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Grocery Shopping Tips to Save Money, Time & Peace of Mind!

  • Always go with a list. If you go without a list, you may as well just throw your money away. You need to prepare a list of everything you need, pulling from your weekly menu (next tip) and checking to make sure you don’t have it in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. Make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Now stick to that list.
  • Plan out a weekly menu. This is the best way to ensure that your list is complete and that you have enough to serve your meals for the week. I often plan a weekly menu and then duplicate it for the next week — this way I can shop for two weeks at once. Be sure to plan a leftovers night.
  • Don’t go when you’re hungry. This is a common tip, but it’s true: when you’re hungry, you want to buy all kinds of junk. You’ll end up spending a lot more. Eat a good meal first, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your list.
  • Have a budget. When I go to the store, I know exactly how much I can spend. Then I try my best to stick within that limit. If you don’t know how much you can spend, you’ll certainly spend too much.
  • Do a rough running tally. Related to the above tip, if you want to stay within your budget, it’s best to know where you’re at. Then, when you can see you’re going to go above it, you can decide whether you really need two bottles of your favorite olive oil. I keep a running tally on my grocery list, just rounding off so I can do some quick math. Does an item cost $1.85? I say $2. Then I don’t need a calculator or all those complicated math skills.
  • Keep a list on your fridge, and write things down immediately. When you run out of something, don’t leave it to your memory. Jot it down immediately, and you’ll never have to run back to the store because you don’t have eggs.
  • Make a pantry checklist. Make a checklist of everything you normally stock in your pantry. Keep it posted on the pantry. Put a slash next to each item for the number of items you have (if you have two cans of stewed tomatoes, put two slashes). Then, when you use something, turn the slash into an x. This makes it much easier when it comes time to make your list.
  • Keep things stocked for quick-n-easy meals. Easy meals for me might be chicken and broccoli, vegetable soup with chicken or tofu, or a quick stir-fry. I always have the ingredients on hand, usually frozen, so I can defrost a few key ingredients and whip something up fast when I’m short on time.
  • Buy in bulk when it makes sense. If you can save money, over the course of a month or two, by buying in bulk, plan to do so. But be sure that you’re going to use all of it before it gets bad — it isn’t cheaper to buy in bulk if you don’t use it. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, frozen broccoli florets, frozen cauliflower rice, and other vegetables that are on sale are some things I buy in larger quantities.
  • Keep your receipts, then enter into a spreadsheet. This will be your price list. Use it so you know when bulk or sale items are a good deal. It’s also a great way to comparison shop between stores — buy your baking goods in Store A but your fresh fruits in Store B. The spreadsheet can also serve as a checklist to use when you’re compiling your shopping list.
  • Buy frozen veggies. While fresh veggies are desirable, frozen veggies retain their nutrition and do not lose their color at all. You can eat fresh veggies first at the beginning of the week before they go bad, then add more frozen vegetables towards the end of the week. 
  • When you’re running low, write it down. Don’t wait until you run out. when you see there are only three toilet paper rolls left, put it on your list. Because when you run out, it will be too late. 🙂
  • Cut back on meat. Meat is expensive. Have a vegetarian meal several times a week (think grilled tofu for a stir-fry or on your salad) Not only is this good for your kidneys but far cheaper than meat. Actually, I eat vegetarian all the time, but my family does a little of each. 
  • Pack your own lunch snacks. Buying pre-made snacks is convenient, but a big waste of money. Buy little baggies and buy the snacks in bulk, then it will take just a few minutes to pack some snacks for lunch each day.
  • Make leftovers for lunch. Plan to cook a bit extra for each dinner, so that you’ll have leftovers for your lunch. Pack it right away, after dinner, so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning. I have amazing rectangular glass Pyrex containers with lids that I use to portion out my lunch for the next day. It is a HUGE time saver! Sometimes, I put the portioned meal straight into the freezer for a day next week if I know I won’t want to eat the same thing for dinner again for lunch, this way I save myself having to plan a meal next week. 
  • Cook a lot, then freeze. Alternatively, you can cook a whole pot of Chinese fried cauliflower rice or stuffed peppers (for example) and freeze it for multiple dinners later in the month. This not only adds variety to your week and month ahead, but it also saves you an afternoon later in the month so you can do more things you love to do besides cooking and cleaning! All you have to do is defrost your frozen meal by placing it from the freezer to the fridge the night before and reheat in the oven to taste like new!
  • Always have eggs, tuna, olive oil, sea salt and pepper, and frozen veggies –  And other necessities that you always seem to run out of — buy a whole bunch when they’re on sale, or buy in bulk. Be sure to check to see if you have these items before you go to the store.
  • Try crockpot or pressure cooker meals. I discovered the crockpot or pressure cooker saves me so much time cleaning!  Cut up a bunch of ingredients, throw them in the pot, and have a meal or two readies for you when you are! Can anything be more perfect than that? 
  • Clip coupons. I know, sometimes they seem like too much trouble. But it’s not really that hard to clip a few coupons and toss them in a coupon envelope to take on your grocery shopping trip. And you can save 10-20% of your bottom line with coupons. Check store entrances, newspapers, and flyers for coupons. Sometimes the store you shop often offers a coupon set-up where they mail you coupons based on the items you buy often, which is really nice!
  • Only use coupons for items you were already planning to buy. Don’t let them trick you into buying something that’s not on your list, just to “save” money.
  • Look for specials. Every store has specials. Be sure to look for them in the newspaper, or when you get to the store (they often have unadvertised specials — look on the higher and lower shelves for deals). Don’t buy them unless they’re things you always use.
  • Try the store brands. Brand names are often no better than generic, and you’re paying for all the advertising they do to have a  brand name. Give the store brand a try, and often you won’t notice a difference. Especially if it’s an ingredient in a dish where you can’t taste the quality of that individual ingredient.
  • Cut back on your “one-item” trips. They waste gas, and almost inevitably, you buy more than that one item. If you plan ahead, make a weekly menu, and shop with a list, this should drastically reduce the number of trips you make for a small number of items. But if you still find yourself running out for a few items, analyze the reason — are you not making a good list, are you forgetting some items from your list? Stock up on the things you frequently go out for.
  • Be watchful at the register. Keep an eye on the scanner — you’ll keep the cashier on his toes, and catch any mis-priced items.
  • Know when the store stocks its fresh fruits and veggies. In my area, that makes a big difference. Fruits and veggies can go bad quickly because they have to be shipped. So I know that the store re-stocks on Thursdays, and so I usually go on Thursdays or Fridays, otherwise I’ll be getting old items.
  • Plan one big trip a month for bulk staples. You can get fresh items at another store on other weeks, but doing a big bulk trip will cut back on the expense and amount you have to carry for the other three weeks. Avoid buying on impulse at the bulk store too —  just because they sell a lot of it doesn’t mean you’re saving, if you weren’t planning on buying it in the first place.
  • Avoid trips to the corner store. Or the gas station! These are some of the most expensive stores. (Ranking right up there with airport stores.)
  • Consider shopping at two stores. There’s no store with a monopoly on savings. Each has savings on different items on different weeks. You might switch between two stores on alternate weeks. I buy frozen things at Aldi and fresh foods at Mariano’s to save.
  • Think deep freeze. If you really want to save, you’ll need a big freezer. Ask around — someone you know might have a relatively new model they don’t need anymore. You can use freezers to stock up on meat, frozen veggies, and similar staples, and to freeze big batches of pasta, casseroles, and other dinners you prepare ahead of time.
  • Use everything possible. Got a bunch of leftover ingredients (half an onion, a bit of tomato, some pasta, a few other veggies?) … combine them in a freezer bag in the freezer and once you have a bag full of frozen veggie bits, boil them to make vegetable stock! The more you can stretch the food, and the less you waste, the less you’ll spend in the long run.
  • Don’t waste leftovers. Have a list on your fridge of what leftovers are in there, so you don’t forget about them. Plan a leftover night or two, so you’re sure to eat them all. Pack them immediately for lunch, so they’re ready to take the next morning.
  • Rain check. If an item is on sale but the store has run out of stock, ask for a rain check.
  • Go by yourself.  When you bring people, they might encourage you to buy some kind of junk food or food you weren’t planning to buy.  Even if you’re able to stick to your guns, it’s not pleasant saying no 10 million times. In most cases, you’ll save money shopping without others.
  • Go for whole foods by shopping the perimeter of the store. Most of the foods you need are in the perimeter: veggies, fruits, dairy, eggs, meats. Processed food is lacking in nutrition and will make you gain weight. Look for things in their least processed form — whole grain brown rice instead of white rice or fresh fruit instead of canned or juice. You get the idea.
  • Read ingredient labels of new foods. Look for trans fat, hydrogenated oils, sugar, saturated fat, lots of sodium, cholesterol. Then avoid them like the plague. Look instead for high fiber, good fats like olive oil or flax oil, protein, vitamins, calcium.
  • Clean out your fridge. Toss out old food and make room for the new. 
  • Stick to your list. Avoid impulse buys. They are almost always bad, and even if it’s just a couple of dollars, they will add up to $50-100 for a trip. Over the course of a year, that can mean thousands. Tell yourself you will not buy anything that’s not on your list unless it’s an absolute necessity (why isn’t toilet paper on my darn list?).
  • Use store savings cards. These can add up to big savings over the long run.
  • Cut back on your restaurant eating. It’s never cheaper or more nutritious than eating at home. Plan your meals and save a ton of money in healthcare costs and food costs.
  • Avoid frozen dinners or prepared entrees unless you made them yourself. Again, these cost way more and are usually much less nutritious.
  • Drink water. If you regularly drink iced tea, crystal light, soda water or other types of fancy drinks, cut those out completely and just drink water. It’s much better for you, and much cheaper.
  • Prepare your grocery list by aisle. If you regularly shop at the same stores, organize your list so that you can easily find and check off items as you walk down the aisle. We always shop from right to left, so we’re not constantly running back and forth in the store.
  • Get cloth grocery bags. You’ll save tons of plastic over time, and help the environment tremendously.