Do you wonder where all your money is going? Perhaps you’ve cut down on some big expenses (like new clothes, eating out, or entertainment), in the hopes of getting your spending under control, but still aren’t where you want to be financially. Maybe it’s time to look at the smaller picture–your day to day living expenses.
One of the easiest things to over-spend on is food and other small daily expenses. With a little preparation and knowledge, you can turn your cash-bleeding store runs into budget-friendly adventures (ok, it will still be a boring grocery trip, but at least you’ll have your pride intact for reaching your goal!).
Here are five things you can start doing today to help you stay within budget:
1. Browse the weekly ads and compare stores
You likely get ads from a few different grocery stores every week in the mail. If you are like most people, you consider it trash and it quickly makes it way to the garbage can….or it sits around in a mail pile for weeks…
Try keeping tabs on the weekly ads, or look them up online, and go through them before heading to the store. If there are multiple stores in your area, decide which has the most useful sales for you that week, and be sure to go there. Sure, that shop around the corner may be the most convenient, but if its prices aren’t the best, it’s worth a few more minutes of driving time to go somewhere cheaper, or with better sales.
2.Plan your meals around what’s on sale
Speaking of sales, you should plan almost all your meals around them. Once you decide which store you are going to, look through the ad again to see which sale items you can use. Plan to eat meals that have their most expensive ingredients on sale. This is typically meat, but can also include cheese, certain fruits and veggies,
and canned ingredients.
If chicken is on sale, but beef isn’t, pull out your chicken recipes and plan on those, especially ones with other on-sale ingredients. Leave your beef favorites for another week.
3. Make a list
A good way to waste time and money at the store is to not have a written or electronic list. Not only are you likely to forget things you’ll need, you will impulse buy like crazy when you go up and down the aisles shopping by sight. Just remember, everything in a store is designed to make you buy more. From display cases to the store’s layout (ever wonder why basics like milk and eggs are always placed in the very back of the store?). Don’t overbuy. Your impulse buys can add up to serious cash lost in a month.
To avoid these problems, make your list beforehand. Once you decide what meals you’ll have that week, compile a list of what you need to buy to make them. Add in necessary snacks, and essentials like milk, eggs, and bread. If your budget allows, go ahead and plan on buying some on-sale “wants”, like desserts (my weakness being Oreos), but put these items on your list.
If impulse buying is a problem for you even with a list, decide beforehand how many impulse items you are allowed, or better yet, how much money you can spend on them. Exercise self-control. It’ll get easier with practice! Especially when you see how much you can save in a month’s time.
4. Buy store brands
Advertising can be a powerful thing. When we hit the store, beloved brands surround us. Kraft, Campbell’s, Nestle, Kellogg’s, Dole, Hunts, Swanson, Stouffers. Mmm. We are enticed by the colorful, familiar packaging from the brands we know and trust. And of course, our bias extends beyond food, into things like toilet paper, toiletries, household cleaners, medicine, etc. The list is almost endless.
But famous brands aren’t the only option, and they certainly aren’t the cheapest one. Next time you go to grab some Hunt’s tomato sauce, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, or Charmin toilet paper, look around the aisle for other options. For most items on your list, you’ll have the option to buy a store brand version of that item. Here are some examples of names to look for:
- Target: Market Pantry, Up & Up
- Walmart: Great Value, Equate
- Sam’s Club: Members Mark, Daily Chef, Simply Right
- Costco: Kirkland Signature
- Aldi: Specially Selected, Fit & Active, Simply Nature
- Albertsons: Essential Everyday
Some store’s private label is simply their own name. Such as Wegmans, Meijer, WinCo, and Kroger. Nice and simple, huh!
Here’s why you should care about these private brands: They cost an average of 25 percent less than the national brands. In fact, the difference can be as much as 60% on some items like ice cream.
Drop any preconceived notions about store brands and give them a try. See what you like and don’t like. They stack up well to their competitors (Check out this study from Consumer Reports). And if an item doesn’t measure up? Some stores have money-back guarantees on their private brands. In fact, Aldi has a “double guarantee”. They are so confident their brand is better than national brands, that if you aren’t 100% satisfied, they’ll replace the product AND refund your money.
So what do you have to lose? Nothing really. But you sure have a lot (of money) to gain.
5. Stock up on sale-priced food
Once you start paying attention to what normal sale prices are for your favorite items, you’ll notice when a good sale comes. This is the time to stock up on these items. Depending on how great the sale is, you may want to buy several months worth of the item. This is easiest to do for canned and boxed items of course, but don’t forget about meat and vegetables! When ground beef is on sale for a great price, buy more than you need for the next few day’s meals, and freeze it! Portion out the meat into appropriate sized portions (1lb, ½ lb, etc), cover it in plastic wrap, and then thin aluminum foil. With a permanent marker, write what kind of meat it is, and the date you froze it. You can also freeze most vegetables, or stock up on pre-frozen packages when they are on sale.
Not only can you freeze and stock individual items, but entire meals. Freezer meal cooking is a popular fad right now, and it makes sense why. It can save you a lot of time and money. You can find instructions on how to freeze just about anything online with a simple Google search.
Use these five simple ways to take control of your shopping and learn just how easy it can be to save loads on your grocery bill every month!