12 Tips for Becoming a Smart Grocery Shopper

Grocery bills are not going to be coming down any time soon. If you’re trying to figure out how you can improve your spending habits on grocery shopping, I have twelve tips for you so you can become a smarter shopper. You may be aware of some of these tips already, however sometimes it’s good to go over the basics when trying to figure out a better system.

Smart Grocery Tip #1: Always have a grocery list and a full stomach when you go to the grocery store. This will keep you from being an impulse buyer and throwing items in your cart that you could do without. I make my list according to each aisle that I will go down, so that it is easier to follow, grouping dairy products with dairy products, produce with produce and so on. By the way, when it comes to produce that doesn’t look appetizing; I always will ask the produce manager if a new shipment came in. Typically, they hold out as long as possible before they will put the new items out. Also, if you want only a smaller quantity of something like parsley or celery, just ask for a smaller amount, and he can adjust the price. Many people assume you have to take what is out there, but they are there to be flexible. All you have to do is ask the manager. Even if you get a bad item, tell them about it. The produce manager will be happy to give you a replacement item free of charge.

Smart Grocery Tip #2: First and utmost always know what you are spending on your weekly food bill. In order to save you need to know how much you are spending. Save a month’s worth of receipts and add it up. Then divide by four to get an estimated weekly guide. You might want to have two month’s worth of grocery receipts to get a better gauge of your spending. Always estimate on the higher side. This should include all trips to the store, and yeah, even beer and wine. Anything you buy at the grocery store on a monthly basis should be included.

Smart Grocery Tip #3: When it comes to coupons, make sure you are buying products you want and not buying items you really don’t need just because you have a coupon. If you are normally buying a cheaper competitor’s brand or generic/store brand that you are satisfied with it, then make sure the savings is worth it before you use the coupon. Also, be aware that you can get coupons online and print them out yourself. See the attached website for one site for coupons.

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Smart Grocery Tip #4: Do not buy your toiletries at the grocery store. They mark them up about 25%. It’s best to go to a discount store like a Walmart for that. However, do consider the cost of gas going to the other store. If there are only one or two items to buy, and the store is not nearby, then it would not be worthwhile. If you do go to the discount store and these items are on sale, buy in larger quantities to save trips and money.

Smart Grocery Tip #5: Check the unit prices on the small price cards that are on the shelves which are below the item. At a glance it can appear one item is cheaper than the other. However, unless you look at the unit price you could be getting ripped off. For instance, there was a time that one pound of bagged coffee was really one pound. Today that same one pound of coffee stays at the same price, but the ounces are 12 or 13 ounces in the bag. The unit cost will let you know which is cheaper without doing any math in your head. Even in the produce department you might be thinking you are getting a one pound of fresh mushrooms, and it ends up being 12 ounces. You’ve always heard that buying in larger quantities are better value, however, it’s not always the case.

Smart Grocery Tip #6: If you can, it’s always better to make your snacks rather than buying them. Anything with sugar in it will increase your spending by about 50% versus making it yourself. This includes buying premixed items because that also adds 50% more to your cost rather than adding the items yourself. For instance, an item like Bisquick has a product where you can just add water and shake the bottle and viola, pancakes. The cost is 50% more than if you were to buy the box of Bisquick and add your milk and eggs. If you want to pay for convenience, then that’s what you are paying for. If you want to be a smart shopper then do it yourself.

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Smart Grocery Tip #7: First and utmost always know what you are spending on food weekly. In order to save you need to know how much you are spending. Save a month’s worth of receipts and add it up. This should include all trips to the store, and yeah, even beer and wine. Be honest with your spending and your spending will be reduced.

Smart Grocery tip #8: If you like to eat good hamburger meat for the cheapest cost, go to the ground beef that is marked “market meat. I use to assume this was the lower grade of hamburger, till the butcher told me it is a combination of all their top cuttings of beef. It actually tastes better than the top grade because of the blend and cost cheaper than the lower grade of hamburger. If you want a fresh cut of any meat, your butcher is there to oblige. It costs no more to do this. You don’t have to take what is in the display. They will even grind your meat for free. Just ask.

Smart Grocery Tip #9: Buy generic or store brands when you can. Now, some items you may not want to do this, because of your personal taste buds. Also, sometimes you do get what you are paying for, meaning lower grade products for a lower cost. It’s all relative. However, the over the counter store brand drugs normally are the same as the national brands. Just make sure you compare ingredients and they match exactly. There’s a savings of about 30% right there.

Smart Grocery Tip #10: Plan your meals ahead of time. If you dedicate some time ahead to know what you are going to make, you can cut your food bill by 50%. Have a general idea of what meals you are making for the week and include alternatives in case there are some items on sale that you might want to replace. I may go to the store with a feeling I am going to make chicken, but if I see something else on sale, I’ll change my plan. Many times, they reduce the chicken or ground meat by taking off $1 if the expiration is the same day you are buying it. You can take it home and freeze it if you don’t want to use it yet. Mark the date of when you put it in the freezer so you will know how many shelf life days are left.

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Smart Grocery Tip #11: If you are going to go through the trouble to make one meal, make it in large quantities, so you can reduce your cost and stretch the versatility. It takes just as much effort to make a small pot of Italian sauce than it does for a large pot. You can take that sauce and put it on chicken for chicken parmesan, meatball sandwiches, your own pizza, etc. By the way, when we are talking about Italian sauce, think about canning it yourself. It’s not that hard and instead of buying your jars of sauce, you can just reach for it from your shelf. Plus, it’s safer when you know what you put in it.

Smart Grocery Tip #12: Try and go to the store once a week and be discipline. You will save on gas, but most of all it will keep you in line with your budget. Freeze items that you might go through more quickly during the week. You can freeze items like milk and eggs. With milk, it takes a couple of days in the refrigerator to defrost. With eggs, they can be frozen, however not in the shell, and they need to be fresh eggs. You can look on the Internet for techniques in freezing eggs.

In addition, if you have children, it’s never too early to teach them how to buy food. A smart shopper is someone who will survive in these inflationary times we are all seeing today. Just be aware of what how you are spending your money and on what. Strategizing your grocery shopping can and will save you money. I treat this like a game. If I can stay within my budget, it gives me a cushion for those weekly surprise higher gas prices.