Your food-buying habits can make or break your monthly budget. Your monthly food allotment isn’t fixed like your rent or utility payments, so you’ve got a lot of room to save—or bust your budget. If you want to save money when going to the grocery store, here are some helpful hints.
Never go to a grocery store on an empty stomach. If you’re hungry, you’ll spend a lot more than if you’re full. Grocery stores know this, and savvier chains maximize on it by putting the yummy-smelling bakery right by the entrance to get you feeling good and hungry right when you walk in the door. Make sure you eat or drink something before going to a supermarket—even better, eat a whole meal.
Clip coupons – wisely. It can pay to clip coupons, but those coupons don’t always give you the best deals. For example, if a store offers a buy-one-get-one-free deal on chicken breast, they might jack up the price of chicken first—sometimes to almost twice as much, so you’re spending as much as you would anyway on two packages of chicken breast. Know the average price for things so you can tell if those coupon deals are really worth anything. In addition, even with coupons, the prices on brand-name items may still be more than generics.
Buy generic brands whenever you can. Those generics are often much cheaper than name-brand products, even when they’re essentially the same thing. Even when the name brands go on sale, they are often pricier than generics. Make sure you find the generic version of each item you buy and compare prices before heading to the cash register.
Make a list – and stick to it. Grocery stores do everything in their power to get you to impulse-buy. Catchy graphics and ads, coupons and sales that aren’t as good a deal as they seem, higher-priced products in placed in prominent locations, like at the head of the aisle—all of these can look pretty tempting. Write down exactly what you want to get before heading to the grocery store, cross off items on your list as you go, and don’t deviate from your list.
Look up and down for cheaper prices. To get you to spend more, grocery stores deliberately put higher-priced items at eye level, with cheaper items on the lower shelves and the higher reaches. Don’t just compare prices on the products right in front of you—look down at the bottom shelf, or up to the top shelf, for the best deals.
Don’t buy things you don’t need – even if they’re on sale. Just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. Only buy sale items you need anyway. If you never eat creamed corn ordinarily, don’t pick it up because it’s half off—you’ll have still spent money you didn’t need to spend, even if it was on a sale item. If you eat a lot of creamed corn, however, stock up when it’s on sale—so you’ll have plenty and won’t need to buy again when the price goes back up. Only stock up this way on things that aren’t perishable.
Check out the per-unit cost when comparing prices. Manufacturers often make packaging larger than it needs to be without increasing the amount of product inside. That’s because, when seeing a big box of crackers next to a smaller box for the same price, most shoppers assume that the big box is the better deal. Not so fast. That smaller box might actually have more food inside. The smaller box might even be priced higher than the bigger one, and still turn out to be a better deal when you look at the price per unit. Always compare the per-unit price, not the overall price—this will tell you how much money you’re spending per individual product—per cracker, per toilet-paper roll, or whatever.
Grocery stores can be tricky. They do whatever they can to encourage you to spend more than you planned on every trip. Don’t fall into the supermarket trap—have a list firmly in mind, look around for the best deals, and don’t fall for not-so-great deals and on-sale items you don’t need—and your bank account will thank you for it.