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Grocery Money Saving & Budgeting Tips

Buying Only What You Need

The first “rule” on saving money when shopping for groceries and sundries (paper goods, toiletries, etc.) is only buy what you need.  If you really do not need an item, do not buy it.  Most of us only have a limited amount of money to spend, and not buying something provides the highest level of savings.  And, if the item not being purchased will not be missed much, all the better.

1. Establish a budget and stick to it. Decide how much of your monthly budget will be allocated to groceries and sundries and do not go over budget.  If necessary, take a small calculator to the store and keep a running total.  Maintaining this discipline will provide you the wherewithal to look for all possible savings.  Without a budget, grocery and sundry expenditures will creep up to a point that causes real financial issues.

2. Prepare a shopping list of necessary items, and purchase only those items when at the store. Preparing weekly menus, in order to understand all groceries that will be required in the near future, will assist in making sure you purchase only necessary items. And make sure you check that pantry, fridge and freezer when preparing your list.  Making a checklist, and keeping it on the fridge or pantry door, of all items normally stocked and how many are on hand is sometimes helpful.  This will not only help you not buy items that are already at home, but will also alert you to items that you really do not use often and maybe can be eliminated from future purchases.

3. Do not fall into the trap of impulse buying.

  • Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.  All those snack and other unnecessary foods are a lot less tempting if you are not hungry when food shopping.
  • Make sure, if at all possible, you leave the kids at home.  Kids are great, but at the grocery store they can be real budget busters by talking you into purchases you otherwise would not make.
  • When you have an item in your hand ask yourself if it really is a necessary item, or if you really can do without.  This is not only true for food, but also toiletries and other items.  Do you really need that extra bottle of nail polish, or fancy new razor?
  • Try to plan ahead for your grocery and sundry needs.  Eliminate those trips to the store when only a couple of items are purchased.  It’s a waste of time, and the cost of gasoline can become significant.  Try consolidating your shopping trips.

4. And, when it comes to buying only items you actually need, try breaking old habits and even addictions.

  • By all means, do yourself and your budget a favor and quit smoking.  It’s not difficult to spend $2,000 per year ($3,000 in before-tax income) on cigarettes.  Many people spend a lot more.  In addition, the extra health care costs and cleaning costs to remove the smell of cigarette smoke can really add up.
  • Alcoholic beverages are also very expensive.  Cut back and save.
  • How about snack foods, etc.  The list is endless of items that many of us eat or drink by habit.  While doing without all the fun foods and drinks would make life a bit boring, cutting back from what may have become unnecessarily high levels of consumption will save a considerable amount.
  • While water is a necessity of life, do we really need to buy it prepackaged at the store either as water, ice or flavored beverages like soda?  Try using tap water straight up, or even mixed with powder mixes for some flavor, and save.  And put a few Ziploc bags of home-made ice in the freezer and stop buying ice at the store.

Where To Shop

Where to shop is important in limiting expenditures on groceries and sundries.  Let’s face it, some stores are less expensive than other stores for the majority of  items, or for selected items.  And, of course, sales and specials can momentarily turn an expensive store into the cheapest store in town for certain items. So, within reason, patronize several stores to get the best price for each item, and more value for your budgeted dollars.

1. If at all possible, find a good discount warehouse store. For most groceries and sundries (as well as many other items) these stores are by far the best deal in town. Use them regularly.

  • The major national discount warehouse stores are Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s. Other regional discount warehouse stores are also available in certain areas of the country.
  • In the old days, most of the time these stores mostly offered bulk items and a fairly narrow selection.  Today, selection has improved considerably and most items are sold in quantities that are small enough for easy home use
  • While these discount warehouse stores usually charge an annual fee of about $50 for the right to shop at the store, the normal household will save hundreds of dollars on their grocery and sundry budget during the course of a year, with regular use of these types of stores.  Considerable savings are also available on large selections of other items from TV’s to clothes, etc.  Consider shopping with a friend and share the annual membership fee.  Just figure out which items on the receipt belong to each person.

2. Specialty food markets will sometimes have good quality at lower prices.

  • Many communities have local butcher shops and local fish markets.  Versus supermarkets, these markets can often have good everyday prices and some great specials, not to mention better quality.
  • Farmers’ markets are also available in many communities.  Produce is often fresher and better priced than at the local grocery store.

3. Do not forget about your local dollar stores and odd lots stores. These stores often have groceries and sundries (as well as many other items) for sale at very low prices. They may not have the brand you like, but the savings can be considerable.

4. If you are not close to a discount warehouse store, It’s hard to beat Walmart for everyday grocery and sundry shopping. After warehouse stores, Walmart will most of the time have the lowest non-sale prices.  While the shopping experience at Walmart may sometimes not be as hassle-free as a more upscale supermarket, Walmart can save you some real money.  Some people like the environment of Target better, but prices are higher most of the time.  Otherwise, find a couple of good grocery stores you feel offer competitive prices and good selection, including less expensive store brands.

5. For non-food speciality items, like light bulbs, office supplies, etc. try to avoid grocery stores. Discount warehouse stores have many of these items at the best prices. If not available at the warehouse store, either use Walmart or Target to save on these types of items.  Or utilize your home improvement store, office supply store, etc.

6. Unless an item is on sale, do not buy groceries or sundries at drug stores. There prices are usually not competitive.

7. Do not shop at convenience stores or gas station stores for groceries or sundries. They are high priced and, with a little planning, are not any more convenient than your local Walmart or grocery store.

8. Believe it or not, groceries can now be purchased on the Internet. Amazon.com and other sites offer thousands of grocery and sundry items online, often at very reasonable prices.  A good site for hair care and other personal care products is SalonSavings.com. Make sure you consider any shipping fees that may apply to your order.  Many local grocery stores also offer online shopping, with easy pick-up at the store.  Pull up their web site and choose the items you want.  Later that day, or whenever you scheduled, just drive up and they will load your order in your vehicle.  Prices may not be any better than in-store prices, but the convenience factor may be worth it.  Also, if you are ordering over the computer and not in the actual store, impulse buying may be reduced.

Getting The Best Price

In addition to shopping at stores that generally offer lower prices, there are many other ways to lower your grocery and sundry bills by getting the best prices available. With a little bit of planning and concerted effort, you can lower your grocery and sundry costs substantially.  Work hard to get a saving on everything you buy.

1. Whenever the price is really good, buy in bulk. While the extra funds tied up in stored foods, and the storage space required (both refrigerated and pantry) can be a burden for some shoppers, if possible bulk purchasing makes economic sense.  But make sure just because the price is too good to be true you do not buy on impulse something that you really do not need.  And also do not buy more than you can use before it goes bad. This even applies to items that are frozen.  If buying an item in bulk is just too much of a particular item for you, consider sharing with a neighbor.

As noted, warehouse clubs may require you to buy more of a product than you normally would, but most of the time the pricing makes it worth it, as long as you can eventually use it.

  • When an item is on sale at any store for a “great” price consider stocking up. Sometimes even drug stores will offer great pricing on certain items that they are using as loss leaders.  Take advantage and buy ahead.
  • Often, produce or other items can be bought at far lower prices when “in season” than at other times of the year.  Consider purchasing large quantities and “cooking for the freezer” to save.
  • Meats can also be bought in bulk when on sale and frozen.  Some people also consider going to a butcher and buying a half of cow, and have it cut up and freezer wrapped by the butcher.  And you can have the different cuts of meat processed in different ways to suit the needs of your family.  The price per pound versus buying meat at the supermarket can be a real savings, not to mention the convenience.
  • Some stores will give case discounts on certain foods, sundries and even wine. Ask around to see if case discounts are available, and if it makes sense to buy by the case to save.  Often, with wine, you can mix and match different types of wine and still get a case discount.

2. Try your hardest to always buy on sale. Paying regular price for most items is just not necessary, if you plan ahead and watch for sales and specials at all of your local stores.

  • Check your weekly newspaper fliers for announced sales and specials, and look for the store’s sales flier and unannounced sales while in the store.
  • Take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free offers for items you really need.  Some stores do not even make you purchase two of the item to get the discount.  Ask the store about their policy.
  • Look on the higher and lower shelves for specials and less expensive products, where they are often located, rather than on the eye-level shelves where most of the higher-priced products are stocked.
  • Make sure to look on the “outside” lanes of the grocery store, particularly at the front of the store against the front wall.  Often there are unannounced specials offered with some real savings.
  • Get a rain check for any sale item you need that is out of stock.  If the rain check indicates the number that you can buy in the future at the sale price, make sure that the store fills out the rain check with the maximum number you want to buy.  Most stores are very liberal with this policy.

3. Buy generic and store brands whenever they are less expensive than brand name products, which is usually the case unless the brand names are on sale.  Price differences can be very large for the same product (in some cases the exact same product or ingredients).  Even if the product is somewhat different, often the taste and utility of the product is the same.  For instance, if the product is used as an ingredient in a recipe, small differences in taste may not matter at all.

4. Always look at price per unit, which is displayed on pricing labels on the product shelf. Bigger packages of the same product are not always the least expensive per unit.  This is a common practice, particularly when the smaller size is on sale and the larger size is not.  So, always check unit prices for the same exact product, as well as for competing brands and store brands, to make sure which product is least expensive.  And always buy the least expensive product.

5. Take advantage of any product or store discounts that are available.

  • Look for coupons for products you would buy in any case.   Grocery stores also offer coupons for a variety of products.  For instance, Kroger offers electronic coupons if you go to Kroger.com and click on P&G eSaver.  Choose your coupons and type in your Kroger shopper’s card number to download them directly onto your card.  When the cashier scans it at checkout the coupons will be applied to your total.  In any case, make sure to organize your coupons by product and expiration date for ease of use, and to make sure you get any savings before they expire.  Interestingly, some stores will honor expired coupons if they are not too old.  Just ask your store. TheGroceryGame.com is a site that that helps you coordinate coupon use with supermarket and drug store sales to maximize savings.
  • If you are using coupons, see if your store has a double discount coupon day.  If so, make sure to use your coupons on that day.
  • Some grocery stores also have coupons for their store brands which they do not widely advertise.  Look up the store’s web site, or ask at the information counter, to see if they have store-brand coupons.  Often, if you have provided the store full address information with your application for a store savings card, they will mail you coupons for their store brands or allow you to download them electronically to your shopper’s card.
  • Many stores have store savings cards which provide savings to “preferred” customers that have enrolled in the program.  Use these cards when possible.  But be careful.  Many stores use these programs to give their customers a false sense that they are getting real savings.  How many times at checkout have you been told that you saved $8.62 today?  Well, you may have saved that much versus not having a store savings card, but you may have actually spent more than you would have if your purchases were made at a different store.  Always be aware of price comparisons between stores and shop for the best price.
  • Ask your store if they offer senior discounts or have a weekly senior day where seniors get discounted prices.
  • Some stores also have price matching where they will match a lower price offered by another store.  WalMart is known to do this, as well as many other stores.  Ask if your store will price match.  If they do, just ask for a price match at the register whenever you are aware of lower prices elsewhere, but make sure you have the ads with you to show the store the price they need to match.

6. If possible, make sure you shop at least a few stores and compare the prices at the different stores. Some stores will normally have lower pricing for certain types of goods, and other stores will have better pricing on other types of goods.  Take advantage of these differences by filling your shopping needs at more than one store.  Use GroceryGuide.com to compare prices at local stores, as well as sign up for sale alerts from your favorite grocers. But be aware of transportation costs if considering stores far apart from each other, or far from your home.