In these times, saving money is more important than ever. Groceries account for a big chunk of monthly spending, and many people find they don’t have as much money for it as they used to. Here is a money-saving guide to help you better meet your needs in these rough times.
First rule of thumb when going grocery shopping – make a list, make a budget. And stick to them. Whether you prefer to shop once a week or once a month, write down a list of all the grocery items you need before you go. Give a rough estimate of the price of each item. (Example: milk, ~$3, cereal, ~$4, eggs, ~$1.) Decide on a budget based on the estimated cost of the items you need on a regular basis. And don’t forget to include taxes in these estimates, they add up. A big hint to staying on budget – don’t go when you’re hungry. Eat breakfast or lunch before you shop, that way you’ll be less inclined to or add surprise items to your list. A good money-saving tip is to do your grocery shopping once a month. You pay more money upfront this way, but when you buy food items that come in larger quantities, the price per goes down. So, if you buy a package of three fresh chicken breast, you’re going to spend about $5. However, if you buy the 12 count bag of frozen chicken breast, you’re looking at around $8. You would have spent $20 on the fresh chicken breast if you bought one per week! Obviously you’ll have to make small trips back to the store when you run out of things like milk or bread, but you’ll still end up saving money buying food in bulk. Another good tip – see if there is a bakery thrift store near you. They sell day old breads and snacks at a discounted price.
Something else you’ll want to keep in mind when at the grocery store – which brand to buy. They key is to find the right balance between quality and value. You don’t want bottom-line cheap junk, but you don’t want to pay a fortune for the good stuff. Here are some of my personal favorites that I feel are a great balance of good quality that does the job, and a good price.
Dish soap – Ajax. It’s only a dollar. It’s cheap, but it does a good job of cleaning my dishes. You don’t need “ultra” (more like ultra expensive) dish soap to do the job. All you need to do is remember to rinse your dirty dishes after you use them to avoid a caked on mess.
Laundry soap – All Small & Mighty. Don’t let the little bottle fool you, because it only takes about a quarter of how much you’d normally use to get the job done. Why? Because it’s concentrated, meaning a lot of the water was taken out of the formula. More formula for less.
Shampoo/Conditioner – Suave Professionals. Sure they’re no Matrix or Paul Mitchell, but they do a darn good job anyway, and for about two bucks a pop. And, they smell great. They’re a nice step above the basic Suave shampoo and conditioner – those I don’t like.
Paper towel and toilet paper – Bounty Basic and Angel Soft. The cost of paper towel these days is outrageous. That’s why I love Bounty Basic. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s not like the cheapo generic brand stuff. It’s the best value per single roll that I’ve found. Angel soft is another “good quality and good value” option for toilet tissue. It’s soft and doesn’t tear apart easily.
Before you shop, always check for this week’s coupons. Many big-name grocery stores have a coupon page in the Sunday newspaper. If you live in the city, you might get coupons every week in the mail. In rural areas, check the latest news shopper paper. Use them! Go through the coupons and clip all the ones of products you use – and don’t forget to bring them with you to the store. If you don’t use it this time around, hang on to it. Coupons usually remain valid for a month. Many stores also offer online coupons and coupons in your e-mail. Sign up for e-mail coupons at your favorite stores, and check the store’s website for valuable coupons before you go.
Comp ads are another thing worth looking into. Find out if your grocery store matches competitor’s prices. If you bring in an ad for a store selling an item cheaper than at where you prefer to shop, show it to your cashier and they will give you the cheaper price. Do this for every item you can. The biggest money saver for me is the local discount meat market’s ads. Since it’s too far for me to drive, I just bring in the ad and get the same price at my local store. Comparison shopping is a great way to save money if your store doesn’t do comp ads. If your store sells your favorite brand of ketchup for $2, it may be on sale or part of a 10 for $10 mix and match deal elsewhere (keep an eye out for those!). Check out different grocery stores and find out which one has the better deals that week.
Managing your budget. So you’re all finished grocery shopping and you’re about to enter the checkout lane. Before you do so, check your grocery list. Did you get everything? Did you get more than what was on your list? If so, you may want to think twice about getting those goodies. Even more important, check your budget. Do a rough count on your items. Did you stay on budget, or go over? How much did you go over by? If it’s more than $10, depending on the size of your budget, you may want to consider putting a couple of items back. If it’s all stuff you need, you may want to go home and consider changing your budget to better suit your needs. No on-the-spot budget changing! You need to pick a budget, and stick to it.
Helping your store keep costs low. If you’re noticing subtle but steady price increases of food items you buy regularly, it could be due to more than just the economy. When stores have a deficit, they raise their prices to compensate. Help your store keep costs low. When you’re done with a shopping cart, return it to the nearest cart area. Take care of the cart. When stores have to replace damaged carts, it costs money. It also costs the store money when they get sued because a stray cart was blown by the wind into someone’s Mercedes. If you decide you don’t want an item, especially a frozen or refrigerated item, put it back in the freezer where you got it, don’t just leave it lying around to spoil. Don’t let your kids vandalize store property or merchandise, like tearing open boxes or squishing bananas. And finally, don’t steal. You may think you’re not hurting anybody by quietly slipping that $2 item in your pocket, but you are. Shoplifters cause stores revenue and what do they do in return? Raise prices to compensate.