I kind of enjoy it, because I get a lot of ideas about food, what to make, what to experiment with.
But if you hate grocery shopping, you are probably the type to get in there, buy what you want without checking prices and to get out of there as soon as possible.
So here are some easy and some not-so-easy (they get easier later on), tips to help you grocery shop smarter and save money here and there.
Even if you only use one or two tips from here, I’m sure you’re going to see some savings on the receipt!
1. Check your receipts before you leave (EASY)
I already blogged about this, but I’ll repeat the gist of it:
Check your receipts to make sure you got the proper discount and that you weren’t overcharged for what you bought.
It takes 20 seconds to scan the receipt before you leave the store, instead of the half an hour (or saying “Screw it”) when you get home and realize there was a mistake, driving back, and demanding your money back or the item for free.
2. Meal Plan (HARD AT FIRST)
I’ll confess something to you: I don’t meal plan.
BF does, which is why our meals are more organized now, but when I lived on my own, I did NOT meal plan at all. I’ll tell you what I did in #4.
He also puts every meal he’s ever made into a Memo in his Palm T|X PDA and when he meal plans, he just reviews each recipe and marks on a piece of paper what each one requires, then checks it against what we still have at home.
He’s a demon at meal planning. But we also don’t have a TV which would explain his obsession.
Pen down all of the meals you could possibly want to make and eat in the next two weeks (breakfast, lunch, dinner).
From there, look at the categories, and figure out what you need to buy for breakfast, lunch and dinner (your proteins, vegetables, fruit, condiments), figure out what needs what and make a separate list marking the amounts required.
Example of one day:
- Breakfast — 2 apples, yoghurt, honey, granola, tea, milk, sugar
- Lunch — chicken breast, bread, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise
- Dinner — chicken thigh, carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, chicken stock
On your separate sheet, mark the following items
- Sugar *Will use honey instead
- Chicken (Breast & Thigh)
And put a | beside each category to show you need one unit, or a little number at the top to indicate two (or two lines — | | —-, whichever is easiest for you)
Then move on to the next day, and instead of re-writing out another meal plan for the day, just make more |’s to show you need more units of each item, until you’re finished.
The bad news is that it takes a long time.
The good news, is that you won’t buy 5 bottles of honey, forgetting you already have one bottle at home and you can meal plan for an entire MONTH and just repeat the meal plan each month with pre-made lists.
3. Even if you meal plan, be flexible (EASY)
If there are sales on ground beef and you wanted to eat chicken instead, consider what you’re making (chicken stir fry maybe) and see if you can purchase ground beef as a substitute.
4. Don’t meal plan and just stock up on the basics (MEDIUM)
This is the method I subscribe to.
It takes a BIT of work in the beginning to make your basic pantry list, but it is nowhere as time consuming as meal planning.
I hate having to stick to a schedule and re-jig around meats or proteins depending what is on sale, bla bla bla.
Too much of a headache for me.
I like a bit of structure, so I do kind of know what I want to eat that week or for the next 2 weeks, but making a whole list and checking off each ingredient or eating the same thing every month on the same day does not appeal to me.
Instead, I just stocked up on the basics of things I like to eat and just make meals from that, and I have a rough idea of what I want to eat in the next 2 weeks but that’s about it.
JUST STOCKING THE PANTRY
If any was on sale, I bought enough to stock for 2 weeks and just froze it.
Fish was purchased on the day of if there was a 50% discount or sale, and I’d eat that fish that night or the day after.
Vegetables & Fruits
- Tomatoes every week
- Avocados occasionally
- Fruits — whatever is in season at the time.
If tomatoes were on sale that week, I’d buy a whole bunch for the whole week and incorporate them into every dish (I love tomatoes).
- Long Grain Rice
- Sushi Rice
- Soy Sauce
- Oyster Sauce
- Red Curry Paste
- Cooking Sake/Wine
- Mirin (Sweet Japanese vinegar)
- Fish Sauce
- Spices (Bay Leaves, Tumeric, Paprika)
All of this stuff keeps pretty well except for the weekly buys (I like really fresh produce).
And from that list above, I can make almost everything I like to eat.
Occasionally, you’ll need a special fruit or vegetable like a tomatillo for example, but if I just thought about what I wanted to eat for the next 2 weeks (like if I was making a Red Thai Curry), then I’d buy some tomatillos the next time I went to the store.
5. Make a lot of one meal and eat it for the week (EASY)
It takes approximately the SAME amount of time to make a huge batch of maple-glazed chicken legs with carrots, green beans and rice, as it does to keep cooking a new meal each time you want to eat.
A lot of people don’t like to do this, or to eat one dish for the entire week.
I am, luckily, not one of those people. I like to make a stew, soup or a big batch of fried rice for the whole week and just eat the same thing every night for dinner.
This is especially helpful for lunches because I cook for the entire week, and package it all into 5 Starfrit Containers, pick up one boxed lunch each day before I go to work with a piece of fruit.
I am also not one of those types to eat a sweet cold breakfast (fruit, cereal, milk, yoghurt), and I prefer eating savoury leftovers for breakfast such as lunch or dinner fare.
The sweet stuff, I leave for after lunch or after dinner as a dessert.
6. Make a shopping list (EASY)
Even if you don’t do ANY of the above, at least make a shopping list.
Before you head to the grocery store, make a list of what you want to buy for that day, next couple of days, or week, and check in your pantries that you aren’t purchasing a duplicate bottle of honey.
7. Take advantage of points or discounts (EASY)
In the States you have a LOT of these loyalty card discount things, like at Farmer Jack’s for example. Take advantage of it!
In Canada, it’s President’s Choice Points, but you have to use your PC Debit card or PC Mastercard to obtain points.
You can use their cards at ANY merchant to obtain points, and you get extra points if you use it at their signature grocery stores.
This is what I do, and I usually rack up about 40,000 points (or $40) within a month or two.
Every little bit counts, and I use my PC Mastercard to book EVERYTHING (flights, hotels, etc), then I just clear the balance every time I make a purchase (I track everything) and I get free groceries in the end.
The savings may be in small increments but they do add up over the year.
8. Shop at alternative and/or ethnic food stores (MEDIUM*)
*Medium because it depends on where you live and how far you have to drive/bus.
I am talking about Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Indian and at Farmer’s Markets.
You can usually score some pretty great deals at independent stores. Case in point: tomatoes purchased on our island run for $4.99/lb.
If we drive downtown to this little independent fruit and vegetable store, the same tomatoes are $0.99/lb.
And we also pick up all of our fruit there on the cheap, plus, it tastes MUCH better than what’s available at the convenient grocery store located on the island.
You can also think about shopping in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club, but I find their quantities too large to purchase for 2 people. If I had a family, it’s a good idea to buy a huge container of strawberries, but between BF and I, we’d get sick.
Spices especially, are very cheap in Chinese and Indian grocery stores. You can get bay leaves for $0.99/lb instead of buying the fancy little glass bottles from Club House Select with 10 leaves in them for $3.99 in the grocery store.
On the flip side, don’t assume that they are always cheaper — many farmer’s markets particularly here in Canada, are more expensive because they think the cachet of being a farmer’s, local market means they should charge more than a sterile grocery store.
9. Clip Coupons (MEDIUM*)
*I find it time consuming and I hate junk mail or flyers so I tend to ask them NOT to give me any circulars.
Yawn. I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but it works. $1.00 off here, $1.00 off there, and soon you’ve saved $10 off your bill.
Think about using digital coupons as well.
10. Pay attention to what you are buying (MEDIUM)
You may have put on your list “Lemon Yoghurt”, but when you get there, the price is $3.99 and it’s NOT on sale like it normally is or if they raised the price then cut yoghurt from the list.
If it isn’t a necessity, then make choices and cut it from your list and buy something else like more fruit.
Or a yoghurt brand or flavour that is on sale.
A lot of people say to make it like a game, and in a way, I agree with what they’re saying (although, don’t go too far and think that cat food is a good protein).
Another way to pay attention to what you’re buying is to bring a notepad and a pen (or jot it on the back of your shopping list) and mark down the prices of what you bought that week in that store with a * of whether or not they were on sale and what the original price was.
Shop at another grocery store the next week or so, and buying roughly the same items, mark down the prices from that grocery store, and compare the two.
It’s a little extra effort and time but it could save you $20 just by eyeballing that meat is cheaper at one store for the same quality, and produce is cheaper in the other.
Then you can decide to just pick the cheapest grocery store overall and shop there exclusively, or split your time between the two if they are close enough.
Remember what I said before though, don’t just pick ONE item like milk, eggs or bread to compare prices between grocery stores. Take at least 5-10 items (produce, protein, whatever) and compare it across the board.
Grocery stores are on to our little price book comparison game, so outwit the trickster!