Once upon a time, I made the mistake of adding up how much I had spent on food in one month. After I picked myself up off the floor, I couldn’t help but think there must be a secret way to buy groceries that everyone else knows and just isn’t telling me. Sometimes, it seems there is no middle ground between buying blind and becoming an extreme couponer/hoarder.
I dove into the world of coupon clipping, price comparisons, price matching and ALL the spreadsheets – it became like a second career for me. However, all of that intense work brought to light a few simple truths that can help you save.
So here’s my list of easy (dare I say, lazy) tips you can apply without having to spend hours rocking in the corner muttering about price matching PopTarts.
1. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries SOOS (Stock Only On Sales)
It may take a bit of time to really adjust your thinking on this one, but it pays off in the end. One thing I learned very quickly was that prices can vary to the extreme not only store to store, but week to week. One week I was paying $16/kg for chicken breasts, the next it was on sale for $7/kg (side note: few things are more annoying to the comparison shopper than after-you-already-bought-it sales). The takeaway? When prices are low, I buy twice as much. The tough part is getting your head around buying all that chicken at once and making it fit into your grocery budget for that week, but once you’re in the rhythm, you’ll really save in the long run.
2. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Shop First, Cook Later
It’s such a simple tip that I was a bit gobsmacked when I first read it as a suggestion, but it makes perfect sense (and not just because cooking before shopping is a bit of a challenge). I have gone through brief flings with complex meal planning where we would eat restaurant-style meals every night – at least on paper. The problem with the way I was planning was threefold: 1) by choosing meals based on what looks yummy on Pinterest, the shopping list of ingredients became insanely long, 2) none of them overlapped and 3) likely, none of them were on sale. I ended up paying a lot for ingredients I would only use once and throwing away leftover ingredients that weren’t used.
Instead, take a look at what’s on sale and base your cooking around that. Have a general idea of how much protein you need, then choose your recipes to use the full amounts. Also, start thinking of recipes in combinations instead of as standalone dishes. For example, if ground beef is on sale, you could make burgers and chili that week to use it up.
3. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Know Your Number(s)
This is a two-fold pointer. First, tip #1 only works if you know the difference between a “meh” sale and a “stock up for the apocalypse” sale. Depending on how you shop now, you may already have a great handle on what your most purchased items go for, but if you’re like me, you toss what you need into the cart and compete with your spouse when you get to the cashier by trying to guess your total (“The Price is Right” rules apply). Unfortunately, this one can take a bit of leg work in the beginning – but it can be as simple as starting to pay attention to the price you’re paying each week. I started a spreadsheet and aggressively tracked prices through flyers and my receipts for a couple of months, and now I have a good handle on what our staples should cost.
Second, you need to know your budget number. Regardless of how you set up your household budget (or even if you don’t need one), you should have a vague idea of how much you want to be spending on food. Keeping that number in mind can help you decide what is the best bang for your buck, and serves as a gentle reminder that you are not, in fact, Gordon Ramsey, so you can probably cook without Fleur de Sel.
4. Lazy Ways To Save on Groceries: Let Others Do The Work
You’re reading this site, so you are already putting this into practice. We’re all looking to save a few bucks where we can, so take advantage of the group to share tips from the general to the store down the street from you that has a sale on snap peas. For my fellow Canadians check out SmartCanucks.ca, which includes a forum where members will match coupons and sale prices and post them. Every week. For free. How great is that? Checkout51 is a great Canadian app that provides new cashback offers each week. Just scan your receipt and when your account gets to $20, they send you a cheque. [American friends, can you post your picks below?]
5. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Combine Offers
The store near me periodically has a tax-free weekend – for me, that means 13% off anything I buy, just by buying it on a certain day. Other stores might have days where they double the value of your coupons. If you decide to clip coupons, watch for the item to go on sale in the store, and then use the manufacturer coupon to really maximize your savings. If you choose a store that has a price matching policy, you won’t have to drive all over town to get the best deal – just show the competitor flyer at the checkout.
6. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Don’t Buy Just Because It’s On Sale
No tip list would be complete without the discipline reminder. I still catch myself really wanting to buy that jar of sauerkraut because it’s on sale and I have a coupon! But it’s not a deal if it will sit on my shelf for the next two years until I give it away in a canned food drive. Resist the urge. However, that sale can be a chance to try new foods, just be realistic with yourself about when and if you will use it.Erin Joyce is an editor, writer, resume revamp-er and manager of social media and online content. Her financial articles appear on Investopedia.com, Yahoo!, the Globe and Mail and MSN.com. If you write words or put things on the internet, she can help. She is a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada, so please excuse the metric system. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to guest post here!