50 Tips to Simplify Grocery Shopping

50 Tips to Simplify Grocery Shopping and Save Money

We just got back from a pretty spendy family vacation, and with the holidays just around the corner, it’s once again time to tighten the purse strings and save up some cash! One area where most of us can save a few pennies is with our food shopping, so I’ve gathered up 50 of my best tips for simplifying trips to the grocery store while saving money.

  1. Always go with a list. If you go without a list, you may as well just throw your money away. Prepare a list of everything you need, pulling from your weekly menu (next tip) and checking to make sure you don’t have the supplies in your pantry, fridge or freezer. Make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Now stick to that list.
  2. Plan out a weekly menu. This is the best way to ensure that your list is complete, and that you have enough to serve your family dinner for the week. I often plan a weekly menu and then duplicate it for the next week — this way I can shop for two weeks at once. Be sure to plan a leftovers night to reduce food waste and save even more money.
  3. Don’t go when you’re hungry. This is a common tip, but it’s true. Eat a good meal first, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your list. I’m terrible with this one, and I’ve found that if I go to the store hungry, I end up spending way more on impulse purchases. Eat before you shop!
  4. Have a budget. When I go to the store, I know exactly how much I can spend. Then I try my best to stick within that limit. If you don’t give yourself a limit, you’ll certainly spend too much.
  5. Do a rough running tally. Related to the above tip, if you want to stay within your budget, it’s best to know where you’re at. I keep a running tally on my grocery list, just rounding off so I can do some quick math. An item costs $1.85? I say $2. Then I don’t need a calculator or all those complicated math skills.
  6. Keep a list on your fridge, and write things down immediately. When you run out of something, don’t leave it to your memory. Jot it down immediately, and you’ll never have to run back to the store just because you forgot to buy eggs.
  7. Keep supplies stocked for quick meals. Easy meals for us might be spaghetti or mac-n-cheese or a quick stir-fry. We’ve always got the ingredients on hand, so we can whip something up fast when we’re feeling lazy.
  8. Buy in bulk when it makes sense. If you can save money, over the course of a month or two, by buying in bulk, plan to do so. But be sure that you’re going to use all of it before it gets bad — it isn’t cheaper to buy in bulk if you don’t use it.
  9. Buy frozen veggies. While fresh veggies are better, frozen veggies are almost as good, and much better than nothing. Stock up when they’re on sale.
  10. Cut back on meat. Meat is expensive. We have vegetarian meals several times a week (think pasta or soup) and for other meals, you could just use a little meat as a kind of seasoning instead of the main ingredient — think Asian, Indian and other such cultural food.
  11. Pack your own snacks. Buying pre-made snacks is convenient, but a big waste of money. Buy little baggies or use reusable containers and buy the snacks in bulk, then it will take just a few minutes to pack some snacks for lunch each day.
  12. Make leftovers for lunch. Plan to cook a bit extra for each dinner, so that you’ll have leftovers for your lunch and for the kids’ lunches. Pack it right away, after dinner, so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning. My husband often takes leftovers for lunch, and my kids often request that I make extra chili, beans or chicken nuggets for their lunch boxes.
  13. Cook a lot, then freeze. Alternatively, you can cook a whole mess of lasagna (for example) and freeze it for multiple dinners. A great idea is to use one Sunday and cook a week’s (or even a month’s) worth of dinners. Plan 5-6 freezable dinners and cook them all at once.
  14. Always have batteries, toilet tissue and light bulbs. Add in any other necessities that you always seem to run out of — buy a bunch when they’re on sale, or buy in bulk. Be sure to check to see if you have these items before you go to the store.
  15. Try crock pot dinners. They are easy and cheap and tasty. Cut up a bunch of ingredients, throw them in the pot in the morning, and have dinner ready for you when you get home. Can anything be more perfect than that? I submit that it cannot.
  16. Clip coupons. I know, sometimes they seem like too much trouble. But it’s not really that hard to clip a few coupons and toss them in an envelope to take on your grocery shopping trip. And you can save 10-20% of your bottom line with coupons. Check store entrances, newspaper and flyers for coupons. Also look for printable coupons online and digital coupons you can use on your mobile phone.
  17. Only use coupons for items you were already planning to buy. Don’t let them trick you into buying something that’s not on your list, just to “save” money.
  18. Look for specials. Every store has specials. Be sure to look for them in the newspaper, or when you get to the store (they often have unadvertised specials — look on the higher and lower shelves for deals). Don’t buy them unless they’re things you always use.
  19. Try the store brands. Brand names are often no better than generic, and you’re paying for all the advertising they do to have a brand name. Give the store brand a try, and often you won’t notice a difference. Especially if it’s an ingredient in a dish where you can’t taste the quality of that individual ingredient.
  20. Cut back on your “one-item” trips. They waste gas, and almost inevitably, you buy more than that one item. If you plan ahead, make a weekly menu, and shop with a list, this should drastically reduce the number of trips you make for a small number of items. But if you still find yourself running out for a few items, analyze the reason — are you not making a good list, are you forgetting some items from your list? Stock up on the things you frequently go out for.
  21. Be watchful at the register. Keep an eye on the scanner — you’ll keep the cashier on his toes, and catch any mispriced items.
  22. Comparison shop. Look at the different brands for a certain type of product, including store brands. Sometimes there will be a significant difference. Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples — you need to divide the price by the amount (ounces, pounds, etc.) in order to get the comparable unit price.
  23. Go during slow times. One of my favorite times to shop is late at night. But during working hours or other non-peak times is good too. Avoid right after 5 p.m., on paydays and near major holidays.
  24. Know when the store stocks its fresh fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies can go bad quickly, because they have to be shipped.
  25. Plan one big trip a month for bulk staples. You can get fresh items at another store on other weeks, but doing a big bulk trip will cut back on the expense and amount you have to carry for the other three weeks. Avoid buying on impulse at the bulk store too — just because they sell a lot of it doesn’t mean you’re saving if you weren’t planning on buying it in the first place.
  26. Avoid trips to the corner store. Or the gas station! These are some of the most expensive stores.
  27. Try co-ops. You can often save a lot of money at these types of places for staples. I like co-ops for fresh organic fruits and veggies, as well as organic grassfed meats.
  28. Think deep freeze. If you really want to save, you’ll need a big freezer. Ask around — someone you know might have a relatively new model they don’t need anymore. You can use freezers to stock up on meat, frozen veggies, and similar staples, and to freeze big batches of pasta, casseroles, and other dinners you prepare ahead of time.
  29. Use everything possible. If you have a bunch of leftover ingredients (half an onion, a bit of tomato, some pasta, a few other veggies?) combine them in the freezer so that they don’t go to waste before your next grocery trip. You can use these bits and pieces in soups and casseroles. The more you can stretch the food, and the less you waste, the less you’ll spend in the long run.
  30. Don’t waste leftovers. Have a list on your fridge of what leftovers are in there, so you don’t forget about them. Plan a leftover night or two, so you’re sure to eat them all. Pack them immediately for lunch, so they’re ready to take the next morning.
  31. Avoid junk food as much as possible. Junk food not only costs a lot of money for zero nutrition, but it makes you and your family fat and kills you. Talk about a bad deal! Opt for fruits and veggies instead.
  32. If possible, go shopping when the kids are in school. If you bring kids, they can pester you until you buy some kind of junk food. Even if you’re able to stick to your guns, it’s not pleasant saying no a million times. In most cases, you’ll save money shopping without the kids.
  33. Go for whole foods. The processed stuff is lacking in nutrition and will make you fat. Look for foods in their least processed form — whole grain instead of white or wheat bread, fresh fruit instead of canned, whole grain cereal or oatmeal instead of sugared cereal.
  34. Read labels. Look for trans fat, hydrogenated oils, high amounts of sugar, saturated fat, lots of sodium, cholesterol. Then avoid them like the plague. Look instead for fiber, good fats, protein, vitamins, calcium.
  35. Clean out your fridge, especially if you’ve got stuff growing in there and turning from solids to liquids. If the leftovers have begun to organize their own political party, toss ‘em out.
  36. Stick to your list. Avoid impulse buys. They are almost always bad, and even if it’s just a couple dollars, they will add up. Over the course of a year, that can mean thousands. Tell yourself you will not buy anything that’s not on your list unless it’s an absolute necessity.
  37. Use store savings cards and rebate offers. These can add up to big savings over the long run.
  38. Cut back on your restaurant eating. It’s never cheaper or more nutritious than eating at home. Plan your dinners and bring your lunches to work and save a ton of money.
  39. Avoid frozen dinners or prepared entrees. Again, these cost way more and are usually much less nutritious.
  40. Drink water. If you regularly drink iced tea, sodas or other types of drinks, cut those down and just drink water. It’s much better for you, and much cheaper.
  41. Prepare your grocery list by aisle. If you regularly shop at the same stores, organize your list so that you can easily find and check off items as you walk down the aisle. We always shop from right to left, so we’re not constantly running back and forth in the store.
  42. Get reusable grocery bags. You’ll save tons of plastic over time and help the environment tremendously. Some stores also offer a discount, usually a nickel or so a bag, when you bring your own.
  43. Pack healthy snacks for the kids. Whole wheat crackers, popcorn, cut-up fruit, raisins, and other kid-friendly snacks are much better than the junk you often see in kids’ lunches, not to mention cheaper.
  44. Don’t buy general merchandise at grocery stores. If you’re at a regular grocery store and not a superstore (e.g., my friend SuperTarget), don’t buy general merchandise items—cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. The mark-up on these items at grocery stores is astronomical.
  45. Whenever possible, buy produce from the farmer’s market or from an orchard or farm. You’ll sometimes save money, and you’ll always get much better quality for your dollar.
  46. Grow your own herbs and veggies. If you rent or just don’t have a big yard, you can still grow some things in containers. I’m giving a container herb garden a try this year, as so many recipes call for fresh herbs, yet they can be so expensive ($2-3 for a tiny plastic package) at the store.
  47. Consider grocery shopping online if you can. While it does cost a little extra to have it delivered, you save on the gas. Most online sites keep track of the products you normally buy, keep a running total of what’s in your basket, and show you all the current special offers. Online shopping can also save you from those impulse buys that weren’t on your list. I buy some of my staples using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save option, which saves money without having to clip coupons and the items are delivered right to my door (like that 40 lb. bag of cat litter!)
  48. Use a hand basket. When you do have to run to the store for just a few things, instead of using a cart, use the little hand basket. That way you don’t get too many things because it get be too heavy to carry!
  49. Take advantage of Double Ad Days or Double Coupon Days. Some stores have days where both last week’s and the new week’s ads are in effect, so you can get twice the specials. Some stores also have Double (or even Triple) Coupon Days where they double or triple the face value of your coupons.
  50. Plan your menus to the ads. If you plan your lunches and dinners according to what’s on sale at the store this week, you can save even more money.

Do you have any awesome grocery shopping tips? Please share them in the comments!

Saving Memories Simply: Creating a Halloween Book

Saving Memories Simply: Creating a Halloween BookOne of my very favorite October traditions is taking my boys to a local pumpkin patch in their Halloween costumes and taking LOTS of photos of them. I started doing this when my oldest son was born — he was 2 months old at his first pumpkin patch photo shoot, and of course I dressed him as a pumpkin. The next year we went to a larger patch, and our boy was dressed as his best buddy Tigger. The next year, he was a frog, and I was starting to amass a stack of pumpkin patch pictures that I really wanted to show off. And so the pinnacle of my favorite fall tradition was born: the Halloween Book.

I went to Target and got a plain black linen photo album with a little cutout window, where I placed a photo of a jack-o-lantern. I put my pumpkin patch photos in, with a little note for each year for the kid’s age and costume description, and I found a place of prestige for my album on the mantle. The next year, I had 2 sons to take to the patch, and photos of Baby Pooh and Bigger Tigger made their way into the pages. My older son suddenly discovered the book, and now enjoys flipping through the pages, giggling at how silly he looked as a froggie and how much his own pix as a baby pumpkin look like his baby brother.

We’ve got photos of the Firefigher and his puppy Dalmatian, the two Ninjas, and even Scooby Doo and Fred from Mystery Incorporated. It’s a highlight each year to look back on their costumes. We’re past the stage of cutesy coordinating costumes, and now the photos really showcase their personalities. This year, I’ve got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (the orange one because “he’s the funnest”) and a black-wigged Elvis ready to rock his way through the neighborhood.

My own Halloween Book is a simple black linen album, but you can find fun, decorative albums all over the Internet. Even if you don’t do a pumpkin patch, a book dedicated just to your child’s Halloween costuming adventures would be a wonderful keepsake for years to come.