With the price of food rising and paychecks staying the same, it's hard to get ahead. But it's not impossible, with a few changes to your routine and staying organized you can still make a trip to the supermarket fit your lifestyle.
Once I started working, food shopping gave me peace. It was an hour of uninterrupted aisle searching that always resulted in leaving the store with bags. A win-win situation.
Or at least it was. The prices of food have skyrocketed and it seems impossible to catch a sale. Before 2020 I could walk in, and know I was coming out with several deals AND stay within my $50 budget.
When the coronavirus became the new topic of discussion, it made filling your basket with affordable options even more difficult. Many families went to their local store and bought an immense amount of non perishable items. In an effort to keep shelves stocked, markets limited how many items you could purchase and increased the sale price.
So, now with our new version of normal how do you shop smartly?
This is a not so secret guide for low income households, college students, and anyone looking to learn a few effective tips and tricks.
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So what's the first step to shopping like an expert?
Make a list
My grandma would write out everything in the order of the aisles. It makes it super convenient to stick to the list without aimlessly browsing.
Write down all of the items you need. You can even categorize them.
Check your pantry
Know what items you already have in your cabinet and only buy what's missing. Who knows, you might end up crossing some items off your list
Plan your meals but leave wiggle room
Meal prep! Will you make chicken one day and salad another?
If you're juggling work, school, and kids you might want to cross off the complex dinners.
Odds are, you'll save at least $20 and this can be spent on other quick and simple recipe items like oatmeal, corned beef hash, tuna, aka whatever floats your boat.
Making life easier is still the goal even as we budget.
Spice up your meals but keep it simple
"Every day I eat the same thing" Have you ever said that?
Fear no more, there are simple inexpensive ways to make food exciting.
Swap out hamburger meat for sausages the next time you make spaghetti.
Try Tuna and crackers for lunch and if there's left overs pair it with toast. Do like a friend of mine showed me, add cilantro, lime, and an egg to a $0.99 bowl of ramen and feel like you're having a night out.
Stick to the shopping list
Now that we have the list, it is crucial that it's followed. There's no purpose in organizing your trip, if you aren't going to buy what you considered essential before you were in the store.
If you come out with everything except what you planned for it's time to reevaluate the boundaries you have set for food shopping.
Dedicate time to shopping
Avoid rushing. If you have to shop during your lunch break no one will judge.
But whether you're shopping for the next week or month you want to be focused on finding the best deals. Take your time to ensure you can reach this small yet mighty financial goal that you set.
Certain stores are better for certain things.
My local supermarket sell strawberries for $6.99 and grapes for $3.49 a pound. Needless to say it's hard to make budget friendly snack choices.
A store like Walgreens may offer coupons on cereal and Family Dollar has cheap noodles, canned/frozen vegetables, and other pantry goods like rice and mash potatoes.
But meat markets in particular tend to give you more per pound than your average prepackaged cut of beef.
Shop early for meat
Did you notice that the price of meat dramatically increased ? When the meat plant workers became sick with The Coronavirus it caused the supply to go down as demand increased.
You're more likely to save a few dollars if you go in the morning. That's when employees do an initial restock and often repeat the process around noon. If you shop at 5pm you're buying the meat that everyone else decided they did not want.
Add up the numbers ( round up)
No fancy apps. A simple calculator will allow you to keep track of expenses.
Or you can do what I always did. When you buy the same things often the prices start to stick in your head. Do quick mental math by rounding all of the prices up to the next whole number.
For example $3.50 becomes $4 and when you get to the register it feels nice to know you spent less.
Eat before you shop
A hungry belly makes for a big imagination. When your stomach is growling everything seems delicious and reasonably priced. Your budget goal paired with a full stomach is a great team when shopping.
Look for sales
Check for coupons and pick up the weekly paper that's typically at the front of the store.
Confirm it really is a sale
Some sales will actually make you spend more. I've left the store and after buying nothing but on sale items and realized I only saved $0.25.
Check the expiration date
Dairy items on sale tend to be near expiration. Why buy 12 yogurts if they have to be eaten in 2 days.
Decide if buying in bulk is for you
We make a lot of eggs in my house. It always makes sense to buy more because we will end losing money when we pick up a carton in the grocery store.
Don’t buy everything in bulk
Does your family place an item on the list because it'll be eaten on a random day? There's no need to buy a lot of it. This even applies to non-edible items that may be on sale.
A Store like BJs is great for households that have at least two people who use a lot of the same stuff daily.
Do buy the kids snacks for school in large amounts but do not buy seven bathroom cleaners.
There are times when something that isn't on your list will be smart to buy.
When to buy unexpected items
Heavy [Fill in the blank] drinker
My household makes coffee like its free. For us, buying the bigger container when it's on sale will save us money in the long run.
Large [Fill in the blank] on sale
I grew up on sugar. Instead of buying juice boxes we made kool-aid, Tang, Ice-tea etc.
Of course you can skip this if you're okay with using generic ingredients. It's always cheaper.
But I've noticed that with somethings it's not worth saving money. For example, generic sugar doesn't sweeten as fast so you use more.
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With promotions being hurdled at you left and right it's essential to recognize when to splurge and when to keep your money in your pocket.
When to avoid buying it
It involves experimenting
If you’ve never had it before, now is not the time to try it.
It expires soon
Bad idea. You'll stuff yourself trying to finish it or it will go bad.
It can spoil fast
Shopping in season for fruits is important especially if your house is often warm.
You only save a few cents
Not all deals are good deals. Do the math before you get excited.
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2020 has been an eventful time to get your finances in order. Some of us lost income and others were able to save but everyone should be able to shop for groceries without breaking the bank. Remember that this is just the beginning and every tip should be customized to fit your lifestyle.
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