One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to create your own personal price book.
For a time investment of about 4 hours you could end up saving hundreds of dollars a month. You need an hour or less to type up the price book, and 3 hours to scour local stores for discounts. If you don’t have a chunk of time keep your price book in your purse or car and pull it out when you go shopping. You can also create your price book CSI style and figure it out after the shopping trip by looking at your receipts. This is a good place to start if you don’t have time to do a price check trip. Personally I have a good memory for numbers so often I know the prices, but having a price book is helpful for rarely purchased items like olive oil, vanilla, spices, etc.
You can use my Price Book Template or create your own. At the top you want to list the stores you shop in. Along the side you will list all the items you normally stock. If you need some ideas, check out my previous post on stocking your pantry.
Don’t be afraid to go to local stores where you don’t normally shop. We have approx. 10 grocery stores within 5 miles of our house, in addition to Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, BJs, many ethnic grocers, and a locally run health food store franchise. We’re often creatures of habit, and the idea is to break that habit. I also go the extra miles to get to Trader Joe’s since the savings easily offsets the time and gas I spend to get there.
Bring a calculator along as well to decipher different sizes into actual per ounce/per pound prices. You may find as I did that your grocery store carries orange juice in 64, 96 and 128 ounce containers. It can be confusing, especially when it comes to things like toilet paper. Try comparing square feet or number of sheets per roll, it’s mind boggling. (and not worth it in my humble opinion)
By doing a little research you may find you can save money by picking up a few items from a different local store, or that the drive to the discount grocer across town is worth it. Maybe there is store near your work, or your child’s school that you can go by once in awhile. When you have time go in armed with your price book in hand you will know exactly when you are getting a good deal.
You will likely need 3-4 hours one day to go through all your local stores. Go at a time when there are few customers (start early or go late). Go by yourself or with your spouse or partner if you share the shopping. Don’t bring the kids for this trip. (once you have your routine down, can zip through so fast the kids won’t have time to beg for junk food) And the most important thing DO NOT BUY ANYTHING DURING THIS TRIP. Consider it a research trip, no purchasing allowed.
Make special note of any sale prices. You always want to stock up when your staples are on sale. You may spend a bit more in one month, but you will end up spending less over the year which is the goal.
Remember that you may want to check certain items on your weekly or monthly shopping trips because not all sales are listed in sales circulars. I have found some of my local stores have websites I can use to check sale prices, and if I’m short on time I can also get groceries packed up or delivered to my door for free or under $5 by several stores. (I rarely do this now but it came in super handy when we had our 4th child.)
Grocery Price Book Tips and Tricks
GO WITH A LIST. Do not leave the house without a list or you will end up with a few items not on your list, or several impulse buys.
Discount grocery stores do not always equal savings. At my local store the packaged items are inexpensive, but usually past their due date and we’ve had a few things taste “off.” Bulk items are cheaper at Whole Foods, and our local store, Kimberton Whole Foods. I tend to use the discount store for stocking up for a party at home or school.
Ask for case discounts. Some grocery stores will offer you a discount automatically, some won’t. It never hurts to ask! It could save you 10-20%.
Buy real food. It’s fresher, better for you and will save you money on medical and dental bills down the road. It may seem more expensive but that’s okay. We want to make sure we purchase things that have a lot of value. Therefore spending 99 ¢ on margarine may be cheaper than $3.79 for organic butter (or $1.99 for the rGBT free butter), but the savings isn’t worth your health.
Learn more: Stop Food Waste, Save Money
Buy local. Buying food locally means there is no transportation costs, less overhead, and most importantly since you know the source of the food you can often get a discount for being a frequent customer or purchasing in bulk.
Buy seasonally. Buying bananas from Chile, strawberries from California and apples from Washington is a sure way to spend more on your grocery bill. A friend of mine recently estimated she saves over $1,000 a year simply by not purchasing apples year-round. It definitely takes some adjusting to buy only local foods, but the benefits are it will keep you more in touch with the seasons. You can purchase your produce from a CSA (community supported agriculture), or your local farmer’s market.
Cooking is always cheaper than buying pre-packaged. This is especially true for baked goods. Pancake mix for instance costs approx. 10 (or more) times as much as purchasing the ingredients and making the mix yourself. Spend your savings on real maple syrup.
Organic isn’t always worth it. There are some instances where organic doesn’t make sense. Organic brownie mix? I’ll stick to making brownies with no nasty ingredients. Bananas? They have a thick skin.
Learn more: Best Organic Pancake Recipe
Stock up when things are on sale. If you find your favorite brand of tortilla chips on sale, buy 4 bags instead of 1. You can make a space to store extras and the savings will even out over the course of a month.
Try bi-weekly or monthly shopping. Staying out of the store means you spend less on impulse purchases, and you will be more creative with what you already have.
Try using only cash. Spending cash will get you to stay within your budget. Research supports that credit cards and debit cards encourage you to spend more.
Do you have any tricks for spending less on groceries? Do you shop at more than one store? I’d love to hear from you.