Over the course of my 20 years working as a consumer reporter and advocate, I have gained some insight into the minds of consumers. One thing most of us have in common, me included, is we get frustrated when we feel like we don’t have control over our personal finances. This especially rings true right now. A global pandemic and a struggling economy can cultivate understandable uncertainty.
I have also learned that we have more control over some of our monthly expenses than we realize. Some expenses are set in stone, like your mortgage, rent or car payment. But there are other expenses that we can significantly reduce. You have control over how much you spend and how much you can save.
One area where you can save a significant amount of money is grocery shopping. Saving on your grocery bills might not have been the first thing that came to mind a year ago, but these last few months we have all started to rethink our monthly expenses. We have to eat; we have to grocery shop—but we do not have to spend a lot of money doing this. There are several tried and true strategies to help consumers save a significant percentage off of their monthly grocery bills.
So, while we are living in a time when so many things are beyond our control, why not take back some control and save some money? Like anything else, what you put into it is what you will get out of it. So, the more tips you use, the more money you can save. If you could save even $50 a week, that would add up to $2,400 a year, and isn’t that worth your time? I like to think of it as giving yourself a raise.
Join Store Loyalty Programs
Most larger grocery stores and pharmacies have their own loyalty programs. They’re free to join and take only minutes to sign up. The payoff: potential savings of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year on groceries. Most stores will also have their own apps so you can use your phone to save. As a loyalty member, you will get special deals and offers that will automatically reduce your bill at checkout. If you do nothing else, do this one thing to save the most money on your groceries. You will love seeing all of the minus signs at the bottom of your receipt.
Have a Plan
Plan your weekly menu around what is on sale at the store. Ads come out a few days before sales start, so check out your local grocer’s website and begin planning your meals for the week. Start your planning around the deals on meat, produce, poultry and seafood since those items are usually the main part of every meal. You will find the best deals on foods that are in season. Keep in mind if the deal is great, you can buy extra to freeze. Fill in with other items to round out your menu. Usually a store will have a particular day when sales begin—for example, every Wednesday. A plan to shop is a plan to save.
We can all remember back in April when items like disinfectant and toilet paper were constantly out of stock. The days of people overbuying these items and leaving the shelves empty seem to be over. But with winter coming up, COVID-19 is still a part of our lives, and with the cold and flu season approaching, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Have a few extra over-the-counter medications you may need along with other items that tend to sell out during this time of the year.
Add to the Savings with Coupons
The digital world has made saving at the grocery store very simple. Find coupons to save even more money on both sale and regularly priced items on your list. Apps like Coupons.com will allow you to sync your loyalty card and save using both the stores’ deals and coupons, so everything is taken off of your bill at checkout—or you can use cash back offers to get money back after purchase. Keep in mind, coupons add up—50 cents here and 25 cents there adds up to money in your pocket. Using the app can even turn a quick run to pick up a few items into a money-saving experience. Just add the coupons to your loyalty card as you do your shopping and save at checkout, or for cash back, simply tap the offers you want to use in the app, then submit your receipt after purchase. You can also follow your favorite coupon and product manufacture brands on social media. Often you will get special offers, coupons, and promotions. September is National Coupon Month, so expect to find even more coupons with even higher values.
Navigating Grocery Delivery Services
Prior to COVID-19, I rarely did online grocery shopping and delivery. But for the past several months, I have joined millions of other consumers, and this has become my new way to grocery shop. For those of us new to the game, there are certain things you can do to help ensure you get what you want, when you want it, and at a savings. Placing an order earlier in the day tends to get me a delivery time that same day. If there are no slots available, keep checking back—times open up throughout the day. I have checked back within a few minutes to suddenly see a slot appear. And don’t empty or delete you cart. Keep the items in your cart and saved, this way you don’t need to start from scratch next time you shop. Sometimes delivery can be free during certain times. Shoppers usually have your phone number to text you with substitution approvals or questions, so keep your phone handy. Even when shopping online, use the same coupons and money-saving strategies to save at checkout or get cash back.
Ask for a Rain Check
I have saved so much money over the years by asking for a rain check. This means if something on sale is out of stock, ask the store if you can purchase the item when it’s back in stock at the current sale price, even if it’s not technically on sale when it’s restocked. If you have coupons, you can save even more. Pro tip: Rain checks aren’t just for groceries; you can sometimes save hundreds on bigger ticket items, like appliances and electronics.
Don’t Assume More is Less
Buying in bulk doesn’t necessarily mean spending less money. If you find something on sale and use a coupon on it, you can save more money per unit price than buying in bulk. If you do buy in bulk, consider the waste factor: Will you use all of the product before it goes bad?
One last thought: Paying with cash is another way to stay within your budget. It’s very easy to spend more when you are pulling out the plastic. Enjoy knowing that you now have the tools and tips you need to control your grocery spending.