When it comes to most things, I consider myself to be one frugal and budget-savvy shopper, but that is not the case when I’m grocery shopping. Truthfully, grocery shopping has been the demise of my weekly budget for years. And not because I prefer to eat super healthfully (which you really can do inexpensively). Rather, it’s because grocery shopping is therapeutic for me. I can easily entertain myself going up and down the aisles — and that almost always leads to tossing new-to-me-finds into my cart.
However, this year I’ve buckled down and decided to set some boundaries for myself. I’m planning a major move soon and have got to whittle down this budget line item, as I’ve already cut back everywhere else. So far, I’m seeing some success. Just last month I cut my spending by $200 (saving an average of $50 per week)!
Here are five little rules I implemented in order to make that happen.
1. I only shopped at one store and I stuck to a list.
This was the hardest rule to stick to because I’m one of those people who actually ENJOYS going to multiple stores. Even though I’d make lists for each of those stores and hunt out the best prices, these multiple stops meant more opportunities to add extra items that I didn’t necessarily need. By limiting myself to shopping at just one store, I found myself less distracted. If I found something that I KNEW was cheaper at a different store, I’d either find a less expensive substitute or I’d skip that item altogether. And making a list not only prohibited me from buying anything extra, but it also helped me get in and out of the store faster, thereby finding less temptation with each trip.
2. I compromised on out-of-stock items.
If I ever couldn’t find something, I’d force myself to buy a different brand. (The old me would have just gone to another grocery store for Round Two of shopping and impulse buys.) This meant trying other almond milks (that were actually less expensive!) and, one week, I decided just to make my own almond milk. Another week, many of my favorite produce staples were out of stock, so I bought other veggies and fruits that were on sale instead. This was hard at first because I really like buying my favorite things each week. Still, it helped me cut corners and save because I bought lower-priced replacements and got creative.
3. I bought generic 95% of the time.
It’s not like I was ever stocking up on gourmet $8 bags of kale chips, and I love a store brand, but I knew I could do even better. When it came to dry goods and some refrigerated items, I chose to buy generic 95 percent of the time — and I actually enjoyed my new groceries. In fact, I’ve now found many generic items that I like MORE than the name-brand versions.
4. I shopped once a week and stopped with the bulk shopping.
If you’ve read any of my stories on Kitchn, you know that I’m a loyal Costco shopper. And even though I do end up saving money on bulk buys, I usually still need to supplement a Costco trip with visits to mainstream grocery stores. And then I end up spending more money. So instead of stocking up for weeks at a time, I maintained a rule not to bulk shop and to only buy enough for seven days at a time. I made four trips to a grocery store last month instead of, say, six or seven. Without the bulk stuff, it was actually kind of nice to actually run out of something before I could restock. My pantry has never been more organized!
5. I stacked savings offers on items I already buy.
As long as you’re using coupons wisely (read: you’re not buying something JUST because you have a coupon for it), they really can work to your advantage. I stick to coupons for healthy items that I already love and use. For this experiment, I also used ibotta before every single shopping trip. In all, I made more than $50 from ibotta alone in one month, which I used to pay for a week’s worth of groceries this month.
The Grocery Rules I’ll Continue Next Month
Looking back, I learned a few important things about myself and have decided to keep some of these rules from here on out. The biggest thing I learned is that it’s not realistic for me to only shop at one store for the rest of my life, so this is something I know I can’t maintain — even though it helped tremendously for one month. I will also never (ever!) give up shopping at Costco. What I will do, though, is only hit the warehouse store once a month, as that’s the store where I’m most likely to overspend.
The two rules I plan on sticking to? Numbers 3 and 5. It will take very little effortand won’t feel like a huge compromise.
What have you been doing lately to save money on groceries?
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