chemicals and pesticides looks much healthier. Hmm, perhaps that's only because it was grown with chemicals that it looks healthier, but it reality it actually isn't! Is there anyone that can verify the vitamin C per gram of this orange?”
Luckily my wife is much better at making produce purchasing decisions than I am, so I am sure to take her along with me (or the other way around) when we run low on food in the fridge. Besides letting me go shopping, here are three things that you can do in order to save time and money at the grocery store.
Plan Your Grocery Shop
First you need to plan your shop in advance. I'm not a big fan of coupon cutting, as I figure that the time it takes to find things on sale, cut the coupon, go to multiple different grocery stores, figure out a meal that involves the on-sale items, find other things to go with that meal, and so on, is not a very effective use of your time. However, I do believe that it is worthwhile to plan what meals you'll be having so that you don't make unnecessary purchases.
One of the biggest frustrations that I have is when we purchase food, don't use it in time, and then it goes bad. For me, this is just throwing away money that could have been used elsewhere. Of course, no matter how well you plan, life will always happen and sometimes you'll end up wasting food. That's normal, but you can reduce the likelihood of this happening through some simple planning.
If you eat all your meals at home, figure out most of what you'll be eating that week. Knowing what you'll be eating will let you know what you should be purchasing.
Consider the Food You Already Have
From that week's food plan, figure out what you already have and what you'll need to buy in order to make those meals.
What we like to do is have “staples” in the fridge at all times. These are things like sandwich meat and cheese, so that at any point if nothing else we'll have food for making sandwiches for lunches. That is often what I bring with me to work every day, so always having those on hand is necessary.
We'll do the same things for breakfast foods like eggs, peanut butter and jam. They are staples that we re-purchase whenever we run low.
Then, we'll buy stuff depending on what we want to eat that week. Sometimes we'll go through our freezer and look at what we already have, and then base some meals around some meat that we have, or some frozen vegetables that need to be used up.
So our grocery list usually looks like a combination between repurchasing staples, and getting specific things that we need for meals that week.
Here's a trick – keep to the outside of the grocery store when you're shopping. The vast majority of ‘real food' is on the outside. Bakery, meat, produce, etc, is almost always on the outside of the store, so avoid the chip and cracker aisles and it'll help you stay on budget and keep to the list you brought alone with you.
Organize Your Food Storage
Organize the food you purchase properly in order to maximize its effectiveness. When you go to the grocery store you'll notice that they (should be) putting the ‘old' stuff out front, and filling in from behind will be the new stuff.
This is most obvious with things like milk, where they store the pallets from the producer in the back, and fill up the shelves from behind. This way the milk that will expire first will be picked up first by customers. You can also see this with eggs, cheese, yogurt, produce, anything that expires should be presented so that the store can maximizes its products.
So not only should you double check the dates on expiring products and dig through available produce, but you should also organize your fridge so that you're using up the food that will expire first.
When you bring your groceries home, it is tempting to just put them into the fridge so that it fits. However, it is much better for you to pull out the things that need to be eaten first, store the new groceries, and then put back the food that you'll be eating next. Your home's pantry should be similar.
The visual reminder of having the expiring food at the front of the fridge or most visible in the pantry will make sure that food won't go to waste with you realizing it, allowing you to save money without repurchasing food you've already bought.
As an added bonus, if your food is all organized, you'll be in a better place to know what you have before you go back to the grocery store to buy next week's shop.
Even Small Savings Add Up
Most families spend $400-600 a month on food. It is a never ending, constant expense, and maximizing your money every week can exponentially save you money over the long run.
Even if you can reduce your money grocery bills by $10/week, you'll save over $500 a year just from your grocery budget. The more you're spending on groceries, the more you stand to save by planning in advance, getting organized, and maximizing your grocery money. What tricks do you use to reduce your grocery bill?