I know that some people reading my blog are probably better at saving money than I am, but there are also some who are just getting started on their "frugal journey." So today I am sharing some very simple, easy ways to start reducing your grocery bill. These ideas are great for beginners, because they take a minimal amount of time and effort, and they are also a great reminder for all of us of the basics of saving money.
1) Decide on a grocery budget and stick to it. This is probably the number one way to save on really anything: deciding that you won't spend more than a certain amount. And it's not hard to do. Start with a very realistic budget, just a little lower than what you usually spend. Then keep track of your shopping each week or month (however your budget is organized) and don't spend over that amount. Even if you have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the last few days of the month, you won't starve!
2) Plan meals. Don't go to the grocery store and just buy whatever looks good or what you think you might need. Actually sit down and go over your week (or whatever period of time you're shopping for) and see what meals you'll be eating and what ingredients you need. When I started seriously doing this, I was amazed to find how little I actually needed to buy for each week. If planning meals seems daunting, just write down dinners for one Monday through Friday. Pretty much anyone can spend a few minutes doing that. I wrote more about meal planning here and here.
3) Shop with a list and stick to it. After you've planned your meals, make a detailed list and stick to it. Don't forget items for breakfast, lunches, and snacks, as well as beverages, paper products, cleaning products - anything you normally buy at a grocery or big box store. This practice has the added benefit of reducing trips to the store for forgotten items, which further reduces the chance of impulse buying.
4) Start clipping coupons. I could certainly write a whole post about couponing (and I probably will), but getting started really doesn't take much effort or explanation. Simply buy a Sunday newspaper each week and start looking for coupons on items you were going to buy anyway. If you find a $.50 coupon on the brand of cereal you always buy, and your store doubles it (which many do), then that little slip of paper is a dollar in your pocket. Once you are comfortable using a few coupons here and there, you can move on to matching them with sales and other coupon strategies.
5) Stock up on sales. Most people have probably done this at some time or other. You've noticed that your favorite cereal is on sale, so you've bought three boxes. That is the basic idea behind what couponers call "stockpiling." Basically, if an item that you regularly buy go on sale for a dollar off, you save three dollars if you buy three. It's definitely a good idea to do this, with a couple of caveats. First, don't buy 10 boxes of cereal if it's not in your budget. It will save you more money in the long run to stick to a budget than to save a couple of dollars on cereal one month. Also, remember than many items go on sale regularly, so there's no need to buy 10 if it will go on sale again in six weeks.
6) Consider generics - I wrote in a previous post about not being brand loyal. It is definitely worth it to try the generic brand on pretty much anything. You can always switch back, but you might save a considerable amount of money without even noticing by, say, buying generic canned tomatoes.
7) Think outside the box - Challenge the way you have been thinking about shopping and spending money. I have always been a frugal person who used coupons and shopped sales, but when I examined my grocery budget this summer I found that I was acting on a lot of premises that could be challenged. For instance, did my husband have to have Tostitos brand chips and salsa, because that's what he remembered from his childhood, or would he be perfectly fine with Wegmans brand? (It was the latter.) Did I need to keep my pantry stocked with certain items, or should I just buy them when I was planning to use them in a recipe? Should I buy this item just because it's on sale or is it better to just spend less money this week?
I hope these tips are helpful. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section, and I will try to address them. Also, look for an upcoming post on more "advanced" grocery store saving strategies, for when you're ready to move onto the next steps!