10 smart tips to spend less while grocery shopping
Eat better, save more while grocery shopping with these 10 strategies.
Let’s face it – grocery shopping can be expensive and take a significant bite out of your paycheck, especially when buying for a hungry family. According to a recent news release published by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, food represented the third largest annual expenditure in 2015, costing an average of $146 per week. Our busy, on-the-go lifestyles have resulted in nearly $63 spent on food away from home each week, a figure that continues to increase each year.
In light of a fresh start to 2017, make one of your New Year’s resolutions to eat better AND save money on the food/beverages you purchase. You may already be asking yourself – how is it even possible to eat “healthier” while pocketing some extra cash at the same time? Try putting these practical, money-saving tips into action:
1. Start smart.
Each month, set some time aside to perform a pantry inventory. Determine the items that you have on hand and when they are best consumed by. Not only will this help prevent you from purchasing doubles, but it will encourage you to use non-perishables that were purchased a few months ago, therefore, reducing food waste. Consider the following:
a. Clearly label the front and top of each non-perishable item with the “best if used by/best before” or “use by/before” date using a permanent marker. Rotate items that are nearing the specified date toward the front of the pantry so they can be used first.
b. Organizing your pantry into sections (canned goods, herbs and spices, grains) will make it easier to locate food/beverage items and cut back on time it takes to create your grocery list.
2. Plan ahead.
Ditch the scissors and grab your smartphone. Consider downloading coupon apps to cut back on your bill. If possible, try loading coupons onto your store loyalty card so they will be easily accessible at checkout. Additionally, make time to review weekly sale ads. Plan your meals around items that will be on sale for the week and create a grocery list from there. Phone apps that allow you to build a grocery list may be beneficial, especially if you always forget handwritten grocery lists or can never remember that one ingredient.
3. Eat before you shop.
Research suggests that you should eat before you shop to avoid making impulsive purchases. Given that 51 percent of shoppers already regularly purchase items that aren’t on their grocery list, shopping on an empty stomach may not be ideal. Pop a mint in your mouth to temporarily satiate hunger and pass up the scent of tantalizing rotisserie chicken not included on your list.
4. Check the unit cost.
Instead of deciding products based solely on the bold label price, look for the unit cost (the price per weight or volume of a food/beverage package). Most grocery stores post this price on the shelf label using a smaller font size. Compare unit cost across similar items to determine the smarter buy.
5. Shop seasonal.
Produce is usually cheaper during its season of harvest and is packed with beneficial nutrients. Think pumpkins during the fall and watermelon during the summer. Curious about which fruits and vegetables are in season this winter in Tennessee? Check out this useful infographic.
6. Buy in bulk.
Food items that are on sale, especially fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein sources (such as beef tenderloin, chicken breasts, shrimp), can be purchased in bulk and frozen for use at a later time. Keep in mind that items in the freezer don’t last forever. Visit Stilltasty.com, the ultimate shelf life guide, to determine how long various foods can be frozen.
7. Pass on pre-packaged or pre-sliced perishable products.
While pre-cut mixed veggie kabobs or sliced pineapple may be convenient and save you prep time, they are often more expensive than the whole item. Plus, they may not last as long, even when stored properly. Bottom line: Opt for the whole item and spend a few extra minutes in the kitchen.
8. Buy generic.
Typically, generic food/beverage items are less expensive and taste similar to their name-brand counterparts. Look for the generic version of every-day staples and your favorite items to save a few extra bucks.
9. Love your leftovers.
Store leftovers in airtight containers and refrigerate for up to four days or freeze. Plan to eat leftovers as is, or incorporate into other snacks or meals throughout the week. This is a great way to reduce food waste and avoid throwing money in the garbage.
10. Ask the expert!
Use your local retail dietitian’s expertise. Dietitians can be a valuable resource to weave money-saving tips into your preferred diet. Supermarket dietitians can not only help you navigate the grocery store, but can also share insider tips on trendy, new products, suggest healthier alternatives to your favorite late-night munchies, provide one-on-one counseling on a variety of topics such as weight loss or eating a gluten-free diet, and much more.
Lindsay MacNab, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, health nut and deep dish pizza addict from the wonderful windy city of Chicago. A 2015-2016 dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Lindsay was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Diet & Exercise from Iowa State University.