14 Easy Tactics To Become A Smarter Shopper

Grocery shopping is expensive.  Food is actually one of the most expensive categories in our budgets so it only makes sense to try and cut dollars and cents wherever you can.  The important thing to remember is that this is possible.  Yes, it takes some work to establish habits and routines, but once you do, you'll wonder what in the world took so long!

Here are a few habits or routines to adopt to help become a smarter shopper:

1. Have A Shopping List (& Stick To It)
     Have you ever quickly scribbled a few things down and decided you can figure out the rest when you get to the store?  I have too, back when we were spending $600-$800 dollars per month (or more) on groceries. For 2 people......
Two things are usually the outcome of this technique:
1. You spend way more than you would have otherwise because not having a plan is not a successful way of planning, and
2. You end up having to stop at the grocery store another time or two that week in order to get what you need to make the meals you've decided on for the week.  Extra trips mean you'll likely spend more money (there's always something else that will jump out to you and sound or look good), as well as waste both time and gas.

2. Shop Your Kitchen First
     In order to avoid purchasing items you already have (or finding a suitable alternative that you already own), you must shop your kitchen first.  A quick glance at an inventory sheet, or, a few minutes to review your freezer, fridge and pantry will result in savings at the register.  If you are on your way out the door and you realize you did not shop your kitchen first, you can certainly take quick photos of your fridge and pantry and review them once you get to the store.  This may help you both avoid purchasing duplicate items as well as help you avoid another trip to the store for staples you are out of and didn't realize.

3. Be Careful With Coupons
     I'm all for saving money with coupons, but remember that coupons are often for brand names and many times for things you wouldn't have purchased had you not had the coupons.  Check out sites like The Krazy Coupon Lady or Money Saving Mom to help you match up coupons with store sales, or at least shop the price difference between store brand and the name brand you have a coupon for, in order to determine the best price.

4. Use (FREE) Cash-Back Apps
     I've been using (referral links) Ebates for a few years now and Ibotta in the past year and wonder why it took me so long to sign up! They are free apps that give you cash back for qualifying purchases.  I haven't changed the way I shop at all.  Instead, if my purchase qualifies, I get money from one or both and if it doesn't, no problem!

5. Pay Cash
     This has been one of the biggest ways we have found to save money.  Once we switched to cash only, throwing extra's in the cart was no longer an option.  Don't allow yourself to use your debit card for extra, instead, make your weekly meals fit within your budget.

6. Make A Price Book
     I know, I know, who has time to do this?  Well let me tell you, I was shocked at how much this helped when I actually took the time to do it.  I didn't spend hours in the stores either.  I simply saved my receipts for a few months and made a list of items we purchased.  My categories are "pantry", "dairy", "produce", "freezer", and "meat".  I added the price from the store where it was purchased as well as the size/weight.  Then, each time I went to another store, I would seek out some of these items to write the prices in my book.
     For example, I purchased dry beans and canned beans at Hannaford.  I put them in my price book and wrote Hannaford's price.  The next time I went to Aldi, I looked for the same items.  I wrote the Aldi prices in my book.  The next time I went to Trader Joes, I did the same thing.
     My husband loves peanut butter stuffed pretzels as a snack from time-to-time, mostly to bring with us to craft shows/markets.  At Hannaford they cost $4.99 (or 28 cents per ounce).  I was SHOCKED that at Trader Joe's, a bag that is only 2 ounces less was $1.99 (or 12 cents per ounce).  And I think they taste better too.  We now only purchase them at Trader Joe's.

7. Weigh The Benefits Of Convenience
     Pre-packaged sliced cheese or deli meat, whipped cream cheese (over regular), "baby" carrots or pre-chopped veggies, etc. all come at a price, usually higher than if you didn't go for the convenience.  If you're trying to cut costs you may want to look at this category to see if something should be changed.

8. Bulk Club Stores Don't Always Mean Savings
    Do you need 15 pounds of onions?  Will you use them up before they go bad?  It can be very tempting to purchase many items from your list at the club stores.  However, it's not always a price savings.  You often have to calculate price per ounce or pound in order to determine if there is any savings.  Next, if it's perishable, or something your family doesn't eat often, you have to determine if it's really something you need that much of.

9. Ask For What You Need At The Meat Counter
     Find a beef roast marked down and think it would be great burger?  Ask the people at the meat counter if they could grind it up for you.  They can also often times cut up meat as well.  Don't pass up a great deal on meat because it's not the right cut or you need it ground until you know for sure if they can do this for you.

10. Don't Pass Up Marked Down Meat Because You Don't Need It This Week
     If you have room in your budget to purchase it and it's something your family would eat, why not buy it, package it into single portions, and freeze it?

11. Don't Forget About Frozen Fruit & Veggies
     Frozen fruit and veg won't always work for you, and it won't always be cheaper, but it is a great option to consider if it doesn't matter whether it's frozen or fresh.

12. Watch The Register At Check-Out
     Try to not be distracted and watch the quantities, item, and prices.  I've been charged for Asian pears when I bought apples (a considerable price difference), 50 bulbs of garlic instead of 5, and numerous times the sale prices have not come up properly.  It's ok if you don't remember each price when you're cashing out, just look for obvious things and then scan your receipt more closely when you get home.

13. Shop By Yourself
     If you can.  I must say, this is not necessarily something that is a pro in our household.  My husband sticks to the list like there is no other option.  I, on the other hand, used to have a tendency to look for new and/or sale items.  The joke used to be that if we wanted to stick to our grocery budget my husband should shop alone.  (I've become much better...…)

14. Track Your Spending
     If you struggle to get your food spending under control, track what you spend and where you spend it.  Just like a regular budget, it's amazing once you see exactly what you buy week after week.  It's easy to forget the cost (and how often) of something that gets impulsively tossed into the cart.  For me, the worst was when I went to a specialty store like Trader Joes.
     Because we only go once a month or every two months, I would fill most of my cart with items I hadn't planned for.  Why?  Because I wanted to try them and I knew we wouldn't be back for another month or so.  The next thing you knew, my estimated $60.00 shopping trip turned into double that (or more).  Now I make room in the budget to try one or two things if we find something we want to try.

There are many ways to begin (and continue) saving money at the grocery store.  Some are easier than others.  And while you may not work all of these into your life, adopting a few will enable you to begin seeing changes resulting in more money left in your wallet.

What are some tips you have to becoming a smarter shopper?  I'd love to hear your ideas!

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