by Nathaniel Sillin
Food shopping can quickly take over your budget despite your best intentions. Perhaps it’s due to impulse purchases, unplanned shopping trips, food going bad or a combination of all three. If you’re looking for ways to save money while enjoying nutritious and delicious meals, consider these money-saving tactics.
Stick to your budget to save time and money. Look at your food budget before making a trip to the store. If you don’t have one yet, figure out your overall budget including food costs with a simple budget worksheet. Knowing how much you want to spend and actually spent can help you make informed decisions.
Plan out the week’s meals with your budget in mind. If you make dishes that rely on the same staples, you can save money by using leftovers to create a new dish. But mix things up to avoid boredom.
Make your trip to the grocery store even easier with a shopping list. Sticking to a list can help limit food waste and make it easy to get in and out of the grocery store. If you share food shopping duties with a spouse or partner, you can avoid double purchases by using grocery apps that let you create and sync shopping lists.
Stack different discounts and deals to rack up savings. Once you enter the grocery store, it’s time to put your plan into action. Plan for the occasional indulgence and let yourself make impulse purchases occasionally, but try to stick to the list.
You can also often save money at grocery stores by joining the store’s loyalty program. Members get exclusive discounts, and some programs offer additional savings at partner stores. Check your membership account online or with the app before checking out, as some programs have electronic coupons that you need to “clip” to get the savings.
One way to increase your grocery budget is to use one, or several, of the apps that give you cash back when you buy groceries. Sometimes you can even earn cash back on general purchases like a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Depending on the app and food, you may need to verify the purchase by scanning the barcode and sending a picture of your receipt.
The store you choose can also significantly impact how much you’ll spend.
Strategically plan your shopping route. Planning your grocery shopping after reviewing your local stores’ weekly sales and coupons can help you determine what to buy where. Also take the time to explore your neighborhood stores, as one grocer may frequently have high-quality yet inexpensive produce while another might have a great butcher.
No matter where you shop, be mindful of how the store’s design can entice you to make purchases. The outside ring is often where you’ll find the fewest processed foods; however, you might notice that you need to walk to the back of the store to grab milk or eggs. The store hopes you’ll be tempted by something you see along the way.
Sticking to your list, refraining from walking through an aisle unless you need to, and remembering that the eye-level products aren’t necessarily the best bang for your buck can help you avoid these traps.
Stick to inexpensive foods. Consider choosing store-brand rather than name-brand products as they’re often cheaper, but not necessarily lower quality. You may also want to consider changing what you buy. Filet mignon can be delicious, but so can cheaper cuts of meat and there’s a lot of advice online for how to best prepare them. Staples, such as rice, beans and canned or frozen goods are also a low-cost way to supplement meals.
Bottom line. Buying food is a necessity, but you don’t have to overspend to keep a well-stocked fridge and pantry. By planning your meals and grocery trips, using the money-saving tactics above and carefully choosing where you shop, you can save time and money — and cook up something delicious.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney