Do you find yourself spending far more money than you budgeted for at the grocery store each week? The average grocery budget for a family of four runs between $150 and $300 per week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and the $150 difference lies in how thrifty you are with your meal plans.
Food-related expenses can take a considerable chunk out of your wallet if you’re not careful — especially if you spot a tempting sale or a soon-expiring coupon — but grocery shopping on a tight budget is entirely doable and can help you save money to put toward other expenses.
If you often find yourself wondering how to stay on budget when grocery shopping, here are 10 tips and tricks for taking control of your finances.
Make a List
It’s easy to overspend if you don’t have a clear idea of the items you need to buy. A good old-fashioned grocery list can be a simple way to keep yourself on track.
Make a list of the essential groceries you need for the week — but also make a second list of potentially tempting items you won’t allow yourself to indulge in. Stick to your priorities and put the non-essentials back on the shelf.
Only Buy What You Need — Even If There’s a Sale or Coupon
Coupons are a great money-saving tool — as long as you like and need the discounted item. Don’t buy products you won’t use just because you have a coupon for them, and make sure the coupon offers the best deal on the item — sometimes, generic versions are cheaper than a discounted name brand.
Similarly, you should only buy items on sale if you know you’ll use them. Sale items trick many consumers into buying things they don’t need just to get a good deal.
Coupons for, and sales on, items you need and use regularly are invaluable when you’re grocery shopping on a tight budget. If you find a coupon for a product you buy every week, use it! Similarly, keep an eye out for sales on items you use often. You might even consider buying more than you need to save for later — unless, of course, it’s a product that will soon expire.
Do Your Research in Advance
Before you head out to do your weekly shopping, take some time to check the prices at local grocery stores. Is one store having a special on an item you need, or does another store offer better customer discounts than where you currently shop? Comparison shopping allows you to evaluate your spending habits to find the right stores and brands for your budget.
Avoid the Aisles Where You’ll Likely Overspend
Do you tend to get caught up in all the fun items found in the seasonal aisle or linger a bit too long in the makeup aisle? Does your sweet tooth cause you to spend a little too much on candy, taking a chunk of your budget that was planned for healthy lunches? Try to avoid walking down any aisle that might tempt you to overspend — or one that will encourage you to buy items you promised yourself not to indulge in.
Track Your Spending and Find Ways to Cut Back
It’s much easier to cut back on your grocery budget when you know exactly why you’re overspending.
Dig out your old receipts from the past month and divide the list into categories — such as drinks, frozen meals, ingredients for dinners and baked goods, and hygiene items. You might be surprised by how much you spend in a particular category.
Use Up Before Buying More
Before making your weekly grocery list, take a look in your fridge and cupboards. Use up what’s on your shelves before buying more, and reconsider items you haven’t been using much of. Chances are, you’ll be able to cross a few things off your list before you even step foot in the store.
Shop with a Calculator
While you’re shopping, you might not realize how quickly all your items are adding up. But even products that cost only a few dollars can amount to a jaw-dropping total.
To avoid any unpleasant surprises at the cash register, keep a running total of the items you’re buying as you put them in your cart. Shop with a calculator in hand, adding as you go. Some stores also offer a scan-as-you-go option, which can make calculating a running total even simpler.
Save with Store Brands
Being willing to try new things can help you save money, and it can also be fun! Trade some of those name-brand items on your list for lesser-known or store-brand products, then make a note of the ones you love. You could save yourself a few bucks per item while also finding your new favorite coffee flavor or your next go-to frozen meal.
Buy in Bulk
Items like snack foods and hygiene products take a while to expire. So, if you see a sale on a product you love, go ahead and buy in bulk. You can also buy some perishable items to freeze until you’re ready to use them.
Discount stores often have great deals on non-food products like detergent, so consider making a separate trip when you go on your next grocery run to stock your shelves with often-used items.
Earn Cash Rewards on Groceries with a PSECU Founder’s Card
Another smart way to shop for groceries is to pay with a credit card that gives you rewards in return. Our Founder’s Card gives you cash back rewards of 1.5% or 2%* on every purchase with no limit on the cash rewards you can earn. Apply today or contact us to learn more.
*You can earn 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. You can earn 2% cash rewards on all purchases if you maintain a PSECU checking account and qualifying monthly direct deposit of at least $500. See the PSECU Visa® Founder’s Card Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for full details.