Buying in bulk and clipping coupons can be great strategies for saving money on groceries, but sometimes their effectiveness depends on other factors–like how many people live in your house, how much space or time you have, and if you have access to stores with good deals or bulk options.
My grocery shopping method is one you can use at any grocery store, and in any stage of life, whether you live by yourself or with 5 kids.
These aren’t the tips you’ve heard before: “Buy on sale!” “Don’t shop on an empty stomach!” “Don’t buy brand-name items!” Good tips, no doubt, but I’m guessing you already know those(:
I save money on groceries by knowing my own psychology and by sticking to a routine list.
Implement these 4 steps to save money on groceries without buying in bulk or clipping coupons!
1. Know the pitfalls for your stage of life
Understanding the psychology of how you shop can help you to shop smarter. Here are some things you might notice about your shopping habits if you fall into one of these demographics:
College students buy what they like. They are the least likely to consider price or nutrition when they put an item in their cart. They’re motivated by convenience and cravings.
Young adults (20 or 30 somethings) buy what seems hip. You might see wine and watercress in their cart, or shallots, creme fraiche, and pine nuts. Their choices might be more healthy, but they often spend far more than they need to on food.
Parents buy what their kids like. Even if their children are not present, they fill their cart based on what their children will eat or ask for. They may choose options that are touted as “healthier” versions of kid food, but their cart is full of kid food, nonetheless.
Wives buy what their husbands like. Instead of choosing one favorite item, they may fill their cart with all his favorites at once–beer, ice cream, frozen pizza, brand-name sauces, etc.
Elderly people buy according to nutrition labels. They’re the most likely to trust buzz words like heart-healthy, low sodium, low fat, lean, balanced, and whole grain.
2. Build your core list
After you’ve thought about your shopping pitfalls, it’s time to arm yourself with a new mindset for when you hit the grocery store. Write out a core shopping list of items you purchase regularly, but make sure they are:
- Inexpensive, and
You’re looking for items that will give you the most bang for your buck! Things like potatoes, that are cheap, nutritious, and can be prepared in many different ways, for any meal.
Choose inexpensive produce to be your standbys, like carrots, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, squash, and onions. Depending on where you live, the more expensive produce options might include bell peppers, berries, grapes, avocados, pears, pomegranates, artichokes, and any off-season produce. Save the pricier produce for your secondary list (see below).
For the most part, stick with individual ingredients, which can be made into many different things, rather than pre-made food.
Here’s my core list, to give you an example:
Cheese (we buy the blocks so we can grate, slice, or cube it as needed)
Dried beans or lentils
Canned fish (sardines, tuna, or wild salmon)
Extra virgin olive oil
Oranges or grapefruit
Buy these same things every week (as needed), with a few add-ons based on your meal plan, menu map, or your secondary list.
3. Build your secondary list
These are the items that you would like to buy regularly, if the budget allows. If you have a tight month, you can get by without these. Some of the items on my secondary list are:
4. Stick to a plan
Don’t amble; don’t browse. This depends on your health and who’s with you, but try to move through the store quickly. If you slow down to mull over items that aren’t on your list, you’re more likely to put them in your cart.
Get what’s on your core list, and make “Either/Or” decisions about the secondary items on your list. Get either bacon or sausage, either avocados or bell peppers, either brie or fresh mozzarella, etc. I often make my Either/Or decisions according to what’s on sale. Use the Either/Or rule when purchasing your spouse’s or children’s favourites, too! Avoid “Both/And” purchases, unless you’ve been able to increase your food budget.