Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10 Tips for Cutting Costs at the Grocery Store

Recently I needed to do some grocery shopping for a few items. With a few simple tips, I was able to cut my costs at the store from $68.72 to $45.68. In other words, by doing just a little extra work, I was able to chop my bill by a third! Here's a list of my favorite tips for cutting grocery store costs:

  1. Take Your Time. If you really want to cut costs and hunt for the bargains, give yourself the time to shop. If you dash and grab, you are likely to miss the good deals. Sure, sale items are usually marked, but sometimes the best deal isn't the sale item, it's grocery store brand item sitting next to it. Or as That One Caveman found out, sometimes the best deal is hiding in different packaging.
  2. Return Your Bottles and Cans. This only works, of course, if you live in a state that has a bottle return. I do. Although I don't consume a lot of soda, I do drink some. (I am especially fond of ginger beer. YUM!) Once upon a time, I didn't bring these bottles back to the store - I might only have 4 a month or so, and it seemed easier to just put them in the recycle bin. But now that my favorite saying is, "From pennies, dollars are made" I save each can or bottle that comes my way. This resulted in $1.70 off my grocery bill.
  3. Make a Grocery Shopping List - I Mean It! We have all read this advice before, but honestly, this is the best method for buying only what you need and staying away from impulse purchases. Too often impulse purchases sound good at the store, but are not good for the bottom line (Or the waistline, for that matter.) Having a predetermined list is one thing that really helps me stick to my budget and cut costs.
  4. Decide How Much You are Going to Spend Before You Go to the Store. Bring a calculator if necessary - goodness knows I can't keep all those numbers in my head! I'll be chanting "$13.75... I'm at $13.75" silently in my head and then I turn from the baking aisle to the canned vegetable aisle and the next thing I am doing is thinking, "Where are the garbanzo beans? ...and was I at $13.75 or $17.35???" So I like to bring a calculator along to keep track, so I can really work to stay in my budget. Believe me, you may feel a bit like a dork, but most of the people who see you adding up figures are in the same kind of financial situation you are - and will most likely admire you for for frugal food shopping!
  5. Use Coupons. The Simple Dollar put me onto this great tool: The CouponBar. The website is slightly a pain if you use a Mac (like me) because then you can only print out the coupons if you are using Safari, but that is a minor inconvenience. I've used it a few times now with great success. During this trip I saved $2.25 with grocery coupons I printed from here. I then saved another $5.99 with a store coupon I had especially for this store location.
  6. But, Don't Be Married to Your Coupons. The thing with coupons is, sometimes, they aren't the best deal. For example, one of the things I wanted to get was a multivitamin. The name brand that I had a $1.00 off coupon for was about $12.00. The store had a buy one get one promotion on their own brand which were normally $5.89. So I got two bottles of store brand for $5.89 rather than spending $11.00 on the name brand! This was a case where my coupon certainly would not have got me the best bargain.
  7. Look For In-Store Specials. Let's face it, the economy is bad and food prices have been on the rise. However, stores are hurting too and I have noticed that the grocery stores seem to be doing a lot of promotions lately. In fact, this was the bulk of my savings. I saved $14.90 by buying purchasing items on my list that were on sale in the store. Pretty much everything that I purchased that wasn't produce was on sale.
  8. Don't Go Hungry. Another old chestnut in grocery store tips, but still a valid one. I always try to make sure I have eaten before I go. Truthfully, I don't do well in crowds, so I try to shop when it is isn't a peak time. Heaven forbid if I try to go at a peak time and I haven't eaten - that is just a recipe for disaster! I get so flustered that I don't take the time I need to shop properly (which ruins tip number 1) and I am so hungry I buy more food than I need, (tip 3.)
  9. Do Not Buy (or Limit) Food That is Pre-Prepared. The more a food is prepared for you the more you pay for it. TANSTAAFL*. Passive Family Income had a great post about this the other day. If you buy shredded cheese - you pay someone to do that for you. If you buy pre-cut up chicken, you pay for that too. Now, some things may be worth it to you. For example, I like keeping pre-shredded cheese in the freezer and I am usually willing to pay more for the convenience of having it done for me. However, I bake all my own bread. You have to find the right mix for you, but just remember the more "meal in boxes" you buy, the more you pay.
  10. Look at Packaging per Price. If you have your handy calculator along, this is a great way to use it as well. Be sure to look at the price per ounce or item in the box. We all know that usually this price goes down the larger the quantity, but sometimes it really varies from brand to brand too. It may look like you are getting a better deal... until you realize that you are actually getting a lot less.
Do you have other tips? Let me know - I would love to hear them!!

List making photo by: bookgrl
*(There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.)


Catie said...

My mom and I once bought bulk items at Costco, brought our own baggies, and split them. This works especially well for expensive items (like pine nuts!) and every day necessities (like toilet paper).

Dawn said...

As the recipient of some of those pine nuts, I fully support this plan!

Anonymous said...

Leave children at home (if possible).

Dawn said...

debtfree - Ha! I agree. Although since I don't have kids, this is an easy one for me.

Greener Pastures said...

To add to your great list- processed foods give you less bang for the buck. And there are certain places that you're better off not cutting corners. For example, eating dairy or meats with antibiotics and hormones is not worth the inexpensive price to me.

Dawn said...

Greener Pastures - good point! I admit, I don't always buy organic, but I strive to do so as often as I can. I agree, there are somethings that are just worth paying a little more for.