We all know that getting a good deal on everyday items can be pretty motivating. But it can also be quite the task to cut coupons, stay tuned-in to fleeting retail sales, or jump through crazy hoops to get score…
If you’d like to save hundreds (if not thousands) on your grocery bill each year but aren’t interested in chasing after 40-cent coupons and driving all over town for food deals, there’s an easier way. You can cut your grocery bills without sacrificing your favorite meals with just a little pre-shopping planning. As you get the hang of it, smart food shopping lets you watch your bank account get fatter while your credit card balances slim down.
BUY YOUR FAVORITES IN BULK
You don’t have to cut out your fave meals just because you’re cutting your spending. One of the keys to shaving your grocery bill is to wait until your favorites are on sale and then buy them in bulk. For example, grocery stores slash the prices of cookout foods (barbecue sauce, baked beans, ketchup, hot dogs) the weeks of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. You might be able to cut your costs for these items in half if you plan your buying.
Don’t panic if you miss a sale – manufacturers often repeat specials every four to six weeks, and grocery stores do the same, including buy-one-get-one-free deals. Waiting for sales lets you buy your favorite staples several times each year (instead of all at once) so you can enjoy them year-round and never pay full price.
BUY HOUSE BRANDS AND GENERICS
Sorry Libby and Mr. Green Giant, but can you really taste the difference between generic green beans or corn and name-brand veggies? Buying generics is the easiest (and tastiest) way to save 100 to 200 percent on groceries. If you haven’t tasted house brand and generic soups, sauces, cake mixes, breads and just about any other food in this category, you might be shocked at how good they are.
Why spend $3 to $6 on a jar of spaghetti sauce when you can get one with peppers and onions, mushrooms and garlic or meat and cheese for just 99 cents? Sitting on the shelves next to most brand-name cereals are the generic equivalents that taste almost the same as national brands and cost half the price. Chains like Aldi don’t take credit cards or supply shopping bags, but their extremely low prices on their house brands more than make up for the inconvenience.
EAT IN COURSES
The most expensive part of your grocery bill is most likely your proteins, or “main course” of beef, chicken, fish or pork. When you dish out seconds, you increase your budget (and your waistline). Starting meals with a cup of soup and just pennies’ worth of salad lets you serve much smaller – and still satisfying – entrees. You’ll almost never be hungry for a second serving (a Penn State study found people who ate a cup of soup before meals ate 20 percent fewer calories each meal) and you’ll often be too full for dessert!
CUT THE WASTE
Why throw food down the garbage disposal when you can just light a pile of cash on fire instead? Seriously, Americans throw out a big percentage of the food they buy each year, either because it spoils or because they prepare too much each meal and family members won’t eat leftovers. You can save hundreds of dollars each year (if not more), by planning meals and using recipes to make sure you only prepare enough food to keep everyone satisfied each lunch or dinner. Planning menus each week also helps you keep track of how much food you’ve got in the refrigerator or freezer to avoid over-shopping, which leads to older foods sitting and going bad.
INVEST IN A FREEZER
A small freezer you keep in your kitchen, basement or garage can cost less than $150 and quickly pay for itself. Bulk-buy proteins and fresh veggies close to the freshness date when stores slash the price. Invest in a food sealer that lets you keep items fresh for many months and to avoid freezer burn. Freezing foods lets you enjoy steaks, chops, filets and tasty veggies year-round without paying full-price.
GET SHOPPER CARDS
If you don’t have a problem signing up for website deals, your local grocery chains can save you piles of money while offering you freebies. Kroger shoppers not only get a discount on hundreds of store and name-brand items just by presenting their cards, they also get a free gift each week. Goodies from marketers who want you to try their products have included items such as yogurt, energy bars, cereal, iced tea, frozen dinners, soda and breads. Publix offers buy-one-get-one-free sales each week and lets you load electronic coupons for more discounts. If you’re worried about junk mail, just create a Hotmail or Gmail address to use for your grocery store account.
You don’t need the paper to check out weekly grocery circulars. Stores put them online each week and let you put individual items into your personalized “shopping cart,” along with other items you want to remember to buy on your next trip.
DON’T WASTE GAS
Driving 10 miles round trip to save on an item or two wastes gas and your time. Plan your shopping so you take trips that make sense. Find two grocery stores across the street from each other so you can kill two birds with one trip. Only shop at other stores if they are on the way home from work, school, tennis or some other regular trip.
THINK PERCENTAGES – NOT PENNIES
Saving 60 cents on a $1.20 item might not seem like a lot, but looking at the big, year-long picture, you just cut your spending by 50 percent. If you spend $300 a month on groceries and can reduce your spending by just one-third, you save $1,200 each year. That doesn’t include the $120 to $360 you’ll save on credit card interest, depending on your APR and how long you carry that balance. If you put that savings into your 401(k) and your employer matches your contribution, the compound interest you’ll earn will help turn your nest egg into a nice fat retirement account.
This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.