You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that food prices have reached an all-time high due to inflation. And unfortunately, prices are showing no signs of slowing their climb. Everything from fresh produce, meat, and shelf-stable foods is significantly more expensive, straining the family’s budget. And even though you can’t do anything about the price, you can shop strategically to help ease the burden. Here are ways to work the aisle, get a deal, shop smarter and keep costs manageable.
Track your spending.
To save money, it is no secret that you must know how much you’re spending. I’ll warn you, the task of tallying up all you spend on food and beverage, including dining out and pit stops at the gas station for snacks, can hurt your feelings. But you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Start an excel sheet, or get out a notepad and pen and start writing it all down and adding it all up. Although it may be tedious at first, it gets easier the more you’re aware of where your money is going.
Immediately, you will recognize areas of loose spending. It’s helpful to calculate your weekly grocery trip cost and get an average. In the beginning, make that your weekly budget goal. You can adjust as you get more experience navigating a food budget. Having a grip on what you’d like to spend and staying within the margins can help reduce the monthly anxiety associated with food costs.
Americans toss out about 25 percent of the groceries they buy, the National Resources Defense Council estimates. Before making a grocery list, take 90 seconds and scan your pantry and freezer for what you already have on hand. Taking inventory will also help you avoid the dreaded panic buy at the grocery, wondering, “Have I got that at home?”
Menu and snack plan.
Planning is vital. A coach never takes the field without a game plan. To get the most out of your money, never enter a grocery store without a sketched-out plan for the upcoming week. But don’t wishfully think, be honest with what’s on your calendar. Look at the activities on the horizon and plan accordingly. If there is an event or sport that you know will require dinner on the go, don’t plan something to cook at home. Know your family’s willingness to eat leftovers and shop accordingly. Avoid recipes that will make more than your family is willing to eat, or have the forethought to freeze smaller portions for a quick meal later. Remember, be honest with yourself. Don’t plan to cook from scratch if you know you’ll be too tired to cook from scratch once that night gets here.
If you’re up for the challenge, plan menus around ads. Ads are different from coupons and typically showcase supermarket specials that can include fresh meats and produce. Instead of developing a menu and then looking for deals, find the deals and plan your meals around what’s on sale. That mindset saves time and money.
Go the extra mile and search for substitutes. Take time to review your last grocery receipt and highlight the most expensive items. It may surprise you what’s eating away at your budget. Next time you’re in the store, look for cheaper options between brand names. Or consider bulk buying if it’s a pantry staple and offers a lower unit cost.
Don’t forget to plan for snacks, too. Shelf-stable goodies are very expensive right now. Many boxed snack items are mindlessly eaten or grabbed off the grocery shelf without much thought. Your pantry doesn’t have to be packed to the brim to be able to feed your family. Unnecessary foods are unnecessary spending. And, if you really want to save some cash, ditch the sodas, and limit the sports drinks. You will be shocked at how much of your food budget comes from beverages that do not offer nutritional value above enjoyment. That goes for bottled waters, too. Enjoy saving that cash and boosting your health!
Your perfect plan will never do you any good if you don’t use it. Shop less to save more. Stopping by the store multiple times for a few items leads to impulse purchases. Make a grocery list for five to seven days, and purchase groceries in one visit.
Beware of cart overfill. If you haven’t noticed, shopping buggies are getting larger because research says a larger cart encourages more purchases. Beat the system. Grab the smaller cart or basket instead. At a minimum, be mindful and don’t fill an enormous cart just for its sake.
Be aware of convenience costs. Pre-washed, chopped, seasoned, sliced, or individually packaged items will always cost more per unit. Put in a little extra work at home and save big in the store. And when it comes to whole foods, fresh isn’t always best. Frozen fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood are economical and nutritious. Just be cautious of buying in bulk and having it get lost in your freezer! (That’s why taking inventory before is helpful!)
Be an insider.
Subscribe to your favorite retailers’ or brands’ emails and engage with them on social — this is where you’ll often find deals and offers not shared with the public. You can always unfollow or unsubscribe if a particular brand feels too spammy or they’re not delivering value. But it’s worth it for the brands you love to engage with them and stay informed. But, be wary of 10 for $10 sales. Before filling your cart with 10 of the same item, check the unit price to make sure it’s discounted — not just clever signage. Remember that you don’t have to buy 10 to get the lower price if it’s an actual discount.
Eat what you buy.
It seems like a no-brainer, but be sure to prepare the groceries purchased! It’s easy to toss caution to the wind and hit the drive-thru or order out. All your efforts to plan and stay on a budget get wasted.
Most importantly, be realistic, be flexible, and learn as you go! You’ll spot your family’s patterns and routines and can better manage your money.