While everyone worries about the impact major purchases will have on their monthly budget, sometimes it’s the impulse buys that do the most damages. The extra money you spend at your local grocery store could be draining your budget, one item at a time.
Americans spend an average of 5.2 percent of their personal disposable income on the food they consume at home. To make things worse, shoppers may also be getting less for their money these days. Food prices rose 5.5 percent between 2013 and 2017 alone, a trend the USDA attributes to livestock diseases, major weather events, and other shocks to global food markets.
The good news? You can cut back. Spending 10-15% of our take-home pay on food, regardless of whether we’re cooking at home or eating out, is a great way to rein in spending. Consider how these grocery shopping tips might make a difference in your bottom line.
- Stop buying groceries just because you’re familiar with the brand name. It doesn’t matter if you’re attracted to the designer branding or you’ve seen a new product advertised; price should be your primary concern.
- Avoid impulse buys by listing what you need before you step foot in the store. Once there, stick to that list.
- When you regularly use a product, buy in bulk when it’s on sale then shelve or freeze it until it’s needed.
- Find deals by browsing printed store circulars. You can also use online tools such as Mygrocerydeals.com, Shopular, or Flipp to track prices on your favorite items each week.
- Switch up your choice of grocery stores. High-end or convenience stores are sometimes necessary if you’re in a hurry or looking for specialty items, but your usual routine should be to shop at lower-priced chains. Discounter Aldi has become a popular choice for many, while membership chains such as Sam’s Club and Costco can be useful for buying in bulk.
- Identify your most expensive food categories and consider alternatives. For example, you may opt to go meatless or eliminate sodas in favor of powdered drinks.
- Don’t get carried away in the produce section. When you’re conscientious about your health and your family’s health, it’s easy to feel good about stocking up on fruits and veggies, but all your best intentions will be for naught if they spoil before you can use them. The same holds true of milk and other dairy items.
- When stores are out of stock on advertised sale items, take time to see customer service about getting rain checks. These vouchers will allow you to buy at the same price when the item comes back in.
- Use the frequent shopper cards and accompanying discounts and specials offered by many grocers.
- Consider signing up for cash-back grocery apps such as Ibotta and Checkout 51 that send rebates digitally for buying certain items.
- Use Groupon Coupons! Many don’t think about using Groupon for grocery shopping, but Groupon Coupons offers upwards of 55,000 online and in-store coupons annually from national retailers – including grocery vendors.
- Keep an eye on average food prices. This will make sure you know a great deal when you see one.
- Pay attention to the unit or per-ounce prices now posted by many grocers. These can be invaluable when comparing prices for differently packaged foods.
- Check register prices and receipts. In addition to the prevalence of human error, you may be surprised at how many machines aren’t correctly programmed to ring up sales prices automatically.
There’s one final way to keep your grocery budget in check: don’t shop hungry. “Hunger makes us want to eat, which means we think about seeking, acquiring and consuming food,” marketing professor Allison Jing Xu explained in Psychological Science. “Those acquisition-related thoughts may spill over and put consumers in the mode of getting more stuff in general, even stuff they can’t eat.”