Quick Tips to Save Money on Groceries

This is going to short and to the point. If you’ve read my earlier post on using coupons, some of it may sound familiar, but some of the suggestions are so simple they’re worth repeating. And they’ll help you save money on groceries.

First and Easiest

Danielle Wagasky knows from firsthand experience. She managed to stretch a $14,000 annual income to cover her family of four’s expenses over a period of five years. She’s written a book about it, “Living a Beautiful Life on Less”.

Quick Tips to Save Money on Groceries
Quick Tips to Save Money on Groceries
Her first admonition is don’t shop on an empty stomach! If you go into the store without having had even a small snack before, everything is going to look delicious. Snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, pastries) all jump out at you and before you know it, they’ve landed in your buggy. It doesn’t have to be much; a small sandwich, a cup of soup. Some people can even get by with a cup of hot coffee.

“If you go hungry,” says Wagasky, “you are just begging to have a cart full of guilty-pleasure foods. You can’t make a week’s worth of meals out of those ingredients, but you can wreck your budget by purchasing them when you don’t need them and can’t afford them.”

Your checkbook will be fatter, but your waistline won’t.

Numbers, Please

Use a calculator as you put each item into the cart, (at least, the shelf price; there might be discounts ahead that will only make things better).

Wagasky explains. “You are more aware of how much each item is adding up. You suddenly weigh the options a bit more with name brand versus generic. You think twice about adding all that candy into the cart just because it looks good. It makes you more conscious of what you are tossing in.”

If you don’t want to carry a calculator with you and don’t have a math wizard as a child who accompanies you to the store, most phones these days have a built-in calculator. Practice and then use it!

In-store Traps

Don’t shop during lunch hours. Many stores have cooking demonstrations with chefs whipping up fantastic dishes out of their special items. They smell tantalizing, they’ll offer you a valuable coupon, and before you know it, you’ve dropped a $14.95 package of ribs into your basket. If you want to do a “taste test,” do it after you’ve checked out. The “big box stores” are notorious for this, and especially on Fridays.

You may not realize it, but stop and think. Most grocery stores are, generally, laid out the same way – produce, deli and specialty items are to the right as you enter. The meat and dairy are at the back of the store, and chips and snacks are located at the furthermost left point of the store. Why do they do that?

Think about it. Most produce, deli and specialty items you select are impulse purchases. If you are going in with a set budget amount in mind, that’s been knocked for a loop after a few fresh veggies and some deli snacks.

You have to pass a lot of end-cap special offers to get to the meat and your necessary dairy items like milk and cheeses. And with all those chip choices facing you in one place, it’s hard to only pick up one package. Break the power of the planners; get your cart and go to the left, reverse your usual route through the store.

Try to block out the “music” on the PA system. It’s been selected and scheduled to lower your resistance. There will be some dreamy sounds that take you back to “another time and place” where memories of special meals and times will influence what you buy. I don’t advocate wearing headphones, but try to tune out the tunes.

Family Matters

If you can avoid it, don’t take children to the store with you! They can spot a prize or toy offer on a box a cereal at 40 paces. They also can’t make up their minds about what cookies they want, or what candy bars they want in their lunches.

Get input from everyone about what goes on the grocery list, then stick to the list! If you want to go to the trouble, you can estimate all the prices on it, and have an idea in advance of how much you are going to spend. The trick here, though, is to get everyone to participate in putting the list together. Put a pad or chalkboard on the fridge and encourage the listing of things on it. Nine times out of ten, if you delete an item as unhealthy or unnecessary, by the time you unpack things, they’ll have forgotten they even asked for it anyway.

Pay by check, not credit card. That brings it home to you faster of how much you’ve spent. And, to put a few pennies back into savings, ask the checker to give you the amount before any coupons or discounts, but after tax (don’t worry about that; the checkout system will always tax you on the higher amount anyway). Write the check for that “before” amount; take the change as cash and put it into your savings box.

Change your habits. Get the grocery ads as early as you can and strategize your shopping plans. If you need specific items, find out which store has them on sale this week. Got there for just those things.

Avoid shopping on the weekends; you’ll feel too pressured to cave in to the impulse items on sale amid all the hustle and bustle of the crowds. If the store’s ad schedule permits it, a nice quite Thursday evening is best.

Do you have any tips and techniques to use to keep your grocery costs down? Have you tried any of these? Do they make sense to you?

( Photo by **RCB** )

2 Responses to Quick Tips to Save Money on Groceries

  1. I always ask the person checking me out to wait to start to ring my items up until I have my cart emptied so I can watch how things ring up!

  2. That’s fine as long as there’s no one behind you in line waiting to be checked out. But it’s kind of inconsiderate if there are. It means everyone will have to wait on you to unload. I also find that if a cashier is fast you can’t keep up with the swiping and pricing. Then too is it possible to know the pricing on all of your 80 to 100 items? And if you do spot an overcharge, you’ll hold up the line again, maybe just to gain a 50 cent advantage. And then on the flip side, will you stop the cashier only when you’re being overcharged? What about when you’re being undercharged? Do you challenge that too?

    Sorry, but I think that strategy probably does more harm than good. Author Robert Ringer said he stopped doing that years ago when he realized that price errors are just as likely to be in his favor as against him, and it “all came out in the wash”. He also said it was a time waster, and took effort and energy that’s better spent on more productive past-times. I completely agree.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t price check. My system involves keeping a record of marked prices on my shopping list, then tallying it up just before going to checkout. If the cashier number is close to mine, I go about my business. If it’s significantly higher or lower, I check the receipt against my written list. If there’s a significant error either way, I’ll go to customer service and fix it. It’s time consuming on my part (but then I’m a numbers guy so it’s a pretty fast process) but I don’t slow anyone else down in the process.

    I’m a bit sensitive on this point, as you can probably tell. When I worked as a grocery store cashier as a teenager, we had this one customer who took price checking to the extreme, and he was obnoxious. In fact, he was a textbook case in being petty. When he came to the line, he handed each item to the cashier – one at a time – then disputed each charge if it was off by even a penny. After a dozen or so episodes of that nonsense I told my manager that I wouldn’t check him out anymore.

    Ironic twist – the guy was the brother of one of the butchers in the meat department. The last time I checked him out, I told his brother what an a-hole he was. To my surprise, the butcher hit me with a barrage of other crappy behaviors his brother was capable of, and said he hasn’t spoken with him for years. There was anger in his face as he told me various stories about him. I don’t know why that surprised me.

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