Originally published January 13, 2016. Updated July 11, 2018.
From extreme couponing to urban foraging, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. Just Google it sometime, if you haven’t already. I did, and I found that a good many of the suggested options required a whole lot of effort to see even the most minimal results. Sure there are folks out there who can spend hours sourcing coupons and get an entire cart of groceries for $2. I, on the other hand, could spend hours sourcing coupons just to arrive at the store without them. Or worse, walk out with 3 bags of free mustard.
We play a different kind of grocery game. Simple shopping.
The basics of simple shopping are:
Make a Stock List: The single best way to improve grocery spending is to make a list of your favorite meals and snacks. From this selection of menu options, make a second list of all the ingredients and/or products required to create those meals. Only purchase the items on this list and always keep at least one of each of your most used stock item in your pantry reserves.
Shop Less Often: Keeping extras of your favorite items in the pantry means fewer trips to the store and fewer trips means fewer spending opportunities. Create a schedule for grocery shopping, one that fits the way you like to eat. We like to shop once a week, usually on Friday evening or Saturday morning. During the spring/summer season, we also visit the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.
Cut Down on Convenience Foods: In most cases, frozen convenience meals are significantly more expensive than making the same meal from scratch. And let’s face it, scratch meals taste better and are better for you. There is one caveat to this though; it’s not a bad idea to keep a frozen pizza or box of veggie burgers in the freezer for those times when you are just too tired (or too interested in doing something else) to cook.
Forego (Most) Couponing: Coupons often promote spending rather than helping to reduce grocery costs. A lot of coupons are for processed foods and many are offered to encourage you to try new items. Sometimes that new product is great but more often that item will just sit in the cabinet or fridge until it goes bad. By only buying from a list, it’s easier to resist the temptation to use coupons for the latest and greatest new food fad (and it also helps cut down on food waste). That being said, I do spend a few minutes each week checking the digital coupons for Kroger. Occasionally there’s one we can use (usually it’s just the Friday Freebie).
Shop Sales: Grocery stores have sales for a reason – to get you into the store. They know that the majority of folks who come in for those few bargain items will also do the remainder of their shopping there, making up their loss. The real discounts go to those who only buy the bargain items…the bargain items that are on their stock list. To supplement our regular grocery trips (and to pick up items at a better cost), Angie scans the weekly ads from Food Lion and Kroger. If an item that we have on our list is on sale at a greater savings than ALDI, then we’ll get it. If the item can be stored, we’ll get several of them.
Make it Fun: Grocery shopping really can be fun and there are a lot of different strategies to make it so. Set a target goal – like $50 – and see if you can get all the items on your list for that amount. Wager with your significant other (or child) to see who can find the best overall deal. Loser makes dinner. There are even a few side hustles that will pay you to mystery shop your favorite grocery store and last year, we discovered the Shopkick app, which is a great way to earn gift cards just by scanning items as you walk the grocery aisles.