I absorbed a lot of “grownup” lessons from watching my mom when I was kid. I learned how to be organized, how to be polite, and how to stay focused while a little kid is tugging at your elbow while you’re trying to grocery shop. (Yes, that kid was me.)
The main thing I remember from shopping with my mom is that she’d bring box of coupons with her. As she went through her list, she’d check the coupons in the box.
I do all of the grocery shopping for my family now. Even though I don’t have a box of coupons, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from mom and put my own spin on it. The following tricks and tips help me get in and out of the store in under an hour — and I’m shopping for six people.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years to help me be a better grocery shopper.
1. Plan your meals in advance
How many times have you wandered around the store aimlessly throwing stuff into your shopping cart because you thought you could make something with it? You’ll save yourself some time during the week if you take an hour to plan out your meals in advance.
During the week, Google some recipe ideas and toss them into ClipDish. Then, on Sunday afternoon, sit down with a glass of wine and plan your meals for the week. Use tags in ClipDish for your meals and send the ingredients to your shopping list.
2. Make a master list and use it
You should have what I call a “master grocery list” that contains all of the essentials you like to keep in your house. Use that as a guide every week and you’ll rarely miss things at the store.
3. Know your store
Grocery store marketers use the layout of the store to get you to spend more money. It’s the same psychology that casinos use to get you to stick around and gamble all night.
If you shop at the same store every week you’ll begin to learn where everything is in the store. Use that to your advantage and you can ignore all of the traps that the store is laying out for you to spend more money.
If you really want to take your grocery shopping up a notch, plan your list in the order of the store. This will save you time because you won’t have to double back in the store. This is super nerdy but when a new store opened I snapped a picture of each aisle number so I could reorder my master grocery list.
4. Secure your phone
If you’re still using paper grocery lists, skip this tip.
I bought a clip that holds my phone to the shopping cart and it was a game changer. Clip it on to secure your phone, then you have both hands free to shop without worrying about your phone falling through the cup holder.
5. Shop for your frozen stuff last
This would seem obvious but for some reason my grocery store has the frozen aisles in the middle of the store. Why? I’m sure there’s some Jedi mind trick going on there (see note above about casinos), but I’m not falling for it.
Save the frozen stuff until you’re ready to check out. We don’t see anyone clipping “ice cream soup” recipes into their ClipDish accounts. There’s a reason.
6. Buy store brands (unless you want Doritos)
When I was a kid store brands looked like this.
Store brands have come a long way since then. Many of them taste pretty good and are sold at great prices. They don’t always work (we love our Doritos and OREOs), but if you can find a few store brands you like, you’ll save some money on your bill.
7. Bulk up on your meat
I’ll usually bulk-buy chicken breast. When I do, I save a $1.00 per pound. When I get home, I’ll open the pack, split it into portions, and that will last us a few weeks.
Even better, I found this cool gadget to hold open the Ziploc bags while I’m working. No more having to wrestle slippery chicken parts into a bag while spreading salmonella all over my kitchen.
8. Try multiple stores
If you’re trying to shave some money off your grocery bill you might want to look for a few alternatives to your grocery store. Find out if there is a produce store near you and you can save a lot on fresh fruits and vegetables. You probably also have a local butcher who is going to give you a greater variety of meats.
Yes, you may be trading time for dollars when you do this, but you’re also probably helping small business owners who are losing out to the big grocery chains.
9. Compare unit prices
I buy Cheez-Its almost every week. I don’t know why I love these crackers as much as I do, but I’m not going to question it.
My beloved crackers almost always go on sale 2 for $6 for a regular size box. Three bucks a box sounds like a great deal until you look at the unit price. The unit price normalizes your purchase by a common unit. For Cheez-Its it’s by the pound. When you compare the unit price this is still more than buying the large size box.
In the image below, the actual price you pay is on the right and the unit price is in the middle. The unit price allows you to get an apples-to-apples comparison of different-sized items. Is the 12-roll toilet paper pack a better deal than the 36-roll pack? Compare the unit price to find out.
This only takes few extra seconds, but it can save you hundreds of dollars on your grocery bill / year.
10. Put up the heavy stuff first
Remember how annoyed you were the last time you came home to find your bread was squished in the grocery bag? It might not have been the fault of the bagger, but rather because the heavier stuff squished it on the conveyor belt.
When I’m unloading my cart I’ll try to put the heaviest items on the belt first. Yeah, it’s a little weird but no one complains about smashed bread in our house.
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