10 Tips on How to Cut Back on Your Grocery Bill

BY  |  Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013 8:30am  |  COMMENTS (7)

10 Tips on How to Cut Back on Your Grocery BillKids are expensive, as any parent knows, and much of that expense comes from spending on food and household items.

But grocery shopping doesn’t have to eat up a significant portion of your budget if you learn how to shop wisely.

Here are a 10 tips on how to cut back on your grocery bill, with a little input from local  moms:

1) Use coupons. This may seem a no-brainer, but coupons can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. There are many websites devoted to couponing, and Americans save billions of dollars annually by using coupons. Here in Baristaville, several moms told me they use the $10 Shoprite coupon that comes in the ValuPak envelope every week or so. Sure, you have to spend $100 to get that $10 off, but that’s easy to do if you stock up on non-perishable items like rice and canned beans, or on toiletries like paper towels and garbage bags. (Of course, there is an argument to be made for not using coupons, too.)

2) Don’t shop while hungry. Shopping on a full stomach will ensure that you won’t be grabbing everything in sight—that is, stuff you don’t need. I have many times fallen victim to this phenomenon—shopping while hungry—and walked away buying much more than I needed (this is especially dangerous at Trader Joe’s, the kind of place where you can walk out with a bunch of items you never intended to buy because it all looks so tempting).

3) Make a list and stick to it. Making a shopping list will help you buy only the things you need. It helps also to plan out your meals for the week. “Our main budgeting strategy is to make a meal plan for the week,” one mom told me. “We make our grocery list based on that. We avoid wasting food and we don’t tend to just grab random things at the store.” Plan your list so that the items you buy can be used several times during the week. Here is one example on how to do that.

4) Cut back on meat. By now we’re all well aware of the danger of consuming too much meat. But meat can also be expensive. Switch to vegetarian meals several days a week—canned beans are some of the cheapest things you can buy, at about 99 cents per can (uncooked beans are even cheaper), and you can concoct a variety of amazing dishes with a few simple add-ons.

5) Buy in bulk. Many moms are fans of Costco, where you can stock up on bulk items, saving money in the process. Costco, some moms said, is better for stocking up on toiletries. Food can be trickier. If you buy something you end up not liking, “you’ll have a load left over,” one said. Bottom line: shop carefully and only buy the things you know you’ll eat (and eat before they begin to grown a funny green color). You can also buy in bulk online, especially for fancier items. One mom buys Maldon sea salt and other grocery items in bulk on Amazon and says she saves “a ton” that way.

6) Shop around. Figure out which stores have the cheapest prices on the things you most like to eat, and map out a strategy for what to buy at which store. This can be a hassle sometimes, because it may mean traveling to four or five different places just to save money, but I think the payoff is worth it. For example, Whole Foods’ 365 soy milk is a great deal at $1.69 (it’s often more than a dollar more expensive elsewhere), so I only buy my soy milk there. Kings and Shop Rite will often have good deals on my favorite coffee, so I’ll often wait for a sale there before I buy it full price elsewhere. Of course, some stores are just less expensive all around—thus the cult-like following some of my friends have for ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Trader Joe’s. Then there are places like the Route 46 Farmer’s Market, where you can load up on fruit, vegetables and pasta (among other items) for rock bottom prices.

7) Reuse. This is a strategy I have tried to implement more rigorously in the last several months, brought on by what had become an almost obsessive use of paper towels. Now, instead of wiping up every little spill with a paper towel, I use my kids’ old clothes (the really grimy ones that can’t be passed onto someone else), cut into roughly the same size and shape as a paper towel. When they’re soiled, I just throw them in the washing machine and use them again. I also try to reuse Ziploc bags when I can, or not use them at all. One mom uses cloth snack bags instead, and others use plastic containers for packing snacks and other food items.

8) Make your own cleaning supplies. Instead of shelling out lots of cash on expensive (and often toxic) cleaners and abrasives, a little lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar can go a long way. For more tips on making your own cleaning supplies, click here.

9) Shop without the kids. You’ll probably experience a less expensive (and quieter) grocery shopping trip than if your children came with you. You know what I’m talking about: “Mom, can you buy those cheese crackers, just this once, please??” and “But all the kids at school eat that, why can’t I too?” Give yourself–and your wallet–a break and leave them home with your spouse.

10) Grow your own. While the initial cost of setting up a vegetable garden may require some money, the payoff in the long term will more than make up for it. One friend set up a small vegetable plot in her backyard and had a summer-long bounty of kale, parsley and tomatoes. Of course, in this climate, growing your own isn’t possible year round, but it can save you some money for at least a few months. Every little bit counts, right?

7 Comments

  1. POSTED BY walleroo  |  October 16, 2013 @ 9:33 am

    11) Eat less.

  2. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 16, 2013 @ 9:40 am

    Tip #9 should be a law. But as long as others are bringing their kids, I’m bringing mine: there is a need for equal weapons in the aisles and when checking out.

  3. POSTED BY danahawkinssimons  |  October 16, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    great tips. thanks, christina! i plan to start doing #8 today!

  4. POSTED BY Conan  |  October 16, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    Tip #6 describes urban shopping. I had no problem going to two or three different stores to buy all the ingredients for one dish when in lived in New York (and to a lesser extent, in Boston). They were all within walking distance. Too bad they didn’t have the Grand Central Terminal market when I was a commuter on the old NYNH&H RR. We would have eaten like kings (and been broker than peasants).

  5. POSTED BY llane  |  October 16, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    Great list. This is mentioned in step 3 (“make a list”), but for my family meal planning has saved more money than any of these other tips put together. You save a few dollars here or there with coupons or shopping grocery sales, but it’s so easy to blow it all in one night if you end up going out to eat because you didn’t plan ahead to have something to cook! One meal out can cost $50+ for a family even at a cheap restaurant… and sadly that’s a price I paid more than once on a tired weekday night before I started meal planning (and doing some cooking ahead on weekends).

    I use the Home Run Meals website for meal planning, and have found it very helpful because it makes the meal plan, grocery list and gives me coupons every week, so it doesn’t require much attention from me once I set it up to follow my family’s preferences.

  6. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 16, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Just one more small point about Tip #3: Making a list is one of the best ways to stick to your diet (and keep your figure :)). It works for me.

    Make the list a day in advance. Then before you go to the store, cross off all those “extras” you added because you thought you were doing so good. In the store, don’t shop. Just get what is on the list. Don’t look around for “hmm, what do I really need?” You need nothing that is not on the list. And llane is right: you will save big time.

  7. POSTED BY Kristin  |  October 17, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

    This is a fantastic list of reminders. I’ve been super lazy about making comprehensive lists lately, and its meant quick trips for milk, fruit, etc that end up with my bringing home “extras.”

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