Budgeting Basics: Five Rules of Smart Grocery Shopping

Doing more with less isn’t rocket science. Want to make your money last? If you read my previous post, “Basic Budgeting: General Tips,” then you know that
creating a budget plan is the first step to smart shopping. Knowing your overall budget helps you determine how much money to spend for each grocery trip, so you can plan ahead. Which brings us to the first rule of smart grocery shopping:

1)  Plan/make a list before you shop
One way to plan ahead is to write out menus for at least several meals,
preferably agrocery list weeks’ worth of meals, ahead of time. Then make your shopping list based on the ingredients you need for each meal on the menu. And if you plan to stock up on staple items, you’d be surprised how many different meal combinations you can create out of the same ingredients during an entire week.

Once you’ve made your list, scribble it on a notepad, the old-fashioned way, or plug it into your smartphone and cross out items as you go. You know the drill. Just don’t make a “mental list” and walk in unprepared: you’ll forget what you came for, and how much, and will end up buying either too much or not enough.

2)  Once you’ve made your list, stick to it
No exceptions to this rule, guys. Make your list and stick to it, no matter how
hungry or tempted to splurge you may feel. Ignore the snacks at the check-out counter, walk by the case of cookie dough ice cream, and don’t habitually buy the specials you didn’t plan on purchasing in the first place. A little purposeful planning and self-control can go a long way in saving you money in the long run.

For college students especially, discipline is a major cost-saver. Never
underestimate the simple power of saying “no” and moving on.

3)  Get a shopper’s card
If your grocery store has a rewards program, sign up and get a shopper’s card.
Enrolling in a rewards program will save you money when buying groceries on sale. During the week, look over the store’s ad for items that can be bought on sale or in bulk, and notice how the money you save doing so can really add up.

4)  Cut coupons
I know, I know. I used to think like that, too: “Cutting coupons is silly. I’ll leave it to my grandmother.” But hey: if you can save money, why not save money? Coupons come in the mail, but this might not be the best option for dorm-dwellers. Also be on the lookout for coupons online, in newspapers and at grocery stores.

coupon clippingTry, though, to only cut coupons for the items you have planned ahead to buy already. Clipping hundreds of coupons for random items in the store is, in the long run, a recipe for wasting money on food you don’t really want/need when you could be saving money on the food that fits your meal plan. Mindless coupon clipping leads to cupboards of uneaten food. Strategic coupon clipping leads to pennies and dimes saved on food that’s already accounted for on your budget.

5)  Buy in bulk
Buying food items in bulk can be an affordable way to shop on a college budget. Essential pantry items (such as rice, olive oil, flour, etc.) and non-perishables are often easily purchased in bulk, and if you can share what you buy with roommates, you can split costs to reduce expenses.

Next grocery trip, pick up a giant bag of rice and compare it to a small bag. The
giant bag is more expensive—but compare the price by ounce. Look at the savings. Makes sense, doesn’t it? And remember, buying in bulk keeps your pantry well-stocked, making the temptation to “just eat out” less of an everyday option.

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Hey smart shoppers! Want more tips about smart shopping?
Check out the links below:

Five Grocery Shopping Apps That Can Save You Time and Money
Best and Worst Groceries to Buy in Bulk
Coupon Clipping TIps

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