Start with meal planning. There are some great sites out there to get you started (among them plantoeat.com and emeals.com), or you can start from scratch and plan the meals that your family loves most. As you’re planning, keep in mind what your schedule really looks like, not the way you wish it could be. Account for nights when you need to be able to shove something fast in the oven or microwave and make those meals easy and fast. Try not to use a lot of “specialty” ingredients–and if you do buy one, plan a couple of meals that will use it so that you’ll use up all of that ingredient instead of having some left over that will just get thrown away.
While you’re planning your meals, to ensure maximum savings, take a look at what’s going to be on sale at your grocery store this week. Most stores provide their in-store flyers online so you can take an advance peek. Know that ground turkey is going to be on sale? This would be a good week for meatloaf, spaghetti made with ground turkey, or turkey burgers. Are chicken breasts marked down? Fajitas, chicken Parmesan, or grilled chicken breasts might go on your list. Planning your weekly or monthly meals around the current sales will help you save more money in the process–and help give you ideas.
Once you know what your meals are going to look like, “shop” in your cabinets first. What do you already have to prepare the meals for the week?If you already have three boxes of pasta or three cans of chicken, you don’t need to pick up more while you’re eat the grocery store (unless you’re planning to eat a lot of spaghetti). Make your list based on what you really need, not on what you think you might need.
While you’re in your cabinets anyway, take a look at what things aren’t actually getting eaten. Look through your fridge and see what fruits and vegetables are getting thrown away at the end of the week.You’ll know to buy fewer of those in the future.
Clip coupons. Some stores provide online coupons; others require you to get theSunday paper. However–and this is key–only clip coupons for products that you were already planning to buy anyway.Buying something just because it’s a “good deal” won’t save you money in the long run.
Once you arrive at the grocery store, keep track of what you’re actually spending as you shop. You’re already carrying your grocery list; take a minute to mark down the price of each item as you buy it and keep a running total (round up to the next dollar to make the math easier to allow for tax).This will do two things: first, it will force you to look at the actual price of each item instead of just grabbing them randomly; and second, it will help prevent impulse buys because you have to hold yourself accountable for each one.When you reach your budgeted amount for the grocery trip, either you’re done, or you have to put something back.
Shop around the outside of the store first. This is usually where the healthier items–meat; produce; dairy; frozen foods–are kept. Filling your cart with those items before you venture into the center aisles will help keep you on track and will make you less likely to grab impulse items, especially if you’re nearing the end of your budget.
Check out the “manager’s special” or “clearance” meat area. These are meats that have just been marked down because they’re nearing their expiration date. If you have plenty of freezer space, there’s nothing wrong with any of these meats (or with stocking up on them); they’ll keep just fine in the freezer.Also, take a look at your store’s “scratch and dent” area, where boxes or cans that have been damaged during shipping are kept. There are often some great deals there that just happen to come in a squished box–and do you really care what the box looks like, as long as the product inside is fine?
Pay attention as the cashier is scanning your items, and check your receipt before you leave the store. Most of the time, you won’t find any errors; but cashiers are human, too, and mistakes do occur.If you do find something after you’ve already paid for your order, calmly go up to the customer service desk and ask that they take care of it–they’re usually glad to help.
Try to get everything you need for a week or more in a single trip. You’ll be more likely to pick up more impulse items if you’re running to the grocery store several times a week for those must-have items that you just happened to forget, and those impulse purchases add up fast. Instead, make one big trip for the whole week (or for a two-week spread or a month at a time, with smaller trips in the middle for produce and other perishables). You’ll discover that your wallet thanks you.