After your mortgage or rent, car payments, and other big expenditures, what’s the one thing you spend the most money on each month? The thing I tend to overspend on monthly is food, and I think that is true for a lot of people.
Overspending on food happens for a number of reasons, from poor planning on our parts to deals that seem too good to pass up. If you want to start saving money on food, you might need to change the way you approach grocery shopping and food buying in general.
I have some tips and saving advice to help you spend less at the grocery store, without resorting to cheap noodle soups or plastic cheeses.
One of the best ways to learn how to stop spending money on food is to learn when things are on sale and to only purchase them then. Researching prices isn’t as dreary as it sounds. In fact, it can be kind of fun.
Set aside about 30 minutes a week to flip through the sales flyers each week. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea as you browse, play your favorite music, and make a list of the items you need to purchase that are on sale.
You’ll start to see patterns in terms of sales. For example, you might notice that coffee is $5 one week, then $3 the next, before jumping back up to $6.
Once you learn the sales cycle for the foods you buy frequently, you can start purchasing them only when they are on sale, so that you end up saving money on food you actually eat.
Stick to Your List
Making a grocery list can help you spend much less on food, but only if you pledge to stick to the list. Since you can’t literally put blinders on when you step into the supermarket, you’ll need to train yourself to ignore or avoid certain areas of the store.
I’ve stopped going down the snack aisle and the cookie and cracker aisle, since doing so always meant I’d add a few extras to my cart, whether they were on the list or not.
Eat Before You Shop
Never shop when you’re hungry. That might be the best piece of saving advice you ever get. When you head to the grocery store before you have a chance to eat, something strange happens the minute you set foot inside the store.
Suddenly, every single thing looks like something you need to buy and eat right now. If you need to learn how to stop spending money on unneeded groceries, learning to always eat before shopping is key.
Plan Out Your Meals
Wasted food is a big reality in this country. The average person ends up wasting over 200 pounds of food each year. Food waste isn’t just a concern for the eco-conscious. It should also be a big concern for your wallet.
When you buy food only to throw it out in a month, uneaten, you might as well just throw your money in the trash.
Planning each meal for the week before you go shopping will help you avoid excess waste. Before you consult your sales flyers and make your list, check what you have in the pantry or fridge. Plan the meals around what you already have and what’s on sale.
Consider Buying in Bulk
Some grocery stores have bulk bins for staple items, such as flour and nuts. You can save a lot of money if you choose to use the bulk bins, rather than purchasing packaged foods.
When you buy in bulk, you only purchase what you need, which means you’re less likely to end up tossing food. The price is often lower, since you’re not paying for extra packaging, either.
Think Outside the Grocery Store
Depending on where you live, the supermarket might not be your only option for food purchases. In the spring, summer, and fall, many areas offer farmer’s markets, which let you purchase in-season, locally grown produce.
While farmer’s markets have a stigma of being over-priced, that’s actually not true. Most produce from farmer’s markets is less expensive than the produce on sale at the grocery store.
Saving money on food might also mean purchasing dry goods online. Some online stores, such as Amazon, let you purchase large quantities of foods such as dried pasta, cereal, and baking supplies on a subscription basis.
The cost per item is lower, plus you save if you decide to have the foods automatically shipped to you on a certain schedule.
Some people really love their coupons and believe that the coupons help them save a lot on food. You can save money with coupons. But, you can also waste money, if you get caught up in the coupon game and start buying foods you won’t actually eat.
Don’t let the thrill of saving 50 cents or so tempt you into purchasing items you’ll never use or don’t need. Save coupons for the foods you do eat regularly. If you do use coupons, remember to use them when the items are on sale.
Shop with the Seasons
Getting blueberries in December and winter squash in the middle of summer is a luxury. You’ll end up paying for that luxury by paying a higher price per pound.
Teach yourself not to want summer produce in winter or winter produce in the summer and you’ll save considerably when you shop. You’ll also be less likely to waste the fresh produce you buy, since seasonal foods tend to taste much better.
Limit Meals Out
You knew this tip was coming. Try to limit restaurant meals to special occasions. You end up paying more for foods at restaurants in two ways. First, the food costs more when someone else makes it. Second, you risk wasting food you already purchased when you choose to eat a restaurant instead.
When you choose to dine out, pay attention to any deals offered by the restaurant. A lot of places will offer special deals on weeknights to attract diners.
If you need help breaking the restaurant habit, set aside the money you would have spent on a meal out the next time you get the urge. Prepare your meal at home instead. At the end of the month, take a look at the money you’ve set aside. Odds are it will be a pretty good amount.
Kelly Anderson is a financial planner who blogs about financial advice you can use in your everyday life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.