How to Save Money On Groceries

by heather

It’s a question everyone has been asking: with the economy in a recession, how can we save money on groceries? After all food, unlike cable tv or cell phone service, is something we can’t live without. And aside from our mortgages or rent payments, it’s most people’s biggest expense.

Check out these numbers:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the average family of 4 spends $8,543 on groceries each year. And, that number reflects the prices in 2006. As we all know, inflation has skyrocketed the costs of many things, especially dairy and wheat products, so it’s a given that, in 2008, that number is higher.

The BLS also concluded that, as of August 2008, food costs had risen 5.9% over the year before. And most experts are saying that prices are going to keep rising at least through 2010.

That leaves us with this urgent question: with food costs constantly on the rise, how can we save money?

I’ve already covered how to eat healthy on a budget, but I’d like to focus this post on general tips to save money at the grocery store.

Tip 1: Get In, Get Out

We’ve all spend time wandering around the grocery store, trying to get dinner ideas and inspiration. But as we’re walking, we’re buying.

CNN discovered that for each minute you spend in the grocery past the magical “30-minute” mark, you spend an extra 50 cents to $1.

Let me say that another way so we’re clear: if you’re in the grocery store more than 30 minutes, you’ll spend up to $1 per minute as you “wander around”.

If you want to save money, make a list. Get in, get what you need, and get out.

Tip 2: Try To Buy Food and Nothing Else

Wait a sec, you’re thinking, won’t I save money on gas by doing all my shopping at one store?

Yes, you’ll save some in gas. But, CNN reports that grocery stores typically mark up non-food items (like soap, laundry detergent, and bath tissues) by 20%- 40%.

Places like Target and Wal-Mart usually have much better prices on these items. It’s better, if you want to save money, to make the extra trip to these places for non-food items. When you go, stock up so you don’t have to make as many extra trips.

Tip 3: Use Coupons Wisely

Many people try to save money at the grocery store by using coupons. And, don’t get me wrong, coupons are a good thing. But you’re not going to save money if you buy food just because you have a coupon for it.

You’re also not going to save money if you assume that just because you’re using a coupon for one brand over another that you’re getting a better deal. Sometimes, certain brands will still be more expensive, even with a coupon.

It’s important to analyze the prices of everything when you’re in the grocery store. Use coupons for things you normally would buy anyway. If you find your local newspaper lacking variety, then there are tons of online coupon sites that enable you to download and print coupons at home. Check out these sites:

Tip 4: Avoid Impulse Buys On the Endcaps

We’ve all succumbed to the lure of the endcap; you know, those yummy displays of chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers that inspires to make S’Mores. Most of the time, these items appear to be on sale, so we grab as we walk past. But, it’s not always a good deal.

In an article on MSN Fitness, Brian Wansink, PhD, was quoted saying that people are 30% more likely to buy items on an endcap versus the middle of the aisle because, “they think it’s a better deal”. But many times it’s not.

Many brands pay a premium for endcap space, which means prices are usually going to be higher. Is this always the case? No. You can find good deals on the endcaps. But just be aware that this is the grocery store’s way of getting you to buy without thinking.

Tip 5: Don’t Shop Mindlessly

That same article on MSN Fitness also states that 60%- 70% of what we buy at the grocery store is unplanned. Grocery stores are very, very good at what they do, and that is getting us to spend more money while we’re in there.

Look at the layout of most grocery stores. Chances are when you walk in, you head right, usually right past a luscious display of fresh flowers or fresh bread. We’ve all grabbed those happy bouquets of daisies, but it’s important to remember what the grocery store is doing here: getting us to spend. Buying flowers and fresh bread is fine, but be aware while you’re shopping that the placement of everything is there for a reason.

And just so you know, while grocery store flowers may be less expensive than a florist, they’re usually older. This means that they’ll have a shorter vase-life than the flowers you get from your local florist.

Tips 6: Buy the Freshest Produce to Make It Last Longer

All grocery stores rotate their produce to ensure that the oldest produce gets sold first. This, on the other hand, means that it’s going to spoil quicker at your house.

Buying the freshest produce means that you’ll have more time to eat it, which will save money because it won’t spoil as quickly.

To get the freshest produce at the grocery store, dig down deep and buy what’s on the bottom or in the very back. When stores restock, they put the oldest up front and the freshest in the back.

Tip 7: Avoid the General Merchandise Aisle

No one knows when it happened, but in the past few years grocery stores started carrying items like pots and pans, silverware, dishes, and cooking utensils. These are just more high-profit tactics grocery stores are using to get you to spend.

If you find yourself wandering down this aisle looking for something you “need”, stop immediately. Most of the time these items are way overpriced, and you’ll get a much better deal at a place like Target or Wal-Mart.

Tip 8: Resist Buying Candy and Magazines When You’re Waiting In Line

Most experts agree that this is where grocery stores really make their bread and butter. To avoid these temptations, keep a book in your purse for when you’re waiting in line, talk to someone, or make a phone call.

Tip 9: If Possible, Don’t Shop With Kids

This saving money tip probably goes without saying, but it needs to be in here just in case.

Any parent can tell you that grocery shopping with kids can be a harrowing experience at times. They want the expensive sugary cereal, the cheap toys, and a handful of candy to boot.

If you can, make your big shopping trips alone. You know, the trips where you’re stocking up for the next week. Obviously you can’t make every trip without your kids, but if you can go on your biggest ones alone you’ll save more money. How much?

Well, an expert quoted in Real Simple Magazine estimates that parents will spend 10%- 40% more each time they take their kids along. So, it might be worth it to hire a babysitter when you’re going on a stock-up expedition.

Tip 10: Avoid The “Bulls-Eye” Zone

The Bulls-Eye Zone is everything that is stocked at eye level. These are always going to be the high-ticket items because brands have to pay grocery stores a premium to be stocked here. If you want to save money, then reach either up or down. Products that are stocked close to the ground are usually the most frugal options (like store brands), while top-shelf items are usually more regional, small brands with a lower mark-up.

Tip 11: Shop With Canvas Bags

This tip comes from my own personal experiences. I’ve started carrying two canvas bags with me every time I go to the grocery store to minimize my consumption of plastic bags. While this is a great practice to help the environment, I’ve also noticed that it has changed my shopping behavior.

I have caught myself, almost subconsciously, putting impulse purchases back because I realize that they won’t fit into my canvas bags along with everything else that’s on my list. I really don’t like having to take plastic bags home, so the desire to buy only what’s going to fit into my canvas bags has really curtailed my impulse buys.

Although food costs keep rising, it is possible to save money at the grocery store if we pay attention to what we’re doing. If you have any money saving tips that you’ve found to be helpful, please send them in to share with everyone!

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December 18, 2008 at 10:41 am
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Monroe on a Budget December 28, 2008 at 6:11 pm

This is how I managed to shop without the toddler daughter during my single parent years.

I scheduled my babysitting hours for one hour past the time I was supposed to get off work. If I was running late, then I had allowed enough time on the sitter schedule for that possibility. But if I left work early enough, I had time to run errands.

As a result, most of the time I could grocery shop BEFORE I picked up the daughter from the sitter.

Designed2Design September 29, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I found a great way to get free visa cards that I can use anywhere. It’s through a loyalty membership that I signed up for at http://www.cashforgasandgroceries.com. I get a $25 Visa gift card each month just for shopping at the same grocery store or gas station. It’s simple, all I do is mail in my receipts each month.

CouponsUser February 9, 2010 at 12:24 am

Good post. However, if you shop with a list and stay focused while shopping with the list, you would avoid many of the problems cited in the post.

Harvest America Savings February 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

Great Article with wonderful tips. You can also visit the website listed below and read about people who have saved more on BRAND name groceries using this site than they did when purchasing the same items in the LEADING RETAIL chain (AKA) the Low price leader.

The savings are so remarkable the company has been featured on every major television news and cable network.Not only do they offer BRAND name groceries, diapers, baby and pet food; the shipping is TOTALLY FREE! That is right, FREE SHIPPING to your door.

Compare and save for yourself. Go to: http://MyHarvestAmerica.com/ShoppingCart

Enter ID CODE: SHOPPINGCART and compare for yourself.

Sarah June 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Another great site for coupons and free samples is http://www.freeflys.com

Printable Coupons September 21, 2010 at 2:08 am

Great tips. I’ve been doing these as well.. With everything so expensive right now, we want to save as much as we can, right? especially with groceries, gas and clothing.

Canadian Coupons June 25, 2011 at 6:11 am

great tips and resources, thanks, maybe do one up for canadian couponing too?

Printable Coupons September 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

It’s nearly impossible to find educated people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

Canadian Extreme Couponer Theresa October 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Tip #3 Is always what I tell people. Coupons can save money, but sometimes another brand’s regular price is cheaper than expansive brand with the coupon.

#6 I need to try this one out a bit further.

Coupons Canada November 19, 2013 at 7:35 am

I completely agree about using coupons wisely. So many new couponers whip out their coupons at every chance, but you really need to be more mindful of how you are spending those [paper] dollars (and cents!).

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