Right now, no one is asking you to drastically change your lifestyle or eating habits, but when the economy takes a turn for the worst, spending patterns should be reexamined. The first facet of your spending to hone in on is grocery shopping. Coupons are a good place to start but there are other equally effective techniques to gradually save money. To reduce your grocery expenses be analytical and strategic, adopt a budget and expense tracking system, and use your loyalty cards more effectively.
How Do I Reduce My Grocery Bill?
The first thing you should do is to make a shopping list, says Linda W., a mother of five, who over the years has mastered the art of living on a budget. Day after day, Linda takes care of a household whose income level borders on the lower end of the middle class. Linda says creating a shopping list removes the urge to splurge on things you don't need and can't afford.
Secondly, be as brand flexible as possible. Although you may be accustomed to buying big name brands like Tide or Downy, it's important to explore the less expensive store options. They offer the same quality without putting a hole in your budget. To better evaluate things like brand, pricing and product quality, use comparison shopping sites like Google Product Search, Nextag and Pricegrabber.
The third thing to keep do is to visit the grocery store as infrequently as possible. That way, you won't be tempted to spend, particularly on things you didn't plan. Impulsive buying is something real, which often causes people to spend money erratically, so stick maybe to a weekly or fortnightly routine – or, my favorite, a monthly grocery shopping tactic.
Should I Trade Down on My Brand Choices?
Trading down on your existing brand choices can help you save money, and avoid the often high markup that brand leaders charge on their products. For example, if you always buy the brand leader, say, for detergents, try the supermarket's "finest" version, which typically is cheaper. Talk to the store's manager or a qualified customer service rep about the difference between the "finest" version and a brand-name product, and how much you ultimately can save by switching to the cheaper version. For example, if you use a supermarket's own label product, try the store's "value" version. My rule is, if you can't tell the difference and they have similar ingredients, always choose the cheaper one.
You can get a better idea of the difference between in store products vs. brand names by reading consumer reports that occasionally are published by organizations like the Private Label Manufacturers Association and Life Hacker.
One last thing: plan your purchases in advance and steer clear of impulsive shopping. My mother always says, never shop when you are hungry because you are more likely to buy things you don't need, simply to try and satisfy your hunger-and this is probably true!
Can I Trim Costs in Other Areas?
Food expense is a generic term that comprises many sub-concepts, all of which contribute to keeping you and your family strong, healthy, happy – in two words: biologically functional. But food cost touches on a larger assortment of things, ranging from meat and vegetables to drinks and fish. If you ask a nutritionist, he or she would also say things like organic food, junk food, whole food and natural food.
The idea here is to delve into your spending patterns, list all food categories you and your family typically love, figure out how much money you fork over every month on each category, and figure out how to curb specific expenses. For example, if you see that organic food is costing you dearly, think about alternatives. Again, a comparison shopping site is your ally in finding a better way to eat qualitatively but affordably.
The bottom line is to create a mini food budget; track specific items over, say, a quarter or six-month period; and eventually make adjustments in your spending habits to save money.
Can Weekly Ads Help Me Save on Food?
Befriend the weekly ads because savings you could grab from these circulars can add up over time – think thousands of dollars in a 12-month period, says Linda W., the budget-minded mum of five. Sign up for the circular at your favorite grocery store, so you can receive periodic updates on everything going on in the store, promotion-wise. You also can register online, and if you have a smart phone, you can use a weekly ads app to access the mishmash of deals and promotional offers your store is running at a specific time. Contact your store for more information about weekly ads and registration requirements as well as the terms and conditions for the promotional offers.
Remember, a weekly ad doesn't necessarily mean the offer ends within a 7-day period. Some offers may run for several weeks, sometimes a month, depending on the retailer's operational constraints and marketing tactics. So don't discard your weekly circulars that quickly.
How Can Store Cards Help Me Cut Food Expense?
If you don't have a store card yet, go get one as soon as you can. It can help you save substantial cash, especially if you regularly shop at big-name stores like Whole Foods, Walmart and Kroger. Most retailers have discounts that are aimed specifically at loyal customers. Personally, I've seen savings as high as 25% on each shopping trip when I use store cards from retailers as diverse as Walgreens, Pathmark and Whole Foods.
With a store card, you can save some cash by selecting store-branded items, merchandise on sale during that specific week or on that day, and products that have substantial markdowns but require a loyalty card. Talk to your grocer to get more information about loyalty cards and ways to save money by using them.
Besides loyalty cards, some big-name grocers provide credit cards, and you can actually save more by earning points, having access to special discounts and enjoying other analytic benefits like online expense tracking and monthly spending statements. Pay attention, though, to the annual percentage rate (APR) that the company charges to make sure you don't make money one way through lower food expenses but lose it another way through exorbitant card fees and APR charges.
To reduce money you dole out for food and beverages, you need a combination of some personal preparation and a better understanding of grocery stores' marketing tactics. Go over your food budget to figure out what your family essentially needs – and loves – and establish a threshold, say, 15%, that you wouldn't exceed every month. Then, save cash by using techniques as varied as weekly ad monitoring, store card utilization and changes in spending patterns.