Food for Thought

Many people have a love/hate relationship with grocery shopping – my guess is that most people fall into the latter category, myself included. It can be time-consuming and frustrating, but we all need to do it – food is the most basic necessity of life, and we can’t forget to allocate room for it in our monthly budgets! Check out the following suggestions for some of the easiest and most common ways to cut down on your grocery bill.

Where should I shop? This will obviously be pretty dependent on where you live and what’s available to you, but I’ve found a few places that have never let me down.

  • Aldi has moved into my top spot, now that one has opened close to home. I’ve found I can get the most bang for my buck here. The catch is that they carry mainly their own brands of food, so the selection is pretty limited – think more like 4 or 5 different kinds of cereal selections instead of the whole aisle you’re likely to find in many other grocery stores. This is one of the ways they keep their costs so low. We come here for staples – milk, eggs, bread, etc. – as well as more unique items, like salsa, hummus, and granola (they rotate special items in weekly, so you never know what you might find!). We consistently save anywhere between 30 to 50% of what we would spend at Walmart (and I thought I was already getting a deal there) and the product quality is the same as, if not better, than the leading brands. And as a plus for all you health-conscious folks, they offer a ton of fresh produce and organic products. Check your local ad for weekly specials and deals to score an even bigger discount.
  • Walmart is now my second choice, mostly for when I need really specific things (for example, I have a preference for baking with certain brands). It’s also a one-stop shop for everything, so we can get not just our groceries there but also toiletries and home maintenance goods (not to mention the fact that it’s open 24 hours – major convenience factor). My bill is almost always 25 to 30 percent cheaper than I would spend at our local grocery store.
  • Bottom Dollar is a bit out of the way for me, but I’ve always been pleased with my experiences there. It seemed to be a good middle ground between Aldi and Walmart to me – plenty of both familiar brands and store-brand products with prices well below your average grocery store. Another perk about shopping here is that they will match prices from other stores. If you find an available product from somewhere else for cheaper, simply bring in the competitor’s flyer or your receipt and they’ll beat the price by a penny!

How much should I buy? I’ve found it easiest to budget for two trips to the grocery store per month (about every two weeks or so). You can figure out what works best for you by looking at your grocery list and determining what you absolutely need. Are you buying more fresh produce or more dry goods and frozen foods? If you prefer to buy fresher products, you’re going to need to make your shopping trips a bit more frequent, so divide up your budget for these trips accordingly. Remember that not everything you purchase will need to be bought on every trip to the store (for example, things like toothpaste and deodorant are purchased a lot less frequently than milk and eggs). Do a test run for a month or two. Keep track of the items that you need and how much you spent on them. This will give you a good idea of what your average monthly spending will look like.

*Tip: Looking to cut down on your number of trips to the grocery store per month? Freeze your fresh produce! Head on over to Real Simple to learn more about what you can and can’t freeze, and how long fresh foods have until they’re past their prime.

Don’t be afraid of generic brands! The only major difference between well-known name brand foods and generic brands that you see on the shelves next to them is price. Name brands basically sell the idea that you’re buying the best, that you’re getting the best quality product because it sports a name you see on television, but that’s not usually the case. If you look at their labels, they contain the same general ingredients, mostly because production is regulated by the government and products being sold are required to meet certain standards. Sometimes there may be a variance in taste (with generic soda or snack crackers, for example), so some items may be a matter of trial-and-error and personal preference, but buying store-brand basics like flour, sugar, milk, produce, etc. will save you tons!

What about using coupons? Finding and utilizing coupons can be tricky. They lead many people to believe that they’re getting a deal, but you can almost always get a similar generic product for cheaper than the name brand product you’re using the coupon for. They can also trick you into buying more than you need (i.e. buy 10 frozen pizzas and get the 11th for free), creating unnecessary spending. Certain coupons are also only accepted at certain stores, so you’ll have to take into account where you prefer to do your grocery shopping and what their policy on coupons is – do they take manufacturer or competitor coupons? Do they double them? It all comes down to if it will benefit your specific needs without creating additional spending.

Can I save money by buying in bulk? I’ve always had mixed feelings about this. I’ve personally never found it necessary to have more than a few weeks’ (or even months’) worth of non-perishable goods, but depending on what you’re looking for and what kind of deal you get, you could probably save some cash. Are you having a party and you need enough burgers and hot dogs for 100 people? Sure, I bet you’ll save a few bucks if you buy those by the case. Do most people need that stored in their freezer regularly? I’m guessing no. The same goes for non-perishables – things like toilet paper, toothpaste, canned goods, and the like. Many of these things often go wasted (almost everything goes bad at some point, check your “best if used by” dates), and most people don’t even have enough space in their house to store large quantities of these things. Is this my preferred method for saving? Probably not. I’d say stick with what you know you’ll definitely need (and use up!) in the near future.

Do you have any tips for saving on groceries every month? Share them with us!