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Eat Healthy or Eat Cheap? You Can Do Both with These Money-Saving Tips
We may think that we need to make a choice about whether to eat healthy or to eat cheap, but saving money doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality. If you’re smart about your weekly trip to the supermarket you can eat healthy, high-quality food, while keeping extra cash in your pocket. Follow these grocery bill hacks to get what you need without breaking the bank.
Before You Shop
Your main defense against spending too much money at the grocery store starts before you leave the house. A well-laid plan will ensure you know what you want, how much you can spend, and where you will find the best deals.
Plan Your Meals
The best time to do your weekly meal planning – a mapping out of all the meals you will be eating for the next week – is before you shop. Think about incorporating variety into your diet across all your meals, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget to plan for healthy snacks so you’re not tempted to grab fast food or items out of a snack machine.
Make a Budget and a List
Setting a budget is the best way to prevent yourself from overspending. According to the USDA, in February 2020, a family of four in the U.S. on a thrifty spending plan could expect to spend around $550-$650 per month on groceries. While this amount would vary depending on factors like location and age, it gives a starting point for creating your budget.
Refine your budget by creating a list of what you need for the upcoming week. Many stores, like Fairway, Walmart, and Whole Foods, offer downloadable apps and online shopping, so you can check the items’ prices before you even hit the store. By populating an online list through an app, you can set a reasonable budget for your trip and avoid surprises at the checkout line.
Eat Before You Go
Showing up at the supermarket with an empty stomach is the quickest way to overspend on your grocery bill. When you’re hungry, everything will look enticing, and you’ll be more tempted to buy unnecessary items. Schedule your visit after meals to ensure that every penny you spend is well-directed.
Check Flyers and Coupons
Most of us get a stack of grocery store circulars in our mailbox every week. Instead of tossing them in the trash, take a look at what items are on sale this week. You can also find coupons on supermarkets’ websites and apps, as well as third-party sites offering manufacturers coupons. The savings in circulars and coupons may seem trivial; however, an extra $0.35-0.50 can add up in the long run. Look for downloadable coupons online or through an app to eliminate the need to bring paper ones with you. And be sure to check the sales and coupons against your list to make sure your meal planning maximizes your savings.
At the Store
By the time you’re at the store, the hard work has already been done. You have your list, your budget, and your coupons. Now you just need to stick to the plan, while keeping an eye out for sales and bulk goods.
Buy in Bulk
If your freezer allows, try to opt for larger quantities of nonperishables and oft-used groceries. Although you may pay more up front, you’ll spend less in the long run due to lower unit cost. Most stores will display the unit cost on the same price tag as the total cost. Try comparing the unit prices on standard sized items with those on the “Family Pack” size of the same item – chances are, the bulk purchase is more economical.
Take Advantage of Holiday Sales
Many stores offer discounts before and after major holidays. The big holidays like Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving are usually great opportunities to look for deals, so stock up on all your important items during these times if you can.
Clearance shelves are your supermarket’s best-kept secret. While the products on these shelves are nearing their expirations dates, they are still perfectly good to eat and can be marked down to as much as 50-70%.
Every major supermarket has a generic brand with products that are similar in ingredients to the name brand version, but with no associated marketing costs, and therefore, offered at a lower price. You can find a lot of your common household items at a discounted price, solely because they come without the recognizable name.
Buy Only What You Need
Stick to the list to avoid budget-breaking impulse buys. Nonessentials, like snacks and desserts, should be considered only if there is enough room left in your budget. Even great deals on sale items and bulk pricing can be wasteful of both products and money if you’re not actually going to eat them or use them, so be mindful of what you like to use.
Following Through at Home
Once you’ve made it home from the store, follow through to ensure you don’t let the items you’ve bought go to waste.
Most of your meal planning should be done while you’re reviewing the weekly sales and coupons before your trip to the store. But if you found some deals on the spot while you were shopping, it’s ok to be flexible and swap out your planned recipes for others that will incorporate what you bought. Use the names of the items you just bought as search terms to find recipes or catch up on cooking blogs that feature meals made with seasonal foods. Check the dates on perishable items so you know what you need to eat first, and freeze things you won’t be using this week.
Also, consider making some of your food items at home instead of buying the packaged versions at the store. You can find plenty of help online for how to make your own snacks like granola bars and hummus, breakfast items like muffins, or even your own drinks like kombucha. If you have the time, making things these kinds of things at home can help you save.
Avoiding Offers That Will Cost You Money
Meal delivery kits have become popular with consumers because they offer an easy way to get a meal on the table without having to go to the grocery store. Be careful before you rush to sign up for one of these plans though – you may find that the thing you’re saving is time, not money. While the kit meals themselves are convenient, you’re likely spending up to three times as much money than if you bought things yourself at the store, according to a study done by Forbes in 2018.
Home delivery is another convenience option that comes with a price tag. While it’s fine to make use of this service for health or time constraint reasons, just know that you’ll probably be paying an extra fee ($10 or more in some cases) to have your food delivered to your house. If you are really looking to cut down on time spent in the store, you can opt for curbside pickup if it’s available. Fees for this service are lower or sometimes waived completely.
For these options, you need to decide whether the convenience outweighs the cost. If your priority is saving money, skip the delivery services and stick with the tips above to maximize your savings.
Saving money at the grocery store requires discipline and time, but the more often you use these tips, the more efficient you will become in your routine of planning, meal preparation, and list creation that will make your shopping trips more efficient and economical. And you’ll be able to feel great about what you are spending your money on, knowing that you got some deals and maximize your savings. By using these grocery store hacks you can eat healthy and cheaply.