When it comes to spending money, food is a huge piece of the pie. Eating out during the week or hitting the bar every weekend can put a pretty significant dent in your bank account. Just packing a lunch for work can save the average American $1,500 a year.
Whether you’re focused on budgeting to pay off you student loans, or ready to dive into the world of gourmet health foods, learning to shop smartly and efficiently can be intimidating. With a little effort, though, your weekly grocery trips will be stress-free and healthier than ever.
Before You Go:
Make a list.
Start by creating a menu for the week. This can be as simple or as extravagant as you like. Don’t be afraid to tackle new things! Chances are you already know what type of food you’ll need. If Taco Tuesday is a must, do a quick search for a great taco recipe and jot down the ingredients. Apps like Google Keep make grocery lists a breeze. You can even add other people as contributors. Depending on how many servings the recipe makes (4-6 is usually plenty for one or two people), you should get through the week with just a few recipes.
Check Your Fridge.
Compare your list against what you already have in the fridge or pantry to avoid spending money on duplicates. It’s hard to remember what’s at home (or if it’s expired) once you’ve hit the aisles. Do your due diligence beforehand.
Have a Snack
Grocery shopping while you’re hungry can be a recipe for disaster. Many, many more things will catch your eye when your stomach is empty, and chances are, they won’t be the healthiest items. Make sure you’ve had a meal or a snack to power your through your trip.
At the Store
Use a Small Cart.
Often, stores will also provide large carts to encourage you to buy more. Opt for the smaller cart or even a basket if you can. You’ll get in that arm workout, too!
Avoid the aisles.
If you’re looking for the healthiest shopping strategy, stick to the perimeter of the store. This will include areas like produce, fresh meat and seafood, fresh baked goods and dairy. Junk foods (think processed foods that don’t need to be kept fresh) tend to be in the middle of most stores.
Shop by Unit Price
For the best deals, always consider the unit price in addition to the sticker price. Items may be cheaper per ounce in a larger package. If you know the item is something you’ll use before the expiration date, bigger may be the better deal, even though it may cost more.
Be aware of Location.
Like any other store, groceries use marketing and research to place products in front of you. Typically, items on the top and bottom shelves offer lower prices, while the easiest to reach, middle-shelf items are higher priced. Keep in mind end unit displays may not truly be sales either. Sometimes end displays are simply regular-priced items or overflow from the aisle.
Try store brands.
A study by Tilburg University and the University of Chicago found that the more people know about a product, the more likely they are to buy the generic brand. Professional chefs will only buy a name brand ingredient 20 percent of the time, while the average shopper will do so 40 percent of the time. The key ingredients in many name-brand products won’t differ much, if at all, from the store brand and the cost can be less than half of the name brand.
It may take a few weeks to get the hang of what you like, where the deals and how much you need to prepare, but the rewards of a healthy diet and budget-friendly grocery trip are worth it! Bon Appétit!
Want more tips on winning at the grocery store?
Check out the full story in Issue 8 of Forty Magazine.