There are so many strategies for saving money on groceries. Couponing and cooking ahead may sound too complicated or time-intensive for you at this season of life. Try one (or more) of these five suggestions and see how it improves your grocery budget and your peace of mind.
- Make a List. When you plan ahead and only buy what's on your list (instead of grabbing things impulsively), you'll save money. Try keeping a magnetized notepad on your fridge. When you're getting low on something or you run out, add it to the list. If you're the main shopper in your household, train others to add to the list as well. This will help you avoid running to the store multiple times a week because you're out of mayo, then milk, then bread. Each extra trip you takes puts you at risk of buying impulsively and spending more than you intended.
- Plan Your Meals. I've said this one before, but this is a big strategy for saving money, and it also saves you time and sanity. How many times have you been in the grocery store, brainstorming meals and picking up expensive convenience foods? Instead, think through your meals for the week–which nights will you be home late or have kid sports/activities? Plan your easiest meals for those nights, and work out the rest. Start with the usual family fare: spaghetti, pizza, burgers, etc. and just assign a meal to each night. Then check your cupboards and fridge for those ingredients; if you don't have them, add them to your list from #1 above.
- Shop the Loss Leaders. When you get the grocery store ads each week, the front page always has a few great deals, the “loss leaders.” These are prices at which the store actually loses money. They're trying to get you in the door so that you'll buy those items and spend another $100-300 on everything else they're selling. By planning your meals around the loss leaders (say, chicken at .99/lb or a 5lb. bag of potatoes for .99), you're significantly reducing your per-meal cost. If you can shop several stores, you can pick up the loss leaders at each store for major savings. If you only shop at one store a week, your goal is to ONLY buy the loss leaders and the items on your list from #1 above.
- Buy a Few. Most of us cook the same foods a few times a month. When you see an especially-low price for your frequently-used products, buy 2-4 of them. You'll save money versus purchasing them at the regular price when they come up on your menu again. Of course, this only saves money if you're buying products you will eat. For example, I can often buy the $2.49 pasta for .50-1.00 a box. By keeping a few in my pantry, I save several dollars a month.
- Keep a Quick “Pantry Meal” on Hand. We all have tired nights where we don't want to cook and it would just be easier to pick up the phone and call for takeout or ask our spouse to pick up fast food on the way home. By keeping an easy meal on hand all the time, you can pull dinner together in 15-20 minutes (it would have taken longer to wait for delivery!), and you'll be eating healthier AND saving money. I keep cans of artichoke hearts, olives, and tomatoes in my pantry. I can boil pasta and saute the veggies together in just minutes. Alternately, we'll have scrambled eggs, toast, and fruit for dinner. This tip also applies at work: my husband keeps a frozen meal in the fridge at work for days when he's forgotten his lunch at home. This saves us $10 since it's very expensive to eat out near his office.
Whether you're a family of six, a couple without kids, or even single, any one of these suggestions will help you with saving money on groceries. Combining the strategies really makes a dent in your family budget. Try some of these, and I think you'll see big savings.