By Tracy Achen
Living paycheck to paycheck isn't any fun, but these money saving tips can help make grocery shopping a little more affordable. Many of these ideas aren't that hard to implement, and once you get in the habit of using these tips, you'll find they can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Planning ahead is the secret to staying on a budget. Start out by having a magnetized notepad on your refrigerator so you can jot down items as you run out of them. This way you won't have to jog your memory when making out your grocery list. Plus, it will save unnecessary trips back to the store for items you've forgotten.
Next, plan your meals around what is on sale, taking into consideration what you already have on hand. You'll save money on your grocery budget by not buying doubles of something you already have in the cabinet.
Speaking of budgets, determine how much you can spend for your shopping trip and estimate the prices so you can stay within your budget. If you have your grocery store ad handy, you'll be able to write down the sales items. Then give yourself a price-range to spend for each of the remaining items on your list based on your previous shopping trips.
Wait until the grocery ads come out to finish your grocery list. These are often supplied in the local newspapers. Plus, most stores also offer a membership where you'll get notified of the new ad and can download the app to your phone.
Often it's best to visit the store on the day the ad comes out in the paper because most sales items will be well stocked. If you get to the store and find out they are out of an item listed in the circular, ask for a rain check so you can purchase it later at the sales price.
If you have a coupon for an item that you always buy, then it's definitely worth using it to save money on the item. If the coupon doesn't list a restriction on the product size, buy the smallest size to get the greatest savings. It's even better if you can combine your coupon with a "buy one get one free" item. On the other hand, if your family won't eat it, don't buy the item even if you have a coupon.
When the items you always use go on sale, it makes sense to buy larger quantities so the savings will be spread out over time. But make sure the items are non-perishable and have a long self- life so you don't end up wasting food.
Some grocery items that make sense to buy in bulk are sodas, canned or frozen veggies, ketchup, mayo, salad dressings, pastas, dried beans, cereal, rice, etc.
Brand name products often cost more, but don't necessarily taste any better. Experiment with the cheaper store or generic brands to see how they compare. If they are just as good (or better), consider using them on a regular basis. For example, generic and store brand cereals often taste identical to the name brands. And there is very little difference in staples such as flour, sugar, and spices.
Don't you just hate how manufactures keep offering smaller packages for the same price? This is how they can compete on price, but the customer ultimately loses out. Luckily, most stores now include the price per unit (either pounds or ounces), so it's easy to find out which item offers the best deal. Just look on the price sticker to find out this information. If your store doesn't give this information on the sticker, use a calculator to figure out the price per unit.
Non-food items are often higher in grocery stores, and they sell a lot of these items due to the convenience factor. But they are generally big-ticket items and can end up accounting for at least half of your grocery bill.
Save yourself some money by stopping at the dollar store on your way home to buy your non-food items. Some examples of good buys at these types of stores are paper goods, cleaning supplies, toiletries (such as tooth brushes and shampoo), cards and gift- wrapping materials, pain relievers, contact solution, etc.
Meat accounts for a large percentage of most people's grocery budget. To help save some money while still feeding your family well, consider buy cheaper cuts of meat and using recipes that both tenderize the meat and bring out the flavor. Slow cookers are good option for making these cuts of meat taste great. And I have found that shank hams are not only a better deal but often taste better than the fancy spiral cut hams.
You can also consider buying the family-size packages of meat, which often cost less per pound. When you get home, split the meat into meal-sized packages and freeze what you won't be using immediately.
You can also stock up when certain cuts of meat go on sale and freeze them for later use. For example, turkeys always go on sale before Thanksgiving, hams at Easter, and hot dogs and briskets go on sale before the 4th of July.
Grocery stores study consumer buying behavior and adjust the store lay-out to maximize their profits. This is one of the reasons you'll often find the floral and deli sections at the front of the store. Items in this area tend to be impulse buys which can break your budget. Other impulse items are the snacks and magazines lining the checkouts, as well as end-caps featuring holiday or seasonal items. Avoid these items unless they are on your list.
Another marketing strategy is to put higher-priced name brands at eye level. You can save money by looking at the shelves higher and lower to find comparable items at a better price. And when you're on a budget, try to avoid individually-wrapped snack items such as chips and fruit snacks which tend to cost quite a bit for the little amount of nutrition they provide.
One of the best money saving tips is to limit your grocery shopping to once a week. When you are continually running into the store to pick up one item, it's tempting to pick up a little something extra while you're there. By going to the store just once a week and sticking to your list, you'll save a lot of money in the long run.
Also, plan out which day you're going shopping and try to match it with your store's "Double Coupon" days so you can maximize your savings. If you shop early in the day, you'll be more alert to deals and budget-breakers, plus you'll find the store better stocked.
Before you head out the door, make sure you've eaten something so your hunger doesn't tempt you to buy extra snacks. And try to leave the kids at home, because we all know how hard it is to not give into their innocent demands.
Dealing with a tight budget after getting divorced is common for many women. The money saving tips and ideas below can help: